Paralleling the increased anti-Jewish violence in Jerusalem in recent months has been an increasingly visible bias in the coverage provided by The Wall Street Journal’s two main correspondents in Israel, Joshua Mitnick and Nicholas Casey. Unbalanced treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in The Wall Street Journal’s news pages is not new, but it has become so pronounced that it presents a misleading perception of reality to the Journal’s influential readership.
The Journal’s bias involves several recurring patterns:
1) Negative Epithets for Israelis, Avoiding Such Epithets for Palestinians
The reporters tend to attach negative labels to Israelis, while avoiding such labels for Palestinian Arabs, even though the beliefs espoused by the latter – as well as resulting actions – are objectively more extreme and violent.
Mitnick and Casey evince an unwritten policy of not labeling Hamas as a terrorist organization. They routinely refer to the group as a “militant” or “political” organization. For example, on October 30, in an article discussing funds to rebuild Gaza, Casey describes Hamas as “the Palestinian militant and political group that runs the enclave.” It is not until three paragraphs later that Casey reveals concerns that funds to rebuild Gaza might fall into the hands of Hamas because “donors including the U.S. and the European Union classify [it] as a terrorist group.” Similarly, on October 23, a terrorist drove into a crowd of Israelis at a train station. The terrorist had links to Hamas, which Mitnick identifies as a “Palestinian militant group.”
Hamas was among the earliest practitioners of suicide bombings and launched other indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets soon after the Oslo accords were signed in 1993. Its ideology is unequivocally genocidal. If the United States and the European Union have labeled Hamas as a terrorist organization why the hesitance on the part of Mitnick and Casey to do likewise?
In a series of articles about the attempted assassination by a Palestinian man of the Jewish activist and rabbi Yehuda Glick, whenever Glick’s name was mentioned it was accompanied by the description “right-wing activist.” In fact, Glick agitates for the right of Jews to pray on Temple Mount, considered Judaism’s holiest site. He advocates a non-violent approach to gain for Jews what Muslims already exercise. Mitnick and Casey do not explain why Glick’s activities and stance deserve the label “rightwing.” Why not simply describe his views and let readers decide?
In an October 31 article discussing the attempted murder of Glick, Mitnick and Casey write, “Israel alleged that Mr. Hijazi had tried to kill Yehuda Glick, a right-wing Jewish activist and rabbi.” So they refer to the would-be killer by the respectable title of “Mr.” while the victim is “rightwing.” Is it not self-evident that “Mr Hijazi” is the one who deserves to be labeled a “gunman” or “would-be assassin” for trying to murder Yehuda Glick?
A day later, Mitnick was at it again, writing that “tapping into popular outrage over Israel’s decision to seal the holy compound a day earlier and Israel security service’s killing of a Palestinian suspected of shooting a right-wing Israeli activist, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party had called for a ‘day of rage’ on Friday.” Again, the Palestinian who attempted to murder Glick bears no epithet, but Glick, the victim, does.
2) Israeli Actions Erroneously Identified as the Starting Point of a Series of Violent Events
This last quoted passage above also illustrates a second pattern of bias, in which Israeli actions are erroneously designated as the initiating event in a series of violent actions.
A more accurate account would have established that the Israeli security measures were a response to Palestinian violence. The governing Fatah party had irresponsibly spurred Palestinians to lash out. Furthermore, Abbas’s calls for a “day of rage” only further incited Palestinian anger, undermining attempts by Israeli police to contain the unrest.
Throughout Mitnick’s and Casey’s dispatches, Israeli actions to suppress Palestinian violence are invariably designated as the starting point of a problem and Israel is blamed for provoking a Palestinian response, when it would be more accurate to identify Palestinian violence as the initiating event.
On October 24, Mitnick blamed Jews for the increasing unrest around Jerusalem, stating, “tensions have spiked after Jewish settlers moved into dozens of new residences and raised Israeli flags.” Earlier official Palestinian incitement to act against Jews and Israelis is ignored as is the fact that these residences are situated in areas widely understood as going to Israel in any future agreement.
On October 28, Mitnick again sows confusion, writing, “Israel plans to build… in areas of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians as part of a future state.” But a paragraph later we learn that the building would be located in a space linked to existing Jewish neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo and Har Homa.
In another article on the rising violence in the West Bank, Mitnick chooses to mention first the “lynching” of a Palestinian “by Jewish vigilantes who were taking revenge for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths.” Why mention the “lynching” first when the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youths precipitated the Jewish vigilante act?
3) More Acknowledgment of Muslim Claims than Jewish Ones
Mitnick and Casey give ample acknowledgement of Muslim and Palestinian claims but give Israeli claims short shrift.
In the October 31 article co-written by Mitnick and Casey, the authors establish that “Israel completely shut one of Islam’s holiest sites…” A sentence later it states that the “site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.” Missing is acknowledgement that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site.
A paragraph after that they return to emphasizing its importance to Muslims, repeating a claim by Palestinian President Abbas that the closure is a “declaration of war” on Islam. But they only offer an incomplete – and inaccurate – acknowledgment of its importance to Jews, stating that the “Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa mosque on the hilltop,which sit directly above the Western Wall, Judaism holy sites.” Casey and Mitnick are unwilling to let their readers in on a fundamental historical fact, that the Temple Mount on which these Muslim holy sites were built is the holiest site in Judaism. That fact is essential to understanding why the Muslim structures were built there in the first place. Muslims built Al-Aqsa mosque on the ruins of the Church of St. Mary of Justinian, which in turn was located on what was recognized as a place sacred to Jews as a symbol of Islam’s supercession of Christianity and Judaism.
4) Treating Palestinians as Incapable of Acting Responsibly Yet According Credibility to Their Claims
A Nov. 11, 2014 headline on further Palestinian violence states, “Stabbings roil Israel as Strife Spreads.” The headline gives no sense of who is guilty of the stabbings and the strife. Three days earlier on November 8, 2014 an article described how violence had “gripped” Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “Violence”, “Stabbings” and “Strife” are terms that point to no responsible party.
Palestinian murder is frequently described in a passive voice. The lead sentence states “Two Israelis were killed.” Further down, “an Israeli soldier was stabbed.” In the third paragraph, finally an active tense, a “knife-wielding Palestinian stabbed three Israelis,” but then resorting to depersonalized account that a “26-year old woman later died from her wounds.” The next paragraph, again features a familiar pattern, noting the “daily rioting… first triggered by the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teen by Israeli Jews.” Notice that the three Jewish teens kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists have now entirely disappeared down the The Wall Street Journal’s memory hole.
By contrast, on November 13, 2014 the headline states, “Palestinians Say Israelis Set Mosque Alight.”The lead sentence repeats the unproven charge that the mosque fire is part of a series of “vigilante attacks by Israeli extremists.” The use of the word “extremist” is notable, as Hamas only manages to earn the weaker label of “militant.”
As is his and Casey’s pattern, Mitnick describes Palestinian acts of violence as a response to Israeli actions and Palestinian violence is presented as something that Palestinians have no direct control over. Mitnick depicts Palestinians as reactive to Israeli provocations, lacking any capacity to exercise restraint or free will. They are “gripped” by violence, as if contracting a case of the flu. The article states,
“The fire [in the mosque] came amid allegations… that Israeli extremists are seeking to gain control of Muslim holy sites… a catalyst for months of riots…”
“Also sure to fan tensions, Israel… said it advanced plans to build 200 housing units in Ramot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem…”
It is not until the 11th paragraph in the article, that Mitnick informs readers that there were in fact no witnesses to the arson attack on the mosque and that the investigation was looking into many possible motives, including the possibility that it was set by West Bank Arabs.
The Wall Street Journal is regarded as a newspaper that tries to stick to the facts and not embellish news articles with bias and political agendas. Mitnick and Casey have fallen into a pattern of biased reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hopefully they can recognize this themselves and self-correct. If not the Journal editors should step in and restore the trust readers have had in the paper.