USA Today Ditches Standards in Favor of Anti-Israel Narrative

“We will avoid all conflicts of interest,” USA Today’s standards and ethics declares. Yet, when it comes to Israel, the newspaper routinely violates its own “principles of ethical conduct for newsrooms.”

Take, for example, the March 11, 2022 column “Stop Using LGBTQ people to justify differentiating between Arab and Ukrainian refugees.” The article by Hana Khalyleh, a producer for USA Today, appeared in several different outlets that are part of the newspaper’s network—and it is loaded with omissions and misrepresentations. It also raises questions about the newspaper’s ability to cover Israel-related news honestly and accurately.

Like other news outlets, USA Today is seeking to spuriously tie Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Israeli-Islamist conflict. And to do so, the author engages in one bad faith argument after the other.

“The United States and much of Europe,” Khalyleh writes, “have made moves to accept refugees running from the Russian-spurred devastation that has destroyed homes and killed loved ones.” True enough. But then the USA Today producer adds: “But I’m wondering where the government support was when, last Eid al-Fitr, missiles rained down on Palestine.”

Yet, as CAMERA has frequently noted, no Palestinian Arab nation called “Palestine” has ever existed. There was a British-ruled Mandate of Palestine, but the term itself derives from the second century C.E. when the Romans crushed the revolt of Bar Kokhba, retook Jerusalem and Judea, and expelled many of the native inhabitants—that is to say, Jews—and renamed the area Palaestina. There was no Arab presence in the land until well after the Islamic and Arabic conquests of the seventh century. In modern history, under the Ottoman Empire, the word “Palestine” was sometimes used to describe, often vaguely, a geographic area that was more commonly referred to as Southern Syria.

As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs pointed out in a 2017 report, the Palestinian historian Muhammad Y. Muslih observed that during the entire 400-year period of Ottoman rule (1517-1918), before the British set up the 30-year-long Palestine Mandate, “there was no political unit known as Palestine.” In Arabic, the area was known as al-Ard al-Muqadassa (the holy land), or Surya al-Janubiyya (southern Syria), but not Palestine.

The political movement to consider the area as part of Southern Syria was active well into the mid-20th century. As late as May 31, 1956, the future head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Ahmed Shukeiri told the U.N. Security Council: “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.” Indeed, as CAMERA has documented, the founding father of the Palestinian national movement, the future Nazi collaborator Amin al-Husseini, even launched anti-Jewish pogroms in 1920 while calling for “Palestine” to be part of Syria.

Contravening standard practice in journalism, the column fails to note the “who, what, when, where, why and how”—specifically “who” fired the missiles? And “why” were they raining down on Eid al-Fitr?

Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, decided to launch missiles into Israel on the Muslim holy day. The group did so at the behest of its benefactor, the Islamic Republic of Iran, long considered to be the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. As CAMERA has noted, Asghar Emami, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, the entity that trains and arms Gazan terror groups like Hamas, admitted that Iran was using its proxies to launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to pressure the United States in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) eventually responded to the attacks, launching surgical strikes against Hamas targets—a feat complicated by the terrorist group’s documented tactic of using human shields.

Put simply: the missiles were raining down on Israel first, and targeted strikes on the Gaza Strip occurred afterwards, in consequence. USA Today, then, got it backwards—at best. It should be noted that Palestinian terrorist groups, leaders, schools and official media consider all of Israel to be “Palestine,” denying the Jewish people’s historical connection to their homeland as well as the Jewish state’s right to exist.

The author asserts that there is a disparity between how Ukrainian and Arab and North African refugees are treated, citing everything from a few comments from journalists to some tweets and even a Reddit post. Perhaps. But then Khalyleh writes: “I’ve seen Twitter threads of queer activists and conservative officials alike (many of whom are now rallying for Ukraine) questioning how someone can both stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people and still stand with Palestinian refugees.”

The author adds: “Even within the LGBTQ spaces and chat servers I’ve frequented before (and since) the COVID-19 pandemic began, I can recall an instance when I’ve brought up the need for solidarity with Palestinian refugees and families in Gaza, and have been met with a fellow community member replying, ‘Do you know what they do to gay people there?’” Khalyleh then asserts, in text that USA Today emboldened: “But I’m a queer, nonbinary Palestinian-Jordanian. My existence stands strong in the holes of this argument.”

First, it must be noted that Khalyleh is, according to her Twitter account and employment, writing from Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A. She is not writing from Gaza, or the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank. Indeed, there is a long and well documented history of homosexual and transgender individuals being brutally murdered, tortured and persecuted in areas ruled by Palestinian leaders. This, of course, doesn’t mean that such individuals exist—of course they do. But when they’re not writing from Arizona and/or not using their journalist twitter accounts to promote #FreePalestine, they face persecution. That is a documented fact. And it is a shame that a USA Today employee would attempt to whitewash it.

Later, the journalist claims that pointing out that LGBTQ people are persecuted in Palestinian ruled areas is a “gotcha” argument that enables people to overlook Palestinian “refugees.” Perhaps on some Reddit threads and Twitter comments this might be true.

But the biggest hindrance to Palestinian refugees is the Palestinian leaders and their Western enablers, who actively exploit Palestinian people. The author doesn’t mention—nor has USA Today in dozens of relevant reports over the last two years—that Palestinian leadership rejected numerous offers for statehood if it meant living in peace next to Israel. As CAMERA has documented, Palestinian leaders have been refusing proposals for something that has never existed—a Palestinian Arab state—since the 1930s, more than a decade before Israel’s recreation.

And Khalyleh’s argument that Palestinian “refugees” don’t receive support is misleading at best. In fact, they have their own U.N. Agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and receive considerable attention—and funding—from both governments and multilateral institutions.

All other refugee populations in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which, despite dealing with six times as many refugees as UNRWA, has only a quarter of the staff. UNRWA has moved away from its original mandate of resettling Palestinian refugees and has a spurious definition of “refugee.” As CAMERA has highlighted, UNRWA’s definition includes people who are generations removed from the conflict, people who are citizens of new states, and people who reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, places that the Palestinians themselves claim as part of a future Palestinian state. In other words, one can be a newborn Palestinian child living in the Palestinian Authority or Hamas-ruled areas and be considered a “refugee” from a war that occurred seventy years ago.

Further, UNRWA’s categorization of “refugee” is not dependent on need and also applies to citizens of recognized states—allowing, for example, wealthy, third-generation Jordanian citizens to be considered Palestinian “refugees.” Indeed, according to UNRWA, any Palestinian Arab descendant from the 1948 conflict is considered a “refugee” until they “return” to Israel.

UNRWA’s politicized definition of refugee has helped to perpetuate the Israel-Islamist conflict, allowing “refugees” to be used as pawns against the Jewish state. Indeed, at the dawn of its creation, there were an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees—but in 2020 there will be a projected 6.4 million “refugees,” per UNRWA’s definition. The actual number of refugees, as the Washington Free Beacon reported in January 2018, is likely closer to 20,000. Further, it must be noted that many of those refugees from the 1948 conflict were encouraged to flee by Arab leaders who rejected a U.N. Partition Plan that would’ve created two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, choosing war over peace.

Yet, this relevant history is omitted by USA Today. And the newspaper’s disclaimer that “this piece expresses the views of its author, separate from the publication” should hardly assuage readers who might be concerned—rightfully—about USA Today’s reporting on Israel. The network employs an individual whose social media calls to #FreePalestine and whose columns cover up the crimes and intentions of Hamas, a terrorist group that calls for a Jewish genocide and Israel’s destruction.

As CAMERA has noted, USA Today previously refused to amend its reporting on a planned trip to Israel by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The trip was sponsored by Miftah, an organization that has praised suicide bombers and claimed that Jews consume Christian blood. Seems newsworthy. But USA Today declined to provide these facts to readers, despite CAMERA supplying relevant readers and editors with evidence.

This history, and USA Today’s recent track record of publishing inaccurate and misleading opinion columns, raises serious questions about the news network’s commitment to its own stated guidelines.

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