National Public Radio can't seem to help itself — whatever the Middle East subject, whatever the day, anti-Israel bias percolates. The week marking Oslo's tenth anniversary was typical.
There were no reviews of the failed peace effort hailed so enthusiastically for years by the network, no look at Yasir Arafat's central role in the violence that shadows the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians. (Nor had there ever been in the preceding decade any serious scrutiny by NPR of the disastrous Palestinian flouting of Oslo's imperatives to promote reconciliation with Israel and reject terror.) Multiple NPR reports on September 8 about Ahmed Qurei, recently dubbed Prime Minister by Arafat to replace Mamoud Abbas, recently ousted by Arafat, were of a piece with the rest. In segments without any Israeli speakers, NPR interviewers directed softball queries about Queri to Palestinian commentators, in one case to a journalist and in another to a Palestinian-American academic.
An NPR reporter asked the first if Qurei were, as reputed, "a pragmatist" and "charismatic." The guest agreed he was popular, but cautioned that Qurei faces a "rough and hard-line Israeli government." The academic explained to another NPR host that Qurei is "very moderate" and "popular," but will only succeed if – again – Sharon cooperates on the road map.
Not a question was posed as to Qurei's longstanding insistence on the so-called Palestinian "right of return" — a recipe for the destruction of Israel. Nor was anyone interested in exploring the new PM's striking comments about the Aqaba Summit. According to MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), Qurei told the Lebanese daily An Nahar in June: "The words of President Bush at Aqaba, that Israel is a Jewish state, aroused great concern among us. These words should not have been said."
Interesting from an "architect of Oslo" But not to NPR.
Elected Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, however, get no similar cozy treatment. NPR has allotted whole programs to Arab speakers blasting Sharon as "hated," "hard-line," "right-wing" and a "war criminal" - without a single Israeli voice permitted in reply.
NPR reporters themselves stoke the criticism, as when network favorite Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi was asked about Sharon's apartment in Jerusalem's Old City.
"That site is offensive to Palestinians," prompted the reporter. "Like a bone in the throat," agreed Khalidi.
Not that Israeli speakers aren't heard at all. Even mainstream experts and officials representing the views of the majority of the public are interviewed at times, if often in lopsided segments tilted toward Arab or marginal Israeli perspectives.
But most smiled upon among Israelis are those who can be relied on to slam their government — people like Akiva Eldar, a journalist from the Left fringe of the nation's political spectrum. He was interviewed by Scott Simon on September 13 on the question of expelling Arafat.
So extreme is Eldar that his liberal colleague, Nahum Barnea, from Yediot Aharanot, memorably denounced him for failing the "lynch test" — for excoriating Israel incessantly and refusing to fault the Palestinians even when they had brutally lynched and mutilated two Israelis in Ramallah. Nor had he ever, according to his critic, rebuked the Palestinians as they systematically violated Oslo.
Eldar proceeded to tell NPR listeners the "problem is not really Arafat." In a coarse parroting of the rhetoric of Israel's detractors, he charged that Ariel Sharon wants "a kind of Bantustein, which is, you know, the Palestinian version of Bantustan, the South African Bantustan." The NPR guest also had a crude comment about President George Bush. He complained that "Big Daddy" is "not willing to take the two wild kids into a closed room and make sure they make peace."
There was no other speaker in the segment.
This is "balanced" coverage in an ordinary week on NPR. Now the network faces a dilemma — actually a quagmire. It continuously produces distortions inimical to Israel while at the same time both NPR itself and nearly 700 public radio outlets broadcasting NPR programs across America seek financial support from Jewish contributors.
It's getting tougher to persuade those concerned about Israel's existential battle, Jews and non-Jews alike, to shell out for a tax-supported, listener-funded institution that seriously misrepresents the Arab-Israeli conflict.