CAMERA Op-Ed: The Washington Post’s Coronavirus Slander Against Israel

“I am a firm believer in the people,” Abraham Lincoln once wrote. “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them all the facts.” The COVID-19 pandemic is an international crisis unprecedented in recent history. But regrettably, journalism is often failing to bring the people all the facts. Take, for example, The Washington Post.

On April 15, 2020, the Post published an op-ed entitled “Gaza is an open-air prison. As covid-19 spreads, it’s time to life the siege.” The author, Tarek Loubani, was identified as an “emergency room doctor” and “associate professor at the University of Western Ontario.” In fact, Loubani is a veteran anti-Israel activist. And the op-ed itself is replete with outright lies and omissions.

The Post fails to inform readers that Loubani was one of eight “activists” working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who were deported from Israel in 2003 for obstructing the construction of a security barrier during the height of the Second Intifada terror wave (2000-05). ISM is a group that sends foreigners to interfere with Israeli counterterrorism efforts.  

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has documented, ISM’s Web site has lobbied for freeing convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti who was sentenced to five consecutive life terms and an additional 40 years in prison for his role in attacks against Israel. Indeed, ISM participants have even admitted to working with members of terrorist groups. On March 20, 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that ISM activist Susan Barclay told the paper “she knowingly worked with representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” which are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

Loubani himself has a long history of anti-Israel activism that should have been disclosed by the Post. In 2013, he was arrested in Egypt while trying to enter the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. In 2014, he was detained in Ben Gurion Airport. And in 2018 he took part in the Hamas-orchestrated Great Return March, in which armed terrorists, interspersed among unarmed civilians, sought to break into Israel to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis, as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar phrased it. An April 2018 analysis by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center identified most of the slain “protesters” as belonging to U.S.-designated terrorist groups, and Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar admitted to Al-Jazeera on May 13, 2018 that the group was “deceiving the public” when it claimed that the March was one of “peaceful resistance. 

It is unsurprising then, that in 796-words about Israel’s “siege” on Gaza, Loubani fails to mention Hamas once. In keeping with his history and agenda, he merely echoes talking points the U.S.-designated terrorist group’s talking points. Loubani lies, claiming that Israel doesn’t allow medical supplies and doctors into Gaza. He writes that “If Israeli authorities do not act immediately to life the siege and allow in medical and other supplies…”

But as CAMERA pointed out to Washington Post global opinion editor Karen Attiah, Israel has already supplied COVID tests to the Gaza Strip and, as always, transfers medical supplies to the Hamas-ruled territory. As the New York Times put it, “the import of medicine is not restricted.”

Indeed, the Associated Press has recently corrected a March 18th news story that similarly implied that Israel doesn’t allow in medical supplies (“Ravaged by war, Middle Eastern countries face a new scourge“). The Post, which carried that AP dispatch, followed suit and corrected as well.

That CAMERA prompted correction noted that “in the Gaza Strip, medical infrastructure has been strangled by mismanagement by the Islamic militant Hamas rulers”—an important fact that Loubani omits. Following contact from CAMERA, The Washington Post changed Loubani’s wording to read “If Israel authorities do not act to immediately lift the siege and allow in more urgently-needed medical and other supplies…” But there are many other problems with the Post’s op-ed.

Indeed, Loubani fails to note that although the Gaza Strip is a major beneficiary of international aid, its kleptocratic rulers have chosen to invest in rockets, missiles and terror tunnels instead of essential public health infrastructure. For anti-Israel activists like Loubani, it’s always better to blame the Jewish state instead of acknowledging the responsibility and actions of Palestinian leaders.

Further, not only does Israel’s blockade not prohibit medical supplies as Loubani implied, the nation has provided Gaza with coronavirus aid well beyond test kits. As the Times of Israel reported: “Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical personnel in Gaza have been trained by Israeli teams in techniques to treat patients infected with the coronavirus, the Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday.”

“A training session was conducted for several hours for around 20 medical staff from Gaza at the Erez Border Crossing by a team from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In addition, a group was allowed to leave Gaza for training at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and medical staff from both sides have held conference calls together, according to the report.” Sheba Medical Center has been previously named as a top 10 hospital in the world by Newsweek.

Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post reported on March 21, 2020: “In the last month, COGAT [Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories] has been seen delivering hundreds of testing kits into Gaza, as well as 20 tons of disinfectants used to maintain hygiene and sanitation into the West Bank.”

Nor does Loubani mention that Egypt also maintains a security blockade to prevent armaments from reaching the Gaza Strip. Instead, in keeping with Hamas disinformation campaigns, he targets the Jewish state alone for the “blockade,” which is in reality in place to prevent the free flow of weapons into the Strip.

The Post’s decision to publish Loubani’s error-laden piece violates its standards and guidelines, which claim that “reporters and editors of The Post are committed to fairness.” “No story is fair,” the Post standards assert, “if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.” 

The Post standards also include “The Seven Principles for the Conduct of a Newspaper.” The “first mission of a newspaper,” the Post intones, “is to tell the truth as nearly as it may be ascertained.” The second is to “tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.”

The Post’s failure to vet Loubani’s op-ed is part of a pattern—a pattern that suggests that the ideology and agenda of an opinion writer is more important than the newspaper’s own standards.

In recent years, The Washington Post has published opinion columns by the head of the Houthis, an Iranian-backed militia whose motto is “Death to Israel, Curse the Jews.” On Aug. 30, 2015, it even published a column by a former Iranian diplomat who, German courts allege, ran a veritable hit squad out Iran’s Berlin Embassy, a crime for which he was expelled from the country.

This small sampling is suggestive of a pattern. Failing to address it will come at the cost of the Post opinion section’s credibility. 

At a time of international crisis, The Washington Post is not “bringing people all the facts.” Indeed, it’s not even abiding by its own standards and guidelines.

(Note: A slightly different version of this op-ed appeared in the Algemeiner on April 20, 2020)