Public Radio: Hatreds Newsworthy and Not

Boasting a constituency drawn heavily from America’s best educated and most politically active, National Public Radio enjoys a unique vantage from which to reach and influence policy-makers. Unfortunately, when the story NPR beams to its millions of listeners concerns Israel, it is shaped almost invariably to fit a political agenda in which that nation is the victimizer of oppressed Arabs. Coverage of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Arabs at prayer was no exception.

In the NPR rendition the killings were not the fanatic act of a single Jew — an aberration — but a logical development in the fable of Arab good and Israeli evil. To support such a fable, NPR concocts an Orwellian landscape in which Arab terrorism is all but invisible, rampant government-sponsored anti-Semitism in the Arab world is ignored, and threats to Israel’s existence along with the drumbeat of Arab calls to destroy the nation are elided. Instead, Israel is made to seem the source of trouble and hatred in the region.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hebron killings NPR turned quickly to stories that emphasized alleged Israeli hatred and mistreatment of Arabs. In one memorable segment reported by NPR’s Linda Gradstein, Jewish children in Hebron were presented as budding Baruch Goldsteins, with a seven year old expressing the wish that "all Arabs get killed." That such sentiments are fostered among a miniscule number of Israeli children — despite Israel’s having had to endure decades of assault by Arab terrorists — was unmentioned.

That Arab societies, in contrast, do widely educate their own young to despise Jews is a story never told on NPR. In one of many such accounts, a 1990 report by a Haifa University professor found that in textbooks used throughout the Arab world Israelis and Jews are depicted as mad dogs, rats, predatory wolves and cunning foxes. Jews are portrayed as child killers and young readers are goaded to prepare for war against Israel.

Beyond the inculcation of hatred in Arab school children, books and media in the Arab world regularly promote anti-Semitism. According to these writings, Jews betrayed the prophet Mohammed as they did Christ, caused capitalism, communism, Darwinism and the murder of John F. Kennedy, and are rapists and cheats. Despite repeated urgings that NPR report the pervasive anti-Semitism in the Arab world, the network has ignored the issue. Asked why NPR had not covered a particularly virulent eruption in Egypt not long ago in which Jews were accused in government-sponsored publications of spreading AIDS and agricultural pests, NPR Editorial Director John Dinges dismissed the event as "just one of many, many such propaganda campaigns in every country."

Rioting by Israeli Arabs in Jaffa after the Hebron massacre prompted Gradstein to conduct another human interest interview, to probe the discontents of Arab citizens of the state. In a format favored by NPR, young Arab students expressed solidarity with Palestinians in the territories and resentment of Israel, while Gradstein herself enumerated a list of their grievances. She noted that Israeli Arabs "say they are treated as second-class citizens. They say Jews don’t want to hire them…In the Israeli Parliament, six of the 120 members are Arabs, but they are prevented from serving on certain committees, such as intelligence. There has never been an Arab cabinet minister."

Trusting listeners were not, needless to say, reminded of the remarkable irony that of 200 million Arabs in the Middle East, the eight hundred thousand living as citizens among 4 million Jews enjoy the greatest political freedom, voting in the sole democracy and electing representatives to sit in its parliament. Nor was information provided about the many programs sponsored by American and Israeli groups, including the United Jewish Appeal’s Project Renewal, on behalf of Jaffan Arabs, or about the dramatic progress in health and education enjoyed by the Israeli Arab community in general. Inclusion of such context is, of course, vital to the truth.

The inversion that yields a picture of Israel as an unprovoked aggressor against innocents has been a conspicuous feature of NPR in recent years. Thus, information that conflicts with this view, such as the recent murder of a pregnant Israeli woman, Zippora Sasson, in a terrorist attack just a week before the Hebron massacre was, predictably, excluded. Attacks against Israeli civilians, especially those living on the West Bank, are minimally reported as a rule. Yet a particularly shocking instance of the double standard in treatment of the deaths of Jews and Arabs were the cases of Anton Shamili and Helena Rapp, killed within a week of each other in May, 1992. Twenty-two-year-old Shamili, who had been a member of the radical PFLP, was shot by Israeli soldiers. Fifteen-year-old school girl Helena Rapp was stabbed to death by an Arab at a bus stop. Gradstein reported the latter event, which aroused particular horror among Israelis nationwide, in four peremptory sentences — three of them critical of Israelis for their angry reaction.

It was Anton Shamili who excited the reporter's interest. In a sympathetic, 80-sentence account Gradstein extolled the man who was "quick to tell a joke and laugh" and who had left behind a crippled father and desolate family. Gradstein, touted by her network for her fluency in Hebrew and Arabic, also tellingly mistranslated the chanting of a crowd attending a memorial for Shamili. She informed NPR listeners that the mourners were shouting "Anton, Anton, you were murdered. We promise to continue your struggle." But the cries of the crowd were considerably less benign. "With fire and blood we will liberate Anton," was the chant, a variation on the slogan familiar to Israelis: "With fire and blood we will liberate Palestine." In this instance and throughout NPR's coverage, Arab violence is obscured and rationalized while Israeli expressions of anger at being attacked and actions taken in self-defense are disparaged as vengeful and irrational.

The roots of Gradstein's systematic distorting of events are evident from statements made by the reporter in interviews. On the one hand an avowed proponent of a Palestinian state who opposes Jews living on the West Bank "at this time," she also describes her extreme "frustration" at hearing Arabs express unrelenting hatred for Israel. Her frustration over Arab hatred, and her preference for those Arabs who evince a desire for peaceful coexistence, are, indeed, so great that she does not hesitate to censor out the hatred, underreport its bloody consequences, and ruthlessly misrepresent a reality she finds unacceptable. As Professor Ruth Wisse, Director of Harvard's Center for Jewish Studies, has aptly written, some people "find it psychologically and politically necessary to abandon the Jews to their fate so that they may preserve their [own] easy optimism." But fantasizers such as Gradstein do not belong in positions of influence on a tax-supported network that purports to bring objective and balanced news to American listeners. The public deserves professionals — who report reality.

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