Newsweek Relies on Electronic Intifada, Gets the Facts Wrong


In an egregiously skewed Nov. 30 article, Newsweek's Carlos Ballesteros relies on Electronic Intifada, the fringe discredited virulently anti-Israel propaganda site, and, unsurprisingly, given his sources, trips up with a ridiculously false factual error in an article about a letter from Senate Democrats to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing plans to demolish two Palestinian villages ("Israel Must Stop Plans to Demolish Palestinian Villages, Senate Democrats Say").
 
In a laughably ahistorical error, the staff writer claims that the Palestinian village of Susiya, which faces demolition because it was established without any building permits, has been in "Palestinian control since the 1830s."
 
 
 
If a West Bank Arab village called Susiya has been in place since the 1830s – (B'Tselem claims it has existed "for at least a century," but then goes on to qualify that "photographs from 1980 show cultivated farmland and livestock pens," but not homes) – it was not under "Palestinian control" at that time or any time. Indeed, the land where Susiya is located was under Ottoman control until 1917, at which point it fell under British control as part of the Mandate. In 1948, when the British withdrew, and Israel's war of Independence ensued, the West Bank land where Susiya is located fell under Jordanian control. The Jordanians ruled that territory until the Six Day War, at which point, Israel gained control of the West Bank, including the land where Susiya is located. Israel has maintained control of that area to this day.
 
As for the Palestinians, the first Palestinian government ever in history came into existence in the 1990s, thanks to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, the Oslo Accords determined that Susiya is part of Area C, meaning that it is under full Israeli civilian and security control. The status of that land has not changed since that time. Thus, contrary to Bellesteros' claim that Susiya has been in "Palestinian control since the 1830s," not for one day in history has Susiya been under Palestinian control.
 
(According to the Israeli organization Regavim, many of the Palestinian residents of Susiya have additional permanent homes in nearby Yatta.)
 
The second village noted in the senators' letter is Khan Al-Ahmar. Bellesteros ignores that its residents, most of who settled there after 2006, have been offered – and have turned down – alternative housing. Moreover, he also ignores what The Los Angeles Times reported in 1994 regarding the Jahalin Bedouin of Khan Al-Ahmar in 1994: "No one, not even [Jahalin member Mohamed Ahmad] Hairsh, claims that his tribe has a legal right to be there."
 
Misrepresenting Israel Anti-Boycott Act
 
In a separate factual error, Ballesteros completely misrepresents the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) in March 2017. Falsely characterizing the bill as much more sweeping than it actually is, Ballesteros writes:
[Sen. Elizabeth] Warren recently came out against the Israeli Anti-Boycott Act, which threatens hefty fines and criminal penalties against any U.S. citizen who supports the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement.
Far from affecting "any U.S. citizen who supports" BDS, the bill narrowly impacts international commerce involving international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations or European Union. As Senator Cardin wrote in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which grossly mischaracterized the bill:

We cannot state this strongly enough: the bill does not “punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.” Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally-protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies. Instead, it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.

In particular, as you know, Congress has the authority to put limits on international commercial conduct. Pursuant to this authority, Congress amended the Export Administration Act (EAA) in 1977 to prohibit U.S. persons from complying with unauthorized foreign boycotts—specifically, the Arab League Boycott of Israel—and authorized penalties against violations. Courts have consistently upheld the Arab League Boycott provisions of the EAA.

The bill makes one small but important change in current law. The EAA currently prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The new legislation would extend this prohibition to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations such as United Nations agencies or the European Union. For example, if the United Nations Human Rights Council requests information from an American company about its business dealings in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories as part of an effort to compile a blacklist of companies doing business with Israel, the bill would prohibit the company from responding.

Because of the breadth of concerns raised in your letter, it may also be helpful to note conduct that the bill does not address.

The bill does not prevent U.S. companies and individuals from expressing their points of view, speaking in favor of boycott, divestment, or sanctions (BDS) activities, engaging in boycott activity of their own accord, or being critical of Israel. Individuals who “actively avoid purchasing goods and services” because of their own political viewpoint would not be subject to the bill. Similarly, the bill does not regulate civil society organizations who are critical of Israeli policies or prevent them from speaking in favor of BDS. The legislation does not encourage or compel persons to do business with Israel, nor does it punish individuals or companies from refusing to do business with Israel based on their own political beliefs, for “purely pragmatic reasons,” or for no reason stated at all. Any suggestion that this bill creates potential criminal or civil liability for these actions is false.

Bellaresteros does not provide readers with a link to the actual bill. Nor does he provide does he link to Senator Cardin's letter refuting the ACLU falsehoods about the bill. Concerning the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the Newsweek journalists provides two secondary links. They are the very same ACLU letter which Senator Cardin tore apart, and an Electronic Intifada article. It is deeply troubling that a Newsweek reporter would rely upon or cite Electronic Intifada. Its editor, Ali Abunimah, opposes the existence of the Jewish state in any borders and has tweeted that supporting Zionism is "continuation in spirit" of the Holocaust. He has called for violent attacks against Israelis and has suggested that Israel targets the organs of Palestinian children. 
 
Newsweek boasts that it "has been a staple of American media for over 80 years, bringing high-quality journalism to millions of readers around the globe." Ballesteros' skewed, error-ridden piece, with its citation of an anti-Israel extremist as if its a legitimate source, indicates that Newsweek's glory days are a bygone era.

Bookmark and Share