Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s star correspondent regularly sent to cover major international events, alighted in Israel for the recent elections. Reflecting the general obliviousness of CNN coverage toward the Israeli populace’s deep anxiety in the face of almost daily terror assaults, a seemingly baffled Amanpour declared Sharon’s victory “incredible.”
How, she asked her colleague Jerrold Kessel, “did they manage to make this campaign succeed so well?” Kessel, a veteran in the region, replied, “That’s the big question.”
The stunning Sharon landslide, unprecedented in Israeli history, was, however, soon given a muted importance by CNN commentators. Low voter turnout, Amanpour began repeating in the hours and days after the results were known, meant Ariel Sharon would have “no overwhelming mandate.”
The interjecting of her own views in 2001 echoed Amanpour’s coverage from 1996. In reporting the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu, she allowed her chagrin with Israeli voters to be apparent when she stressed the views of those who considered that outcome “a sad day and a loss, a big loss for the Middle East peace process.” In a remarkable statement the day before the latest vote, Amanpour revealed a striking lack of understanding of recent events, blaming Netanyahu even now: “What many people think is that under the several years of Netanyahu’s prime ministership, the peace process was stalled, which basically has amounted to the frustration that the Palestinians feel right now” (!)
As in the past, CNN relied heavily on commentary critical of the Likud party. Thus Chemi Shalev was available for much of the coverage, and was there to rebut swiftly the statements of Uzi Landau, a Likud Knesset member who said the Israeli people had sent a message rejecting policies that ceded Jerusalem and incurred war in response.
When Jerrold Kessel asked of Landau what kind of peace “you can try and strike with the Palestinians,” the parliamentarian responded, “a peace with give and take. That you don’t sit with someone that, at the same time [he’s negotiating, is] running terrorist activities against you. That is also teaching his kids from a very young age ... Jihad in order to obliterate you off the face of the earth. I mean, if we pay hundreds of millions of Israeli shekels every month to the Palestinians so that they will raise up the future generations to war, that’s not peace.”
As though “give and take” were a controversial approach and the teaching of Jihad to new generations of Palestinian children a minor matter, Amanpour promptly sought a disclaimer from Chemi Shalev. She said, “Those were quite extreme comments we just heard from Likud Party member Uzi Landau. First of all, he said that this shows that the Israeli people are totally disillusioned with Oslo. But the facts don’t bear that out, the polls don’t bear that out.”
Shalev assured Amanpour that Israelis supposedly support Barak’s “far reaching concessions” even if they rejected him at the polls. CNN offered no evidence for the assertion that the public liked Barak’s policies while rejecting him in a landslide. In fact, a January 30 poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research found that 70.4% of Israelis thought Barak’s negotiating stance was too conciliatory. Moreover, while the poll showed 72% support peace efforts of some variety, only a minority of 28% now favor the Oslo process while 43% oppose it.
Nor did Amanpour or her CNN colleagues characterize any Palestinians as “extreme,” as they had Landau. On the contrary, Amanpour deferentially interviewed Marwan Barghouti, introducing him as the man “who’s been instrumental in leading the Intifada on the West Bank.” Although she noted that Israel offered dramatic concessions to the Palestinians and was met with violence in response, she never confronted Barghouti with his own direct role in that destructive sequence.
Similarly, while Amanpour had interviewed Prime Minister Ehud Barak in October, aggressively demanding to know whether Israel was not exacerbating violence with its retaliation against Palestinian assaults, she is entirely silent about Barghouti’s orchestration of violence that has caused death and injury to both Jews and Arabs. Indeed, Barghouti has admitted openly (New Yorker, Jan....) that the violence was desired and fueled by the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Amanpour’s tilt toward Palestinian perspectives extends beyond the subject of the elections. An earlier, February 1, segment ostensibly addressed “the issue of whether Palestinian refugees should have the right to return to their homes in Israel.” Completely one- sided, the report included interviews with four Arabs denouncing Israel for its past conduct and policies and one Israeli -- Benny Morris. A so-called new historian who claims that Israel was more responsible for creating the Palestinian refugee problem than has generally been acknowledged, Morris is highly controversial and his research has been challenged by numerous scholars as shoddy, false and deceptive. Nevertheless, he alone is cited for comment on Israel’s views of this critical matter.
Segments such as this one and the tendentious coverage of the recent elections reinforce the acute unease of many viewers about CNN’s commitment to objectivity and fairplay where Israel is concerned. While the network’s bias may play well among much of CNN’s worldwide audience, that hardly justifies its sacrifice of basic journalistic standards.
Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 23, 2001