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Media Analyses

A Washington Official, and the Washington Post, Fabricate Israeli Praise for the Iran Deal

An update about the Washington Post's correction is appended.
A senior advisor to John Kerry misled her boss and thousands of others last week regarding purported Israeli support for the Iran agreement.

Marie Harf, Kerry's Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications, on Thursday approvingly shared on Twitter a distorted Washington Post headline claiming Israeli security experts believe the nuclear deal is "good":

Harf's tweet, which was sent to the US Secretary of State as well as to Harf's forty thousand Twitter followers, quotes the Washington Post headline, "How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they're talking about," and includes a link to the article by the newspaper's foreign affairs blogger Ishaan Tharoor.

We briefly mentioned Tharoor's article and called for a correction in a piece last week, but in light of the administration's use of the distorted headline, it is worth a closer look.

The Post's headline promises a discussion of Israelis who feel the deal is "good" for their country. And the article goes on to name four prominent Israeli security experts. The message for readers, then, is that even if Israel's government and the largest opposition party are united against the deal — an inconvenient reality for the deal's advocates in the U.S. government and media, who normally can find allies among Israeli politicians who are so often at each other's throats — at least those in the know understand how truly good the agreement is.

Except it isn't true. Let's look at the security experts named in the piece:

Tharoor first mentions Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and links to a Daily Beast piece entitled "Ex-Intel Chief: Iran Deal Good for Israel."

iran tharoor harf Unfortunately for Tharoor (and for Daily Beast commentator Jonathan Alter), Ayalon, who begrudgingly supports the deal because it is "the best plan currently on the table" and because he believes there are no available alternatives, nonetheless has said in no uncertain terms, "I think the deal is bad. It's not good."

Tharoor then cites former intelligence chief Efraim Halevy, but strangely links to an Op-Ed Halevy wrote after a framework agreement was finalized in Lausanne last April but before the details of this final deal were agreed upon in Vienna this month. In a more recent (and thus  relevant) Op-Ed, Halevy described what he sees as several strong points in the agreement and concludes that it is "important to hold a profound debate in Israel on whether no agreement is preferable to an agreement which includes components that are crucial for Israel's security."

He didn't explicitly state which side of the debate he favors, although there is a sense that leans toward the idea that Israel must get behind the deal. But like Ayalon, his tepid defense of the deal, if it is even that, seems to hinge on the idea that this agreement makes the emergence of any other, better deals unrealistic. "There will be no other agreement and no other negotiations," Halevy says in his recent Op-Ed.

What he does not say is that the deal signed in Vienna is, as a whole, "good." In an interview with Israel's Channel 2, he repeats his call for national debate, and paints a much more equivocal picture: "This is not an agreement that is entirely bad," Halevy said. "There are positive elements in it." Later, he added that "this agreement has a number of very good elements for Israel, and there are elements that are not as good." That quote, with its shades of gray, might not make for as dramatic a headline as the one chosen by the Washington Post. But if equivocation is what the newspaper has to work with, then equivocation is what it should be capturing in its headlines—even if that means the piece can't be used by State Department officials. 

Next, Tharoor mentions Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel's Military Intelligence branch. It is not clear why: Yadlin, who has cautioned against panic and excesses on the part of Israel's government, nonetheless believes, as explained in an interview with Israel's Ynet, "This is not a good deal. This a problematic deal. You also could call it a bad deal."

Tharoor's article intially gave no hint of Yadlin's criticism of the deal, but sometime later the author snuck in a throw-away statement noting that Yadlin is "not a fan of the deal." (The stealth correction appears to violate the newspaper's correction policy.)

Finally, the Washington Post blogger mentions Meir Dagan, another former Mossad chief. It appears, though, that Dagan has not gone on record one way or another about the nuclear deal finalized in Vienna. (We looked for any recent statements by him in Hebrew or English, and came up with nothing. We will of course add an update if we find any relevant commentary by Dagan from before Tharoor wrote his article.)

In summary, although the Washington Post blog cast the four Israeli security experts as wholely praising the agreement, two actually used the word "bad" to describe the deal, another described pluses and minuses, and none have unequivocally described the agreement as "good for Israel," as the headline claims.
The newspaper should acknowledge its correction about Yadlin, and more importantly, correct its headline that is being used to mislead the public and harm the integrity of the debate about the nuclear deal.
July 30 update: As a result of CAMERA's correspondence with the Washington Post, the newspaper today published a "clarification" to Tharoor's piece. The Post deserves some credit for acknowledging that the original headline "did not reflect the nuance of some of the positions of Israeli officials cited" in the piece and for noting the changes already made to the piece. Marie Harf and others who shared the headline might take note of this admission.
However, the newspaper's new headline — "How an Iran deal can be good for Israel, according to some Israelis who know what they’re talking about" — still fails to accurately capture the views of the Israeli security officials cited in the piece.
The clarification reads:
Clarification: The headline on earlier versions of this post – “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they're talking about” – did not reflect the nuance of some of the positions of Israeli officials cited. The headline has been changed to reflect this. Additionally, the post was updated soon after publishing to include language noting that Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, is “not a fan of the deal,” but that he has “called for Israeli calm and cooperation with Washington.”

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