The Washington Post’s Misleading Report on Jerusalem and COVID-19

The Washington Post’s April 11, 2020 dispatch, “Israelis and Arabs accuse each other of exploiting coronavirus for political gain in Jerusalem,” minimizes the Jewish people’s connection to their ancestral city while simultaneously regurgitating claims, both unverified and disproven, by anti-Israel agitators.

The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Steve Hendrix, and reporters Ruth Eglash and Sufian Taha assert that “some Palestinians complain that Israeli officials, who provide health and police services in East Jerusalem, have been slow to offer virus testing and Arabic-language information in this part of the city and, in some cases, have thwarted the Arabs’ own efforts to respond to the outbreak.” This is a significant allegation—and one that the newspaper largely fails to back up.

The Post briefly adds: “Beleaguered residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods say they are caught in the war of words between the two sides, and not for the first time.” One young Arab, identified only by his first name, Abdel, “because he fears reprisals from both governments” the newspaper tells us, told the Post: “Everybody wants to control us but nobody wants to help us.”

However, during an unprecedented pandemic, Israel has done much for all of its citizens, both Arab and non-Arab. But much of that assistance was minimized in the Post’s report.

On April 11, 2020—ten days before the Post’s dispatch—the Times of Israel reported that the country had opened a mobile testing clinic in predominantly Arab eastern Jerusalem. Yet, the Post doesn’t explicitly state this fact. Instead, toward the bottom of the article, the newspaper cites Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who pointed out that “a test center was set up last Thursday, and we have been testing around 300 people a day. We want to get the number of people being tested each day up to 1,000.”

The eastern Jerusalem testing center is but one of several that were set up in the city. And contra to the accusations in the Post’s story, Arabs have also had access to mobile testing within Israel, with a Rahat mobile clinic having “previously been in the Arab village of Arara and in Tamra in the Gaililee,” the TOI reported.

TOI’s April 1st report also noted: “Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO, said Wednesday it was opening testing facilities in the Arab cities of Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm and Tamra, as well as in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood.

Ehud Davidson, the CEO of Clalit, said the new facilities were meant to make testing more accessible in Arab communities.

Leumit, another HMO, also said it was opening facilities to take samples for testing in Nazareth and Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood.”

This information pours cold water on the allegations of anti-Arab bias implicit in the Post’s story. Israel is working to test predominantly Arab neighborhoods. And it’s not working to “thwart Arabs’ own efforts to respond to the outbreak.” The Post cites no evidence to substantiate this latter, shameful claim. In fact, as CAMERA detailed in an April 3, 2020 Algemeiner op-ed, Israel has taken enormous steps to help its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, both of whom are avowedly hostile to the Jewish state.

To be sure, the problems and considerations facing Jerusalem are different. But not in the manner that the Post suggests.

The newspaper states: “In Jerusalem, rising pandemic tensions reflect the broader, decades-long tug of war between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for influence and control over the Palestinian communities of the city.

Israel views Jerusalem as its ‘eternal, undivided capital’ and sees any challenge to Israeli authority — in any part of the city — as illegal. Palestinians likewise view the city’s eastern section, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

But this phrasing minimizes the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city. Jerusalem has had a majority Jewish population since the 1820s—more than a century before the formal recreation of the Jewish nation of Israel. And it is central to the Jewish faith.

The Post also fails to inform readers that Israel did not “occupy” Jerusalem “since the 1967 war.” No Palestinian Arab state has ever existed, and Jerusalem has never been the capital of anything but a Jewish state. Rather, as a result of the 1948 War, in which Arabs rejected the U.N. Partition plan, both Israel and Transjordan (today’s Jordan) occupied portions of Jerusalem. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Jordan’s King Hussein resisted Israel’s entreaties for peace, choosing war instead. Consequently, Israel won the rest of its holy and ancient city in a defensive war.

The Post’s claim that Palestinians view the city’s eastern section as a capital for a future state doesn’t withstand scrutiny. The newspaper fails to mention that Israel and the U.S. have made numerous offers for a Palestinian state, several of which would have given them eastern Jerusalem as a capital. In 2008, for example, Israel put forward an offer for a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem. PA leaders rejected the proposal, failing to even make a counteroffer. In 2014 and 2016, the U.S. proposed—and Israel accepted—similar offers. But these were also spurned by Palestinian leaders. This recent history shows that, contra the Post’s assertion, Palestinian leaders don’t view it as “the capital of a future Palestinian state.” If they did, they could have had precisely that on several occasions. They declined.

When the Post isn’t omitting relevant history, it’s providing a forum for unverified claims by Palestinian officials.

The newspaper notes that Israeli police arrested two PA officials for violating a law that says its illegal for foreign entities to act under Israeli sovereignty without Israeli permission. The Post reported that the two officials — Fadi al-Hadami, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, and Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian shadow governor of Jerusalem — “were detained for carrying out political activities on behalf of a foreign entity.”

The Post then uncritically regurgitates Al-Hadami’s libelous claim that he was “detained for appearing on Palestinian television to advise East Jerusalemites to stay home and take precautions”—an absurdity given that Israeli officials are telling all citizens, Arab and otherwise, to take these precautions. Worse still, the newspaper breathlessly quotes Al-Hadami’s claim that upon his arrest Israeli officials “wanted me wanted me to put on a face mask, but I could tell it was used…There were drops of blood on it.’”

The PA’s assertion that Israel wants Arabs to get sick is disgusting—and overlooks the considerable aid, tests, and training that Israel has given both the PA and Hamas to counter the coronavirus. And if the Post feels his allegations to be worth printing, they should have made readers aware that al-Hadami has been arrested before for violating this law. As JNS noted in an April 5, 2020 report, this is the PA official’s fourth arrest for violating this exact law, with other violations predating the current coronavirus crisis.

Information about al-Hadami’s arrest should have been included in the Post’s report. Indeed, several other outlets mentioned it. But the newspaper omitted it. Just as they have declined to note PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s March 31, 2020 blood libel that Israel is intentionally infecting Palestinians with the virus. That incident, JNS reported, was widely condemned, including by ADL Director Jonathan Greenblatt who called it “shameful” and “an age-old antisemitic canard.”

It is shameful that The Washington Post can’t be troubled to report antisemitic blood libels coming from the mouth of the PA Prime Minister, but allows itself to be a forum for anti-Israel propaganda and disinformation.