Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers at AP

The Associated Press’ Josh Lederman purported to set the record straight on statements by David Friedman to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearings for ambassadorship to Israel. Under the rubric of “AP Fact-Check,” the author countered fully accurate facts with misleading half-truths. The feature was distributed to and ran on multiple mainstream media outlets.

Below is CAMERA’s fact-checking of AP’s fact-checker.

1) Lederman takes exception to Mr. Friedman’s accurate statements that Palestinians have failed to “end incitement” of violence and about “unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”

He counters this by asserting that “Not all the Palestinians are the Same,” and presents three arguments, all half truths:

A) “The Palestinian Liberation Organization, the group that formally represents all Palestinians, officially denounced terrorism decades ago, although attacks have continued to be a problem for Israel in the years since.”

B) “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in office since 2005 and in charge of autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has spoken out against violence, saying it undermines Palestinian statehood aspirations.”

C) “As far as Israel being a Jewish state, Abbas, current head of the PLO, says the Palestinians met their peace requirements by recognizing Israel, and it’s not up to them to determine the religious nature of the state of Israel.”

What Lederman avoids noting is that:

A) While PLO leader Yasir Arafat may have “officially denounced terrorism” in a speech to the UN General Assembly in Dec. 1988, he continued to encourage and finance terrorist activities. In violation of the agreements he signed with Israel in the mid-1990’s, he not only preserved the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, but funded and amassed additional weaponry. His Palestinian Authority (PA) armed its security forces with rockets, mortars, bombs and launchers, in contravention of the Oslo accords signed with Israel. And PA security officers were directly involved in orchestrating terror attacks within Israel.

At the beginning of 2002, the IDF intercepted a ship from Iran, the Karine A, destined for the Palestinian Authority and filled with enough hidden weapons to supply an army. While Arafat denied involvement, claiming this was Israeli propaganda, the evidence overwhelmingly implicated him and his PA.

Later that year, during Operation Defensive Shield – an IDF military campaign to stop Palestinian terrorism – multiple documents were found attesting to the direct funding by Arafat and his Palestinian Authority of terrorists, their weapons and terrorist infrastructure. A BBC investigation, too, found that Arafat and his PA funded the terrorists from the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, as well as their production of weapons. This unit was officially the armed branch of Arafat’s Fatah party, but was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand because it carried out numerous suicide bombings and shooting attacks and was responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of civilians. (For more details, see here and here.)

Arafat was known as a master of doublespeak, speaking in diplomatic language to an international audience while urging his people to wage violent “jihad” and “armed struggle” against Israel.  His phased plan to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian one is described by historian Efraim Karsh, who, in turn cites the “Political Program for the Present Stage Drawn up by the 12th PNC, Cairo, June 9, 1974”:

This [phased] strategy, dating from June 1974, has served as the PLO’s guiding principle ever since. It stipulates that the Palestinians should seize whatever territory Israel is prepared or compelled to cede to them and use it as a springboard for further territorial gains until achieving the ‘complete liberation of Palestine’.”

Lederman dismisses all this with a brief phrase indicating that “attacks have continued to be a problem for Israel in the years since,” as if to suggest that they were not orchestrated, financed and incited by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

B) President Mahmoud Abbas, too, has adopted a similar strategy, speaking out, on the one hand, against violence as being counterproductive, while, on the other hand, encouraging violence against Israelis. And Lederman again misleads by providing only half the story.

He says nothing about Abbas and his Palestinian Authority’s relentless incitement to violence; nothing about how, immediately preceding the recent wave of violence, President Mahmoud Abbas used hate rhetoric and words that glorified violence to implicitly urge Palestinians to attack Israelis. He publicly declared:

We bless you, we bless the Murabitin (those carrying out religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic), we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they (the Jews) have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem. (Mahmoud Abbas, September 16, 2015, as recorded by Palestinian Media Watch)

Lederman fails to point out that Abbas’ incendiary speech was followed by multiple public declarations by PLO officials falsely accusing Jews of “trying to take over the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and destroy it in order to establish its alleged Temple in its place” and calling upon”the residents of Jerusalem and inhabitants of Palestine” to “wage Ribat” (religious war defending Islamic land) and to “defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” For months, the incitement to attack continued unabated on the PA’s Facebook, PA-TV, and in PA newspapers, resulting in a wave of daily stabbings, car rammings or bus bombings that killed or injured dozens of innocent civilians in Jerusalem and all over the country.

Palestinian Media Watch is dedicated to documenting the unending tide of hate indoctrination and incitement to violence by the Palestinian Authority on their official TV station, newspaper, schools, and summer camps. (For full details, check their extensive documentation here.) Abbas and his party’s glorification of terrorists as martryrs, the naming of public squares and streets after them, the encouragement to follow in their footsteps is just part of this. It is no surprise that Nabil Shaath, a close associate of Abbas’ in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah’s international relations commissioner, again recently emphasized that “armed struggle” is the Palestinian’s “indisputable right.”

C) While Abbas dimisses Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state by saying it is not up to him to choose the religious nature of Israel, his colleagues at the PA make clear that rejection of a Jewish state means much more than that. Contrary to Lederman’s suggestion that Palestinian rejection of  a “Jewish” state is insignificant, they make it clear that this means rejection of the concept of “two nations for two peoples” and that it is just a first stage in the PLO’s phased plan of eliminating the Jewish state.

For example, Nabil Shaath, as Abbas’ chief negotiator, made this clear more than five years ago when he explained that

[The French initiative] reshaped the issue of the “Jewish state” into a formula that is also unacceptable to us – two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative. (ANB TV, July 13, 2011, translated by MEMRI)

Senior PA official, Abbas Zaki, clarified this further by declaring on Arab television that a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundaries would be just an initial step to wiping out the Jewish state (See here and here.)

Contrary to Lederman’s illusory refutation that the PA is different than Hamas, Zaki recently demonstrated that despite internecine fighting, Fatah, the PA and Hamas all share the same ultimate goals of eliminating a Jewish state. As he saluted the Al Qassam Brigades – Hamas’ terrorist force – and “the martyrs of all factions,” Zaki declared:

Let me say here in the name of Fatah – its leadership and its cadres – how much we are working to cooperate and reach a true partnership in politics, and to stand side by side, in the same trench, against our common enemies – against Israel…I salute the Al-Qassam Brigades. Therefore, anyone who bears arms for the sake of Palestine is sacred to us. This is important, because he knows that by doing so, he is sacrificing his life and all he owns for the sake of the homeland – whether he languishes in prison or is in Paradise…The restoration of Palestine is the top priority of all our fighters.” (Hamas rally, Al Jazeera, Dec. 17, 2016, translated by MEMRI)

2) Lederman purports to dispute Friedman’s affirmation of the question of whether Palestinians were “rewarding terrorists” through payments, thus incentivizing them to kill. But while he cannot – and makes no attempt – to refute the fact that the Palestinian government provides monthly payments to the families of so-called “martyrs,” including “relatives of Palestinian suicide bombers,” his argument rests on the premise that “the fund doesn’t pay people in advance to carry out attacks,” which he follows by citing Palestinians who say that “the fund helps support Palestinian victims of Israel’s occupation, including families of those driven to attack by the dire conditions of occupation or by a desire to avenge others killed by Israelis.”

What Lederman conceals is that in addition to the PA fund that rewards the families of those who were killed while engaged in attacks on Israel, the PA put into law mandated salaries to be paid to “anyone imprisoned in the occupation’s [Israel’s] prisons as a result of his participation in the struggle against the occupation.”

In reaction to international alarm about funding terrorist convicts, the PLO took over from the PA in dispensing the salaries, but as a congressional research brief points out, there is evidence that “the formal change in the organization responsible for the payments did not significantly alter the actual practice of how the payments were made.” 

Lederman similarly conceals the fact that the US State Department under President Obama and the UK both reduced their aid to the Palestinians because of the payments to terror convicts jailed in Israel.

3) The last point that Lederman feebly tries to refute is Friedman’s answer about his connections to the religious settlement of Beit El. While the fact-checker acknowledges as true the candidate’s answer that the money he’d helped raise had gone toward Beit El’s educational facilities, he nevertheles
s attempts to argue that because Friedman wrote articles that were published on Arutz Sheva, a news site based in Beit El, and that his name is on a building used by an educational institute there, he was “downplaying” his family’s connections to the settlement. It is unclear how this in any way refutes or changes anything in Friedman’s clear statement.

Conclusion: All of Mr. Friedman’s statements fact-checked by the AP were completely accurate.  Not so for the AP’s fact-checker, Josh Lederman.

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