UPDATED: Philadelphia Inquirer Blunders on Arafat

February 9 update follows.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Nov. 11 front page story, “Yasir Arafat is Dead,” reporter Carol Rosenberg did not shy away from certain truths about the departed Palestinian leader. She mentioned his hijackings, hostage-takings, and massacres, as well as his plans for the destruction of Israel. At the same time, the article contained a string of inexplicable errors and puzzling blunders.

• Rosenberg mistakenly wrote that there are “4.4 million Arabs and 4.7 million Jews who live in the land today controlled by Israel.” According to the most recent figures of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are currently 5.2 million Jews and 1.3 million Arab citizens of Israel. Taking into account the 3.4 – 3.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (estimates from New York Times and Associated Press, respectively), there are actually a total of 5.2 million Jews and about 4.8 million Arabs in Israel and Palestinian Authority held territories.

• In addition, her claim that President Bush “tacitly signed on to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s campaign to isolate the Palestinian Authority” is untrue. Sharon did not campaign to isolate the Palestinian Authority. Rather, he aimed at isolating Yasir Arafat specifically, in hopes that a partner untainted by terrorism would emerge.

This was articulated in a Sept. 11, 2003 Israeli government statement that announced:

Events in recent days have reiterated and proven again that Yasir Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/12/03).

Reporting on Nov. 14, 2003 by Mark Lavie of the Associated Press demonstrated that Israel’s objections to Arafat coincided with openness to the Palestinian Authority. Lavie stated:

Israel and the United States, which want to sideline Arafat, have expressed concern that the Palestinian leader remains in control of security forces in Qureia’s new government. However, Israelis now seem more accommodating toward Qureia, widely known as Abu Ala, than they were when he was first nominated.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said a Sharon-Qureia summit meeting could take place in 10 days, after Sharon’s trip to Italy at the beginning of next week.

Also, President Bush’s concordance with this view was overt, not “tacit.” In his June 24, 2002 speech, Bush announced: “Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.”

• Rosenberg’s assertion that Arafat “declared himself neutral and tried to mediate between Saddam Hussein and the first President Bush” after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is contradicted in the very same Nov. 11 edition of the Inquirer. An AP timeline listing “Key dates in Yasir Arafat’s life” makes clear that on Aug. 2, 1990, Arafat “supports Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, resulting in the PLO’s isolation.”

In the Nov. 9 Inquirer, AP’s Karin Laub wrote: “Much of the Arab money dried up after Arafat infuriated his patrons in 1990 by siding with Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.”

Other statements in Rosenberg’s article were illogical. She stated that Arafat “fought the Israelis for the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea . . . sometimes as a pragmatic peacemaker.” Indeed, Arafat has demanded all the land between the Jordan and Mediterranean — a demand amounting to the elimination of Israel, all of which lies between these bodies of water. It is obviously impossible to fight for the destruction of Israel as a “pragmatic peacemaker.”

The writer also stated that Arafat’s 1994 Nobel Peace Prize later was viewed by Israel as “soaked in blood after two violent Palestinian uprisings.” This too is confused. Only one Palestinian uprising followed 1994. The first spanned the period 1997 to 1993. Also, many Israelis saw the award as “soaked in blood” because of Arafat’s decades-long involvement in terrorism.

UPDATE:  Philadelphia Inquirer finally corrects two errors in Arafat obituary. Other errors are left uncorrected.

CAMERA’s communications with editors at the Inquirer have yielded two Feb. 9, 2005 corrections. The reference to the number of Jews and Arabs, and to the timing of Arafat’s Nobel Prize, were corrected. However, the Inquirer has not corrected Rosenberg’s erroneous assertion that Israel campaigned to isolate the Palestinian Authority. Nor have they corrected the false claim that Arafat was neutral in the first Gulf War. This despite the fact that since the Nov. 11, 2004 publication of the obituary, three separate references to Arafat’s support for Hussein appeared in the newspaper:

“In Kuwait, responding a reporter’s question, Abbas issued an apology to Kuwaitis for Arafat’s support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of Kuwait triggered the 1991 Persian Gulf War” (12/26/04, “Palestinian election nears, but focus is on future,” Michael Matza).

“In Kuwait City yesterday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas apologized for Palestinian support of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Gulf War, his latest gesture to mend fences with Arab nations offended by the late Yasir Arafat over the years. As PLO leader, Arafat supported Iraq in its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and opposed the subsequent U.S.-led war that liberated it. – AP” (12/13/04, “News in Brief”).

“Others are still angry over Arafat’s backing of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait in 1990” (11/13/04, “Chaos, Grief for Arafat,” Michael Matza and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson).

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