A New National Geographic Documentary With An Old Skew

Nearly all Israel-related articles appearing in the National Geographic Society’s famous magazine in the past 15 years have contained falsified history and partisan political statements disparaging the Jewish nation. The trend continues on NG’s popular cable TV channel with a flawed documentary, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Holiest Sites.  The hour-long film about Jerusalem’s holy sites, made in 2006 and most recently aired on July 16, 2007, contains beautifully filmed, engrossing material, but nevertheless includes prejudicial language, serious omissions and distorted historical accounts.

Inaccurately Explaining Religious Strife By Muslims

The film states that

For Jerusalem’s three world faiths, all claiming descent from Abraham, compromise can be hard to come by. Both Jews and Muslims are convinced they have the right to the Holy Rock.

In a letter to CAMERA, President of National Geographic Television, Michael Rosenfeld, contends that the film “was not meant to suggest that all Jews and all Muslims are equally responsible for social-religious strife in Jerusalem.”  Yet this erroneous impression is precisely what comes across. CAMERA has urged NG to use more accurate, detailed wording such as:

Jerusalem is holy to three world faiths which claim descent from Abraham, and it is also the center of conflict. The Temple Mount, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, has often been at the core of the tension. Israel, which gained control of the Temple Mount in the 1967 war, immediately granted day-to-day control of the site to the Waqf (Islamic Trust) in an effort to reduce conflict. While there has been a small number of Israeli Jews who vehemently object to Muslim control over the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, the Israeli authorities prevent them from carrying out any acts which might challenge the status quo. On the Muslim side, compromise can be hard to come by. Muslim and Palestinian political leaders frequently deny Jewish historical and religious ties to the site and sometimes incite violence.

Inaccurately Explaining the Cause of The 1948 War

In describing what led to the 1948 war and how it actually started, the narrator used phrases such as “Arabs reject the deal [partition plan] outright” and “fighting breaks out between Israel and its Arabs neighbors.” While it’s informative to explain that the Arabs rejected a two state solution, “fighting breaks out” obfuscates more than it informs.  Mr. Rosenfeld told CAMERA that the film’s phraseology does not suggest that both sides initiated the aggression in 1948. In response, we asked Mr. Rosenfeld: “What in this wording makes clear the historical reality that multiple Arab states attacked the nascent Jewish country?”  It would have been more accurate and clear to say, e.g.: “Armies from several neighboring Arab countries attacked the new Jewish state in 1948 in order to annihilate it.”

Prejudicial Language Minimizes the Temple Mount’s Religious Importance to Jews

Distorted and prejudicial language appeared in the very first statement of the documentary:

Jerusalem. Enshrined here is the source of inspiration for three world faiths. For Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, this is a gateway to heaven, some of the most coveted real estate anywhere on Earth, perhaps the most fought-over city in the history of the world. All three religions have spilled their blood in this holy city over three of the world’s most sacred sites – Judaism’s Western Wall, the Islamic Noble Sanctuary, and the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Three locations, three faiths, three gateways to God.

It referred to the Temple Mount by the name the Muslims call it, “the Islamic Noble Sanctuary,” and it failed to note that the Temple Mount (not the Western Wall) is the holiest site for Judaism, the location of the Holy of Holies. A more fair and accurate explanation would include something such as: “This site, called the Temple Mount by the Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by the Muslims, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam.”

The preference for the Muslim view is demonstrated again when almost immediately after the film’s first statement, the narrator says: “Jews call the Noble Sanctuary the Temple Mount.” We pointed out to Mr. Rosenfeld that more chronologically accurate language would be: “Muslims call the Temple Mount the Noble Sanctuary.”

An additional example of NG’s double standard and lack of fairness is the fact that the Arabic translation for Noble Sanctuary, “Haram al-Sharif,” is mentioned six times as compared to not even a single mention of the Hebrew term for the same location, “Har HaBayit.”

Articles Of Bias in National Geographic Magazine

NG’s decades-long record of disparaging Israel includes a 1992 article entitled “Who Are The Palestinians” which falsely claimed that the Palestinian Arabs are descendants of the ancient Canaanites and it maliciously depicted Israeli Jews of today as interlopers and exploiters.

1996 articles entitled “Three Faces of Jerusalem” (April), “Syria Behind the Mask” (July) and “Gaza: Where Peace Walks A Tightrope” (September) characterized the Israelis as intruders in the Middle East and as exploiters and wrongdoers. The July story made much of Israeli possession of the Syrian Golan but failed to mention that Syria lost the territory as a consequence of decades of bombarding Israel from the Golan Heights, nor did it point out that the Golan was part of ancient Israel’s Bashan region. In fact, Bible references to “Golan in Bashan” are in Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 20:8, Joshua 21:27 and 1 Chronicles 6:56. The September story wrongly portrayed Israel as the oppressor of the supposedly blameless suffering Gaza Palestinians but not a word was said about Yasir Arafat’s squandering of most of the aid money and his ruthless, brutal suppression of dissent, including the detention and torture of Gazan psychiatrist and human rights activist, Iyad Saaraj. 

National Geographic has once again chosen to stand by its flawed work rather than to issue corrections, clarifications or revisions.  The President of National Geographic Television, Michael Rosenfeld, wrote to CAMERA on August 16, 2007: “We stand by our film and do not intend to make any changes.”

An organization that fails to take accuracy and fairness seriously does not deserve to be regarded as a serious or reliable organization.  

For more CAMERA articles on National Geographic, click here.

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