Anti-Israel Bias, Ms. Style

Ms., a bimonthly publication with a circulation of approximately 250,000 readers, promotes itself as providing “Powerful Investigative Reporting” and “In-depth National and International News Coverage.” The largest section of the magazine is devoted to news and includes analyses of legal, cultural, social and political concerns that directly affect women. The September/October 1998 issue of Ms., for example, examined loopholes in the recently passed Violence Against Women Act here in the United States and reviewed anti-woman legislation enacted in Iran. The issue featured as its first news story an article entitled, “Israeli and Palestinian Feminists Forge a Link for Peace,” by Etta Prince-Gibson. Although the article focused on the joint efforts of two feminist groups in Israel, its introduction presented a distorted and one-sided account of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Under the guise of covering a feminist topic, Prince-Gibson used Ms. to blame Israel alone for the deadlock in the peace process.

She began by claiming:

The Peace process has been going downhill since May 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu of the rightist Likud party was elected Prime Minister …

The facts are otherwise. The peace process came to a halt in March 1996—not in May—because of an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks including the bombing of buses, crowded shopping areas and other locations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. After 62 Israelis were killed in a three week period, then Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres halted talks with the Palestinians, suspended the planned withdrawal from Hebron and imposed a total closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Prince-Gibson was similarly reckless with the facts one sentence later, charging that the current Israeli government “has done nothing to advance the peace process.” In fact, the government concluded negotiations on Hebron and redeployed from Judaism’s second holiest city. In addition, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were released and negotiations were resumed with the Palestinian Authority on outstanding Interim Agreement issues.

Prince-Gibson was yet again careless in characterizing Israeli policy when she wrote:

[t]he Israeli government stripped Palestinian Jerusalemites of their residency permits . . . . [and] was systematically forcing large numbers of Palestinians out of Jerusalem, despite its claim of only minor dislocations.

Prince-Gibson leveled these serious allegations without offering supporting evidence. In fact, Arabs have never been “systematically forced out” of Jerusalem as Prince-Gibson charged. Rather, Arabs themselves have permitted their residency status to lapse because they chose either to leave Jerusalem or to become citizens of another country.

Any individual who resided in Jerusalem in 1967 when Israel reunified the city is entitled to Israeli citizenship. The small number of Arabs who have requested citizenship are today full Israeli citizens. Most Arab residents of Jerusalem, however, have not sought Israeli citizenship. By choice, they remain permanent residents instead and are subject to the same laws that apply to all permanent residents of Israel.

Under Israeli law, permanent residency status expires if a resident remains abroad for seven years, receives a permanent residency permit from another country or becomes a citizen of another country through the process of naturalization. In 1998, residency of 788 Arabs expired in Jerusalem. It is important to note, however, that 618 of those Arabs were living abroad (outside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza). The remaining 170 lost residency status because they had been living in the West Bank or Gaza. No one was forced to leave the city in 1998 because of these expirations. Moreover, the fact that Jerusalem’s Arab population has actually increased significantly rather than decreased since 1967 undercuts Prince-Gibson’s charges of deportation.

Prince-Gibson’s pejorative characterizations of government officials and organizations further taint this article. She labeled Likud “rightist” and factions within the Likud-led coalition “extremist.” But she did not apply corresponding terms to characterize Palestinian and left-wing Israeli organizations. For example, Prince-Gibson’s article focused on an alliance between two fringe organizations in Israel. However, not once did she tell readers that the groups do not reflect the views of mainstream Israelis or Palestinians.

The forging of an alliance between Palestinian and Israeli women aimed at promoting peace in the region, improving women’s status and developing public awareness is a subject worthy of coverage. Unfortunately, this article, marred by distortion and inaccuracy, tarnishes such efforts. Ironically, Ms. has faulted other publications, including Time magazine, for presenting “opinion barely dressed up as news reportage.” Ms. is guilty of the very charge it levels at others.

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