(For the introduction and methodology of this study, which also includes analyses of the Los Angeles Times and New York Times Op-Ed pages, click here.)
Washington Post Arab-Israeli commentary by outside writers is overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, or both.
Yet in an Op-Ed column headlined The Goal of These Pages (Feb. 5, 2006), the Posts editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, wrote that in an era when the Web allows readers to read only commentary that they agree with, we continue to think theres value in an opinion page that offers a wide range of commentary.
Hiatt was defending publication of What Hamas is Seeking, a Jan. 31, 2006 opinion piece by Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy political bureau chief of Hamas. The editorial page editor acknowledged that a
torrent of e-mails objected .... Readers said we should not give space to a terrorist organization, especially for a piece of propaganda that obscured Hamas long-standing commitment to the destruction of Israel.
Hiatt concurred that Hamas is a terrorist organization. But, he added,
it is now the elected majority party of a Palestinian parliament. U.S. and other officials are trying to decide what policy to take toward a new government, as experts debate the same question. In that context, the partys platform and intentions are newsworthy including Marzooks soft-pedaling of Hamas position on Israel, his plea for continued aid and his suggestion that Hamas does not favor the creation of an Islamic state.
Is that credible? Readers will come to their own judgement informed, we hope by further commentary we publish on the same subject.
Leave aside the fact that policy makers need not depend on Op-Ed promotion pieces by terrorists to know their platforms and intentions; intelligence data, the terrorists publications, broadcasts, and Web sites, and, of course, news reports of their deeds provide that information. Consider only Hiatts hope that Washington Post commentaries made for informed judgment.
Abu Marzooks Jan. 31 piece was the third Op-Ed on Israeli-Palestinian matters since the start of 2006, and neither of the earlier columns were pro-Israel or seriously critical of Palestinian behavior. Neither could be paired with the Hamas leaders commentary to balance or contradict it. Nineteen months and the publication of 20 more related Op-Eds later including two additional columns by Hamas leaders it appears that Hiatts position is not credible. Though a wide range of well-informed, fact-based commentary would be valuable, when it comes to opinion on Israeli-Palestinian matters from outside contributors, the Washington Post offers too little of it.
Were Abu Marzook and his colleagues soft-pedaling Hamas genocidal positions on Israel and the Jews, easing off the organizations call for a Palestinian Muslim theocracy, as Hiatt put it? Whether they were or not, Post readers contrary to the editorial page editors professed intentions would find it difficult to make an informed judgment based on the arguments of other outside contributors.
Were Israeli counter-terrorism efforts effective? Were Jewish settlements in the West Bank legal? Was the status of that land disputed, or Palestinian? Was the United States wise in trying to isolate Hamas and support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, or creating additional problems? Post Op-Ed contributors generally offered one side of the argument, the side more sympathetic to Palestinian claims, more critical of Israeli actions. These columns often included factual errors and/or logical fallacies not countered in subsequent commentaries.
From Jan. 1, 2006 through July 31, 2007, the newspapers Op-Ed pages published 23 primary commentaries on Israeli-Palestinian issues by outside contributors. Seventeen advocated often vigorously and deceptively positions held by Palestinian leaders, sometimes those of Hamas, sometimes those of Fatah, and/or were essentially critical of Israeli policy or U.S. policy in support of Israel.
Four offered an Israeli perspective or were critical of Arabs. These were Give Hamas Nothing for Free, by Dennis Ross; The Rules of War, by Moshe Yaalon, A Cease-Fire Reality: Dealing with Syria, by Ross, and a A Two-State Solution, Palestinian Style, by Martin Indyk.
Two columns were, overall, neutral. What Use Were All The Wars? by Eltahawy, an expatriate Egyptian journalist, was flawed by a factual error (that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has never visited Israel), and the false Arab mantra about Israels occupation of Palestinian land (the lands status is disputed, pending negotiations). However, the commentary mainly featured something rare on the Posts Op-Ed pages thoughtful criticism of intra-Arab behavior and Arab actions toward Israel. Also neutral was Steven Cooks Dont Blame Democracy Promotion.
In addition, the Post ran five tangential Op-Eds, two of which were neutral, and three of which were critical of Arabs.
Diversity among writers was even more narrow than the range of opinion presented. Hamas leaders wrote three and former U.S. State Department official Aaron David Miller who minimized Palestinian terrorism, irrendentism and violation of agreements while blaming Israel for peace process difficulties and Washington for allegedly missed opportunities contributed three. Miller co-authored two of his efforts with Robert Malley, a former National Security Council staffer who repeatedly has misrepresented the 2000 Israeli-American offer of Palestinian statehood in exchange for peace to argue that Yasser Arafat was right to reject it. Malley, with Miller, now recommends some sort of de facto if not de jure U.S.-Israeli accommodation with Hamas.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter offered nothing new, providing two predictable apologias for the Palestinians and Hamas while erroneously criticizing Israel.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, who uses reasonable sounding language to promote an unreasonably one-sided, erroneous Palestinian line, contributed two commentaries, including one insisting that Hamas-Fatah unity government could be a force for progress.
Also getting the Op-Ed pages equivalent of soccers two free kicks on goal was Gershom Gorenberg, a long-time Israeli critic of Israeli settlements and settlers, whose damning-with-faint-praise political obituary for Ariel Sharon and a criticism of Olmerts disengagement plans that almost completely ignored its concessions and risks were both selected by Post editors.
Like Palestinian prime minister Haniyeh but unlike Israeli premier Olmert, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuoad Siniora got space on the Op-Ed page. In a long piece illustrated with two photographs one of an Israeli air strike, the other of grieving Lebanese women he blamed Israel for his countrys internal and intra-Arab problems.
There were no Op-Eds by Israels prime minister or other current senior government officials or diplomats.
Publication of the third Hamas-originated public relations piece, Engage With Hamas; We Earned Our Support, by Ahmed Yousef, June 26, 2007 generated the same sort of criticism the Post received 17 months earlier over the Abu Marzook commentary criticism again informed by a CAMERA alert. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatts justification this time, relayed by Post ombudsman Deborah Howell in her July 8 column, To Readers, Terror and War Underplayed, was:
We frequently run Op-Eds from people with whom we disagree, sometimes vehemently. Sometimes we even run Op-Eds that express views we find repugnant. I think it can be useful for readers to get a sense of how people in the news think or how people in the news want to be perceived. I think our readers are smart enough to evaluate a Hamas piece in that light.
This explanation fails on at least three counts, as illustrated above:
1) The Washington Post rarely publishes outside commentary by Israelis in the news, or their supporters, whose views contradict those of Palestinians like the terrorists Yousef, Haniyeh, or Abu Marzook; or those of Palestinian apologists like Kuttab, Miller and Malley or anti-Israel polemicists like Carter;
2) The Post, in periodically running anti-Israel commentaries by outside contributors, is not just publishing Op-Eds from people with whom we disagree, sometimes vehemently, in Hiatts words. Rather, it repeatedly allows Palestinian writers to advance, with only rare contradiction, erroneous arguments violating the papers own guidelines that commentaries, like news articles, should be factually based; and
3) It denies readers the useful opportunity to get a sense of how people in the news think if those people happen to be Israeli policy makers and usually does so regarding others well-versed in and sympathetic to those policies.
So, if the newspapers readers are smart enough to evaluate a Hamas piece in light of point-counterpoint Op-Eds, it is not because theyve been reading outside contributors to the Post.
Primary Op-Eds: Neutral
1) July 26, 2006 Dont Blame Democracy Promotion Steven A. Cook: Claims more democracy, not less, in the Middle East would have prevented the war between Hezbollah and Israel.
2) July 28, 2007 What Use Were All These Wars Mona Eltahawy: Argues that Israels occupation of Palestinian land has caused no end of misery, poverty, and frustration for Palestinians. But also blames the Arab states because they have subsumed so much into the Palestinian cause. Of the Arabs and their wars against Israel, she adds, What were they all for? Its time to move on.
Primary Op-Eds: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel
1) Jan. 6, 2006 The Bulldozer Gershom Gorenberg: Notes Sharons contradictory status as political father and partial liquidator of settlements, and urges leaders who succeed the bulldozer to avoid his tragic flaws.
2) Jan. 24, 2006 The Palestinians Crisis of Leadership Aaron David Miller: Argues that the Palestine Liberation Organization is not responsible for terrorism and blames small, supposedly unrepresentative factions instead. Miller acknowledges irresponsible Palestinian leadership, and insists that leadership never had a coherent strategy.
3) Jan. 31, 2006 What Hamas Is Seeking Mousa abu Marzook: Ties Hamas election victory to Americas traditional support for democracy, implies that his movement stands for womens rights and inter-religious equality, and talks nice about renewed Middle East diplomacy.
4) Feb. 20, 2006 Dont Punish the Palestinians Jimmy Carter: Warns the United States and Israel against withholding funds or doing anything else that might disrupt the transition to a Palestinian government led by Islamic radicals. Contradicting Hamas platform, declares the movements disavowal of violence and recognition of Israel is inevitable.
5) May 9, 2006 Muslims and Jews: Common Ground Robert Eisen: Implies that Israeli perceptions of Arab threats are, if not unrealistic, somehow beside the point. Faced with resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, he argues that clergy need a greater voice in diplomacy.
6) May 15, 2006 For Israel and Hamas, A Case for Accommodation Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller: Claim the Kadima Party-led Israeli coalition and new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority governments have more in common these days than either would care to admit. Advocate more Israeli West Bank withdrawals and believe an informal truce for both appears within reach, while urging Israeli and U.S. restraint.
7) May 18, 2006 Israels Half-Plan Gershom Gorenberg: Dismisses Olmerts convergence plan for major West Bank withdrawals as insufficient, claiming Olmerts desire to retain several major settlement blocks (on less than 10 percent of territory) would create an artificial Bosnia of hostile ethnic entanglement. Asserts there is a strong majority support for a two-state solution and recognition of Israel by Palestinians.
8) July 11, 2006 Aggression Under False Pretenses Ismail Haniyeh: Compares the Palestinian anti-Israel struggle with colonial Americans fight against Great Britain. Claims Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip against terrorism condoned and abetted by Hamas are only the latest effort to destroy the results of free and fair elections ....
9) Aug. 1, 2006 Stop the Band-Aid Treatment; We Need Policies for a Real, Lasting Middle East Peace Jimmy Carter: Equates Israeli leaders with Arab-Islamic extremists, says Israels holding of prisoners is a repetitive cause of violence, charges that Palestinian remnant territories have been reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded by a provocative security barrier that embarrasses Israels friends and that fails to bring safety or stability.
10) Aug. 3, 2006 An Appeal for Leadership; Why Hasnt the Worlds Lone Superpower Stopped This Tragedy? Abdullah Gul: In this counter-point to Moshe Yaalons same-day column, Gul implicitly blames Israels war against Hezbollah for tarnishing Americas standing in the Middle East and implies Israel is the destructive force in this clash.
11) Aug. 7, 2006 A Bad Status Quo: We Must Address the Roots of the Mideast Crisis John Waterbury: Decries lack of the oft-trumpeted confidence building in the past decade, but attributes it to a status quo of Israeli military superiority. Lists real issues such as safe and recognized borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the occupied territories including the Golan Heights, refugees, and nuclear arms.
12) Aug. 8, 2006 End This Tragedy Now; Israel Must Be Made to Respect International Law Fouad Siniora: Blames Israel for Hezbollah actions and their consequences.
13) Jan. 18, 2007 A New Chance for Peace? Jimmy Carter: Portrays Israel as aggressive, illegal occupier of Palestinians and Hamas as open to making peace, while lobbying for Iranian and Syrian opportunities to participate in regional cooperation.
14) March 26, 2007 Obstacle or Opportunity? How the Palestinian Unity Government Offers a Path to peace Daoud Kuttab: Argues that Hamas-Fatah unity government improves chances for Arab-Israeli agreement. Claims that government prioritizes non-violence, that Hamas is moving toward recognizing Israel within what are erroneously termed Israels internationally recognized 1967 borders.
15) June 19, 2007 West Bank First: It Wont Work Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller: Acknowledges the weaknesses of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement in the West Bank, and implies that teaming with Hamas would improve the situation.
16) June 26, 2007 Engage With Hamas; We Earned Our Support, Ahmed Yousef: Argues that Israel and the United States need Hamas as a partner.
17) July 23, 2007 A Destination, Not a Road Map Daoud Kuttab: Misrepresents the Oslo diplomatic process, inverting cause-and-effect regarding Israeli security measures and Palestinian grievances and mangles the meaning and requirements of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.
Primary Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs:
1) Feb. 5, 2006 Give Hamas Nothing for Free Dennis Ross: Argues that Israel and the United States must insist that Hamas recognize the Jewish state, cease violence and stop terrorism by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as well.
2) Aug. 3, 2006 The Rules of War Moshe Yaalon: Argues that the conflict in the Middle East is about much more than Israel and Hezbollah, or even Hezbollahs Syrian and Iranian sponsors. What is at stake are the very rules of war that underpin the entire international order. Israel, he says, upholds civilized rules.
3) Aug. 17, 2006 A Cease-Fire Reality: Dealing With Syria Dennis Ross: Stresses that the more determined Syria is to frustrate implementation of the [U.N. cease-fire] resolution, the more the international force will need a capability and a mandate to be aggressive in stopping efforts to get arms to Hezbollah and preventing its restoration as a fighting force ....
4) June 15, 2007 A Two-State Solution, Palestinian-Style Martin Indyk: Asserts that Hamas purge of Fatah from the Gaza Strip has retarded efforts toward Arab-Israeli peace. Hamas created a two-Palestine solution. Indyk claims President Mahmoud Abbas connived in losing Gaza so he could gain strength with U.S., Jordanian, and Israeli help in the West Bank.
Tangential Op-Eds: Neutral
1) May 8, 2006 A Realistic Idealism; Theres a Right Way to Support Democracy in the Mideast Madeleine K. Albright: Argues that the U.S. must continue to promote democracy in the Middle East, but we should keep a rein on our expectations. She argues that in the debate between realism and idealism, neither extreme is sustainable.
2) Aug. 12, 2006 Learning From Hezbollah Brian E. Humphreys: Contrasts unfavorably U.S. efforts in Iraq with Hezbollahs success as an effective practitioner of the art of militarized grass-roots politics. Discusses the limitations Hezbollahs coopting of Lebanese Shiites places on Israeli counter-terrorism.
Tangential Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs
1) Feb 21, 2006 The Choice of How to Respond Ronald D. Asmus: Warns that Irans growing bellicosity against the West in general and Israel in particular must not be underestimated and suggests a closer Israel-NATO relationship.
2) April 5, 2006 Yes, Its Anti-Semitic Eliot A. Cohen: Charges that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, in their paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, systematically select everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews and equally systematically suppress any exculpatory information.
3) Aug. 10, 2006 A Price of Fighting Terrorism David Bernstein: Points out that the modern tendency to recoil from televised warfare is a major handicap against an Islamic extremist enemy that is all too aware of our weaknesses . . . . the West will have to fight against an enemy that hides missiles in family homes and cynically exploits the inevitable results, as Hezbollah did against Israel.