CAMERA Op-Ed: Does The Washington Post Even Read The Washington Post?

(Note: A version of the following appeared as an Op-Ed in the Algemeiner on Oct. 18, 2017)
An old adage, often attributed to Mark Twain, observes: “Truth is stranger than fiction because we don’t meet it as often.” Close readers of The Washington Post, however, might wish for more factual encounters—and less fiction. When it comes to its coverage of Israel, the paper seems increasingly unable to discern the difference between truth and fantasy—even contradicting its own reporting to advance a false narrative.

Take, for instance, the issue of “settlements.” The Post offers inordinate coverage of Jewish homes in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), filing dozens of dispatches from 2015-17 alone, on that very issue—and often at the expense of fully covering Palestinian political affairs.

For example, an Oct. 6, 2017 article by Ishaan Tharoor claimed that “Israeli settlers continue to expand across the West Bank” and “negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians only give “settlers more time to build settlements.” Yet, settlements are not expanding externally; beyond existing boundaries. Most of the population growth is the result of natural increase and not from new arrivals.

And to find out as much, The Washington Post could have just read The Washington Post.

A March 31, 2017 Post report, for example, was entitled “Israel set to approve first new settlement in 20 years.” This hardly squares with a description of ‘Israeli settlers continuing to expand across the West Bank…’ that is presented in Tharoor’s Oct. 6, 2017 piece.

Indeed, Peace Now, the left-wing anti-settlements organization and a frequent Post source, inadvertently noted in a June 2016 Op-Ed in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent of the 15,523 individuals who joined the population of Judea and Samaria were the result of natural population growth [i.e. high birth rates, and not newcomers from other parts of Israel].”

Similarly, The Post, in a Sept. 17, 2017 editorial—published less than a month before Tharoor’s October 6 dispatch—detailed the “revelatory” results of a study on settlements conducted by David Makovsky, a former aide to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The Post pointed out:

“Of the some 600,000 settlers who live outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, just 94,000 are outside the border-like barrier that Israel built through the West Bank a decade ago. Just 20,000 of those moved in since 2009, when [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu returned to office; in a sea of 2.9 million Palestinians, they are hardly overwhelming. Last year, 43 percent of the settler population growth was in just two towns that sit astride the Israeli border—and that Abbas himself has proposed for Israeli annexation.”

The Post’s October 6 claim that Israel has only faced “timid censure from the international community,” is another falsehood contradicted by the paper elsewhere. In a Dec. 29, 2016 commentary, The Post’s editorial board highlighted the “exaggerated” decision by the then-leader of the “international community,” the Obama administration, which “railed”—wrongly the paper then argued—against Israeli settlement expansion that wasn’t actually happening. As the commentary noted:

“The administration asserts that the Jewish population in the West Bank has increased by 1000,000—but by Mr. Kerry’s account, 80 percent of that growth was in areas Israel would likely annex in any settlement.” In fact, a “growth of about 3 percent annum, the product of a restraint for which Mr. Netanyahu had received no [Obama] White House credit,” had occurred, meaning that, with an estimated 2.75 million Arabs, “The Jewish population outside Israel’s West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population [emphasis added].”

The claim of an international community unwilling to confront Israel looks particularly absurd when one considers that in 2016 alone, the United Nations General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions against Israel—many relating to “settlements.” By contrast, the UNGA adopted only 6 resolutions on the rest of the world—including the authoritarian governments of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, North Korea.

Less than one month after its Sept. 17, 2017 commentary, however, the story—and the reporting—seems to have changed. When contacted, The Post refused either to correct or to explain the discrepancies. When asked if the paper stands by its recent claim that settlements “continue to expand,” despite previous Post stories—and headlines—to the contrary, the paper simply responded, “we won’t be making any changes.” No explanation was offered. No journalism, it seems, was required.

The Post’s recent obsession with blaming the lack of a two-state solution on non-existent “settlement expansion,” comes at a price: Palestinian affairs are ignored.

The Post’s October 6 dispatch, for instance, failed to note Palestinian rejection of U.S. and Israeli offers for statehood in exchange for peace in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances. Indeed, the paper utterly failed to report recent revelations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused a 2014 U.S. offer—accepted by Israel—to restart negotiations. Other news outlets—many with smaller budgets and staff than The Post—did so, however.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), noted in an Oct. 4, 2017 Washington Jewish Week Op-Ed, the February 2017 ascension of a Palestinian terrorist nicknamed Abu Jihad (“Father of Jihad”) to be Abbas’ deputy, has also gone unmentioned by the paper. The Post, which had quoted Abu Jihad (aka Mahmoud al-Aloul) in previous years, declined to report his political advanceme
nt. Like basic journalistic standards, he’s gone missing in the paper’s pages—depending, perhaps, on the day one reads it.

The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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