Hollywood Reporter Casts Convicted Terrorists As ‘Political Prisoners’

Oct. 14 UPDATE:

THR Amends Article With Problematic Correction

In response to repeated communication with CAMERA, THR has amended the article to acknowledge the fact that the subjects of documentary are not political prisoners, and were "accused of extremist crimes." But the amended text still contains a problematic and unsubstantiated assertion about alleged political prisoners. See below for a detailed update.

In an article about the Emmy Award-winning documentary "Advocate," The Hollywood Reporter whitewashes Palestinians convicted of violent acts of terror, including attempted murder, as "political prisoners." Trilby Beresford's Sept. 29 article, "Israeli Film 'Advocate' Wins Best Documentary Emmy," reports that the documentary "Advocate" "follows the work of human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel as she represents political prisoners." (Emphasis added.)

In fact, the two cases covered in the controversial documentary involve teen Ahmad Manasrah, who was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and Israa Jabris, who detonated explosives in her car as police approached her. A gas canister in the vehicle failed to explode.

Western nations do not regard convicted, incarcerated terrorists as political prisoners, as the European Council definition makes clear. Palestinians who carry out terror attacks against Israeli citizens are not protesting their own (Palestinian) government with non-violent activity.

Does The Hollywood Reporter consider those who carried out attempted murder and ignite explosives "political prisoners"?

A High Court ruling on the Manasrah case, in which victims 13-year-old Naor Shalev Ben-Ezra and 25-year-old Yosef Haim Tuito were gravely injured,  stated [translation from Hebrew by CAMERA]:

The two [Manasrah cousins] discussed their desire to become “martyrs” and be killed in war for the cause of religion, by carrying out a stabbing attack against Jews in order to kill them. The appellant [Ahmad Manasrah] and H. [Hassan] each went into their homes and took knifes. The appellant took a decorative knife with a 15-centimeter blade, and H. took a big kitchen knife with a 20-centimeter blade.

Indeed, the court’s finding later notes (page 22) that “The defendant and his cousin sought to die together as martyrs [Arabic: Shaheed] and to carry out ‘jihad.’ To that end, the appellant equipped himself with a large knife intended, as he put it, to ‘slaughter sheep’ or as a ‘solution to the conflicts.'”

Police respond at the scene of the attack in Pisgat Zeev, Oct. 12, 2015 (Photo from Israel Police)

The High Court justices go on to describe how Hassan stabbed Ben-Ezra and then the two Manasras fled together, chased by two bystanders who witnessed the attack. According to the justices:

Bypassers who saw what happened hurried to help the boy [Ben-Ezra] and the two began to flee up an ascent on HaShisha-‘Asar Street. Some of the bystanders, including Shimon Mizrachi and Yehuda Chernokov (herein Shimon and Yehuda, respectively) ran after them. Close to the intersection of HaShisha-‘Asar Street and Moshe Dayan Boulevard, Shimon ran after H. and the appellant, who was running on the left side of the street, ran after Shimon with a knife in his hand. Yehuda yelled towards Shimon to be careful of the appellant. Shimon turned towards the defendant and attempted to neutralize him with a broomstick that he held in his hand, but the defendant dodged him and continued running on Moshe Dayan Boulevard in the direction of the city center, against the flow of traffic, until he was hit by a car.

About the attack on Tuito, Israel’s High Court determined that Ahmad’s felony was attempted murder and that his guilt was proven beyond all reasonable doubt. The justices wrote:

We adjudicate that the mens rea for the offense of attempted murder was crystallized, and that the appellant is guilty of this offense as a joint accomplice is proven beyond all reasonable doubt. This determination is based on the indisputable fact that the appellant raised his knife against the plaintiff [Tuito]; from the testimonies and evidence it was apparent that the appellant continued to chase after the plaintiff with a knife drawn after he was wounded, as it is also possible to see in the clip from the security camera from the nearby convenience store (the 5th clip […]); from various circumstantial evidence and the shape and characteristics of the knife that the appellant held in his hand and from the way that the plaintiff was stabbed. Moreover, there are also the testimonies of eye-witnesses that were found to be reliable and are all consistent with each other.

Other media outlets which have previously corrected after erroneously characterizing convicted Palestinian terrorists as "political prisoners" include The Independent and The Guardian

CAMERA has contacted The Hollywood Reporter to request that editors issue a correction making clear that "Advocate" follows Leah Tsemel's work defending Palestinians convicted of violent terror acts as opposed to "political prisoners."

See also "Los Angeles Times Covers Up Near Fatal Terror Attack" and "In New York Times, Convicted Bomber Becomes 'Controversial Palestinian Activist'

Oct. 14 Update: THR Amends Article With Problematic Correction

Following CAMERA's repeated communication with THR, editors amended the text to refer to "Lea Tsemel, who throughout her career representing Palestinians has defended political prisoners as well as clients accused of extremist crimes."

In addition, editors appended the following to the bottom of the article:

Oct. 11, 11:42 p.m. PT: This story was updated to reflect that although Lea Tsemel has represented political prisoners during her career, Advocate focuses mostly on two clients accused of extremist crimes.

While the correction commendably notes that the clients featured in "Advocate" were not political prisoners, the assertion that Tsemel has represented political prisoners in her career is questionable and requires substantiation. When pressed for substantiation – names of the political prisoners and the political acts with which they were charged THR declined to produce any data to support the correction's assertion.

Media reports identify many of Tsemel's clients and the acts of which they are accused. While those clients identified in reports were clearly not political prisoners, no specifics on any alleged political prisoners were available. For instance, Tsemel had defended Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, convicted for his role in planned molotov cocktail attacks against police, among other offenses. In addition, Haaretz reported ("The Israeli lawyer who defends the most violent fighters against the occupation"):

… she represented Udi Adiv and the members of the Jewish-Arab ring who were convicted in 1973 of spying for Syria. Among others, her clients have included the terrorists who perpetrated the deadly attack on a bus on the coastal road in 1978 and the Palestinian prisoners who waged widespread hunger strikes in the 1980s. She tried to block the deportation of Hamas activists to Lebanon in 1992, and defended the murderers of a pregnant Palestinian who was killed because she was suspected of providing information to the Shin Bet security service. That’s a very partial list.

Also on that list is Abdel Aziz Salha, given a life-time sentence (but later released in the Gilad Shalit exchange) for his role in the brutal October 2000 lynching of two Israeli soldiers who took a wrong turn into Ramallah. He was photographed in the police station window holding up his blood-covered hands in triumph. Tsemel represented Tareq Barghout, a former colleague and then client, was arrested for shooting at Israeli police vehicles and civilian busses in the West Bank ("The Losing Lawyer in Israel Who Defends Palestinians Charged With Violence, NPR). The "two young Palestinians accused of killing an Israeli," noted by NPR's Daniel Estrin in his Jan. 15, 2020 broadcast are also not political prisoners.