Suicide-Bomber Chic and More at NPR

National Public Radio bias is unabating and public criticism is vital. CAMERA recently issued an alert documenting one-sided programs broadcast on January 9 and 14 in which unsupported and baseless accusations were leveled against Israel by Palestinians or fringe critics and Israel’s defenders were totally excluded or given scant voice. Again, on January 19 and 21, the network aired indefensibly one-sided reports, presenting ONLY the charges of Israel’s detractors and omitting essential context and counterpoint.

Please read the following and take measures suggested below to counter the damaging and unprofessional coverage.

1) January 19 “All Things Considered”

NPR host Robert Siegel reported on Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel’s angry reaction to an art exhibit in Stockholm considered by many to be a glorification of Palestinian terrorism. In protest against the exhibit, Mazel unplugged a light illuminating a pool of blood-red water on which floated an image of a female suicide bomber, and tossed the light into the water. The ambassador’s action came in the context, he later explained, of chronic anti-Israel activity in Sweden, some of which the creator of the art exhibit, Dror Feiler, promoted.

According to a January 18 interview with the Ambassador:

Dror Feiler is the main anti-Israel activist in Sweden. In the past few years before I got here, he was known as someone who stands outside the embassy and passes out flyers against Israel. He appears in lectures here and he writes articles and it is all against Israel. Every second word of his about Israel are the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘racism’. He is Israel’s number one enemy and everything that he does is Anti-Israel. [Interview with Zvi Mazel, Israel’s Ambassador in Sweden and Dror Feiler, the artist, IBA RESHET BET, JAN. 18, 2004, By courtesy of Prof. Murray Kahl]

But Siegel omitted any reference to the anti-Israel environment and interviewed only Feiler. The NPR host did refer to having “tried” to reach Mazel, but gave no indication why, if Mazel couldn’t be interviewed, the network didn’t find one of the many other speakers who could have presented Israel’s views. Siegel lobbed mostly sympathetic questions and was silent in response to Feiler’s extreme allegations, including his charge that Israel is “a rogue state.” Feiler said:

…Mr. Mazel is behaving the same way like his government is behaving. He has disrespected international laws, and he is bullying his way around like the Israeli government is doing. And it’s not surprising that the diplomats of such a rogue state, I would call them, are behaving like this.

In contrast to NPR, most other mainstream media provided a broader view of the individuals involved in the incident and the backg round against which Mazel acted. Excerpts below are typical:

Jan 18, New York Times — Greg Myre:

Mr. Mazel, who has served in his post for a little over a year, said he has faced considerable anger directed at Israel during his time in Sweden. “There is a hostile ambience in this country that is orchestrated by the press and the extreme left,” he said.

Jan 19, UPI — Joshua Brilliant:

The controversial piece was the work of a former Israeli, Dror Feiler, and his Swedish wife Gunilla Skold-Deiler. Dror Feiler, 52, was raised in a communist kibbutz in Israel, moved to Sweden in 1973, and gave up his Israeli citizenship.

Jan 19, Los Angeles Times — Laura King::

“Maybe if he had been sitting in that restaurant, and his wife had been killed, he might have changed his mind,” said Tova Bahat, who was widowed in the [Haifa terrorist] attack [committed by the Palestinian woman featured in Feiler’s exhibit], and her 3-year-old son critically hurt.

Jan 20, Associated Press — Dan Perry:

Reflecting a deepening rift with Europe, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden received strong support in Israel after vandalizing a Stockholm art exhibit he saw as glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers. Zvi Mazel’s outburst – captured on a security camera before he was escorted from Sweden’s Museum of National Antiquities – added fuel to a debate over artistic freedom and Europe’s views about Israel. But Mazel said those were minor issues compared with what he described as a tide of European anti-Semitism that reminded him of the eve of the Second World War.

“This exhibit was the culmination of dozens of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish events in Sweden,” the veteran diplomat told the Associated Press by phone. “When you don’t protest it gets worse and worse. It had to be stopped somehow, even by deviating from the behaviour of the buttoned-down diplomat.”

The exhibit opened in tandem with an international conference on preventing genocide set for this month in Stockholm, but is not tied to it. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson David Saranga said the exhibit broke an understanding Israel had with Sweden that the genocide conference would not include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There has long been debate over where criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. But the current round touched a deeper chord because many Israelis feel outsiders often accept the Palestinians’ use of suicide bombings against civilians…

Even government critics in Israel sided with Mazel. ‘Mazel was not an ambassador but a human being,’ wrote columnist Ben Caspit in the Maariv newspaper. “His hand, which pulled the plug, was the hand of all of us”…

“We are in the 1930s now: That is the feeling of many of us who know history,” said Mazel, referring to the decade that saw the Nazi takeover in Germany and led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews. “There is a feeling among many people, including me, of a tragedy that could be coming.”

2) January 21 "All Things Considered"

In yet another segment faulting Israel for its construction of a security barrier, five Palestinians are heard commenting on the intrusion of the structure in their lives and neighborhood near Jerusalem. The specific theme of this segment, devoted entirely to Palestinian sentiment, is the allegedly special pain experienced by Arabs employed to help construct the barrier. Other than one passing phrase by an Arab resident of Jerusalem to the effect that suicide bombings may be reduced by the structure, the entire program presents Palestinian accusations, anger and frustration.

Any story devoted to examining the impact of the new barrier on Palestinians cannot pretend to be fair, complete or accurate if it omits the Palestinian-launched violence that triggered building of the structure. Yet, here as in many NPR segments, grievances of Palestinians are entirely disconnected from their own actions and responsibility, and Israel is cast as imposing repressive measures without any provocation. There is not a hint that Palestinians once traveled easily into and around Israel and that only after Oslo collapsed amid increasing Palestinian terrorism did Israel impose restrictions. When the attacks became still more intolerable Israel reached the point of building the barrier. Not a word of this is heard in the January 21 segment reported by Julie McCarthy.

The transcripts are below.


All Things Considered
January 19, 2004 Monday
Dror Feiler talks about his artwork being attacked by an Israeli ambassador

MELISSA BLOCK; This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL: And I’m Robert Siegel.

What happens when a work of art disturbs a spectator so that he attacks it? Well, in a moment, we’ll hear from the Israeli- born Swedish artist Dror Feiler, whose installation proved too provocative for one man who saw it on Friday in Stockholm. Feiler and his wife Gunilla created the piece. It’s called "Snow White and the Madness of Truth": a pool of red fluid suggesting blood, a model boat floating on the surface, a mast rising from the boat bearing the portrait of Hanadi Jadarat. She was a Palestinian suicide bomber who killed 22 people at a restaurant in the Israeli city of Haifa. There’s also a sound component to the piece, a recording of the Bach cantata "My Heart is Swimming in Blood," and text cut both from the story of "Snow White" and the story of the life of the suicide bomber.

Well, upon seeing and hearing this work, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, set about destroying it on Friday. He was escorted from the museum, and he remains unrepentant, even winning a word of support for his action from Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon. There has been some diplomatic back-and-forth between Jerusalem and Stockholm, but nothing terribly serious, it seems. The artwork was part of an exhibition called Making Differences, related to a Swedish conference on genocide, all of which brings us back to the artist, Mr. Feiler, who joins us from Stockholm.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Feiler.

Mr. DROR FEILER (Artist, "Snow White and the Madness of Truth"): Thank you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Mazel saw in your work what he called a call to genocide, so he began to attack it. Is "Snow White and the Madness of Truth" a call to genocide?

Mr. FEILER: Of course not. Ambassador Mazel said in the Swedish newspapers yesterday that he decided to destroy that work of art before he even saw it. I don’t think he even gave it a chance. I don’t think he even tried to understand it. And I would like to ask Mr. Mazel, if I would make an installation with a boat and on its sail a picture of Ariel Sharon sailing on blood, if he will find it as a glorification of Ariel Sharon or as a critique of Ariel Sharon deeds against the Palestinian people.

SIEGEL: I should say that we have tried to reach Ambassador Mazel today, and have been unable to do so. But let me ask you, by implication, what you’re saying is that the image of this suicide bomber floating, her face, a sail on a boat floating in a pool of blood is a criticism of her, not a celebration of her?

Mr. FEILER: It is a criticism, and absolutely not a celebration. You want to show that she became what she became because of blood, and her acts resulted in bloodshed. If we don’t understand that this kind of situation exists, if we don’t understand how to deal with culture situations and to prevent people become like this, then we’re really bad situation. We’re in trouble.

SIEGEL: Can you imagine any work of art conceived sincerely, according to the aesthetic of the artist, that would be so odious to yourself or to somebody else that you could imagine its destruction worthwhile, if it were an odiously racist work of art, let’s say?

Mr. FEILER: I can say it like this. I think that in principle, I would permit all art, and I would like to go utmost for the freedom of speech, in favor of artistic expression. But Mr. Mazel is behaving the same way like his government is behaving. He has disrespected international laws, and he is bullying his way around like the Israeli government is doing. And it’s not surprising that the diplomats of such a rogue state, I would call them, are behaving like this.

SIEGEL: This is the state of your birth.

Mr. FEILER: This is the state of my birth, and this makes me so unhappy, because I care very much for Israel, and I consider myself as pro-Israeli, but I’m against the Israeli government.

SIEGEL: Have you had any further communication either with the Israeli Embassy or the Israeli government, or has the Swedish government come back to you today at all?

Mr. FEILER: Of course not. Yes, the Swedish government has came back to me. The culture minister phoned to me this morning and asked me how I felt and wanted to tell me that the Swedish government, in its meeting, is hundred percent support to us. And the Swedish prime minister was on television just one hour ago and said the same, so I feel they totally support.

SIEGEL: Mr. Feiler, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. FEILER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Dror Feiler, an artist whose work of art, "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," was the installation attacked on Friday, literally, by Israel’s ambassador to Sweden.


January 21 “All Things Considered”
Difficulties experienced by Palestinians assigned to work on the security barrier being erected by Israel in the occupied territories



This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Robert Siegel.

Massive concrete slabs three stories high have gone up in Jerusalem, part of Israel’s security barrier. The barriers slice through Palestinian villages on the edge of the city. The wall has divided families and separated workers from their jobs. For Palestinians, it has been a source of dismay, but the wall is also a source of income for those who have defied a religious decree to work on it. NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports.

(Soundbite of bells tolling)

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

The bells of the Notre Dame Nursing Home toll on a rare quiet day along this narrow street in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis near the Mount of Olives. Noisy work on Israel’s security barrier mostly stopped for a few days due to rain. But the image along this muddy road screams out. A 27-foot-high wall now blocks the view of the other side of Abu Dis. For buildings astride the barrier, it blocks the sun. Eighty-one-year-old Mohammed Kibani(ph) clutches a bag of medicine and says even residents who knew a separation barrier was coming were unprepared for this.

Mr. MOHAMMED KIBANI: (Through Translator) I stopped breathing. I felt that I stopped breathing. How can they do this to a person? How can they suffocate a person?

McCARTHY: The mufti of Palestine was so disturbed by Israel’s barrier carving up Jerusalem that he decreed it was haram, or forbidden, for any Muslim to work on the wall. Aware of the Palestinian economic plight, Mufti Ikrima Sabri says his fatwa was an agonizing decision.

Mufti IKRIMA SABRI (Palestinian Mufti): (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: ‘We have been forced to do this because the consequences of building the wall are graver to the Palestinian people,’ the mufti says, ‘than even the dire economic straits they are now living through.’

Outside the entrance to the Notre Dame Nursing Home, Palestinian workman Majit Hatib(ph) says he did not know he would be working on the barrier when his construction firm sent him out in the morning in the company of Israeli soldiers. He leans out of the cab of his bulldozer, shuts off the engine to talk, sounding disgusted and sad.

(Soundbite of engine turning off)

Mr. MAJIT HATIB: (Through Translator) I am splitting inside. I am boiling inside. What I am doing is against my nature. I’m very upset with myself for the work I’m doing.

McCARTHY: At day’s end, Majit says he confronted his supervisor.

Mr. HATIB: (Through Translator) I came back and I told him, ‘How did you put me in such a terrible position? You sent me to close on another Palestinian,’ and I was very, very angry.

McCARTHY: Ministry of Defense spokesperson Rachel Ashkenazi says she never heard of instances where Palestinian workmen were unwittingly pressed into service by their own firms to help construct the barrier.

Clarifying who does what on Israel’s security project can be as difficult as collecting information on the wall itself.

(Soundbite of construction site noise)

McCARTHY: There is an atmosphere of tension around construction sites. Many Palestinian workers refuse to talk for fear of losing their job at a time when unemployment in the occupied territories is crippling. Abu Saeed, an Israeli Arab, supervises wall construction around Jerusalem, and says Palestinian laborers face added intimidation.

Mr. ABU SAEED (Construction Supervisor): (Through Translator) Yes, I have been harassed because I work on the wall. And there were some women even that said, ‘May God do this and this to you because you work on the wall.’

McCARTHY: Abu Saeed says he is conflicted about helping build a barrier that is walling away fellow Palestinians, but he also believes it is reducing suicide attacks inside Israel, where he lives. He calls the fatwa forbidding work on the wall political propaganda.

(Soundbite of construction site noise)

McCARTHY: Early one morning before Israeli patrols arrive, Palestinian Rahid Saleh prepared to board an earth leveler near the wall and talked about the mufti’s fatwa.

Mr. RAHID SALEH (Worker): (Through Translator) I tell him, ‘Give me a job. Give me money. Give me work. I will stop.’

McCARTHY: Rahid says working on Israel’s security project is as painful as burying his own mother.

As much as Palestinians despise the wall—graffiti reads ‘Welcome to Ghetto Abu Dis’—there is also empathy for workers like Rahid, who many say have been forced to compromise their conscience to feed their families. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Jerusalem.

Comments are closed.