The Philadelphia Inquirer Misleads About Israel

“The truth,” Winston Churchill famously intoned, “is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” But for readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the truth about Israel is often hard to find. Or, more often, it is missing entirely.

The Inquirer, which has an estimated 193,000 daily subscribers, has frequently provided commentary and analysis that misleads about the Jewish state.

Take, for example, a July 22, 2021 column by Trudy Rubin, entitled “Ben and Jerry’s boycott is not antisemitic, nor a rejection of Israel.” Rubin is the Inquirer’s World View columnist and her commentary on international affairs has been a longtime staple at the newspaper. But her latest column on Israel is replete with errors and omissions.

On July 19, 2021 Ben and Jerry’s ice cream brand, which is owned and operated by a British multinational company called Unilever, announced that it would end its license agreement with an Israeli-based manufacturer to ensure that its products “will no longer be sold” in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The decision sparked an outcry and, thus far, has proven to be quite costly to Unilever, which has subsequently seen its stocks take a nosedive.

As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington D.C.-based think tank, noted in a July 22, 2021 Newsweek op-ed:

“Unilever cut off the longstanding licensee [in Israel] after it refused to halt sales in the disputed territories, which reportedly would violate Israeli law. In short, Unilever engaged in a boycott of Israel as defined by state and federal law, which means the company may soon be facing penalties that eat into its profits.”

As FDD, and others have pointed out, Unilever maintains corporate offices in numerous human rights-abusing countries—several of which also have active territory disputes—including China, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey and Zimbabwe, among others. Further, Unilever is “reportedly a major purchaser of tomato paste from state-owned factories in China’s Xinjiang region, where the U.S. State Department says China is engaged in ‘horrific abuses.’”

To Unilever, business with serial human rights abusers like Russia and China is fine, with no apparent stipulations; no acquiescence to boycott campaigns. But, as often is the case, there is a different standard when it comes to the Jewish state.

Unfortunately, Rubin’s Inquirer column ignored the discriminatory nature of Ben and Jerry’s decision. Worse still, she implicitly applauded it, while omitting key facts and making misleading statements.

Rubin even expressed shock at the “explosive Israeli reaction” to Ben and Jerry’s announcement, labeling it “stunning.” It is anything but.

Singling out the Jewish state for opprobrium and economic punishment is antisemitic. Boycotts have been used against Jews for centuries. Indeed, as CAMERA has documented, boycotts were used to pressure Jews against living in their ancestral homeland as early as 1909—nearly forty years before Israel was recreated and more than half a century before Israel seized the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Rubin correctly notes that there is a long history of “boycotts of Jews” but fails to provide important details. Worse still, she actively obfuscates on Ben and Jerry’s decision, which was applauded by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS). As CAMERA and others have noted, BDS seeks the end of the Jewish state and, per U.S. Congressional testimony, several pro-BDS organizations have links to U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. BDS founders and activists have a long history of calling for Israel’s destruction and Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has issued statements of support for BDS.

But Rubin minimizes BDS, inaccurately claiming that it is “based on the boycott of South Africa under apartheid.” Yet, BDS actively works to end Israel’s multi-faith and multiethnic makeup, and has a history of targeting, boycotting and attacking speakers due to their Israeli identity and/or expressed support for Jewish self-determination. To her credit, Rubin does note that if the demands of the BDS movement are fulfilled, it “would rule out a Jewish homeland,” but the columnist omits that many of its supporters and leaders want to see the Jewish state destroyed and have a history of overtly antisemitic behavior.

Ben and Jerry’s, Rubin wrote, “wasn’t calling for a boycott of Israel proper.” Rather, “it was focused on Jewish settlements in the mostly Palestinian West Bank, which the U.S. State Department regards as ‘occupied’ territory. U.S. policy for decades, before the Trump administration, sought to curb the growth of settlements lest they rule out any future political accord between Israel and Palestinians.”

Yet, as the Jerusalem Post reported: “Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors wanted to boycott Israel in its entirety, but was stopped from doing so by the ice-cream maker’s CEO and the British-based parent company Unilever.” Ben and Jerry’s board chair Anuradha Mittal has expressed support for the BDS movement, called to end U.S. aid to Israel, and published defenses of genocidal terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet Rubin fails to provide readers with any of this relevant information.

Further, referring to the West Bank as “Occupied Palestinian Territory”—as Ben and Jerry’s does—is incorrect. Jews are from Judea, or as Rubin calls it, the “West Bank.” They are indigenous to the land and have maintained a continual presence there that predates the Arab and Islamic conquests of the 7th century by more than a thousand years. Ben and Jerry’s—and their apologists in the press—want to tell Jews where they can and can not live, the latter including their ancestral homeland.

Further, Jews have a legal basis for residing on the land, whose status can most accurately be described as “disputed,” and not “Palestinian territory.” The League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate, Article 6 encourages “close settlement by Jews on the land” west of the Jordan River. That covered not only what became Israel in 1948 but also the West Bank (and Gaza Strip, though Israel chose to withdraw from that area in 2005). The U.S. Congress (1922), the U.K. (1924 Anglo-American Convention) and the United Nations 1945 Charter XII, have all reaffirmed the League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate.

By contrast, no Palestinian Arab state has ever existed.

Other omitted history also rebuts Rubin’s implicit assertion that “settlements”—that is to say, Jewish homes built in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland of Judea—are responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state. Palestinian Arabs have refused numerous offers for a Palestinian state, made variously by the U.S., Israel, the U.K. and the U.N. The reason is simple: Palestinian Arab leaders consider all of Israel, including Jewish-created cities like Tel Aviv, to be a “settlement.” They frequently say as much, including in their official media and schools.

Indeed, long before Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan, and engaged in a subsequent obligatory military occupation pending final status negotiations, Palestinian Arab leaders reacted violently to any assertion of Jewish social and political equality, inciting anti-Jewish pogroms (1920, 1921, 1929, among other instances) and rejecting offers for statehood (1937, 1938, 1947). More recently, Palestinian rulers refused—without making so much as a counteroffer—U.S. and Israeli proposals for a two-state solution in 2000, 2001 and 2008. In 2014 and 2016 the U.S. offered to restart negotiations. Israel accepted, while the Fatah movement, which controls the Palestinian Authority, the entity that rules over the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank, declined. Had Palestinian leaders accepted any of these offers for statehood, “settlements” would be a moot point, as most of that area would be part of a Palestinian state. Yet, Palestinian leaders chose otherwise, continuing a century-long history of rejecting statehood if it means living in peace with a Jewish state.

Put simply: The assertion by both Rubin, as well as by the Ben and Jerry’s founders, that “settlements” are thwarting a “political accord” between Israel and Palestinians, is demonstrably false. Palestinian leadership alone is responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state. Far from “ignoring” the “political status of the Palestinian population,” as Rubin charges, several Israeli governments of various political stripes have sought to solve the conflict via peaceful negotiation—only to be rebuffed.

Instead of highlighting this long history of Palestinian rejectionism, Rubin traffics in libels and false claims, asserting without evidence that the “continued expansion of Jewish settlements and special settler roads on the West Bank leaves the Palestinians divided into unconnected chunks of territory that make a future Palestinian statelet unviable.” This is complete nonsense.

There are indeed two different Palestinian entities: Fatah, which rules the West Bank, and its rival, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinians do indeed have two different polities and two “unconnected chunks of territory”—but this has nothing to do with the “continued expansion of Jewish settlements” or “special settler roads.” Rather, its because Hamas defeated Fatah in a brief but bloody civil war in the summer of 2007, resulting in the terrorist group seizing Gaza. But that conflict itself followed Hamas defeating Fatah in 2006 elections—elections that only occurred after Israel, failing to find a Palestinian “peace partner,” unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, abandoning settlements and forcibly uprooting Jewish settlers in the process. It can be said that the precise opposite of Rubin’s claim—that settlements led to “unconnected chunks of territory” for a possible Palestinian state—is, in fact, the case.

Most of the population growth there is the result of natural increase — not new arrivals.

Indeed, as The Washington Post reported on March 31, 2017, Israel was “set to approve [the] first new settlement in 20 years.” Peace Now — the left-wing anti-settlements organization— inadvertently noted as much a June 2016 op-ed in Haaretz: “In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent of the 15,523 individuals who joined the population of Judea and Samaria were the result of natural population growth [i.e. high birth rates, and not newcomers from other parts of Israel].”

Similarly, in a September 17, 2017 editorial the Post pointed out: “Of the some 600,000 settlers who live outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, just 94,000 are outside the border-like barrier that Israel built through the West Bank a decade ago. Just 20,000 of those moved in since 2009, when [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu returned to office; in a sea of 2.9 million Palestinians, they are hardly overwhelming. Last year, 43 percent of the settler population growth was in just two towns that sit astride the Israeli border—and that Abbas himself has proposed for Israeli annexation.”

Rubin’s other assertion, that “special settler roads” are impeding progress towards a Palestinian state is not only demonstrably false for the reasons detailed above, but is risible. Rubin clearly meant to imply that a state of “apartheid” exists in the West Bank; that non-settlers, and perhaps even non-Jews, can’t access certain roads in Judea and Samaria. The charge is as common as it is incorrect.

As Adam Levick, the co-editor of CAMERA U.K., noted in a July 2018 Irish Examiner op-ed: “The overwhelming majority of roads in the West Bank are open to all traffic. However, for security reasons, a very small percentage of West Bank roads around Israeli settlements (about 40 km in total according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem) are prohibited to Palestinian traffic. But, even these 40 km of restricted roads are open to Israeli citizens of all faiths (including Muslims), east Jerusalem Palestinians (most of whom are Muslim), and foreign visitors of all faiths – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians.” An Israeli Arab from Tel Aviv can easily drive on what the Inquirer describes as “special settler roads.”

Finally, as Levick observed, “even the 40 km of restricted roads in Israeli controlled sections of the West Bank (Area C) should be placed in context. Israelis, for instance, are not permitted to drive on roads in the Palestinian controlled West Bank (Area A). This is because PA security personnel (and the IDF) can’t guarantee the safety of drivers with Israeli license plates travelling in Palestinian areas.”

But revealingly, Rubin omits these key facts. At CAMERA’s urging, several other news outlets have corrected the claim that Israel has “settler-only” or “Jewish-only” roads, including the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, the Guardian, and others. The Inquirer, however, declined to do so, on the grounds that they said “special settler roads” and not “settler-only.” But what the newspaper was seeking to imply is clear, and its decision to play semantic games comes at the cost of its commitment to basic journalism standards and ethics.

That decision, however, is unsurprising.

The Inquirer’s own editorial board includes Abraham Gutman, an Israeli economist, who has said “the basic idea of Zionism”—that is to say, the right of Jewish self-determination in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland—“must be debated and challenged.” Gutman has also sought to compare race relations in the United States to the plight of Palestinians in Israel—a comparison that the writer Matti Friedman, among others, has thoroughly debunked.

During the last Israel-Hamas War, Gutman authored a May 12, 2021 Inquirer op-ed which inaccurately claimed that “Hamas and other groups firing rockets from Gaza was the culimination of a weekend in which Israel security forces brutalized Palestinian protesters and worshipers in the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most sacred mosques in Islam.” The media, Gutman added, “overlooks the abuse of the Palestinian people.”

Yet, despite his professed concern for the Palestinian people, Gutman’s Inquirer column omitted another contributing factor to the last war: Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to cancel elections over fears that he would lose to rivals in Fatah or Hamas. Both Hamas and Fatah haven’t held elections in fifteen years. And both rule over the majority of Palestinians. Both have, in recent years, launched campaigns of repression, brutalizing journalists, imprisoning Palestinian critics, and even murdering and torturing dissidents. Indeed, in recent months Fatah has been engaged in a massive internal crackdown, targeting, among others, a Palestinian-American. But these “abuses of the Palestinian people” don’t seem to warrant column space from Gutman.

Gutman also claimed that the “short version of what’s going on in Sheikh Jarrah is that right-wing Jewish activists, in their continuing effort to control the occupied territory of East Jerusalem, have been invoking a law that allows Jews to reclaim homes that they lost in the 1948 war if they have old land deeds.” The “Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah began to protest the so-called evictions” and “Israeli security forces responded brutally.” Further, Arab residents in Jerusalem are being forcibly displaced. This, Gutman alleges, was the reason for the latest conflict.

This, of course, is absolute nonsense and betrays Gutman’s stated claim of using “data, research and reporting to inform the conversation.” The latest war occurred not over a property dispute involving six families in eastern Jerusalem, but because Hamas is an Iranian-proxy acting at Tehran’s behest.

Iranian officials are currently engaged in talks with the U.S. in Vienna over their nuclear weapons program. And Iran hopes to use attacks on American allies to spur American concessions.

On May 6, 2021—nearly a week before Gutman’s column—the Middle East Media Research Institute translated a speech by Asghar Emami, the head of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, which has trained and equipped operatives from Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ and other terrorist groups. Summarizing his remarks, MEMRI reported that “General Emami explained that Iran can easily tighten its grip around ‘the throat of the Zionist regime’ in order to extract pressure and extract concessions from America.” Emami, MEMRI said, “continued to say that while Israel has airplanes that can reach Iran, Iran does not require airplanes to target Israel, it can place Israel ‘under siege’ via the artillery and mortar shells of the ‘resistance axis.’”

That Iran is using its proxies—Palestinian and otherwise—to threaten a U.S. ally in order to achieve concessions in Vienna is, of course, a much more realistic explanation than the idea that dozens of terrorist groups launched a war over an eviction dispute in eastern Jerusalem.

Indeed, although Gutman doesn’t mention it, anti-Jewish violence was already on the rise, spurred on by infamous “Tik Tok challenges” in which some Arabs filmed themselves attacking Jews, for weeks prior to the war. And far from Israeli police attacking “worshippers” at Temple Mount, the abundance of evidence, including filmed footage, indicates that the police were attacked first before responding with teargas and anti-riot munitions. Gutman also conveniently omits that al-Aqsa Mosque sits astride the Temple Mount, Judaim’s holiest site—yet Jews are forbidden from worshipping there. Perhaps disclosing as much would upend the apartheid narrative that he prefers to propagate.

Gutman’s characterization of Sheikh Jarrah is also false. As CAMERA’s Alex Safian noted in a thorough May 12, 2021 backgrounder on the subject:

“It must be stressed also that this is a civil dispute over ownership rights and rent, and the Israeli government is not a party to the litigation. Over the years some of the Palestinian tenants have been evicted over non-payment of rent, but this is a private rather than a government matter. The Israeli government is not evicting anyone.

Once the Jewish claimants proved their ownership to the Sheikh Jarrah land in court, they also did not try to evict the Palestinian families – they merely informed them they would have to pay rent.”

The Palestinian families, however, declined to do so.

The idea that a costly war, in which terrorist groups fired thousands of costly munitions, was launched over a couple of families of squatters is as absurd as the notion that Israel is displacing Arabs in Jerusalem where, in fact, the Arab population has been steadily increasing.

But at the Inquirer, facts on the Jewish state take a back seat to a pervasive, anti-Israel narrative.