CAMERA Op-Ed: NPR’s Gradstein Falsely Labels Israel “Extremist”

National Public Radio’s Linda Gradstein recently reported Israel’s attempt to bar Israeli-Arab politician Ahmed Tibi from running in upcoming elections because of his alleged support for attacks against Israelis and his denial of the state’s legitimacy (Israel’s Supreme Court reinstated Tibi a few days later). Among those Gradstein interviewed was Shmuel Sandler, an Israeli professor whom she described as seeing “growing extremism” among his countrymen:

… Sandler, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, says the decision to ban Tibi from running reflects growing extremism among the Israeli public. (NPR, Dec 31, 2002)

In fact, judging by his previous statements and writings, it seems unlikely that Professor Sandler told Gradstein any such thing, and his remarks as actually aired in the report seemed entirely inconsistent with the claim that Israelis are growing more extreme:

SANDLER: Until a few years ago, Tibi was a star, and he was accepted in all the circles of Israeli elite. Now he’s an outcast because of his behavior over the last few years.

Because of this discrepancy, CAMERA contacted Professor Sandler by e-mail, asking him about Gradstein’s assertion that he thought Israelis in general were growing more extreme. He responded that, on the contrary, he’d said that Israeli-Arabs were becoming more extreme:

What I said was that Tibi’s behavior pushes the Israeli Arabs towards extremism. The Israeli Arabs are not as radical as their representatives in the Knesset. (e-mail from Prof. Shmuel Sandler, Jan 6, 2003)

Unfortunately, this sort of “mistake” seems quite common at NPR, where it is almost second nature to portray Israelis as “extremists” or “hard-liners,” and Palestinian terrorists as “activists” or “militants.” And the falsified paraphrase was far from Gradstein’s only journalistic transgression. For example, she began her report by describing an Israeli politician, Michael Kleiner, as “a hard-liner,” who had “cited quotes that he said proved Tibi had expressed support for the armed struggle against the state of Israel and had encouraged Palestinian attacks.”

What were the quotes, and was the evidence against Tibi compelling? Gradstein didn’t say, apparently feeling listeners didn’t need to know. But listeners apparently did need to know that Kleiner is a “hard-liner.” No one else in the report was tagged with any such pejorative term. At no time did Gradstein, for example, call Tibi a hard-liner. At no time has she – ever – described Mr. Arafat as a hard-liner. Nor has NPR described Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin as a hard-liner — instead he’s called the Hamas “spiritual leader,” as if he were the Palestinian equivalent of the Dalai Lama.

Gradstein then quoted senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat, who charged that the effort to bar Tibi showed “the Israeli government is not interested in peace.” Of course, Erakat was not labeled a hard-liner. Gradstein also claimed the move to bar Tibi was criticized across the Israeli political spectrum, but she failed to mention that, in fact, some extremely prominent Israelis supported the effort. Professor Yehoshua Porath, for example, a leading Israeli academic and founder of the left-wing Peace Now movement, told an interviewer:

“We are talking here about people who publicly align themselves with the enemy,” he said. “For example, going to Damascus during a war — Israel and Syria are in a state of war. Mr. Bishara went to Damascus. For me, that’s enough. I think that Israel needs to defend itself against citizens who align themselves with the enemy. To my way of thinking, this is like being a traitor.” (Montreal Gazette, Jan 2, 2003)

Had Gradstein interviewed Professor Porath she surely would have gotten the same answer — perhaps it was an answer she didn’t want NPR listeners to hear.

Gradstein, however, did want listeners to hear about a new Israeli Supreme Court decision barring selective refusal to do army service in the territories, which she proceeded to cover in typical NPR fashion. The only guest she interviewed was Peretz Kidron, whom she described as belonging to a movement “which encourages refusal.” After playing a statement by Kidron, Gradstein told listeners that according to her guest “more and more Israelis are refusing to serve in the territories.”

But she deceptively failed to mention that in many reserve units the turnout is actually over 100 percent, as reservists not called up are demanding to serve, and even overage citizens no longer required to do reserve duty have insisted on once again serving. (eg, Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2002, and May 15, 2002) Gradstein deceptively failed to interview any of these reservists, who might have explained to listeners why they are volunteering for what is certainly hazardous and difficult duty.

These were not Gradstein’s biggest deceptions, however, for she also failed to inform listeners that her guest, Peretz Kidron, is a fringe extremist who has long advocated the dismemberment of Israel. Kidron, for example, signed a petition in support of the notorious anti-Semitic Durban Conference. Entitled “Citizens of Israel Applaud Durban Declarations” (Sept. 3, 2001), the petition included these outrageous assertions:

We, citizens of Israel, applaud the various declarations coming out of Durban that Israel is an apartheid state.

… the struggle to liberate Palestine from this regime and to return the Palestinian refugees to their homeland, is part of the global struggle to end racism, political and economic oppression and terminate the colonialist project in the Middle East.

That is, the person Gradstein presented to listeners as just another credible political activist, considers Israel an “apartheid state” and “colonialist project” that should be “terminated.” Gradstein has lived in Israel for years and was surely aware of Kidron’s fanaticism, but misleadingly kept listeners in the dark.

While journalistic ethics would require NPR to immediately correct Gradstein’s gaffes, and even to reprimand the reporter, the network’s predilection in such cases is instead to stall and stonewall.

Why can’t NPR just tell the truth about Israel, instead of making things up? Why, when it comes to Israel, are fringe cranks routinely welcomed to NPR’s tax-supported airwaves? Why can’t NPR hire reporters who are free of any agenda and will cover Israel professionally and fairly? Whatever the answers, perhaps it’s no surprise that so many former NPR admirers are refusing to support the network’s corrosive anti-Israel bias and shoddy journalism.

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