“News,” the late publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Graham, once observed, “is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising.” Yet, a recent report by the Washington Post provided what was essentially free advertising for a U.S.-designated terrorist group. Worse still, the Post’s recent foray is part of an ongoing trend of Western news outlets being used by terrorist organizations to promote their propaganda.
The Washington Post recently embedded with a Palestinian terrorist group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AAMB). But instead of using the opportunity to highlight AAMB’s twisted ideology and objectives, the Post omitted crucial information about an organization that has committed suicide bombings and murdered civilians.
The newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Steve Hendrix, and a photographer, Lorenzo Tugnoli, provided Post readers with a look at AAMB, including a man nicknamed Zoufi, who they describe as the group’s commander in the Balata refugee camp.
The Post, Hendrix tells readers, “spent time with him and some of his 15 fighters, as well as with militants in two other Palestinian refugee camps—Jenin and Askar—over three days in July. The visits, agreed to on the condition that full names and specific locations be withheld, afforded a rare window into the lives and actions of fighters on one side of the worst violence to grip the West Bank in decades.”
The newspaper is right to disclose the conditions for the access that they were given. And it is fitting that it should seek to learn more about an organization that is playing an increasingly important role in affairs in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). This is, strictly on these merits, good journalism.
But both the Post and its readers should ask why a U.S.-designated terrorist group thought that such access was in its interest. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) highlighted in a Sept. 6, 2017 Washington Examiner Op-Ed entitled “How Terrorists and Tyrants Do PR,” both terrorist organizations and dictators use the media for their own ends. Access is only granted if they feel that it will serve their purposes.
Indeed, as CAMERA has highlighted, there is a long history of Palestinian terrorist groups using the press to achieve propaganda objectives. For example, during the first Lebanon War, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat, referred to the press corps living in Beirut’s Commodore Hotel as his “Commodore Battalion.” Terrorist organizations, be they Palestinian or otherwise, use the media to whitewash their crimes, exaggerate or obfuscate on casualties, and recruit new members.
CAMERA’s concerns about the access granted to the Washington Post were highlighted by Fox News reporter Yael Halon in her Aug. 8, 2023 report, “WaPo takes heat for ‘shameful’ puff piece on Palestinian terror group.”
Halon also cited another problem that CAMERA found with the Post’s dispatch: the double standard that the newspaper employs when reporting on Palestinian terrorist groups vs other organizations, such as al-Qaeda or ISIS, whose primary targets aren’t Israel. CAMERA has documented this disparity in a May 1, 2019 JNS Op-Ed entitled, “Hamas and the terror group double standard.”
Regrettably, the Post’s dispatch on AAMB offered another case study, referring to AAMB as merely a “militant” group and suggesting—inaccurately—that its increased presence in the West Bank was the result of Israeli military raids that had “spiked.” But this puts the cart before the horse; the raids themselves are the result of growing terrorist activity in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank. Indeed, the security situation in the area has deteriorated remarkably, with Iranian-backed proxies looking to capitalize off the growing unpopularity of Fatah, the movement that dominates the PA. This collapsing security situation has largely been overlooked in previous Post reporting, although it is, to the Post’s credit, detailed in this dispatch.
Elsewhere, the newspaper simply says that “more than 150 Palestinians have been killed since January” as part of “the worst violence to grip the West Bank in decades.” The Post fails to tell readers that the overwhelming majority of those Palestinians killed have been linked to U.S.-designated terrorist groups—a fact that other news outlets have noted, and which has been documented by nonpartisan think tanks like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, among others. Nor does the Post inform readers that these terror groups use human shields, and are often ensconced in urban areas, making counterterror operations even more difficult. CAMERA has highlighted these facts to the Post before, as well as in numerous op-eds and articles. But the Washington Post seems committed to its narrative, basic journalism ethics and standards be damned.
Indeed, the Post does one better, placing the AAMB, a terrorist group that calls for a Jewish genocide, on par with Israel. The access to AAMB, the paper says, “afforded a rare window into the lives and actions of fighters on one side of the worst violence” in the West Bank. It’s hard to imagine the newspaper writing a similar sentence about ISIS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, they haven’t.
Elsewhere, the Post takes the claims of Zoufi and other AAMB operatives at face value, repeating their assertions that they only joined the terrorist group after seeing friends killed by Israeli soldiers. No evidence is offered, yet this claim is treated as sacrosanct—despite the fact that elsewhere in the story it is noted that Zoufi took part in the Second Intifada, a five-year-long terror campaign, suggesting that his predilection for violence predates his friends’ supposed death.
The Post also largely fails to note both AAMB’s origins and its fiercely antisemitic ideology. The newspaper does quote one AAMB terrorist’s assertion that “there are no innocent Israelis,” but unfortunately the newspaper fails to delve further. A more thorough examination of AAMB’s history can be found in CAMERA’s 2019 backgrounder on the group.
The Post’s failure to provide relevant history about AAMB is part of the newspaper’s long-standing trend of ignoring Palestinian politics. Indeed, in recent weeks PA President Abbas has fired multiple top Authority officials. As Al-Monitor’s Adam Lucente reported, Abbas “sent to retirement” the governors of Jenin, Nablus, Qalqiya, Tulkarem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jericho. Smaller outlets like Al-Monitor covered this seismic news, but the Washington Post, with its abundance of resources, failed to do so. Nor did the newspaper offer original reporting on Hamas’s recent brutal repression of Palestinians in Gaza protesting living conditions under Hamas rule.
The Washington Post deserves some credit for attempting to get additional information about surging terrorist activity in the West Bank. Ditto for belatedly reporting on the deteriorating security situation there. However, the Post’s report was largely a missed opportunity, and can be seen as part of what CAMERA’s Karen Bekker has noted is a “trend” of journalism “glamourizing young Palestinian terrorists.”