NPR Slipping Back to Its Anti-Israel, Biased Reporting

During its frequent fundraisers, NPR appeals to listeners to place their trust in its mission “to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” Far from fulfilling this stated mission, however, NPR is slipping back to its earlier pattern of shallow and biased reporting about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that deprives the public of essential information.  (See here, here, and here, for examples.)

Since the beginning of July, NPR aired at least three problematic reports, two by veteran Middle East correspondent Deborah Amos and one by reporter Leila Fadel that shared a common thread –   a clichéd narrative that omitted relevant context and information to blame Israel for dispossessing and discriminating against Palestinians and stirring conflict. It was a throwback to the NPR of the past.

July 2, 2021, All Things Considered:

Palestinians May Be Evicted From Jerusalem Neighborhood To Make Way For Biblical Park

Deborah Amos presented a one-sided, propagandistic account of demolitions in the Silwan area of Jerusalem that omitted half the story. Introduced by Ari Shapiro, it established a misleading narrative that blamed Israel for sparking conflict in the region:

Dozens of Palestinian families in an East Jerusalem neighborhood could have their homes demolished to make way for a special project by Jewish settlers – an archaeological park near ancient ruins. It could be the next focus of the conflict over Jerusalem. Plans to evict Palestinians from another neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, helped spark the Israeli-Palestinian violence in May.

While Hamas leaders did use events in Sheikh Jarrah as a pretext to lob thousands of missiles at  population centers inside Israel in the name of “defending” Jerusalem, it was exactly that – a pretext.  Israel’s planned evictions had nothing to do with dispossession and everything to do with Palestinian tenants who refused to pay their rents in a court decision that reaffirmed the pre-1948 Jewish ownership of the land, as Alex Safian explains in detail. Presenting only the Hamas pretext without explaining the other half of the story, NPR glibly adopted Hamas’ blame Israel narrative to explain “the Israeli-Palestinian violence in May.” Similarly, by stating that Palestinians in East Jerusalem might have their homes demolished to make way for a project by Jewish “settlers” – a description used to derogate Israeli authorities — without exploring the underlying basis of the story, the report just parroted a Palestinian narrative that blames Israel and Israeli “settlers” for everything wrong.

Correspondent Amos began by pretending to delve deeper into historical context:

Usually we begin a story like this in the neighborhoods that are the flashpoints. But first, we’re going back in time to an active archaeological site and a tourist destination – the City of David National Park, named for a biblical monarch who ruled here more than 3,000 years ago.

But besides alluding to the area’s 3000-year-old biblical history, the correspondent provided no more recent history or context and quickly skipped to Israel’s current plan to build a bibilical theme park there, presenting it as a “settler” project in “a Palestinian neighborhood” that “Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and annexed” but which is still considered “occupied territory.”  This is just an echoing of the Palestinian narrative, not the whole story.

Missing Background and Context

Listeners were not informed that the al-Bustan (King’s Garden) area of Silwan slated to be the tourist park had been preserved for centuries as a lush conservation area – under Jordanian, British and Ottoman rule. When the land came under Israeli control in 1967 (after Jordan attacked Israel), the Jerusalem municipality under Israel’s authority similarly designated this area of Silwan to remain as non-residential parkland.

Indeed, when Israel gained control of the area in 1967, only 4 Arab structures stood on this land. The Jerusalem municipality’s plans to preserve the land as public parkland were ignored and Arab buildings were constructed without permits, mostly in the 1980’s and 90’s, on what had been maintained as a conservation site.  Because these structures were built illegally, the entire area lacks infrastructure. With no adequate educational facilities, roads, sidewalks, community facilities, open recreational spaces, electricity, water, and parking, the once lush area has been turned into a slum. The Israel Antiquities Authority has complained that the illegal building on this land has irreversibly damaged antiquities.  

Bolstering Partisan Message with Partisan Activist Introduced as “Expert”

Amos discusses the “demolition of Palestinian homes in one part of Silwan, al-Bustan, to make way for the park” but conceals the above-mentioned background. She cites “anti-settlement activists” to say that “building permits are routinely denied to Palestinians,” but never explores the responsibility of those who choose to erect homes illegally on what has for hundreds of years been conservation land.  By citing without comment a justification for building illegally, Amos lends credence to the false implication that denial of permits is discriminatory. There is no hint that Israeli Jews would equally be denied permits to build there or that it stands to reason that no one, including Palestinians, would be granted permits to build on conservation land.

To bolster the blame-Israel narrative, Amos interviews Daniel Seidemann, whom she presents first and foremost as “a legal expert on the city” followed by “often a critic of government policies”.  In fact, Seidemann is a far-left activist and a partisan in the conflict, who founded and directs an NGO called Terrestrial Jerusalem, which, according to NGO Monitor:

Promotes a one-sided approach to the conflict, placing sole blame for the failure of the peace process on Israel. The complexities of the situation in Jerusalem – including illegal building and crime in Palestinian neighborhoods, damage to the Temple Mount as a result of illegal digging by the Waqf, and incitement to violence against Jews by extremist clerics – are erased.

When Amos does come around to citing a Jerusalem municipality representative, Arieh King, she describes him first as “a leader in the settler movement,” followed by “deputy mayor of Jerusalem.” King is cited to say he supports the demolitions, is eager for the new park, and wants more settlers to move here to ensure Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital and that the Palestinians built illegally.  Never in the entire segment is it explained that the land was set aside for conservation long before the Palestinians chose to violate zoning laws.  Nor is there any explanation of why municipalities are forced to regulate zoning and why unplanned building results in poor living conditions for everyone.  Instead, Amos interviews a Palestinian family to give an emotional account of the tension under which they are living due to the possibliity they may face eviction. 

Amos concludes by imputing a nefarious motive to Israeli authorities for evicting Palestnians who build illegally in Jerusalem:

Attempts to make room for settlers in the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah captured international attention in May. Al-Bustan might be next.

Omitting and hiding the real reasons Israeli authorities give for evictions in Sheikh Jarrah (non-paying tenants) and in al-Bustan (building unsupervised and illegally on conservation land not zoned for and lacking the proper infrastructure for residential building), the reporter echoes in her own authoritative voice the pretexts and propaganda put forward by Palestinians to malign Israel.

July 3, 2021, Weekend Edition:

Protests Arise As Israel Begins Demolition Of Silwan Neighborhood In East Jerusalem

NPR followed the next day with an amplification of the same anti-Israel narrative, devoting an entire segment to reporter Leila Fadel’s interview of BDS activist Jalal Abukhater to discuss demolitions in Silwan. Fadel misleadingly introduced the BDS activist in benign terms, as “a Palestinian writer and critic of Israeli policies,“ but contrary to what NPR would have its listeners believe,  Abukhater  is not merely a critic of some policies by the Israeli government:  He is a longtime opponent of the very existence of a Jewish state who writes articles to promote BDS positions in extremist, anti-Israel outlets like Electronic Intifada.

It was therefore a given that Abukhater would only amplify attacks on Israel. And yet no Israeli voices were heard to present the alternate side of the story. It was left to reporter Leila Fadel to provide any Israeli perspective and she devoted only 12 seconds of the 6 minute, 12 second segment (i.e. 3%) to a question that was meant to present the Israeli perspective.  She asked:

You know, Israeli authorities say that this project has been planned for years, that the Israeli position is that Jews have historic and religious links to the area. And like you said, they say the homes are built illegally. What do you say to that?

Abukhater’s response implied that Israel uses their historic and religious links to the area in a hypocritical manner. 

The rest of the segment was devoted to claims of Israel victimizing blameless Palestinians.  For example:

Fadel: “Israeli authorities say dozens of homes in the Silwan neighborhood – or Shiloah (ph), as it’s called in Hebrew – must be destroyed to make room for a religious tourist park. Israel says the homes were built illegally, but rights advocates point out it’s hard for Palestinians to get building permits.”

Fadel: “Palestinians are faced with a terrible choice, destroy their homes themselves or watch Israeli authorities do it and pay thousands in fines after the fact.”

Fadel: “Palestinians say it’s all meant to drive them from Jerusalem.”

Abukhater was brought on to elaborate on this anti-Israel narrative.  So he broadened the charges by presenting Silwan as “a microcosm of the injustice” faced by “Palestinian Jerusalemites,” and amplified the narrative of Israeli injustice and persecution against innocent Palestinians.  Unchallenged, he rolled out  cliched and untrue anti-Israel charges of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and violating international law.  In addition, he falsely claimed Palestinians are “never granted permits” to build legally, are forced to “pay fees for not being happy” with demolitions;  are arrested for “just being unaccepting of [the] situation,” are unable  to “go to Israeli court” to retrieve their property.

No Counter to Anti-Israel Accusations

No Israeli voice was heard to counter these propagandistic charges.  Nor did Fadel provide information to balance the BDS activist’s narrative.

Contrary to Abukhater’s charges, those who have built illegally are given notification of an impending demolition and they are given the opportunity to appeal in court.  Generally, the first notification of an impending demolition is a sticker on the door that alerts the owners to contact the court within 30 days. Upon appeal, the process can take years before a demolition is decided and implemented. If no legal appeal is made, the courts make a decision about how long to allow illegal builders to comply with eviction and demolition orders beyond the first 30 days. 

Abukhater’s charges that Palestinians who hold deeds to property in western Jerusalem can’t appeal to Israeli courts to recover their property and that Israel has established an apartheid legal system in Jerusalem, are similarly false. As Alex Safian explains:

Property left behind by Arabs who fled during the fighting in 1948 (ie, absentee property) was turned over to Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property, which sold most of the property to state or related bodies for public purposes, such as housing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who found refuge in Israel. The Custodian held the value of the property in trust for the registered Arab owner (with adjustments for inflation and interest).

Those registered owners are eligible to file for compensation from the Custodian, but Palestinians were pressured not to make claims, lest that legitimize Israel’s existence and sovereignty. Still, over the years at least 14,692 claims have been filed, claims have been settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) has been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land in Israel has been given in compensation. Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings. Critics of Israel charging unfairness or “asymmetry” in application of absentee property laws might want to consider that asymmetry first.

July 7, 2021, Morning Edition:

Palestinians Hope A New Israeli Government Means Progress For This Poor Town

In another segment, days later, Middle East correspondent Deborah Amos used Palestinian terminology to drive home a message of Israeli discrimination against Palestinians. 

  • Instead of referring to Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs, she refers to “Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

(Note: According to a 2020 survey, only 7% of Israeli Arabs/Arab Israelis define themselves as “Palestinian”.  It is, however, the preferred term of anti-Israel activists.)

  • Instead of referring to the village having a nearby Jewish neighborhood, she refers to  the village as being “hemmed in by Jewish cities.”

(Note: The village is bordered a) to the west by the Mediterranean Sea; b) to the east by Route 2-Kvish Hahof – Shore highway; c) to the north by a river, Wadi az-Zarka or Nahal Taninim-Crocodile Stream and the Nahal Taninim reserve park; and d) to the south by suburbs of Ceasarea.)

Amos made broad generalizations without attribution to derogate Israel, for example:

Unlike Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel are supposed to have the same rights as Jewish Israelis. …Yet, many Palestinian Israelis say they are treated as second-class citizens at best.

And in the accompanying article posted on NPR’s website, Amos quotes the biased and dishonest Human Rights Watch level an unsupported propagandistic charge against Israel:

Israeli government uses discriminatory land policies that allow Jewish citizens to expand their areas while the policies restrict Arab citizens to smaller, densely populated communities in Israel, like Jisr al-Zarqa.

But, as Alex Safian points out in his analysis of Human Rights Watch’s recent report, their accusations against Israel are simply not true.

NPR is slipping back into a pattern of dishonest advocacy reporting that unfairly attacks the Jewish state.

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