A letter from the Im Tirtzu Israeli activist organization to the president of Ben-Gurion University addressing the alleged imbalance in the number of Zionist versus post-Zionist lecturers in the university’s politics and government department has created a storm in the Israeli media. Covering the controversy, the news departments of two major Israeli media outlets, Ha’aretz and Ynet, recently engaged in a little literary license, apparently forgetting that their job is restricted to reporting the news.
Ha’aretz’s Aug. 17 Hebrew headline screams:
Im Tirtzu to Ben-Gurion University: Fire Leftist Professors Or We’ll Drive Away Donors
The English headline, in contrast, does not mention the firing of professors:
Im Tirtzu threatens boycott of Israeli university over ‘anti-Zionist’ bias.
Ynet’s Hebrew headline the same day goes even further than its Ha’aretz counterpart, purporting to actually quote from the letter:
“If You Don’t Fire Leftist Professors, We’ll Drive Away Donors”
(Again, the Ynet’s English headline differs from the Hebrew, stating: “‘We’ll drive away donors if you don’t end anti-Zionist bias.'” Like Ha’aretz‘s English headline, and unlike both Hebrew headlines, Ynet’s English headline does not mention the firing of leftist professors as an Im Tirtzu demand.)
Did the Im Tirtzu letter in fact call for the firing of professors? Well, no. The relevant section of the letter follows:
Out of sincere concern for the academic freedom of the students, and out of fear for the future of the university, we urge you to bring an end to the severe anti-Zionist tilt and the exclusion of Zionist students and faculty in the department in question.
Therefore, we request that you respond to us as soon as possible regarding the immediate steps and actions that you intend to take to redress the situation in the politics and government department at Ben-Gurion University. Among other things, how do you plan to end the discrimination directed against the Zionist public?
Nowhere does the letter mention the firing of faculty. This is invention on Ha’aretz’s part. As for Ynet, the placement of the bogus quote in quotation marks, as if it were a real statement taken directly from the letter, is even more egregious.
Morevoer, last week’s inaccurate coverage of Im Tirtzu’s demands is not a one-off event. In today’s Ha’aretz, news reporter Natasha Mozgovaya falsely writes:
Im Tirtzu’s latest initiative, demanding Ben-Gurion University’s president dismiss lecturers the group considered “anti-Zionist” or face a campaign to persuade foreign donors to halt their donations, did not help.
A right-wing pressure group is threatening to drive donors from one of Israel’s top universities if the institution did does not sack left-wing lecturers and alter is allegedly anti-Zionist curriculum. (Emphasis added.)
Unfortunately, at least one prominent Israeli was also influenced by the miscoverage. Shaul Mofaz, a Kadima Knesset member, published an Op-Ed in Ma’ariv today (translated by CAMERA), erring:
Im Tirtzu even informed the president of the university, Professor Rivkah Carmi, that if she does not fire faculty members with a “leftist” agenda, the group will turn away foreign donors and attempt to end contributions to the university.
No doubt that the respected Knesset member (or his staff person who wrote the column) drew his information not from the original source, but from the recent distorted news reports. Indeed, did any of the aforementioned journalists or public figures even read the Im Tirtzu letter?
Trains, Headlines, and Inventions
The Israeli media’s provocative misrepresentation last week of primary sources was not limited to the academic world; coverage of public transportation issues was also subject to shoddy journalism. Later in the week, a news article appeared in the Aug. 20 Hebrew and English editions of Ha’aretz under the headline:
Jerusalem train company asks passengers: ‘Do you mind traveling with Arabs?’
Were passengers really asked the question quoted in the above headline? The article itself explains that CityPass, the rail system’s concessionaire, carried out a poll among Jerusalem residents to learn how they feel about the new service. According to the article, they were asked:
“The light rail includes three stations in Shoafat. Does that present a problem for you?” the questionnaire as ks. In another question: “All passengers, Jewish and Arab, enter the train freely and without the driver’s inspection. Is that a problem for you?”
Respondents are asked to indicate their level of concern from 1 (not a concern) to 5 (very concerning).
As in the earlier case involving Im Tirtzu, the sensational question quoted in the headline does not actually appear in the survey. In addition, given that in Jerusalem, where 229 people were killed in 28 terror attacks between 1994 and 2004, most of them carried out in the public transportation system, all by Arab terrorists, residents’ fears about using a mass transportation service which does not entail a security check of passengers are security-oriented. The alarming headline, in contrast, suggests nothing more than racism at play.
Whether or not Ha’aretz editors consider the questionnaire racist, they are not free to inject a false quote in a headline (or anywhere for that matter), a violation of the most basic journalistic standards.
Nothing New Here
Falsely attributing unflattering language to a primary source is not a new trick for Ha’aretz. In May, we described how veteran Ha’aretz journalist Akiva Eldar falsely wrote in a March 31, 2010 article (“Poll: 21% of settlers back resisting evaucation ‘by any means'”):
Twenty-one percent of settlers believe that all means must be employed in to [sic] resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms, according to a recent Hebrew University study.
In fact, the survey in question, the March Hebrew University Truman Institute poll, does not at all mention the phrase “including the use of arms” in relation to resistance on the part of settlers, or any other topic. The poll does not even mention the word “arms” at any point. Nevertheless, Professor John Mearsheimer, author of the error-ridden Israel Lobby, pounced on Eldar’s miscoverage. In a Chicago Tribune Op-Ed, Mearsheimer took the misinformation one step further, inserting quotation marks around the invented phrase “including the use of arms.” While the Tribune promptly corrected, Ha’aretz has yet to do so. Worse, it seems the simple lesson — that falsely attributing language to a primary source is wrong — has yet to be learned.