UPDATED: The Washington Post’s Israel Problem

The Washington Post has a problem. The newspaper’s coverage and commentary on Israel is getting noticed—and for all of the wrong reasons.

It is, the journalist Armin Rosen tweeted on April 27, 2021, kind of “interesting how the Washington Post has like a designated anti-Israel newsletter, but it’s apparently so irrelevant that both pro- and anti-Israel obsessives treat it as if doesn’t exist.” The Jewish state, Rosen noted, “is discussed far more” by the “newsletter” than “any other country, almost always in terms of whatever the activist talking points happen to be at the time.”

Rosen, who has authored groundbreaking reports for Tablet Magazine and Business Insider, among other outlets, clarified that he was specifically referring to the Post’s World Views “analysis,” which is authored by columnist Ishaan Tharoor.

While masquerading as “analysis,” Tharoor’s column is often more commentary than reporting. And, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has documented, it is often skewed and superficial.

The World Views columnist has authored no fewer than three dozen articles on the Jewish state, nearly all of them blaming Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state. Not once has he noted that Palestinian leaders themselves have rejected no fewer than three offers for statehood in the last twenty years alone.

In a Sept. 17, 2019 column, the Washington Post columnist warned of a “shadow of apartheid” in Israel’s upcoming elections. Instead, that election witnessed record turnout from Israeli Arabs—disproving Tharoor’s entire thesis less than 48 hours after it was published. Despite his professed concern for apartheid, Tharoor hasn’t ever noted that areas ruled by both the PA and Hamas are Judenrein and prohibit, under penalty of death, so much as selling land to a Jew.

In a Sept. 28, 2018 interview, Tharoor called Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad—a man who once said “Jews rule the world by proxy. They got others to fight and die for them” and “I am proud to be antisemitic”—a “venerable statesman.”

Elsewhere, Tharoor has described Palestinian activist Issa Amro as a “non-violent dissident” and a “Palestinian Gandhi”—despite the fact that Amro has perpetrated antisemitic blood libels, accusing Israel of “drinking our children’s blood.” Amro has also called for a repeat of the Second Intifada and, as the late Petra Marquardt-Bigman highlighted, his organization, Youth Against Settlements, has praised terrorists and terror attacks.

Rosen is also correct in noting that Tharoor has an obsession with the Jewish state. Tharoor’s column is entitled “World Views” and it purports to cover the entire globe. Yet, from May 2020-May 2021, he authored 13 articles on Israel, a tiny nation of 9 million. By contrast, during that same time period—a period in which, by any honest account, China looms large—Tharoor authored 17 articles on China, a nation of 1.4 billion. Brazil, a country of 213 million, warranted a mere three articles—four times less than Israel. Jordan, a country of 10 million which has endured economic and water woes, only warranted one article—and that was after an alleged coup took place, and even then Tharoor attempted to make that report about Israel, as well. The conclusion? Tharoor’s “World View”—and that of the Post’s foreign bureau to which Tharoor reports—is decidedly unbalanced and distorted.

It was unsurprising then that when Hamas and other Iranian-backed terror groups launched hundreds of rockets at the Jewish state, Tharoor joined in with not one, but two, columns in as many days, each of them attacking Israel. His May 11th report, entitled “The U.S. calls for calm between Israelis and Palestinians. But it’s part of the problem,” even purported to find the root of the conflict: the United States and its supposedly unswerving devotion to the Jewish state. Not Hamas. Not the decades-long pattern of Palestinian leaders rejecting offers for statehood and choosing anti-Jewish violence, instead. But the United States. The one constant of Tharoor’s “analysis” of Israel—besides not so subtly pushing for a “one state solution” that has already been tried and found wanting—is his insistence on denying Palestinians independent agency.

Tharoor, however, is able to listen to certain Palestinian voices. His reports, recent and old, constantly treat “Gaza’s Health Ministry” as a credible source. Yet, as CAMERA has noted, “Gaza’s Health Ministry” is, in fact, Hamas. Would Tharoor or any other self-styled journalist treat the claims of any other terrorist group as gospel? Both basic sense and basic journalistic due diligence would indicate that they shouldn’t. Yet, as CAMERA noted in The Daily Caller, the Washington Post in particular has a long history of being a forum for Hamas propaganda.

But what is noteworthy, however, isn’t so much Tharoor’s anti-Israel proclivities. Rather it is that such tendencies have gifted Tharoor with a reputation in which real journalists—those who actually engage in investigative research instead of regurgitating press releases from anti-Israel NGOs—can so easily dismiss his “newsletter,” which, as Rosen implies, is both superficial and entirely predictable.

When Human Rights Watch released a “report” on April 27, 2021 libeling Israel as an “apartheid state,” Tharoor—who almost certainly received an advance copy—managed to file an article on the report within hours of its release. But Tharoor failed to inform readers that HRW has a long history of anti-Israel bias, including having employees who have praised Palestinian terrorist attacks, pushed antisemitic blood libels, and raised money off of promises to defame Israel. HRW’s own founder, the late Robert Bernstein, repudiated the group in a Oct. 19, 2009 New York Times op-ed that noted the nonprofit organization was guilty of “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” The organization has had employees such as Matthew Myers, who once said “If you can’t laugh about the hair room at Auschwitz, get out.”

Indeed, as CAMERA has detailed, the report itself is littered with inaccuracies and distortions. But HRW likely knew that they could count on Tharoor to perform anti-Israel stenography instead of journalism.

While the Washington Post zealously, if often inaccurately, covers the Jewish state, it has an undeniable tendency to ignore Palestinian affairs. CAMERA has previously documented how the newspaper has failed to cover internal Palestinian issues—unless Israel’s involvement can be conjured. And that problem has only worsened.

On Jan. 15, 2021, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA would conduct parliamentary and presidential elections. The former would take place in May and the latter in July. The PA, which rules over the majority of Palestinians, hasn’t held elections in fifteen years.

Abbas himself is an octogenarian, a two-packs-a-day smoker, who is beginning the sixteenth year of a four-year term. Despite his history of inciting anti-Jewish violence and his stalwart refusal to quit paying salaries to Palestinians who murder and maim Jews, many governments, including the United States, recognize him as the leader of the Palestinian people. One could be forgiven for assuming that the scheduled Palestinian elections would warrant news coverage—particularly from the Washington Post, which is one of the few U.S. newspapers to still maintain, and pay for, a foreign bureau in Jerusalem.

Yet, from January until late April, neither Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix or reporter Shira Rubin filed a single dispatch on the upcoming elections, merely noting them in a few throwaway sentences. Nor, of course, did Tharoor. By contrast, the paper has published no fewer than three dozen articles and op-eds on Israeli politics in the last two years alone. Despite the pretense of some, like Tharoor, of caring about Palestinians, the paper can’t be troubled to report on Palestinian politics at a crucial time. Indeed, the paper’s failure is all the more remarkable when one considers the ramped-up campaign of repression by Abbas.

As CAMERA noted in The National Interest, the journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has documented how Abbas has been engaged in a massive crackdown. On April 19, 2021, for example, Fadi Elsalameen, a Palestinian-American commentator and Abbas critic, told the Jerusalem Post that Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had sent him death threats. In February, the PA reportedly detained and assaulted Mahmoud Ka’bi, a supporter of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, another Abbas rival. Some West Bank supporters of Fatah’s rival, Hamas, have also reportedly been tortured.

Those running on rival slates to Abbas, such as Hatem Shaheen reportedly had “unidentified gunmen” open fire on their homes. Indeed, the internal fissures within Abbas’s Fatah were so great that, on April 12, 2021, shots were fired at the home of the movement’s Secretary-General, Emad Khurwat.

Internal divisions had contributed to Fatah’s loss to Hamas during the 2006 elections—an event which fractured the Palestinian movement and forever changed the dynamics of the vaunted “peace process.” As the Washington Institute for Near Policy noted in an April 21, 2021 report, the possibility of another Hamas win posed tremendous problems. Hamas planned to “put numerous convicted terrorists on the ballot” and the PA’s decision to allow Hamas to participate was itself a violation of the Oslo Accords which created the Authority and remain the basis for its funding.

The alleged torture and death threats—including to Elsalameen, who holds U.S. citizenship—should have attracted reporting, be it from one of the few U.S. newspapers to have reporters on the ground or from self-proclaimed analysts who purport to care about human rights. It did not.

The possibility of an electoral victory by a U.S.-designated terrorist group should have attracted attention from the Post. It did not. Notably, other newspapers, some with smaller budgets and fewer resources, have managed to provide in depth coverage of these events.

For example, the Post’s Jerusalem bureau failed to cover a May 2, 2021 shooting in which a Palestinian named Muntasir Shalabi allegedly shot three Israeli teenagers in Tapuah Junction, murdering one of them, 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta. Shalabi reportedly has U.S. citizenship—arguably making the story even more newsworthy to a U.S. outlet.

On April 28, 2021, facing a likely electoral loss, Abbas “postponed” the elections. The aging autocrat even disingenuously blamed Israel, claiming that Israel doesn’t allow ballot boxes for voting in eastern Jerusalem. But as the journalist Lahav Harkov noted, it was “the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, [which] prevented Jerusalemites from voting absentee. That is something that they could have done without involving Israel at all.”

But once Abbas decided to blame Israel, the Washington Post belatedly sprang into action, authoring a report that took Abbas’s claims at face value despite pre-existing evidence exposing them as fiction.

The Post’s opinion and editorial section, however, provides what is arguably the best example of the deterioration of the newspaper’s standards and ethics.

As CAMERA has highlighted, the newspaper’s editorial board has embarked on a campaign to oust Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. Time and again, the Post’s editorial board and its members have published anti-Netanyahu broadsides. This is, of course, their right. But it is notable that of all of the United States’s NATO and major non-NATO allies, it is only Israel that the Post feels comfortable in dictating who its democratically elected leader should or should not be. And this is despite the fact that other close allies, like Germany, have often worked at cross purposes with stated U.S. objectives, be it on Hezbollah or Nordstream II.

Indeed, the Post’s opinion section—particularly its Global Opinion column—has long been a forum for anti-Israel hostility. Global Opinion editor Karen Attiah has defended the paper’s 2018 decision to publish an op-ed by the leader of the Houthi militia whose motto is “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.” The Post, she claimed, had an obligation to publish all viewpoints—including the “abusive ones.” Yet in a June 4, 2020 tweet, Attiah decried the New York Times’s decision to publish an op-ed by a sitting Republican Senator whom she disagreed with.

More recently, on April 28, 2021, the Global Opinion section published a column by H.A. Hellyer, of the Carnegie Endowment for Middle East Peace, which again propagated the lie that Israel is an apartheid state. For those keeping track, that’s two items, making the same disproven claim, in the same newspaper, in less than 24 hours. And it is also vastly more ink than the Post has spilled on real Palestinian human rights abuses in years. Hellyer’s screed has another thing in common with both Tharoor’s analysis and the Post’s reporting: it entirely omits the multiple instances of Palestinian leaders rejecting opportunities for statehood if it meant living in peace next to a Jewish state.

Indeed, in dozens of reports and op-eds on the “peace process” over the past five years, CAMERA has been unable to find a single mention of the rejected U.S. offers in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, 2008 after the Annapolis Conference and proposals to restart talks in 2014 and 2016. The latter offer was made by then-Vice President Joe Biden himself. Yet, this history of rejectionism has gone unmentioned by the Post, including in items discussing the Biden administration and its policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The cumulative evidence suggests that the Washington Post views Palestinians not as people, but rather as props to be used against Israel. More broadly, it signifies something else, as well.

When it comes to its anti-Israel bias, the Washington Post is not yet The New York Times or The Guardian—newspapers with such an infamous bias against the Jewish state that actual books have been written on the subject. But a growing body of evidence does indicate that the Post is hurtling in that direction. And that fact is getting noticed and increasingly difficult to deny, even while its reporting and commentary on the country, not coincidentally, becomes increasingly superficial and uninformative—and easy to dismiss.

(Note: This article was updated on May 13, 2020)