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Media Analyses

Nightline's Arab Line

Even after the Passover Massacre, one of the bloodiest Palestinian atrocities in memory, which left 29 Israelis dead and more than one hundred wounded, ABC’s Nightline blamed Israel, first by distorting the facts of the attack, and of the conflict generally. Covering the March 27th suicide bombing in a Netanya hotel that had occurred just hours earlier, Nightline reduced the Israeli dead and wounded to mere statistics, and gave Arab spokesmen free rein to portray the Palestinians as the real victims of terror attacks in which scores of Jews have been killed. An Israeli family interviewed during the program was entirely unrepresentative of the country and, like ABC, also blamed Israel first.

Host Chris Bury and his Nightline colleagues did not interview any survivors of the attack – only an Israeli who was across the street in another hotel was briefly featured. Nor were any family members of the many victims featured or interviewed. No victims were named or pictured, and no information was provided that would have put a human face on the attack.

Bury and friends also managed to interview not even a single Israeli government spokesman – Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir was shown only making a very brief statement.

During the interview of the Israeli family by ABC’s Dan Harris, the head of the family, Yehuda Bar-Shalom, begins to state that Israelis expected the Palestinians to launch attacks during Passover, but then catches himself and says extremists:

BAR-SHALOM: Most Israelis were aware to the fact that the Palestinians are going to do – I mean, the extremists are going to do anything possible to make the happiness of the seder disappear and vanish.

The implication, uncorrected by ABC, is that only a small proportion of Palestinians support suicide attacks, but Palestinian polls show that a substantial majority, over 64 percent, support such attacks inside Israel. (Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, Poll No. 94, March 6, 2002)

A female guest, again entirely unrepresentative of mainstream Israeli opinion, then offers that the attack has only strengthened her desire for negotiations:

ISRAELI: ... I believe in negotiations. I have always --

HARRIS: Even despite the fact that somebody has blown themselves up.

ISRAELI: Even more so.

HARRIS: Even more so now?


ABC’s reporter then continued:

HARRIS: This man and his family say they hope their government will not give in to those calling for a new military offensive. Their views are not shared by everyone in this deeply-divided country.

Their views are not shared by everyone? Try their views are shared by virtually no one in a country that is deeply unified.

And then, the final insult – according to Harris, the family compared the Israelites’ oppression in ancient Egypt, and their liberation celebrated during Passover, with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In other words, the Palestinians are the ancient Jews, and Israel is Pharaoh:

HARRIS: Passover celebrates the Jews’ liberation from bondage in ancient Egypt. This family says the only way for peace now is for the Israelis to release the Palestinians from their grip.

One can only wonder where ABC found this fringe family. Certainly, there is no need to wonder why the network implies that they are somehow representative or typical, and features them so prominently: Why bash Israel when you can find Israelis who will do it for you?

Following this bizarre segment was another one, only slightly less so, reported by John Donvan, on what passes for “normal” in Israel. Typical of the segment was this statement:

DONVAN: Now Israelis know that their normal is a make-believe and not entirely healthy normal. The country has fought so many wars in its brief history, or spent so much time on the brink of war, that living with it, mandatory military service, the guns everywhere, and the casualties, it all has come to be accepted as just one of the costs of being Israeli.

Has Israel fought so many wars, or has it been attacked so many times by Arab “neighbors” who refuse to accept its right to exist in peace? Donvan apparently is not entirely clear on this.

And then finally, on one of the bloodiest days in recent Israeli history, back to Chris Bury for a more-than-six-minute interview with Saudi PR flack Adel al-Jubeir, who explained that Palestinian suicide bombers were morally and otherwise equivalent to Israeli soldiers who try to stop suicide bombers:

AL-JUBEIR: Well, I can't read the minds of the perpetrators of this. But what I can tell you is that it does not deviate from previous attacks that have occurred on a regular basis. Nor is it any different from Israeli counterattacks that have occurred in the past year or year and a half.

There was – surprise – no response to this by Bury. Referring familiarly at one point to his guest as Adel, Bury simply accepted this shameless rewriting of history and moved on to his next softball question.

While there was apparently no time to interview an Israeli official, there was more than enough time to turn over a quarter of the program to this Saudi spin doctor. Clearly, should Ted Koppel leave Nightline, Chris Bury will make a worthy successor.

The bottom line is that with or without Koppel as host, ABC apparently cannot shed its anti-Israel mentality, even after 29 Israelis are slaughtered, and more than a hundred are injured, while celebrating Passover.

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