The Public Broadcasting Service has done it again! PBS had shown signs of
moderating its penchant for propagandistic, anti-Israel Middle East
documentaries since the outcry over 1989's virulent "Days of Rage."
Over the last decade the Public Broadcasting Service, supported by tax dollars,
viewer contributions and, increasingly, by private corporations and
foundations, has aired at least fifteen documentaries on the Arab-Israeli
conflict. No more than three of these can reasonably be described as
balanced, a standard that Federal statute mandates in "all
programs or series of programs of a controversial nature." The remainder
have projected a clear anti-Israel bias.
"Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians", an hour-long
documentary aired in early March of 1992, is the latest addition to the list.
The broadcast marks the first phase of an ambitious PBS venture, "Perspectives
on Peace," in which the network is promoting study guides, a book of
essays by "noted scholars," and copies of a satellite-facilitated
video-conference featuring audience participation from multiple academic sites.
A promotional pamphlet distributed by PBS describes these spinoff "educational"
products as suitable for academic, community and religious groups as well as
for "peace-studies" programs.
The entire project is directed by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, a professor
of English and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas whose
credentials include the controversial 1983 film, "Women Under Siege".
Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the film elicited
sharp criticism from NEH Chairman William J. Bennett for its stridently pro-PLO
tilt. Bennett termed the work "propaganda" and a "political
tract" that should never have received federal money. Nevertheless,
Fernea's record of tendentiousness has not deterred PBS from sponsoring her new
A veteran activist in promoting Arab views to American audiences,
Fernea, along with George Ball and Gary Sick, is a member of the board of
governors of the Middle East Institute, a quasi-academic, pro-Arab group
heavily drawn from State Department retirees and former oil-company executives.
The Institute, which has displayed a particular interest in American schools,
helped finance the study guide for Fernea's "Perspectives on Peace"
with a $23,000 grant. The documentary itself was underwritten in part by the
Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO).
True to type, the documentary features interviews with a wholly
unrepresentative set of Israelis and Palestinians, whose views are proffered as
the truest and sincerest representation of the conflict and, as well, the
foundation of any hope for peace. "Struggle For Peace" erases or
distorts any and all historical facts which contradict the premise that Israel
bears total responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians and the absence of
peace; omits all reference to the virulent anti-Semitism of Arab governments
and the PLO and the campaigns waged by these parties to annihilate the state of
Israel; ignores current military threats to Israel; excludes mention of the
historical obligations of all parties under international mandates; focuses
narrowly on Israel's allegedly brutal response to civil rebellion and on the
resentments of Palestinian Arabs under Israeli control; and reiterates
ceaselessly that the route to peace lies through Israel's relinquishing of the
West Bank and Gaza.
In pursuit of her candidly stated agenda, "To give a mass
[American] television audience images of people with whom they can identify,"
Fernea freely mangles the Middle East landscape. Thus, most egregiously, her
spokesmen for the Palestinian cause are not Moslems but Christians: a priest
from Jerusalem; a principal at a Friends School; and a "civic leader"
whose long ancestral claim reaches back to the "shepherds' field when they
got the first good news from the angels about the birth of our lord Jesus
Christ." (Is the viewer therefore to understand that the man's ancestors
were Jews? Somehow one doubts it.)
Reliance on these Palestinian "spokesmen" is deceptive in the
extreme. Christians comprise only 5 percent of the Palestinian population, and
their status within the Palestinian Arab community has long been a tenuous one.
Today, in all Moslem-dominated territories, Christians (along with other
minorities) exist under threat from the forces of Islamic fundamentalism; an
attack this April on a Christian village and school in Egypt left fourteen dead.
If the dominant, Moslem, voice is generally omitted, even more
thoroughly expunged are any Palestinian voices that contradict the portrayal of
the Palestinians as oppressed peace-seekers. No mention is made, for example,
of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Moslem
majority, who in the summer of 1989 offered his own vivid opinion on the
subject of the Arab quest for peace: "Kill the Jews until the stone shall
cry, `Oh, Moslem, this Jew is hiding beneath me, come and kill him.'"
Similarly, Fernea advances her thesis of Arab innocence by avoiding any focus
on HAMAS, the violent and virulently anti-Semitic Islamic fundamentalist
movement that claims the support of up to 40% of the population of Gaza and the
West Bank. She devotes half a sentence to them.
Israelis interviewed in the film are as false a measure of the Israeli
public. Ostensibly "ordinary," they are, in fact, among a tiny
minority men who agree to fulfill their military service only if assigned
to areas outside the occupied territories, women who demonstrate weekly for
Israeli withdrawal from those territories. The concerns of truly "ordinary"
Israelis, that majority who continue to express a willingness to compromise with
the Arabs but harbor very concrete fears about the military threat posed by
surrounding Arab states and the continuing terror
attacks of the PLO and kindred Arab
groups, are ridiculed. Viewers are told of the seemingly absurd actions of the
Israeli government preventing Palestinian Arabs from planting trees and
vegetables, or acquiring a dairy herd as if these were the sorts
of dangers the Israeli public and military truly fear. Needless to say, no
Israeli government voice is permitted at any time to provide an explanation or
response to any of the charges leveled.
Sweeping historical falsehoods promoted by the film are actually
surpassed by those in the companion "study guide." Therein can be
found a version of the Middle East past lifted whole from Arab propaganda. A
three-and-a-half page chronology enumerating events in the period 1850-1991:
- reiterates the fraudulent theme that modern-day Israel is an artificial
creation of European Jews collaborating with the British against native Arabs,
omitting any reference to the millennia-long ties of the Jewish people to the
cities and towns of the region;
- omits any mention of the Holocaust;
- fails to note a single act of terror perpetrated by the Arab states, the
PLO, the Muslim fundamentalist Hamas organization, or any Arab group against
Jews, including the myriad instances of hijacking, hostage-taking, and murder
of children, athletes, tourists, commuters, and worshippers;
- notes the creation of the PLO in 1964 without reference to the PLO
Covenant, which stresses the illegitimacy of Israel and the determination of
the PLO to destroy it;
- describes the Six-Day War in terms which, like the film, evade entirely the
issue of the declared Arab intention to annihilate Israel;
- suppresses reference to the dramatic concessions including the
entire Sinai, with its oil fields, settlements, and air bases made by
Israel in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt under the Camp David accords;
- omits any reference to Syria's takeover of Lebanon.
One can only speculate at the ultimate damage to public understanding
and discourse when poisonous materials such as these penetrate mainstream
school and community groups, promoted under the prestigious imprimatur of the
Public Broadcasting Service. Yet concerned Americans retain a means of
self-defense against PBS's biased films and appalling "educational"
materials; they can refuse to underwrite the defamation of Israel by
withholding financial support from the network. Perhaps that, finally, will
focus the thinking of network officials on issues of truth and public trust.