Reuters Cites Fringe Voices on UNESCO

As CAMERA has noted frequently, the tendency of reporters to invoke the views of fringe commentators critical of Israel as though they represent mainstream positions can dramatically distort the framing, even the essence, of a story.
Basic journalistic ethics call for accurately identifying sources. For instance, Reuters’ standards state: “Always hold accuracy sacrosanct” and  “Always strive for balance and freedom from bias”

Yet an October 31, 2011 Reuters report by Susan Cornwell on the vote by UNESCO to allow the Palestinians full status as a state in the U.N. lapsed into this same pattern of invoking fringe Jewish commentators unrepresentative of the mainstream, even though the article otherwise presented a factual account of events. (“U.S. stops UNESCO funding over Palestinian vote”)

Cornwell quotes U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying: “The United States … remains strongly committed to robust, multilateral engagement across the U.N. system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers long-standing legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO.” The reporter, likewise, offers relevant factual background to the controversy.

But when she includes comment from the Jewish community about the Palestinian move and the US response, the commentary is not from a mainstream source, such as a statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations applauding U.S. action, but from two far-left organizations deploring the action of the United States. She quotes Americans for Peace Now, identifying them without noting their political hue, as merely “an American-Jewish pro-peace group.” Peace Now lamented that: “The language was intended to pre-emptively block normalization of Palestinian relations and activities in the international community.”
Cornwell then turns to the controversial J Street organization whose spokesman likewise deplores the action taken by America in opposition to the Palestinian move. She gives no hint about the group’s extreme, fringe positions, writing:

Another American Jewish group, J. Street, urged Congress to amend the law to preserve U.S. funding to UNESCO and others. “If Congress does not act, we could soon find ourselves without a voice at U.N.- affiliated agencies of vital importance to American jobs, safety and security,” J Street’s Dylan Williams said.

So, has the Reuters reporter fairly and accurately represented the realities about American Jewish reaction?
A relevant poll conducted by Luntz Global and sponsored by CAMERA in May 2011 underscored the strong sense of concern among the vast majority of American Jews regarding Israel — concern about both physical and propaganda threats — and the sharp divergence of mainstream Jewish sentiment from harshly critical views of Israel espoused by J Street.
Thus, the Reuters piece skews the realities about the actual views of American Jews,omitting the Jewish mainstream perspective, views expressed, for example, in the statement on the UNESCO vote by the Conference of Presidents:

New York, October 31, 2011… Richard Stone, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents denounced the vote by UNESCO to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member of the agency.

 “We are deeply disappointed by the vote in UNESCO to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member.  President Abbas’ effort to achieve UNESCO membership violates the Oslo Accords and other agreements reached with Israel and other members of the international community and further jeopardizes the chance for renewed Middle East negotiations.  We appreciate the leadership of the United States in opposing this effort and applaud the 14 countries that voted against it and the 52 that abstained,” said Stone and Hoenlein.

“Today’s move by UNESCO does not benefit the Palestinian people nor does it contribute to advancing peace in the Middle East.  On the contrary, it is irresponsible and counterproductive and it is motivated not by Abbas’ desire for peace but instead by his desire for a legacy of gaining recognition for a Palestinian state without negotiating with Israel.  Even more nefariously, he sees admission to UNESCO as a way to gain recognition at the International Criminal Court to bring war crimes charges against Israel in that body.

 “United States law prohibits ‘voluntary or assessed contribution to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood’ and mandates the cutoff of US funding (which now represents 22% of the UNESCO’s budget), if violated.  We regret the necessity for this action but we trust that the Administration and Congress will take the appropriate action under US law at the earliest possible time. 

 “We have seen the manipulation of UNESCO and its deterioration to a propaganda platform.  Under pressure from the Palestinian Authority, it has increasingly engaged in the delegitimization of Israel and publicly denigrated the ages-old Jewish connection to the land of Israel, denying what are irrefutable historical truths. 

 “That UNESCO and its Director General are associated with these despicable efforts that degrade UNESCO and the lofty purposes for which it was created, making the vote today even more disturbing.  Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, recently ‘expressed concern’ that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, two of Judaism’s holiest sites, are to be included in Israel’s National Heritage Program. 

 “We are on a slippery slope and it appears that Mr. Abbas will continue to exploit the United Nations for his personal aspirations and political needs.  The precedents that are being set will come back to haunt the United Nation
s and its agencies and only bring them into further disrepute.  The hundreds of rockets fired recently into Israel’s south show that the Palestinian Authority does not have control over the territory it seeks to represent nor does it meet the other definitions accepted by international law to declare a state,” said Stone and Hoenlein.

 It's not as though the heads of the Conference of Presidents don't take calls from reporters. The question is why Susan Cornwell and her editors are bypassing the mainstream in favor of the fringe.

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