Key Quotes Missing in Action; Washington Post Whiffs on Mubarak, Abbas

While the Washington Times ran a front page article on December 4 headlining Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s recent laudatory comments about Ariel Sharon (“Mubarak: Best bet is Sharon; Peace possible, Egyptian tells Palestinians” by Joshua Mitnick), the Washington Post waited two days to mention those comments and then only included them in abridged form at the end of another story.

The Times wrote this:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told Palestinians yesterday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon represents the best hope for peace, a rare note of praise by an Arab leader for an Israeli leader reviled in much of the Arab world.

“I think if [the Palestinians] can’t achieve progress in the time of the current [Israeli] prime minister, it will be very difficult to make any progress in peace,” Mr. Mubarak told reporters at the opening of Egypt’s Port Said Harbor, the Associated Press reported.

Mitnick quoted an analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace who said Mubarak “didn’t have to do that … Egypt rarely goes out on a limb to praise an Israeli government, or tell the Palestinians what they should or should not do. They usually leave their admonishments behind close doors.”

The Post ran an AP dispatch on a Cairo-Jerusalem prisoner exchange, and in the 12th of 16 paragraphs noted that  "last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak praised Sharon, saying Palestinians should be able to strike a peace deal with the Israeli leader."

Shortly before, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas also was making news, and being minimized by the Post. Reuters News Agency and AP both reported on November 24 that Abbas (alias Abu Mazen) in remarks to the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, reiterarted the late Yasser Arafat's insistence on the "return" of Palestinian Arabs to land inside Israel."

Reuters said Abbas

vowed yesterday never to give up the late Yasser Arafat's bedrock demand that Israel recognize a "right of return" of Palestnian refugees. "We promise that we will not rest until the right of return of our people is achieved and the tragedy of our diaspora ends .... We will stick to Palestinian steadfastness in support of the dream [Mr. Arafat] lived for."

AP reported that Abbas said

he'll follow in Yasser Arafat's footsteps and demand that Israel recognize the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees .... Abbas said he would walk in the footsteps of the late Palestinian leader. "We promise you [Arafat] that our heart will not rest until we achieve the right of return for our people and end the tragic refugee issue."

According to Reuters, "the right-of-return issue was a key fact in the collapse of peace talks convened by President Clinton at Camp David, Md., in 2000." AP stated that "Abbas' speech sent another signal: Though he is seen as a pragmatist and moderate opposed to violence, there is no guarantee that he could forge a peace deal with Israel .... Abbas gave no hint of flexibility yesterday."

The Washington Post  reported Abbas' statement at the PLC's memorial service for Arafat in a three paragraph brief on November 24The Washington Times ran the Reuters dispatch as an 11-paragraph story that day, headlined "Abbas vows to press 'right of return' issue; Palestinian refugees' status eyed". A photograph of Abbas next to a portrait of Arafat, with a cutline emphasizing Abbas' concurrence with Arafat's demand of "return," accompanied the report. 

Its minimizing of Mubarak and Abbas' comments delete and ignoring those of Abbas notwithstanding, the paper was covering some news about Israel. For example:

A major front page story ran on November 29. In "Checkpoints Take Toll on Palestinians, Israelis Army; Civilians Describe Abuse; Troops Lament Conditions," correspondent Molly Moore highlighted allegedly widespread harrassment of West Bank Arabs at Israeli checkpoints and the reportedly "corrupting" nature of such duty on Israeli soldiers.

In "Israeli Army to Probe Reports of Corpse Abuse," her November 20 dispatch, Moore followed a story covered the day before by Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest Hebrew daily. Yediot had reported that Israeli troops abused the bodies of Palestinians killed during army operations.

And on November 23, in a "White House Notebook" column headlined "An Israeli Hawk Accepts the President's Invitation," reporter Dana Milbank refers to a "hawkish" and "far-right" Israeli politician. That would be Natan Sharansky, whose new book, The Case for Democracy, Bush was reading. Sharansky, a nine-year prisoner of Zion in the former Soviet Union, might better be called a skeptic or realist – as Milbank's column itself suggests – one who envisions a compromise settlement with a Palestinian democracy, but not prior unilateral Israeli concessions.

Critics often charge the Post with a double standard in its Arab-Israeli coverage, one that typically puts Israel in a harsh light while airbrushing the Arabs. Here's more evidence. Mubarak's upbeat view of Palestinian chances with Sharon certainly fit the "man-bites-dog" definition of Middle East news. Abbas' echo of Arafat did likewise, since it contrasted with general news media – the Post included – references to him as a "moderate." If Moore's stories – Israel through a glass darkly – were news, then so were these.

As for the column on Sharansky's White House visit, which was national, not foreign news coverage, does the word choice – "hawkish," "far-right" – say more about the Post's viewpoint than Sharansky's? Getler insists that the Post's virtual refusal to use the word terrorism in describing Arab attacks against Israeli noncombatants rests on principled avoidance of vague labels. But somehow "hawkish" and "far-right" are not vague labels when applied to an Israeli politician whose positions in question are both specific and nuanced?

Post Arab-Israeli coverage needs to get real — that is, it ought to be comprehensive. And spare the editorializing adjectives.

Comments are closed.