CNN’s Kiley Parrots B’Tselem Slanders

CNN’s Sam Kiley, a Senior Correspondent based in Abu Dhabi, covers lots of places – from India to Egypt, Yemen to Lebanon. But none prompt biased, error-laden stories attacking the legitimacy and morality of the nation like Israel does.

A January 12, 2021 story titled “Israel isn’t a democracy, it’s an ‘apartheid regime,’ rights group says” gives nearly unchallenged credence to a raft of propagandistic assertions by B’Tselem, a radical Israeli NGO. It not only relays baseless charges against the Jewish state but deceives readers about B’Tselem, terming it an esteemed “institution” and the “best-known human rights group in Israel.” In reality, B’Tselem has scant influence inside Israel, where it’s discounted for its extremist attacks on the country. (The group once employed a Holocaust-denier.)

Unable to persuade the electorate and legal system of the merit of its allegations – and even to get Israeli media attention – B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad seeks financial and political support abroad from adversaries of the Jewish state. As NGO Monitor has documented for many years, the group is largely supported by European nations which underwrite projects seeking to subvert Israel’s policies and legitimacy. (Sixty-five percent of funding, for example, was foreign between 2012 and 2016.)

B’Tselem, thus, habitually pursues external coercion to impose its agenda against the views and preferences of the people of Israel – a strikingly anti-democratic strategy. And Kiley admits, “B’Tselem officials said they want the international community to ‘take action.’”

The CNN reporter weaves flattery of B’Tselem into a false depiction of the group’s prior positions, stating:

The allegation that Israel is an “apartheid state” has often been dismissed by rightwing Israelis and their support groups as anti-Semitic. But this argument will be harder to make now that Israel has been labeled this way by such a well-respected Israeli institution, albeit one that enjoys only minority support in its home country.

It’s untrue that only “now” has B’Tselem leveled the apartheid charge – ostensibly making the allegation all the more dramatic. The organization has repeatedly used the same inflammatory language – in 2004  as well as 2018 in UN testimony.

The 2018 UN presentation was denounced by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum. Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid termed El-Ad’s speech “the predictable mix of lies, distortions and propaganda. They represent no-one but themselves.”

The fact is the latest 2021 B’Tselem campaign is a rehash of old charges with the addition of yet more extreme, headline-grabbing assertions. In particular the charge of “Jewish supremacy” in the entire area west of the Jordan River is an epithet that mimics the inflamed rhetoric of American racial upheaval as well as right-wing antisemite and former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke’s book Jewish Supremacism.

In further efforts to obscure Jewish and Israeli rejection of B’Tselem’s defamatory allegations, Kiley claims opposition to the apartheid analogy comes from “rightwing Israelis and their support groups” when, in fact, mainstream Jews of every stripe reject it and collaborate to refute and oppose it. In America, for instance, Hillels, JCRC’s and many other mainstream Jewish groups work to counter apartheid campaigns that surface in campuses and community settings.

Kiley recites B’Tselem’s charges but gives just one paragraph of response to Israeli government officials who answer in broad-brush terms; thus nearly 90% of the article lists unchallenged and grave allegations against the nation. There is no counterpoint whatsoever provided to myriad erroneous accusations leveled.

Such contemptuous and biased treatment of a party under harsh scrutiny violates the most basic rules of journalism.

For instance, CNN relays B’Tselem’s false premise that Israel is responsible for the stateless condition of the Palestinians and for their circumstances as a fractured entity split between Gaza and autonomous areas of the West Bank. Kiley’s recap of modern history seriously misleads viewers, stating:

The Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the first of which was signed in 1993, were supposed to lead to a “two-state solution” establishing an independent Palestinian state living alongside Israel.

Twenty-eight years later there are no signs of that outcome.

Although, contrary to Kiley, there was nothing in the Oslo Accords about a “two-state solution” nor mention of “an independent Palestinian state living alongside Israel,” there were intensive efforts by Israel to reach this result and it is deceptive to neglect the full facts. There have been many “signs” over the years as to which parties were genuinely looking toward accommodation and peace. There could have been “an outcome” involving a Palestinian state under Ehud Barak in 2000/2001 via the protracted Camp David/Taba negotiations as well as under Ehud Olmert in 2008. In both instances, Israel offered a Palestinian state side by side with a Jewish state – and the Palestinians rejected the proposals without so much as a counter-offer.

Any opining about absence of a Palestinian state is deceit if there’s no reference to repeated refusals by Abbas and Arafat before him to accept a “Jewish state” and end the conflict.

But more than concealing essential facts of history, are the tangible “signs” of Palestinians gaining autonomy, including territory and control over all the civil institutions of their lives. More than 90% of the population lives in the 40% of the West Bank ceded by Israel to the PA as agreed to under Oslo.

Kiley’s observation about an absence of “signs” should have been spiked by an editor.

There were other errors. Kiley refers to “the relentless loss of Palestinian territory to Jewish settlements on the West Bank.” The territory of the West Bank is in dispute; it’s not “Palestinian.” This is a factual error that’s been corrected many times by many outlets and needs correcting by CNN as well.

CNN reports that B’Tselem claims Israel has:

entrenched discrimination against non-Jews in the areas under its control. These include fewer rights for Palestinians living in Israel with Israeli citizenship (17% of the population). The most obvious example, B’Tselem says, is the fact that non-Jews cannot emigrate [sic] to Israel. Palestinians marrying an Israeli need Israeli official permission to move to Israel.

It is a common talking point of propaganda attacks on Israel to claim the country has uniquely restrictive and discriminatory citizenship policies, but it does not. Like many other nations such as Ireland, Finland, Greece, Germany, Poland and more, Israel gives priority to members of its diaspora. (See Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights by Amnon Rubinstein and Alexander Jacobson.) It also provides a path to citizenship for others. Needless to say, there have been no CNN news stories excoriating Ireland or Finland or any of these nations for their citizenship policies.

B’Tselem, and CNN in turn, deceptively refer to Israeli Arabs as “Palestinians living in Israel” when polls show most Israeli Arabs prefer to be called just that, identifying as Israelis — and not primarily as Palestinians. A recent poll showed 74% of non-Jews in Israel identified as Arab-Israeli and just 7% as Palestinian.

As far as Palestinians who marry Israelis needing official permission to move to Israel — it’s worth recalling a Canadian marrying an American needs to go through an often-lengthy immigration process and acquire a Green card and renew that card with the U.S. government and always have it ready to present at the border until and unless the spouse becomes a citizen.

Citizens of the Palestinian Authority are not citizens of Israel. Thus, they have legal barriers to entry as happens between territories and nations. It’s an ordinary reality, not an instance of apartheid. Would a world traveler like the CNN correspondent not spot this?

Kiley relays another B’Tselem distortion, writing:

On the West Bank, Jewish settlements are under continuous construction, while building permission for Palestinians in areas officially under Israeli security control is almost impossible to get and “illegal” structures are frequently bulldozed.

In fact, there has been just one new Jewish settlement built in decades, with construction limited to that within existing Jewish settlements, though less has occurred in the last four years. On the other hand, as anyone can see driving in Area C of the West Bank, Arab building is extensive. It numbers in the thousands of units in villages, larger towns and open country side across the West Bank. On a percentage basis, Israel demolishes very little unless the building is impinging on a military/security or other sensitive area. Israel is hesitant to remove Arab building because of the negative media coverage it triggers that’s fueled by European NGO’s of the kind that fund B’Tselem.

Kiley further relays without caveat:

Freedom of assembly and expression are also severely curtailed for Palestinians on the West Bank, the human rights group argues, whereas it’s largely unrestricted for Jews.

Is CNN suggesting Israel is at fault for limitations on speech and assembly in Palestinian areas? Under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians entirely control Areas A and B where some 90% of the population lives and it’s the PA that controls human rights issues. In fact, the PA is a very repressive force and Palestinian Arabs endure harsh measures and restrictions on their freedoms. Journalists are regularly imprisoned and brutalized for reporting on PA corruption, for instance.

(Has CNN ever reported on these abuses in the PA, coverage that could shed a light on the victims and alleviate their plight? Kiley would need to be willing to breach the calcified storyline that casts Palestinians as one-dimensional victims of only Israel with nothing to be known about their complex humanity, including the corruption of their government and the persecution of Christians and gays in their communities.)

Jews living in towns and villages in the West Bank, like Jews and Arabs in Israel, in fact, do enjoy freedom of speech and assembly because Israel is a democracy. But, obviously, Israel has no authority to enforce its laws and culture on the Palestinian Autonomous areas. This is an irrational accusation by B’Tselem and CNN.

What CNN did regarding the B’Tselem attack on Israel was to share it across the globe without anything approaching reasonable and honest treatment of the serious claims made. Shoddy is one word to describe it all. But there’s also an unfortunate scent of malice in so readily disseminating illogical and scurrilous claims.