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Media Analyses





Vox’s April Fools’ Day ‘Reporting’ on Palestinian Terror Attacks


Vox is an online publication that claims its mission is to “explain the news.” It failed to do just that in its April 1, 2016 article about a recent terror attack in Hebron (“Israel's debate over an execution in Hebron mirrors America's debate over Ferguson”). The article, by content director Max Fisher, was replete with errors, misleading omissions and false comparisons. On April 4, 2016 the Vox article nevertheless was circulated by the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) under the line “What we're reading.”

On March 24, 2016 two Palestinian terrorists, armed with knives, attacked an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) checkpoint in Hebron. During the attack, an IDF soldier was stabbed before both terrorists were shot, one of them fatally. What happened next is, as of this writing, disputed and under investigation by Israeli authorities.

Shortly thereafter, the wounded terrorist, Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, was again shot, this time in the head, by an IDF soldier, Elor Azaria. This latter incident was filmed by B'Tselem, a self-described “human rights organization,” whose anti-Israel bias and propensity for misleading claims of civilian deaths in the Arab-Israel conflict, CAMERA has documented (see, for example, “B'Tselem Photographer Stages Scene,” May 19, 2011 and “In 2007, B'Tselem Casualty Count Doesn't Add Up,” Nov. 2, 2008).

Amid allegations that Azaria wrongfully shot al-Sharif, when the terrorist no longer posed a threat, an investigation was opened by Israeli authorities. Azaria was arrested by military police and held in supervised detention. He has since been charged with manslaughter.

The IDF soldier has claimed that he thought al-Sharif may have had an explosive vest and stated “in a split second I decided to shoot.” In preliminary court hearings, the Azaria said, “I saw him move his hand and head. I didn't shoot for no reason. I wouldn't have fired if I didn't feel I was in imminent danger. (“IDF: Enough Evidence to charge Hebron soldier in killing,” Times of Israel, April 5, 2016).” Israeli prosecutors and IDF officials dispute the soldier's claims. Israeli politicians, including the country's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have condemned Azari's actions as being in violation of IDF doctrine and practice.
 
Facts? Who needs 'em? 

These are the facts as presently known. They were not, however, what Vox wrote about. Instead, Fisher attempted to link the March 24, 2016 terrorist attacks in Hebron to an unrelated, nearly two-year-old police shooting in the United States, Ferguson, Mo. In that highly publicized case, police officer Darrell Wilson shot his assailant Michael Brown. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation determined Wilson acted in self-defense. Fisher sought to craft a false Hebron-Ferguson narrative via steady omission of facts, context and rampant mischaracterizations.

Fisher began by misleadingly describing Hebron as a “West Bank city [that] has been divided, since 1997, by an arrangement that grants 20 percent of the land to a handful of Jewish settlers.” It is, the Vox reporter claims, the “Israel-Palestine conflict in its purest and most crushing manifestation.”

The Vox writer omits that the 80 percent of Hebron is ruled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and has been since January 1997, when the IDF withdrew from that much of the Hebron municipal territory in keeping with the September 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II) between Israel and the PA (“Hebron: History and Overview,” Jewish Virtual Library).
 
'Minor details'

Instead of telling readers that Hebron is largely under the PA's jurisdiction and responsibility, Fisher claimed, “The Palestinian section feels livelier [than the Jewish section]; residents describe the daily torment and humiliations of life under occupation…Young Palestinian men, often angry and unemployed, loiter nearby.” Through his omissions, readers may be unaware that the “anger” and “unemployment” largely exists not under Israeli “occupation,” but rather in an area that the PA has been responsible for most of the past 20 years.

However, misleading on the status of Hebron is essential to Fisher's argument. He further claimed that under these conditions, “young Palestinian men have indulged their anger in recent months by stabbing Israelis more or less at random, wounding or killing a number of innocent civilians.” One wonders whether Fisher would have characterized Osama bin Laden as “indulging his anger” during the Sept. 11, 2011 al-Qaeda attacks. Thee obvious contradictions to Fisher's implicit justification of recent Palestinian attacks:

First, it has not just been “young Palestinian men” who have been murdering or attempting to murder civilians. Terrorist attacks in Israel have been carried out by adolescents, older men, women and girls. For example, three weeks before Fisher's article appeared, two 13-year-old Arab-Israeli girls stabbed a security guard at the Ramle Central Bus Station (“Arab teen girls stab security guard in terror attack at Ramle Central Bus Station, The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4, 2016). They were neither “angry young men” nor “occupied” Palestinian Arabs.

Second, the implication that “despair” has been driving anti-Jewish violence is false, although it is a common explanation and one Palestinian leaders have encouraged reporters to use. For example, in November 2015 the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) issued a guidance document to members of the international media, “Key Points to Remember while Reporting on Occupied Palestine.” As CAMERA-affiliate BBC Watch noted, that PLO document, among other things, encourages reporters to assert that terrorist attacks are the result of Palestinian frustration over the “occupation” (“Reviewing BBC Compliance with PLO media guidance,” Dec. 8, 2015).

In a Jan. 19 speech, the head of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, said, “This intifada is not the result of despair. This intifada is a jihad, a holy war… (Hamas: ‘Despair' Is Not the Reason for Palestinian Violence, CAMERA, Jan. 26, 2016).”

Third, Palestinian terrorist attacks have not been “more or less at random.” In fact, PA officials have encouraged them incessantly. As CAMERA has noted, on Jan. 21, 2016, Fayez Abu Aita, the spokesman for the Fatah movement that dominates the PA, called on West Bank Arabs to “intensify and develop” attacks against Israelis (“Where's the Coverage? Palestinian Official Calls to ‘Intensify and Develop' Anti-Israel Violence,” Feb. 9, 2016). In a Sept. 16, 2015 speech on official PA TV that preceded an increase of anti-Jewish violence, PA President Mahmoud Abbas falsely claimed Jews were threatening the al-Aqsa mosque, exhorting, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem…blood spilled for Allah.”

Also, CAMERA has noted, Abbas' use of the “al-Aqsa libel” to provoke murderous attacks against Jews, mirrors that of previous Palestinian leaders, such as Yasser Arafat in 2000 and Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1929, among other instances (“Incitement over Temple Mount Leads to Palestinian Violence, Again,” Sept. 16, 2015). This incendiary falsehood has been promoted ceaselessly by PA officials and their media —and frequently cited as a motive by Palestinian terrorists (for example, in his Dec. 2015 court testimony, available online, Nur al-Din Hashiyah, who murdered an IDF soldier, said he did it “due to what your rabbis are doing at al-Aqsa”). Elsewhere, PA media, including children's TV shows, frequently describe Jews as sub-human figures. Fisher's former employer, The Washington Post, conceded as much in a Jan. 25, 2016 article (“Washington Post Reports Palestinian Incitement, Still Misses Point,” CAMERA, Jan. 27, 2016).
 
Dismissing a “culture of hate”

Fisher disclosed none of this to Vox readers. Instead, dismissingly, he said, “Israeli political leaders have cited a “culture of hate” to explain the attacks (a line that should sound familiar to Americans who blame “black culture” for incidents of police violence).” One can wonder why the Vox correspondent's first instinct was to try to impugn observations by Israeli officials on or close to the scene by relating them to “black culture” and “police violence” in a U.S. context. This while mentioning only dismissively the real “culture of [Palestinian] hate” that he fails to detail.

What Fisher hides, the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin, a German think tank spotlighted in “Educating the Next Generation: Changing Palestinian Textbooks as a Precondition for Mutual Understanding.” That report noted that Palestinian textbooks “consistently portray Jews in a strongly negative manner, and often demonize them.” The effect of which is “that the Jewish presence in modern Israel is delegitimized.” A September 2015 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey showed that a plurality of Palestinian Arabs oppose a two-state solution. A majority surveyed support anti-Jewish violence (“Poll: Majority of Palestinians Support Another Intifada,” CAMERA, Sept. 25, 2015).

Perhaps in an effort to minimize the attack in Hebron, Fisher described the terrorists who attempted to murder Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers as “young Palestinian men” who “reportedly [emphasis added] stormed a Hebron checkpoint, stabbing an Israeli soldier in the arm.” The attack being was not in doubt, but Fisher still used the word “reportedly.”

Fisher's willingness to extend the benefit of the doubt to Palestinian terrorists does not extend to Israelis. In comparing the shooting of al-Sharif to that of Brown—after briefly admitting that such a comparison is “imperfect”—he says: “Whereas Wilson says he feared Brown, Azaria had no reason to fear the wounded and bleeding al-Sharif. Whereas Brown had stolen cigarettes, al-Sahir had stabbed, and likely intended to kill, an IDF soldier.” Fisher omitted Azaria's stated concern that the wounded terrorist was wearing an explosive vest. Instead, he reached a conclusion on a matter in which an investigation had yet to conclude and that courts had not ruled on.

Moreover, he failed to mention that—as has been widely reported—an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice determined that Brown was assaulting Wilson and likely trying to steal the police officer's firearm. It's hard to imagine that Fisher was unaware of the DOJ's conclusion; his employer, Vox, reported on it extensively (see here for a partial listing).

Admitting such details, would have undermined the anti-Israel narrative Fisher desperately tried to craft. He claimed the Hebron incident was, as he presented it, a “way to call attention to Israeli overreactions to Palestinian violence…” By contrast, Palestinian terror attacks, are—as if taken from the PLO's guidelines for reporters—merely “indulging in anger.”
 
About that U.N. investigator...

Fisher wrote that a U.N. investigator called the shooting of al-Sharif “a clear case of an extrajudicial execution.” Unjournalistically he failed to identify the U.N. investigator. That official was Christof Heyns. In 2011, Heyns questioned whether the shooting of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. special operations raid complied with “international human rights law standards (“U.N. reps questioning Bin Laden take-down are ‘jerks,'” U.N. Watch, May 9, 2011).”

In a habit that CAMERA has noted previously (“Max Fisher Undone by ‘Occupation' Obsession,” June 18, 2014), Fisher repeatedly invoked the term “occupation.” He omitted that Israel's military occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is not illegal under international law, it's mandatory. Israel gained the territories in self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War and retained them in the 1973 Yom Kippur War—it has held portions of them in absence of a final peace agreement, including a possible “two-state solution,” that Palestinian leaders repeatedly have rejected.

Elsewhere, Fisher refers to “an ongoing, militarized conflict.” Yet, he fails to inform readers that the conflict is “ongoing” because Palestinian leaders have, since the 1930s, refused British, Israeli and U.S. offers for peace and statehood, choosing war and terror instead. Three weeks before Fisher's article appeared, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden proposed the PA and Israel resume “two-state” negotiations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spurned the offer (“Abbas Rejects Peace and Palestinian Statehood, U.S. Media Rejects Coverage,” Times of Israel, April 3). Fisher omitted this too.

Palestinian rejectionism and incitement to anti-Jewish violence were beyond Fisher's worldview. So Vox did not write about them. Instead, the online “news explainer” spun a PLO-compliant narrative with “occupation” as its wobbly point, and attempted to weave an unrelated, nearly two-year-old American incident that it falsely framed, casting aside readily available facts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Invention is nothing new for Vox: in a 2014 article called “11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis,” it falsely claimed that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are “connected only by a bridge that Israel limits traffic on.” (“Vox's Motto Should Be ‘Explaining the News Incorrectly, Repeatedly,''' The Federalist, July 17, 2014). No such bridge existed. Vox issued a correction, noting that it used only one source to get this “crucial fact.”

The question, than, isn't the credibility of Vox's reporting on Israel, the lack of which seems apparent (for a list of other examples, see “In Praise of Vox Media, Max Fisher, and Zack Beauchamp,” Washington Free Beacon, July 17, 2014). A better question is why JTA decided to include an anti-Israel hit piece and, given its omissions and false insinuations, not a very convincing one, in “What we're reading.” If it was an April Fools' Day joke, it was three days late.


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