CAMERA Op-Ed: The Washington Post Gets By With a Little Help From Its Friends

Farha a film, now available on Netflix, purports to tell the story of the Palestinian “nakba,” that is, the “catastrophe” that resulted from the failed attempt to prevent the Jews from establishing a state of their own. The film is fiction masquerading as fact. Naturally, the Washington Post loves it.

In a 1200-word review, the Post—like the film itself—misleads about the recreation of the Jewish state. Worse still, the newspaper relies on a motley crew of antisemites, apologists for terrorist groups, and discredited academics to buttress the review. Unsurprisingly, they hail the film.

Farha, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has noted, is “ahistorical fiction passing for fact.” At times, filmmaker Darin Sallam has purported that the film depicts real events. Yet as CAMERA’s Karen Bekker has pointed out, Sallam has also said otherwise.

During a Q&A at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival in September 2022, Sallam admitted that the film is in a “fiction format.” Sallam also makes clear that the only thing that, according to her, is true about the story in Farha is that decades ago, her mother, as a child, met another girl who told her that she had been locked in a room during the 1948 war. As Bekker observes, this claim is unverifiable.

What is clear, however, is Sallam’s intent. The Jordanian director told the audience at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival that she intentionally depicted Israeli soldiers in a negative light. The film features a 15-minute scene of Israeli soldiers massacring an entire Palestinian family, including a one-year-old baby. Sallam told the audience that she chose to show the soldier abandoning the baby to die a slow death because it was “an uglier way of dying … [and] I’m sure that in the next house, right after, he must have killed another baby.”

Depicting Jews as willful murderers of children is a staple of antisemitism that stretches back centuries. Sallam is keen to promote this antisemitic canard. And the Washington Post, in turn, is keen to promote Sallam.

The film, like the history, might be fiction. But the truth isn’t the point. Slandering the Jewish state is. And the Post knows just who to turn to for the task.

Hamid Dabashi tells the newspaper that Farha is making the “Palestinian narrative” part of “the American mainstream.” Dabashi, who is identified as merely a “professor at Columbia University” calls this aspect “exciting.”

It’s unsurprising that Dabashi would appreciate Farha. He too has a penchant for antisemitic tropes. Dabashi has called Israel a “key actor” in “every dirty, treacherous, ugly and pernicious act in the world.” He has also railed against “diehard fifth column Zionists working against the best interests of Americans.”

In a 2004 article for Al Ahram, an Egyptian newspaper, Dabashi claimed that Israeli Jews have a “vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of [their] culture.” Sarah Stern of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) submitted that article to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in her testimony about antisemitism on campus. Although Dabashi has denied that he was talking about Israeli Jews, even the far left publication The Nation concluded that Dabashi’s article “could easily be construed as antisemitic.”

A long list of groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Alums for Campus Fairness and CAMERA on Campus, among others, have highlighted and chronicled Dabashi’s problematic history. Indeed, Dabashi’s comments—like elements of Farha itself—are antisemitic, meeting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism that has been adopted by dozens of countries and governments, spanning the political spectrum.

Nor is Dabashi the only questionable source that Post reviewer Claire Healy utilizes.

Illan Pappé, a discredited Israeli academic is also cited extensively. In a lengthy 2011 article for The New Republic, historian Benny Morris called Pappé “one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest.” Morris noted Pappé’s penchant for mistranslations, omitting crucial context, basic errors and outright falsifications in a 2006 review of Pappé’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Morris suggested that Pappé perverted history “for one purpose only: to blacken the image of Israel and its leaders in 1948.”

Indeed, Pappé has discredited himself. He publicly supported the master’s thesis of University of Haifa (Haifa U) graduate student Teddy Katz, who claimed that a brigade of Israeli forces had committed an alleged massacre of Palestinians in 1948 at Tantura, near Haifa. A university committee subsequently disqualified Katz’s thesis after concluding that quotes in Katz’s written text didn’t match the taped interviews he had conducted and that the text was “grossly distorted.”  Although Katz later recanted his claims, Pappé continues to defend both Katz and Katz’s thesis. The Post, however, omits this relevant history—which has been well documented—preferring to treat Pappé as credible historian—even echoing his claims about massacres.

But the Post isn’t finished. The newspaper next turns to Rashid Khalidi for his thoughts on the film. Khalidi is merely identified as a “professor.”

Yet, as the historian Martin Kramer has documented, a 1978 New York Times report from Beirut noted that Khalidi “works for the PLO”—the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Similarly, a 1976 Los Angeles Times report refers to Khalidi as a “PLO spokesperson.” The year 1976 was but a mere four years after the PLO carried out the Olympic Games massacre in Munich and murdered an American diplomat in Khartoum.

A sympathetic 1979 documentary about the PLO, The Gun and the Olive Branch, even featured interviews with Khalidi—who was identified as a “PLO spokesperson.” During this time period, the PLO was still a U.S.-designated terror group and actively waging a war against Israel in Lebanon.

Khalidi’s appreciation for Farha is unsurprising when one considers that the PLO never revised its charter, which called Israel’s very existence “illegal.”

Relying on questionable sources isn’t the review’s only problem. The Post tells readers that “leaders” of the United States have “long treated political and financial support for Israel as ‘sacrosanct.’” Further, “mainstream media,” the Post suggests, is biased in favor of Israel. Both claims are easily disproven.

The idea that criticizing Israel is rare or difficult is remarkably stupid. Actors and celebrities routinely do so. So do members of Congress. Ditto for the United Nations, which routinely passes more resolutions condemning the Jewish state than China, Syria, Russia, North Korea and other gangster states combined.

As for the media, the Washington Post itself has run op-eds by Rashid Khalidi and others of his ilk. And as CAMERA has documented, on the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, Post World Views columnist Ishaan Tharoor devoted comparatively more column space to criticizing Israel than to China, a superpower and nation of billions.

Far from being a disqualifier, targeting and singling out the Jewish state for opprobrium seems to help get one on the pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times or the Associated Press, which once shared office space with Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

As for U.S. leaders treating political and financial support for Israel as “sacrosanct,” this too is easily disproven. One just has to read a history book—albeit not one authored by a discredited academic or a former spokesperson for a terrorist group—to learn otherwise.

As CAMERA has noted, the U.S. initiated an arms embargo aimed at Israel while the Jewish state was fighting for its very existence. The Eisenhower administration withheld aid and used the CIA to back an organization called the American Friends of the Middle East, which “sought to weaken support for the Jewish state in the US,” according to historian Michael Doran. Eisenhower would later threaten Israel during the 1956 Suez Crisis. And numerous successor administrations would threaten to curtail support and aid to Israel, among them the Carter and Bush Sr administrations. Indeed, as CAMERA detailed in the Jerusalem Post, the CIA even opened up a back channel with the PLO, taking one of its arch terrorists to Disneyland for his honeymoon.

What Farha doesn’t tell viewers—and what the Post doesn’t tell readers—is the truth about the so-called “nakba.” Arab forces, many of them armed with weapons, and sometimes training, that had been gifted to them from the Nazis, tried to destroy the Jewish state at its birth. As Morris noted in his book, 1948, former Nazi operatives were even on the ground, advising them. And a former Nazi collaborator and wanted war criminal, Amin al-Husseini, led one of those armies. Less than three years after the Holocaust, they attempted to perpetrate another genocide of Jews. They failed. For some, that is still a “catastrophe.”

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed at JNS on Jan. 25, 2023)

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