The Board and Staff of CAMERA deeply mourn the passing of David Bar-Illan, former Executive Editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of the celebrated column, “Eye on the Media.” David’s wit, courage and brilliance were brought devastatingly to bear in weekly critiques that challenged shoddy — sometimes ludicrous — media misinformation about Israel. To re-read the columns is to be reminded of the power of David’s pen to expose falsehood, challenge prejudice and deflate arrogance. All this he did with an unflagging dedication to Israel, a deep knowledge of history and a keen, frequently humorous, perception of humanity. A beloved friend of CAMERA, David often cited the organization’s work in his writing and from time to time invited guest columns. Since the spring of 2000, I’ve had the honor of writing the “Eye on the Media” column for the International Edition of the Jerusalem Post. No one, of course, could match David — and a sample of his columns below is a reminder of his unique gifts and our loss.
Andrea Levin, Executive Director
The Jerusalem Post
December 21, 1990
EYE ON THE MEDIA
Crimes of Omission
THE PRE-GORBACHEV Soviets, whose propaganda skills made Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels seem like a rank amateur, developed half-truths into an art form. They understood that omission is a far more potent weapon than commission; that the half-truth, or more accurately the 10-percent truth, was the biggest lie of all.
In the early eighties, for example, the official Soviet news agency Tass made a television documentary about “a typical American city,” Kansas City. The technique was as simple as it was consistent: the producers averted the camera eye from anything positive, carefully chose their interviewees, and adroitly spliced what they said. The result was a portrayal of Kansas City as a listless, decaying city, whose population is homeless and unemployed, and whose leaders are obsessed with nuclear war.
ONE ASSUMES that “newsmen” of a totalitarian state acquire the habit of sifting facts to fit the ideology early in their career.
It is a little more difficult to fathom how and why the esteemed members of the BBC radio staff, headed by Roger Hardy, who have given us the series “The Making of the Middle East,” have become addicted to such sifting. The latest episode, “The Lovers of Zion,” allegedly about the birth of Zionism and Israel, was heard in Israel on December 3. It is the BBC’s version of a Tass documentary. Tass — I hasten to say — of pre-perestroika vintage.
The story line is as simple as an Arabian Nights tale. Once upon a time in the 19th century, there was a peaceful country called Palestine, part of the Ottoman empire, in which “the overwhelming majority of the population” was Arab. It would of course spoil the idyllic picture if one mentioned that the whole population of that happy land was between 50,000 and 100,000, and that Mark Twain and all other travelers described it as “a desolate country … ” That, of course, was before the Zionist “colonization,” as it is called by Walid Khalidi, BBC’s main commentator for the program. (His sideline as a PLO propagandist is also never mentioned).
But let us go on. The British, who defeated the Turks in World War I, gave Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann something called the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Why? Because Weizmann’s personal charm was simply irresistible. And, as every student of British history knows, if there is one thing the British cannot resist it is personal charm. Especially Jewish personal charm. Having spent a good two minutes on Svengali-Weizmann’s irresistibility, the program had no time to mention that, no sooner had Britain received the League of Nations mandate for the purpose of realizing the Balfour Declaration, than three-quarters of Palestine was torn off to form the Arab Emirate of Transjordan.
As long as the Turks were around, Sheherezade-Khalidi weaves on, the Arabs did not fear the Jews. But as soon as the British arrived, “backing the Zionists” and letting Jewish immigration in, the Arabs decided, in 1936, to revolt. (Strangely, the BBC keeps referring to them as Palestinians, even though in those days they vehemently rejected the appellation. The Jews of Palestine were Palestinians, the Arabs of Palestine were Arabs, they insisted. )
The revolt, says Khalidi, was directed not against the Jews but against the dominant power, the British. One concludes that the 600 Jews who were murdered by Arabs during that period must have been either stabbed because, with their blond hair and blue eyes, they were mistaken for British soldiers, or else because they happened to be standing in the path of stray bullets. Whatever the case, the BBC mentions neither them, nor the 3,000-4,000 Arab “collaborators” who were also murdered by Arabs during the glorious revolt against the British. It also overlooks the little detail that in World War II, immediately following that valiant revolt, the Arabs sided with the Nazis, and that Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini – still the hero of Palestinian Arabs – was a friend of Hitler’s who participated in planning the “final solution.” Nor is there a mention of the Jewish Brigade, made up of Palestinian Jews, which fought on the side of the British.
In fact, as incredible as it may seem, there is not one solitary mention of the Holocaust in this whole program which purports to describe the birth of Israel. There is only Khalidi’s charmingly medieval complaint about refugees from “Christendom,” for whose plight the “Palestinians had to pay the price.” Not a word about the 600,000 refugees from Arab states.
KHALIDI IS not the only commentator. One must appear to be balanced.
So is Shabtai Tevet, Ben-Gurion’s biographer, is allowed a few lines about Ben-Gurion the leader; and historian Walter Laqueur a few words about Ben-Gurion the compromiser. Oh, yes, there is also Milton Viorst, the American apologist for Saddam Hussein (to this day), whose main contribution consists of the assertion (with a chuckle) that Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism “came out of the fascist movements in Europe.”
But the “history” of the state is told by Khalidi. (One wonders when the BBC wi ll produce a program about the Arab countries with, say, Yisrael Eldad, as the resident historian.)
Perhaps the most ingenious treatment is of the 1947 UN partition vote, achieved “through Zionist lobbying and American pressure.” (whatever happened to Weizmann’s charm? ) There is not a breath of a mention that the Jews accepted the partition plan and the Arabs did not. Nor is the 1948 war described as an assault by Arabs determined to throw the Jews into the sea, but as a situation in which “the Jews and Arabs were left to fight it out.”
The 1948 invasion by the Arab states is described as an unsuccessful effort “to save the parts of Palestine allotted to the Arabs,” which failed because “they were no match for the Haganah, the Irgun and the Stern Gang.” Not a mention of Abdullah’s quite successful effort in occupying Judea, Samaria and half of Jerusalem, or of Egypt’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. In fact, in the BBC program Israel is always a formidable power backed by the United States. Like pages in Soviet encyclopedias, the facts of the American arms embargo during the War of Independence and the loss of one per cent of the Jewish population in the war have disappeared. A war Israel barely survived is depicted as one big blitz by the colonialist Israelis backed by superpower America against the “ill-equipped Arab armies,” at the end of which “Palestine (!) became Israel.”
Goebbels believed that the bigger the lie, the better chance it had of being credible. The BBC apparatchiks are far smarter: the big lie is out; the big omissions are in. They are the biggest lie of all.
The Jerusalem Post
November 17, 1995
EYE ON THE MEDIA
ABC’s attempt at a cover-up
AS reported in “Eye on the Media” on October 13, ABC-TV contributed to the demonization of the Israeli opposition with an outright lie. Speaking on October 2 on its prime-time news program World News Tonight, anchored by Peter Jennings, ABC reporter David Ensor said: “The party out of power in Israel is Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls Prime Minister Rabin a traitor because of his deals with Arafat.”
On hearing of the telecast, Netanyahu’s office called ABC News president Roone Arledge with a demand for a retraction. In a correction on October 6, Jennings in effect called Netanyahu a liar. He said: “Our reporter said the opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had called the Israeli prime minister a traitor. Though there are numerous references to him doing so in press reports from the region, and though he has spoken at antigovernment rallies where Prime Minister Rabin has been loudly condemned as a traitor, Mr. Netanyahu informs us he has never used these words himself.”
As the October 13 “Eye” column pointed out, Jennings’s “numerous references” claim was also a lie. With today’s data banks recording all news reports filed by recognized news agencies and accredited journalists, it is impossible for such “numerous references” not to be on record. A thorough search of all data banks showed none.
At this point, the Boston-based media-watch organization CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) wrote to Arledge, demanding to know “the names of the publications and the dates of those numerous press reports ABC relied on.” The CAMERA letter, dated October 13, also pointed out that Rabin himself had conceded that Netanyahu does not use the epithet.
It took ABC News more than two weeks to reply. In a letter dated October 31 from Richard Wald, the senior vice president responsible for editorial quality (whom Ted Koppel of Nightline once referred to as “the conscience of ABC News”), ABC insults not only truth but basic intelligence. Wald writes that the sources for ABC’s contention that there were “numerous references … in news reports” were, “The Des Moines Register and The Edmonton Journal, both of whose stories I have read.”
Not surprisingly, Wald mentioned no dates for these sources. They were both two years old. The Des Moines Register story was published on August 31, 1993, and the Edmonton reference on January 23, 1994. The Edmonton Journal mention was not a news story at all, but an editorial – the newspaper’s opinion piece — which contained the following sentence: “Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader who has called Rabin a traitor, says that Syria attacked Israel from the Golan and therefore Israel must never withdraw.”
When CAMERA asked the Journal’s editors for the source of their charge, they said it was the Guardian Newswire. According to the Guardian Syndication office in London, the Newswire contains only what appears in the London-based Guardian newspaper, which is in the Nexis data bank. A search in the data bank reveals that the Guardian never reported that Netanyahu called Rabin a traitor.
In their conversations with CAMERA, the Edmonton editors admitted it was an error and that they should have been more “rigorous.” They assumed from press reports that Netanyahu approved of the “traitor” charge, even if he did not actually use the word himself. Had they known what was going to happen two years later, they would have been more careful, they said.
The editors also told CAMERA that ABC News researchers had called to ask what the source for the editorial assertion was, and they referred them, too, to the Guardian. ABC, which can research the Guardian just like anyone else, obviously found no such reference. Yet, knowing that the Edmonton editorial was based on a falsehood, ABC cited it anyway.
The August 31, 1993, Des Moines Register story is, then, the only news report which served as a source for ABC’s claim that “numerous references” existed to Netanyahu’s alleged epithet. The Register story is a report based on wire services. Most of it is a verbatim copy of an excellent AP dispatch by Nick Tatro. Four short paragraphs can be traced to other sources (an earlier AP dispatch, a Los Angeles Times story, and two other wire services). But the Register editors have no idea where the sentence about Netanyahu comes from.
It reads: “Netanyahu, who referred to Rabin as a ‘traitor,’ called for opponents of the plan to go in the street, with all the legitimate means, in order to block these dangers.” The ABC News researchers, whose access to news data bases is second to none, could not find a source for this sentence either, or they would have cited it. Yet they included this fabricated, unsourced, two-year-old line in an insignificant paper as proof of “numerous references … in news reports from the region. ”
Adding malice to tendentiousness, ABC has deliberately ignored references which contradict its reporter’s assertion. A July 5, 1994, report in The Jerusalem Post, for instance, quotes Rabin criticizing Netanyahu for failing to condemn those who call Rabin a traitor “even if he does not say these things himself.” Nor has ABC News acknowledged a post-assassination story in the Washington Post by Barton Gellman, which included the following sentence: “Netanyahu never called Rabin a ‘traitor’ or ‘murderer’ and he condemned such language as ‘absolutely repugnant and unacceptable,’ but he seldom confronted those who used it and often appeared to solicit their support.”
ABC News persists in compounding its original lie with a clumsy cover-up not only because, like the New York Times and other media, it finds it difficult to admit error, but because it is dedicated to an anti-Israel agenda, whose leading advocate is Peter Jennings. That the disease has afflicted the man in charge of ABC’s “conscience” makes a mockery of the network’s claim to decency and integrity.
January 28, 1994
EYE ON THE MEDIA
Media myths, some charming, some insidious
Some myths about Israel are so ridiculous they are positively charming. Ha’aretz reports that a Dutch travel guide describes the alligators in the Hamat Gader park as more than just a tourist attraction. They are, the guide divulges, a secret Israeli weapon. If war comes, they will be let loose in the Jordan River. (What precisely they will do there is not specified.)
A similarly ludicrous myth has been created around the sale of The Jerusalem Post four years ago, and the departure of 30 journalists from the paper. In a story about the Post’s confrontation with the Foreign Ministry last week, Sarah Helm of The Independent asserted that The Jerusalem Post “moved to the far right under Conrad Black” and that ” 30 journalists walked out in protest.” The unmistakable implication is that the journalists resigned because they could not stomach the “move to the far right.”
This nonsense has become an accepted myth, perpetuated especially by journalists working for newspapers gunning for Post owner Conrad Black.
But even Ethan Bronner of the Boston Globe parrots the myth: “[The Jerusalem Post] was bought by Conrad Black … and it moved to the far right. At the time, 30 journalists walked out in protest,” he wrote last Friday.
Even the least industrious journalist can easily find out that the journalists left when Erwin Frenkel, appointed by the former owners(the Histadrut), was still working as chief editor, and that the editorial policy at the time of their departure was what it had been for the previous 15 years: The hawkish tone in the paper’s editorials — the only real change in policy — began to be felt only a mouth after the walkout.
The 30 left not for ideological reasons but because they had failed, in a clumsy power bid, to oust publisher Yehuda Levy. But the myth of the valiant “resigners of conscience” is obviously much too powerful and appealing to be slain by mere facts.
Another silly story now entrenched in journalistic mythology has to do with former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. In his recently published autobiography, Shamir acknowledges his ordering the execution of a fellow underground member, Eliahu Giladi, half a century ago. An Associated Press story about the book ends with, “The execution so” traumatized Shamir that he named his daughter Gilad after Giladi.”
This is sheer invention: Shamir’s daughter’s name has nothing to do with Giladi or his execution. But the fictitious “connection” has become “received wisdom.” Unfortunately, The Jerusalem Post, too, reprinted the complete AP story without editing out the mythology.
All this is by way of introduction to the most persistent myth of all: the media version of “Gaza under Israeli occupation” Even New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, one of the most conscientious and fearless journalists around, has fallen for some of the mythological guff about Gaza in a January 16 story about the district’s health system.
Responding to his story in a letter to the Times, Andrea Levin, a contributor to this column who heads CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), enumerates some of the article’s errors:
“Hedges erroneously states that Gaza’s six hospitals are overcrowded and ‘have had the same number of workers and beds since Israel occupied the Gaza strip in 1967.’ In fact, the number of beds has increased, and in 1991 the rate of hospital occupancy in Gaza (82.8 percent) was actually lower than that in, for example, Hawaii (83.6 percent) and New York (86.5 percent).
“He fails to mention that the Israelis have sharply increased health-care delivery through community health centers. His report does mention there are 28 such centers, but it fails to note that only three existed in 1967. In a population whose birth rate is one of the highest in the world …access to neighborhood health centers has been a priority…
“Hedges also fails to mention that renovation and enlargement of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital in recent years has made it a modern medical center. A 100-bed obstetrical unit was completed in 1986, a neonatal intensive care unit and radiology center in 1987, a 46-bed orthopedic department, 101-bed’ surgical unit, in addition to intensive care, recovery and emergency units in 1990. 180 new staff positions were added in the process.
“Much of this development proceeded under the difficult conditions of intifada violence which, at times, targeted Shifa and resulted in assaults and murder of patients and staff on hospital premises.
“Hedges cites Arab accusations that Israel has failed to develop capable medical staff. But in fact Gaza physicians, nurses and administrators regularly receive training in Israeli teaching hospitals…
“He repeats the complaints of Gaza residents about power outages but fails to tell readers that prior to Israeli control of the area only 18 percent of the residents had electricity at all. In 1992 the figure was 97 percent.
“Hedges is careless with population numbers, too, wrongly. remarking that most Gazans live in refugee camps. In fact, 60 percent live in urban centers, 12 percent in villages and a quarter live in refugee camps. He trots out the tired charge that Gaza is ‘one of the most densely populated areas in the world.’
“According to comparative statistics published in the 1993 Statistical Abstract of the US, population density in Gaza is 4,798 people per square mile. The number for Cairo is 97,106 per square mile, Monaco 40,155, Tel Aviv 17,660, New York City 11,480, Singapore 11,731. “Most disturbing in Hedges report is the failure to inform readers about the dramatically enhanced health of the people of Gaza, however imperfect the Israeli-sponsored system. As a telling measure of that improvement a mortality rate of 86 babies per thousand live births in 1968 has declined to 26 per thousand in 1990 thanks to the introduction of Israeli medical programs. (According to a Unicef report, in 1987 infant mortality in Egypt was 87, in Iraq 70 and in Jordan 45.) Childhood diseases, including polio, pertussis, tetanus and measles, have been virtually eradicated because Israel has carried out systematic programs of inoculation and treatment.
“No one would argue that life in Gaza is pleasant for many of its inhabitants – though a rich Arab Gazan upper class lives in startling luxury – or that the Israeli-administered health care system is perfect, but Chris Hedges’ report – in which only Arab accusations are heard, betrays a disturbing, and uncharacteristic, disregard for the whole truth.”
The Jerusalem Post
March 10, 1995, Friday
EYE ON THE MEDIA
Watchdog takes on network
IN the last 13 years, America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has aired 26 documentaries on the Arab-Israeli conflict; only three could be called not biased against Israel.
A 1993 production by the public-supported noncommercial television network, Journey to the Occupied Lands, was particularly nasty. As detailed in this column on August 12, 1994, it was full of distortions and falsehoods which became a lasting menace when the program was marketed as a videocassette.
Perturbed by the virulent anti-Israel propaganda in the production, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), a crusading Boston-based organization, issued a carefully documented, understated report analyzing the distortions.
Some of the fabrications were laughable. Example: “The port of Gaza used to be a bustling commercial center on the Mediterranean coast, open to the world; the occupation changed all that.” (This, about a tiny pier-less quay which under the British Mandate handled 0.3 percent of Palestine’s cargo and did even worse under Egypt.) Others were outright frauds, involving doctored satellite pictures.
The film revolved mainly around the personal story of Palestinian Sabri Gharib, who claims on screen that Israel stole a large plot of land which had been in his family for generations.
The documentary’s producer, Michael Ambrosino, solemnly announces on camera that “the Israeli court decided that most of the land was in fact Gharib’s, but now the court won’t even enforce its own decision.”
The fact is that Gharib is a chronic litigant, who has appealed to various courts for 14 years. His claim was found totally baseless by every court, including the High Court, and he was fined for pressing frivolous motions. The Gharib story, like the vast majority of “stolen land” claims, is, bluntly, a pack of lies.
CAMERA sent the report to the network, and PBS asked Ambrosino for a rebuttal, which it refused to give CAMERA. All the network was willing to say was that “we have seen nothing, including your paper, to make us doubt the factual accuracy of Journey to the Occupied Lands. On the contrary, the information provided by Ambrosino in response to your charges leads us to conclude that your report is an irresponsible and truly questionable piece of research.”
AFTER MANAGING to obtain a copy of Ambrosino’s defense, CAMERA issued a 150-page refutation in August 1994, in which it showed that Ambrosino’s defense only compounded the film’s errors and falsehoods.
CAMERA also insisted on meeting network officials, and finally persuaded them to investigate its charges. Again avoiding an impartial outside inquiry, the network chose Louis Wiley, a staff member whose name appears in the documentary’s credits. It was he who had done the original “fact checking” for Journey.
Not surprisingly, Wiley’s report attempts to exonerate the film. But in the face of CAMERA’s documentation, the best he can do is call intentional lies “mistakes,” and ignore points he cannot refute. Smugly, he treats outrageous statements — such as that Israel has confiscated two-thirds of the West Bank, or that land in Silwan has been stolen — as if they are facts.
Even more incredibly, while Wiley finds that CAMERA was right and Ambrosino was wrong about the land allegedly stolen from Gharib, he claims that it doesn’t matter. “The error in the Gharib story is not significant,” he writes, “The substantive point of the story is that many Palestinians have lost land they considered theirs …”
Coming from a representative of the media, this is indeed breathtaking. Leaving aside the validity of the claim that “Palestinian land” in the territories has been confiscated, if journalists accepted such logic, Janet Cooke, the disgraced Washington Post writer whose story about a small boy growing up in the ghetto turned out to be a hoax, should get her job and Pulitzer Prize back. After all, there clearly are small boys in the inner city just like the one she made up.
On the claim that Israel is suffocating the Arab population in the “West Bank,” Wiley admits that Ambrosino ignored extensive legal and illegal building by Palestinians: “The staggering number of illegally built houses which have not been torn down is not mentioned,” he admits. But “the segment was basically accurate, for even if the Israelis don’t tear down illegal houses, they could if they wanted to.”
And so it goes. Wiley admits the most egregious breaches of journalistic principles and ethics, but describes them as insignificant errors. Then, compounding the felony, he repeats the documentary’s Big Lie: ” … about two-thirds of the West Bank has now been reserved for exclusive Jewish use. This fundamental fact remains unchallenged. Israelis make no bones about it … Almost all the stories in the film simply illustrate the obvious … Since the factual heart of the film is not in dispute, the film cannot be ‘fundamentally flawed’ as CAMERA claims.”
That anyone in the media can utter such nonsense only illustrates how readily media types believe anything about Israel, and how contemptuous th ey are of journalistic principles. Israeli towns and villages take up about four percent of the land in Judea and Samaria. As in every orderly country, land not owned privately (in this case, about 60 percent) is government land, not for anyone’s “exclusive use.”
But after attempting this whitewash, Wiley springs a surprise: His recommendations to PBS are constructive, and they belie his insistence that the falsehoods were but minor errors.
They include a suggestion that a letter of correction be sent to all purchasers of the videocassette and a new transcript be made to reflect changes; that a new master videocassette be used for all future sales; that the network devote on-air time to a report on the action it has taken and a brief summation of the changes made; and that the network question all documentary producers about members of their team who have a significant editorial role.
Additionally, “there should be a second fact checker on documentaries, the disclosure of the person’s current relevant affiliations in the credits, or other steps which would help refute the appearance of bias charge, should it be raised.”
Finally, “whenever there is any alteration to a real photo, stock footage, or any other material to be used in the film, there is an obligation on the part of the producer to bring that alteration to the attention of the network.”
The moral of the story is that protest works, at least partially. Not that PBS would now compensate for its 23 anti-Israel documentaries with one made from Israel’s viewpoint. Perish the thought! It’s possible, though, that the recommendations will be implemented and it is even conceivable that the two-year-long protest against its anti-Israel bias persuaded PBS to air Jihad in America, a documentary by Steve Emerson on Islamic militants. The film won the George Polk award for excellence in journalism earlier this week.
The Jerusalem Post
August 12, 1994
EYE ON THE MEDIA
Public TV makes commercial networks look benign
IT may well be that only those who have been reared in the US can appreciate the influence Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), little known outside America, exerts on American journalists and politicians.
In a land where all major networks – dependent on commercial advertising and large audiences — are forced to appeal to the lowest common denominator, PBS occupies a unique place. Public-supported and commercial-free, it is the only network professionals take consistently seriously.
Its news coverage is admired for being precisely what the commercial programs are not: thorough, searching, analytical and balanced. And its longish “in-depth” documentaries are deemed the last word in seriousness and historic perspective. They may lack professional slickness, but they ooze sincerity and even-handedness.
Unfortunately, this exalted image has little to do with the truth. In the treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, no commercial network in the US is as guilty as PBS of conscious prevarication, outright falsehoods, and contempt for the most fundamental journalistic ethics.
The network’s anti-Israel bias dominates the choice of productions to the exclusion of virtually any other consideration. Films produced by PLO propagandists are accepted without question. In the network’s search for Israel-damning material, values like probity, professional standards, rules of evidence, and basic fairness are cast to the winds.
What is particularly troubling about PBS’s distorted productions of Israel-related programs is not only that they are numerous — in the past 17 years 24 documentaries have been screened, of which only three can be considered relatively balanced — nor just that they are shown repeatedly throughout North America on affiliated stations.
What makes them a lasting menace is that they are turned into videos for the use of students.
The network’s “Middle East Peace Collection” is a video library advertised and sold to schools, universities and researchers. Claiming to provide understanding, background and context to the Arab-Israeli conflict, they are deemed authoritative and balanced, the ultimate examples of investigative international journalism.
But if truth-in-advertising laws mean anything, the collection should be named an assortment of PLO fantasy. One need not have an over-active imagination to realize that after using them as source material, a whole new generation of journalists and politicians will approach the subject of Israel inculcated with falsehoods.
UNTIL RECENTLY, there was little anyone could do about this. With the kind of hubris and arrogance only public-subsidized ideologues can display, PBS officials have ignored complaints, rebuttals and factual challenges. Even when reviewers protested the outrageous bias in the Nazi-like, Israel-bashing 1989 documentary Days of Rage, PBS was unperturbed.
Last October, Dr. Alex Safian, senior researcher for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), took a recent PBS documentary film, Journey to the Occupied Lands, and analyzed every section and picture in it. The result was a stunning, detailed expose of deliberate distortions, manufactured evidence, errors and misinformation.
The analysis was distributed among administration officials, congressmen and media personalities, who demanded an explanation from
Pressed to respond, PBS asked the documentary’s producer Michael Ambrosino (who received $700,000 for the film) to prepare a reply to Safian’s charges. A few months ago, in collaboration with his chief researcher Marty Rosenbluth — an anti-Israel activist who has signed ads calling for the dismantling of Israel – Ambrosino submitted a 33-page defense of the documentary.
Strangely, PBS refused to send Safian a copy of the rebuttal, even though it was distributed to the public figures who had demanded it. But Safian got a copy and after studying it released an even more thorough, documented analysis in reply.
; It shows not only that Ambrosino’s film and his defense of it are a web of falsehoods, but that Ambrosino knew he was lying.
Some of Ambrosino’s assertions in the film are so ludicrous they are laughable. When he says that “the port of Gaza used to be a bustling commercial center on the Mediterranean coast, open to the world; the occupation changed all that,” one tends to guffaw.
Gaza never had piers or wharves and was never a real port. It could accommodate only a few tiny boats, and under the British Mandate its share of Palestine’s total cargo was 0.3 percent. Under the Egyptians it declined even further. (It is thanks to repeated assertions in such documentaries, financed partly by the American taxpayer, that Arafat is able to bemoan “the destruction of our infrastructure by the Israelis.”)
Another deliberate lie is a charge that Israel “barred Palestinians from exporting citrus directly to European markets.” That this is plainly untrue is known by every student of the subject: since 1988 Gaza citrus and other Palestinian produce have been exported by Gazans directly to the European Community. But Safian proves that Ambrosino and Rosenbluth not only lied, but knew they were lying.
A January 1990 article in International Labour Reports by Rosenbluth features a picture of a young man carrying a carton of “Gaza Top” oranges. The caption reads, “Gaza Top, a consortium of fruit producers, is one of the few Palestinian companies exporting under its own label. The EEC refused to approve trade accords with Israel if it insisted on the fruit being exported through an Israeli company.”
And Ambrosino himself stated in an April 1993 letter that the prohibition on direct exports was lifted in 1987.
As Safian puts it, “Direct citrus exports are allowed. Ambrosino and Rosenbluth knew this and intentionally deceived their viewers. As with the rest of their film, the guiding principle is to malign Israel regardless of the injury to truth.”
BUT THE centerpiece of the “documentary” is a story about land. The myth that in 1967 the Israelis displaced Arabs and robbed them of their land is the central theme of PLO propaganda.
To illustrate it Ambrosino used a faked satellite picture (if there is one irresistible gimmick in the arsenal of today’s conmen it is high-tech sleight-of-hand), and painted in “images” of Jewish settlements to show how the settlements, growing like cancer, crowd out Arab villages. (The truth is, of course, precisely the opposite. The presence of Israelis in the territories, and the resultant economic boom, caused an unprecedented burst of growth in the Arab population and in building expansion. )
The faked “evidence” is supported by one personal story, of Palestinian Sabri Gharib, who claims on screen that Israel stole a large plot of land, over 40 acres, which had been in his family for generations.
As Safian describes it, “He claims at first that the Israeli court will not accept his documents. In the end, Mr. Ambrosino tells us somberly that finally the Israeli court decided that most of the land was in fact Gharib’s, but now the court won’t even enforce its own decision.”
But, as Safian’s excellent research uncovered, Gharib is a chronic litigant, who has appealed to various courts for 14 years. His claim has been found totally baseless by the High Court, and he has been fined for pressing frivolous motions by three different lower courts. To say that the Gharib story -— like the vast majority of “stolen land” claims — is a pack of lies would be an understatement.
SAFIAN’S DETAILED, thorough analysis of this Israel-bashing PBS documentary is unprecedented. It is the first time anyone has bothered to dismantle such an edifice of falsehoods brick by brick.
Precisely this kind of task should have been undertaken by Israel’s information offices long ago. But no Israeli government has ever deemed the attempt to discredit the whole Zionist enterprise — the more successful twin of the effort to deny the Holocaust — worthy of attention.
It can only be hoped that in the case of public-financed PBS, both private contributors and the US Congress will peruse Safian’s 144-page analysis. If they do, they will stop supporting what has become the closest imitation of the old Soviet propaganda machine in the Western world.