The LA Times Whitewashes Ahmad Tibi

In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Times interviewed two Israeli politicians – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (April 26) and Arab Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi (May 23). Both leaders have been embroiled in controversial issues during their terms.

The Jerusalem mayor supports Jewish building in all parts of Jerusalem – a position that has riled the Obama administration – while the Arab lawmaker has demonstrated support for Arab terror against Israelis and violated ethical rules governing Knesset members as well as military orders.

But while Jerusalem correspondent Edmund Sanders offered four paragraphs of background information about the controversy surrounding Barkat’s policies concerning Jewish building in Jerusalem, he failed to provide any information on Tibi’s displays of support for Israel’s enemies. Moreover, Sanders allowed Tibi to spout misinformation about land and allocation of resources without any challenge.

In the first three paragraphs of the Barkat interview, Sanders describes the high expectations for the relatively new Jerusalem mayor, whom he describes in positive terms: “a secular, progressive high-tech entrepreneur who would apply business savvy” in running the city and resolving disputes. And then Sanders devotes four paragraphs to a critical, more negative image of Nir Barkat, writing:

But many now wonder whether Barkat is more ideological and politically minded than they thought.

He’s resisted enforcing a court order to remove Jewish families living in an illegally built housing project in an Arab-dominated neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Critics see his hand behind the recent advancement of several Jewish housing tracts that have infuriated Palestinians and led to a rift with the Obama administration.

His pet project is a controversial development that would tear down about two dozen illegally built Arab homes in the neighborhood of Silwan and replace them with a Zionist-themed archeological park and retail center.

One Arab lawmaker called Barkat a “pyromaniac.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the mayor to shelve the plan until the tempers cool.

The four paragraphs of context regarding the controversies surrounding Barkat stand in striking contrast to the exclusively positive introduction reserved for Ahmad Tibi. Sanders’ singular image of Tibi is that of a determined and humorous gynecologist who fights to make his views heard in a non-democratic, repressive society:

As one of Israel’s few Arab lawmakers, Ahmad Tibi knows how to fight to be heard, even when colleagues don’t want to listen.

That determination was never clearer than last month when Tibi, a top political advisor to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat before being elected to the Knesset in 1999, refused to yield the floor during a particularly acrimonious debate. Escorts were summoned to pry his white-knuckled hands off the lectern and lead the 51-year-old away.

Tibi, a former gynecologist, hasn’t lost his sense of humor. On his office walls is a newspaper cartoon of him bound and gagged on the Knesset floor. On a top shelf is a row of fat binders, including one titled “Dead Ends.”

He spoke with the Los Angeles Times about why he thinks democracy in Israel applies only to Jewish citizens, why he’ll never accept Israel as a Jewish state and why he’ll never leave.

What’s missing from the picture?

While Sanders makes a perfunctory mention of the fact that Tibi was a top political advisor to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, (a man responsible for the death of the most Jews since Hitler), he does not bother to describe– as he does with Barkat– the controversy surrounding him and his activities. And unlike his treatment of Barkat, Sanders omits the perspective of Tibi’s critics, instead leaving the mistaken impression that Tibi’s “white-knuckled” hands were pried off the Knesset lectern last month simply because his opponents “don’t want to listen.”

What really happened?

In actuality, the session in question involved a stormy discussion about Tibi’s visit last month (along with five other Arab members of Knesset) to Libya, a country which has no relations with Israel, and which some Israeli politicians argued is an “enemy state.” Contrary to Sanders’ misrepresentation, Tibi was dragged away from the podium not because his opponents were gagging him, but because he had violated Knesset protocol by exceeding his allotted amount of time. As the Jerusalem Post reported:

[MK Carmel] Shama told Tibi that his time had expired, but Tibi argued that “my time is up when God decides,” and ignored the deputy speaker’s request to step down.

Sanders completely ignored Tibi’s controversial trip to Libya, which was considered a violation of Knesset ethical guidelines by the Knesset Speaker. The Jerusalem Post reported:

Despite the questionable legality of the visit, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin confirmed Tuesday that the trip was clearly in violation of Knesset ethical guidelines. Whenever any MK leaves the country using outside funding, that MK must first secure the approval of the Ethics Committee. Rivlin’s office added that the fact that the Mks flew on [Muammar] Gaddafi’s private jet to Libya indicated that the visit was at least partially funded by the Libyan leader or the state of Libya, both of which constitute an external source.

But Tibi’s questionable activities extend far beyond violating the Knesset’s ethical guidelines. Below is a sampling of the many examples which demonstrate why Ahmad Tibi is such a controversial figure.

Tibi Neglects His Arab Constituents

Jewish lawmakers are not the only ones critical of Tibi’s trip to Libya. Members of the Israeli Arab community, Tibi’s constituents, spoke out against the visit to the “Arab despot” and decried their representative’s lack of efforts to address their immediate needs in Israel. For example, Salman Masalha, a cultural researcher, poet and translator, wrote in Ha’aretz:

It must be said loud and clear: Not only are such trips by Arab representatives to kowtow before Arab despots an insult to the intelligence, they also harm the just struggle of this country’s Arab minority. Just by going to such places and saying what they say there, they are deepening mainstream Israeli society’s rejection of the Arabs – the rejection against which they have been fighting a just fight for years. By not resisting the temptation to accept the invitations of Arab dictators, whoever they happen to be, they become tools of those dictators…

Delegations like these reveal the civil, political and national immaturity of this country’s Arab leadership. They point up the chronic emotional, social and political abandonment suffered by Arab citizens and their leaders.

This trip to Libya has exposed the wretchedness of the people who claim to represent and lead Israeli Arab society. Arab citizens deserve a better type of leadership – one that is serious and mature.

Masalha’s criticism raises serious questions about the leadership demonstrated by Tibi and his Arab colleagues in the Knesset, questions that Sanders completely ignored.

On numerous other occasions, Tibi neglected his Arab Israeli constituents by travelling outside of Israel to show support for those who stand proudly at the forefront of terror attacks against Israelis. Thus, on the fifth year anniversary of Operation Defensive Shield, launched in the spring of 2002 following a particularly ferocious serious of bombing attacks in which hundreds of Israelis were murdered, Tibi appeared in a Jenin demonstration glorifying suicide bombers. A news clip about the rally can be seen here:

Another recent move by Tibi which raised questions about his concern for the welfare of the Israeli Arab public was his opposition to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s acceptance of Israel. A Jerusalem Post editorial pointed out that in January 2010 Tibi exploited a first-ever visit of Palestinian journalists to the Knesset to articulate this position:

Capitalizing on the fact that a phalanx of TV cameras was lined up to record the event, a rare instance of interaction between Palestinian and Israeli journalists, held uniquely with the participation of several senior legislators inside the parliament building. Tibi made the plea knowing it would resonate widely…

The tragedy is that Israeli-Arab politicians like Tibi – who serves in Israel’s parliament but describes himself as a Palestinian Arab and is included abroad in Palestinian delegations – radicalize their constituents. The radicalized Arab sector then votes for increasingly radical representatives, who expediently pour more oil on the flames. A vicious cycle is triggered which inescapably harms the prospects of Israel’s Arab citizens. Instead of coexistence and attendant removal of whatever can be construed as discriminatory, confrontation-mongering by Israeli-Arab politicians breeds adversity.

The paradox is that they thereby do severe damage to the very population they claim to look after. If Tibi genuinely cared for his constituency’s welfare, he would advocate that the OECD forthwith accept Israel with open arms. Whatever improves Israel’s economy, after all, will inevitably improve the lot of Israeli Arabs. A struggling economy with fewer resources and job opportunities won’t work in any Israeli’s favor.

Instead, by pleading that Israel be excluded, Tibi indicates that peaceful economic progress is not his objective. Vilifying Israel takes precedence over cooperating with it.

Other Anti-Israel Activities

In 2001, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for a probe of Tibi after the Arab lawmaker admitted to attending a meeting with Arafat in Ramallah which was also attended by Abed al-Rahim Malukh, the deputy secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP, considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, was responsible for the murder of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Tibi also participated in the August 2009 Sixth Fatah General Congress. The Bethlehem confab affirmed that Fatah adheres to the option of waging armed attacks against Israel if peace negotiations do not yield what the leaders want, continues to endorse the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade – responsible for numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks– as its armed wing, and continues to glorify terrorists and vilify Israel. 

In another indication that Tibi’s loyalty to the party of his former boss (Arafat) trumps his loyalty the state that he now serves, the Arab lawmaker spoke at a January 2007 rally marking the 42nd anniversary of Fatah, an organization whose charter still calls for the “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence” through violence. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas set the violent tone of the rally, stating: “We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation.” For his part, Tibi stated:

Fatah was the first group to launch the revolution and Palestine and Fatah will remain. The liberation of Palestine is a long process and the path is full of obstacles. The Palestinians will continue their struggle until the liberation of the land and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Tibi Refuses to Condemn Hamas’ Racist Charter

Tibi has refused to condemn the Hamas charter which calls for the killing of all Jews and blames Jews for all world problems for the last several hundred years, while at the same time freely throwing around terms like “fascism” and “racism” with respect to Israel.

Tibi Provokes Violence

Beyond making statements and attending events supporting violence, Tibi himself has been reportedly involved in violent incidents targeting both soldiers and civilians.

During Operation Defensive Shield, Tibi participated in acts against Israeli soldiers. The Jerusalem Post reported that in July 2002 his immunity granting him freedom of movement was revoked by the Knesset until the end of his term based “on television footage of clashes Tibi had with soldiers at roadblocks into Ramallah while trying to visit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and reports of his visit to the Jenin refugee camp in violation of military closure orders. Tibi confirmed he had visited the camp” (June 26, 2002).

In June 2001, police chief Cmdr. Mickey Levy accused Ahmad Tibi of inciting thousands of Muslim youths on the Temple Mount, who threw rocks down at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall during the Jewish mourning day of Tisha B’Av. Following the rock-throwing, some “350 Palestinian youths entered the Aksa Mosque to avoid arrest knowing that the police would not enter. They remained there for next three hours after initially refusing to leave the compound until police left the site. Finally at 6: 30 they filed out led by Tibi” (Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2001).

Tibi’s Distortions

Tibi distorts several issues concerning the allocation of land and resources to support his condemnations of Israell. He alleges:

Just visit a couple of towns. You’ll see Jewish cities are very civilized. Arab towns are being strangulated. There has not been one new Arab town in Israel since 1948, but there have been hundreds of [Jewish] settlements.

The state land authority [in many cases has been] allowed to hire or purchase land only for Jews. Non-Jews are not allowed. And we are talking about land that was ours in the past and confiscated.

In actuality, even the Arab organization Adalah recognizes the fact that Israel Land Authority (ILA) land is available to Arabs. Adalah announced in a Nov. 30, 2005 news update:

On 10 October 2005, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) decided to include all Arab villages in the Galilee and the North of Israel in its Decision No. 897, which awards discounts of up to 50% on the price of leasing land for residential building purposes.

(For additional information on Arab use of ILA land, see CAMERA’s “Backgrounder: Land, the Palestinian Authority and Israel“.)

Not only do Israeli Arabs have the right and ability to purchase land, even foreign Arabs may do so. As Ha’aretz has reported:

Wealthy Arab investors from Persian Gulf states have bankrolled the purchase of hundreds of dunams of privately-owned agricultural land in the Galilee, according to Israel Radio.

Is it true that Arab stands are being “strangulated”? While virtually no new Arab towns have been built from scratch since 1948, pre-existing Arab settlements have expanded substantially since 1948. A table provided by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows that construction of homes in Arab towns kept up at a healthy clip in 2008. For example, Abu Snan got 50 new dwellings (ranging from one to four family units); Baka Ja’at got 164 (one to six units per dwelling); Jassar A-Zarka got 54 (one to four units per dwelling ); Tira got 57 (one to four units per dwelling); Majar got 122 (one or two units per dwelling); Kafer Qasem got 68 units (one to six units per dwelling); and the Bedouin town of Rahat got 176 (one to four units per dwelling), and so on.

As far as housing density is concerned, there is a gap between the Jewish and Arab populations, but not one significant enough to suggest “strangulation.” Thus, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, the average number of persons per room was 0.84 in Jewish households, versus 1.43 persons per room in Muslim households. Moreover, comparing housing density statistics within the Arab community reveals that despite a growing population, households were less crowded in 2008 than they were in 2001. Thus, in 2008, 1,300 households had four or more people per room, while in 2001, 2,100 households had four or more people per room.

What about the disparities in services and infrastructure in Jewish and Arab towns? One must take into account, as several economists have, the fact that residents of Arab municipalities pay far less of their burden of taxes than their Jewish counterparts. As Dr. Adi Brender of the Bank of Israel pointed out in a 2005 academic paper, “local tax revenue constitutes about two thirds of the current locally generated income of the Arab municipalities and is, hence, a central component of the resources they collect.” He found that “even after accounting for the income level and for differences in the composition of the population, which affect tax discounts and exemptions, the Arab local authorities collect 15-19 percent less of the current tax charges.”

As a result, the state ends up providing Arab municipalities with more money per capita than Jewish municipalities receive! Dr. Tal Shachor of the Emek Yizreal College, examined statistics from the Central Bureau of Statistics and discovered:

In 2003 every resident of Arab village or town, by way of the state budgets for education, welfare and development, received 2,442 NIS, and the Jewish resident received 1,641 NIS. And the gap is increasing: In 2006, the Arab resident received 2,584 NIS, and the Jewish residents received only 1,497 NIS. Dr Sachor explains: “If we look at the proportion of the budgets for Arabs and Jews, it appears that in 2003, the budget per person in the Arab local authorities is larger by 49 percent, in 2006 it increases to 73 percent. That is to say, the gap (in the Arabs’ favor), is growing” (Makor Rishon, May 7, 2008, translated by CAMERA).

Tibi’s Factual Errors Need Correction

Ahmad Tibi introduces an outright falsehood about land which must be corrected. He states: “we are talking about land that was ours in the past and confiscated. In the early 1950s, we owned 80% of the private land. Now we own 3% of the private land.”

In actuality, Arabs, who constitute 20 percent of Israel’s population, disproportionately own 50 percent of the privately ow ned land in Israel! Only 6.5 percent of all of Israel’s land is privately owned, divided equally between Jews and Arabs. Another 14 percent is owned by the Jewish National Fund, and the rest is state-owned by the government (Israel Land Authority), but may be leased to both Jews and Arabs.

As far as Arab land ownership in the 1950s, Tibi’s number is completely implausible. During the Mandate, the British carried out detailed land surveys, marking off who owned what, and according to figures in the British Survey of Palestine, published in 1946 and republished by the PLO-affiliated Institute for Palestine Studies, at least 65 percent of the country was state land, and probably much more than that. Jews owned 8.6 percent of the land and Arabs owned 28.6 percent. But the Arab total included Bedouin grazing land (8.4 percent) and waste land (13.4 percent), neither of which was legally ownable according to the prevailing Turkish and British land laws. Not counting Bedouin grazing land and waste land, Arab owned land totaled only 6.8 percent.

Uncorrected Sanders Error

Tibi’s land figure falsehood is the second false land figure that the Los Angeles Times has published. CAMERA had earlier contacted editors about Edmund Sanders’ false claim in the Nir Barkat interview that “the Jewish National Fund control[s] most of the land in Israel.” The paper has yet to correct this error.

In Conclusion

As the Jerusalem Post points out, Ahmad Tibi’s own life story negates many of his accusations against the Jewish state:

The state he so maligns did not prevent him from studying medicine at the prestigious Hebrew University Medical School, where many aspiring Jewish-Israeli applicants are rejected (including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, with whom he duelled at last week’s Knesset meeting). Tibi declares that “no one did me a favor. I passed my exams. That has nothing to do with equality.”

But it intrinsically does.

Equality is when all that counts is merit. Inequality is being disqualified despite high qualifications. If anything, Tibi’s experience underscores Israel’s inordinate broadmindedness.

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