Just the Facts: Stripping Down Ha’aretz Coverage on Airport Search

When Arab individuals and Israeli officials engage in he said/she said disputes concerning alleged Israeli wrongdoing, some at Ha’aretz have the very unprofessional tendency to automatically accept the Arab claim as fact, and to completely ignore the Israeli refutation.
Thus, on Friday Ha’aretz‘s English edition repeated a pattern that we first noted in December, in which headlines state Arab allegations as fact although the accompanying article makes clear that the allegation is actually a disputed claim.
According to Orly Vilnai’s article (Feb. 26 online, Feb. 28 in print), Israeli Arab teacher Ezies Elias Shehadeh alleged that she had been strip searched in the Eilat airport while accompanying her Jewish students on a class trip, and the Israel Airports Authority disputes this claim. Vilnai quotes Shehadeh:
“They touched me all over my body. They even asked me about my bones. They asked me to take off my slacks, my bra. I remained in my underpants,” she says, as the tears come back. “When I complained, they asked me: ‘Do you want to do this the easy way, or stay here?’ I went through close to an hour of humiliation that way.”
Further along in the article, Vilnai includes the authority’s denial:
In a response, the Israel Airports Authority said: “The security screening procedure and its methods are unrelated to the passengers’ ethnic origin, but rather have to do with many parameters. At no stage was the passenger stripped of her clothing. The screening procedures are set forth to the IAA by the state according to law. The body search was performed to make sure that the passenger would not board the airplane with objects in her purse or on her person that could endanger the security of the plane and the passengers.
Although the article itself makes perfectly clear that airport authority disputes Shehadeh’s charge that she was strip searched, the headlines, both online and in print, state as fact that she underwent a strip search. Thus, the page-three print headline Friday states: “Arab teacher strip-searched at airport after trip to Eilat with Jewish students.” Likewise, the online headline reads: “Arab teacher strip-searched before flying with her Jewish students.”
Even more objectionable is the editorial also on Feb. 28 (“You’re an Arab? Strip“), which gives no indication whatsoever that Shehadeh’s account of being strip-searched is disputed. Thus, the editorial reports:
Orly Vilnai reports in Ha’aretz today that when Elias Shehadeh and her students arrived at the airport, she was separated from them, then forced to strip and stand in her underwear to undergo a “security check.”
Moreover, the editorial goes on to dismiss the authority’s “excuses and justifications” about “such procedures,” without once even acknowledging that the authority said the strip search never happened! The editorial misleads:
The Israel Airports Authority and the security agencies have a plethora of excuses and justifications. They claim that all such procedures are carried out in accordance with the law, in order “to make sure that the passenger would not board the airplane with objects in her purse or on her person that could endanger the security of the plane and the passengers.”
On what basis does Ha’aretz reject the Israeli authority’s denial, and accept Shehadeh’s claim as fact? Yesterday, CAMERA’s Israel office requested that editors share any evidence that Ha’aretz may have received to determine that in fact Shehadeh’s account is true in this he said/she said dispute. If none is available, we urged editors to print a clarification making clear that Israeli authorities said Shehadeh had been subjected to a body search and emphatically deny that she was underwent a strip search.
As of this publication of this post, Ha’aretz editors neither produced evidence backing Shehadeh’s claim that she had been strip-searched, nor had they issued clarifications. Not only was the discrepancy not clarified, but Uri Misgav’s venomous column in the English edition today again repeats the disputed claim as fact (“The state of the Jewish race”). Charging Israel “with a Nazi way of thinking,” he writes, in part, “I don’t want to live in a country in which, before a flight, the teacher Ezies Elias Shehadeh is stripped of her clothing. . . .”
Today Ha’aretz editors promised to look into the matter, and we are hopeful that they will set the record straight. In the meantime, besides enjoying prominent placement in Ha’aretz opinion pages, the disputed claim is upgraded to fact in places like Peace Now, the Palestine News Network and a hysterical Gaza blog post about “Nazi Israel,” which shares a great deal in common with Ha’aretz own Op-Ed by Uri Misgav.

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