There is a vivid lesson about the media to be drawn from coverage of Suha Arafat's public calumny alleging Israel uses "poisonous gas" against Palestinians and contaminates "80% of [their] water sources." Even in the face of Suha's high-profile libels, journalists still refused to report that her statements were symptomatic of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic invective that is, in fact, ubiquitous in the Palestinian Authority.
In the PA, school children are daily indoctrinated via textbooks, television and mosque to believe Jews are treacherous thieves and Nazi-like conquerors with not the slightest rightful claim or ancient tie to the land of Israel, and that Palestinian youth are honor-bound to one day throw the Jews out of Haifa, Jaffa, Ashdod, Jerusalem and all the other cities of "Palestine."
Although a few commentators (including Cal Thomas, Sid Zion, David Bar-Illan, George Will, and the editorial writers of the New York Post and the Boston Herald) promptly reminded readers that Suha Arafat's baseless accusations were typical of Palestinian hate-mongering, the overwhelming content of the coverage was little more than chit-chat about the political fallout for Hillary Clinton, who sat silently nearby during Suha's remarks, then kissed her at the podium.
Time magazine's Lisa Beyer actually endorsed Suha's ravings saying "Mrs. Arafat did have a point." The reporter declared, "It's true that tear gas, frequently used by Israeli soldiers, has been linked to miscarriages among Palestinians." No. It is not true. The Journal of the American Medical Association looked into the question in 1989 during the height of the Intifada, when such allegations first surfaced. That assessment, co-written by a member of Physicians for Human Rights, a group often severely critical of Israel, found no evidence of a link.
But Beyer's readiness to repeat old propaganda charges without checking facts and to cover up the true import of Suha Arafat's statements was but a slightly exaggerated case of the general media silence about the drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the PA and many of the surrounding Arab states. Israeli political analyst Gerald Steinberg recently wrote that this "continued incitement to violence" is "at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict."
When Suha, utterly unchastened by the repercussions of her poison gas charges in Ramallah, made similarly slanderous statements ten days later on the Arab satellite channel Orbit, claiming Israel pours toxic waste into the Gaza water system, her remarks received barely a mention. (The Palestinians themselves, not Israel, have all but destroyed the Gaza aquifer, the main water source for Gaza's Arabs, through rampant, unregulated well drilling.) Where reported, as in a Reuters dispatch, Suha's latest outburst was cast as a domestic story about a woman who refused "to play the retiring wife" of Yasir Arafat. Once again, the demonizing of Israel was ignored.
The pervasiveness of this assault in the Arab media can hardly be overstated. Consider just one recent example in a November 18, 1999 column in the English language Saudi newspaper Arab News, read by 200,000 Saudis, tourists, foreign nationals and diplomats. Endorsing old libels, Dr. Asem Hamdan wrote: "The Zionist protocol [Protocols of the Elders of Zion] issued alongside the plan to establish a homeland in Palestine ... contained fascist ideas such as Jewish superiority over all other people and that a Jew has a right to steal from others because he is not stealing but taking back the wealth God created for Jews. It also said that hitting a Jew is tantamount to hitting God and hence the person deserves death, and if Jews had not been created, sun and rain would have disappeared from the earth. It also pointed out that the difference between Jews and other men is the same as between animals and men. God created other men to serve Jews for whom the world was created. In fact, Jews are living up to the above principles, extorting money from Europeans."
The media blackout on this "core" issue of anti-Semitism leaves Israel to protest largely alone against the inculcation of hatred by the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world. The silence is all the more striking when contrasted to the indignant reaction by, for example, the New York Times' Tom Friedman over anti-American rage in Egypt about U.S. handling of the Egypt Air Flight 990 crash. "[A]fter 20 years of U.S. aid to Egypt, approaching $40 billion, I would expect the Egyptian leadership to be clearly and unambiguously educating the Egyptian public that America is a friend, not an old, sinister imperialist," opined the columnist.
Provoked by Egypt's anti-Americanism, Friedman did mention that Israel was also blamed for the crash. Yet when Egypt's government-controlled press regularly spews mad accusations about Israel poisoning Egyptian youth and agriculture, behaving like Nazis and conniving with Egypt's enemies, or when the weekly publication October writes that "Satan worship is a part of Judaism" and that Judaism is responsible for "all destructive upheavals," Friedman is silent. He is silent to the hate-mongering and silent to its being purveyed by an Egypt that signed a peace agreement with Israel two decades ago, the basis for Egypt's receiving the $40 billion from America.
A further striking paradox in press coverage of the region is the contrasting readiness of news reporters and editorial writers to recount abuses of the Palestinian people by Yasir Arafat and his lieutenants. Whether the topic is PA torture of prisoners, PA intimidation of Palestinian journalists, academics and human rights advocates or corruption and economic malfeasance by Arafat's inner circle, the media do probe and report the mistreatment of Palestinians.
That is to say, the problem is not one of western journalists unwilling to say a bad word about Arab leaders or to inspect the underside of a thuggish regime such as Arafat's. The issue is something different; it is a specific refusal to expose the massive defamation of Jews and Israel.
The great harm in this media coverup is that were CNN, the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times and other media across the globe to report the story systematically there would not only be a greater understanding of Israel's concerns but also the possibility of public awareness leading to moral pressure that would rein in the purveyors of hatred and increase the chances of real peace. Is it too much to expect, say, tax-supported National Public Radio to end its news blackout on Arab anti-Semitism and cast some light on this dark corner of Middle East reality?