After Ignoring Extremist Language by Palestinian President, NPR Focuses on Netanyahu’s Wife

Sara Netanyahu’s temper more newsworthy than Mahmoud Abbas’s hateful speech

What’s with NPR’s news judgment?

In December, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said, in reference to Jews, that “there is no one better at falsifying history or religion than them,” and in case there was any doubt about who he meant by “them,” quickly followed up with a verse from the Koran that casts Jews as distorting and deceiving people. NPR’s Daniel Estrin covered Abbas’s speech, but altogether ignored the anti-Jewish remarks.

In early January, Abbas delivered a lecture which he rewrote Jewish history, claiming, among other things, that Oliver Cromwell in 1653 meant to deport Europe’s Jews to the Middle East, and that Jews during the Holocaust preferred slaughter over life in Palestine. The Jewish community, left, center and right, forcefully condemned the outlandish speech, with many concluding that it revealed Abbas is not a partner for peace.

NPR was unimpressed. One brief paragraph, buried toward the end of a segment about the American vice president, referenced the televised speech — but avoided any mention of Abbas’s rambling conspiracy theories and wild fabrications.

But yesterday, NPR and its correspondent in Jerusalem did find some remarks worthy of detailed exploration. Ten years ago, the wife of Israel’s prime minister was recorded losing her temper during a phone call with one of her aides. In the recently released recordings, Sara Netanyahu briefly screamed in fury about how she was characterized in a gossip column. It is the kind of embarrassing story that might appear in a gossip column. On NPR, though, Daniel Estrin made sure to translate nearly every word of the leaked recording.

If NPR believes its readers are served by a 10-year-old recording a prime minister’s spouse losing her temper, so be it. But its decision to feature Sara Netanyahu’s screams in a stand-alone story serves to highlight the network’s kid-glove treatment of the Palestinian president.

Never mind the coverage of the leaked phone call. With or without that story, about a governmental spouse, NPR owes its audience an unvarnished account of Mahmoud Abbas, an elected official. His contributions to the state of relations with Israel are clearly newsworthy. And NPR listeners who believe they’re getting thorough coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict deserve to know when he slurs Jews, invents history, and seeks to delegitimize the Jewish connection to Israel.

NPR’s coverage of Sara Netanyahu’s outburst is not the first time the network has zoomed in on Benjamin Netanyahu’s family members. Two recent articles focused on indiscretions and ugly language by the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu.

The Palestinian president has been spared such scrutiny. (And his millionaire sons, whose business interests are tied to a Palestinian Authority widely viewed by its citizens as corrupt, seem to have been spared any scrutiny whatsoever.) 

As CAMERA has noted, Abbas’s January speech overflowed with extreme rhetoric:

Aside from pronouncing the death of the Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, he rejected the Jewish connection to Israel — “it has nothing to do with Judaism” — and denied the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the country, offering wild conspiracy theories to explain to his Palestinian audience why the Jews are there in the first place.

Among the fabrications: Abbas claimed that Oliver Cromwell, a 17th century English leader who was sympathetic to the idea of readmitting Jews to England, in fact hatched a conspiracy to ship European Jews to the Middle East. He maintained that Jews weren’t persecuted in Europe because their religion, but rather due to their “social function.” He insisted early Zionist leader Theodor Herzl coined the slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land” to convey his supposed desire to “erase the Palestinians from Palestine.” He described a “secret meeting” of European leaders in the early 1900s who, fearing the Arab world was poised to inherit European civilization, devised a plan to sow infighting to prevent the dreaded inheritance. The expulsion and flight of Jews from the Arab world, Abbas insisted, was all part of a scheme by Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion.

The Jews themselves didn’t want anything to do with the land of Israel, Abbas continued. “Even during the Holocaust, they did not emigrate.” (In fact, Arab leaders pressured the British administrators of Palestine to prevent Jewish immigration, and the British largely complied even during and after the Holocaust. American envoy Earl G. Harrison in 1945 reported to President Truman that most Jews in displaced persons camps “want to be evacuated to Palestine now.” The Holy Land is “clearly the choice of most,” and “definitely and pre-eminently the first choice,” he added. That same year, a Red Cross representative concluded that “Ninety-five percent of the Jewish refugees in Europe would like to emigrate to Palestine.”)

Abbas also suggested Israel traffics in drugs to debilitate Palestinian children, and defended payments to terrorists in Israeli jails.

Although the language alarmed Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum, it was ignored by NPR, which limited its coverage to the following paragraph:

In a rambling and fiery speech, Abbas directed a colloquial Arabic phrase at Trump – literally “may your house be destroyed” – that is often used casually but was widely criticized by Israeli leaders and seen as brash rhetoric directed at a foreign leader.

In his December speech, Abbas said,

At this occasion, I don’t want to discuss history or religion, because there is no one better at falsifying history or religion than them. But if we read the Torah, it says that the Canaanites lived here before Abraham and haven’t left since that time. It hasn’t been interrupted. That’s in the Torah. If they want to fabricate, ‘to distort the words from their [proper] usages,’ as God said I don’t want to get into religion.

“To distort the words from their usages” appears several times in the Koran in reference to Jews. Chapter five verses 12 and 13, for example, state, “Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel…. So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them …. They distort words from their [proper] usages …. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them….”

And chapter 4 verse 46 of the Koran reads, “Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages…. Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few.”

But again, Abbas’s anti-Jewish language was not of interest to NPR, which covered the speech, but not its ugliest parts.

NPR listeners expect full, forthright coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — which would require full, forthright coverage of the Palestinian leadership. Unfortunately, the network continues to fall short.

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