Washington Post Israel Coverage: All Hole, No Bagel

The Washington Post is, as CAMERA noted in our October 25 “Post-Watch” (“Washington Post Airbrushes Exchanged Palestinian Prisoners”), “one of the last major American news organizations to maintain a significant network of foreign correspondents.” Yet that commitment of resources hasn’t prevented much recent Post foreign desk Arab-Israeli reporting from amounting to narishkeit. That’s Yiddish for foolishness, in particular, immature foolishness.

Five examples from the first half of November conform to The Post foreign desk’s chronic “Palestinian-centric, Palestinian-apologetic” perspective. This viewpoint predisposes the newspaper to mischaracterize Arab-Israeli news when not missing it altogether.

Some of the trees, little of the forest

* “‘Freedom Riders’ arrested on the bus to Jerusalem; Palestinian activists tried to ride through Israeli checkpoint,” November 16, by Post correspondent Joel Greenberg. The article makes a forced, false analogy. Segregationist laws and custom compelled American blacks to, among other things, ride in the back of buses in the South. Why? Because many whites believed blacks were inferior and didn’t deserve equal treatment.

Israeli security regulations restrict West Bank Arabs from taking commuter buses into Jerusalem without authorization. Why? Because Palestinian terrorists entering Israel from the West Bank bombed buses, restaurants, shopping malls and night clubs and shot up university cafeterias and religious seminaries during the second intifada, which left more than 1,000 Israelis – Jews and Arabs – and foreign visitors dead, thousands more wounded.

Unlike The Post’s six “Palestinian activists,” American freedom riders were part of a large, popular, non-violent struggle. The Post, advising readers than one Arab rider “wore a T-shirt that said: ‘We shall overcome’” — a slogan of the U.S. civil rights movement — virtually omits Palestinian terrorism as context for the Israeli bus restrictions. But it repeatedly invokes the hijacked imagery and rhetoric of the African American civil rights struggle, through direct quotes, paraphrases and Greenberg’s own narrative.

* “Israel decides to hold $100 million in funds owed to Palestinians; Defense agency says move could threaten West Bank stability,” November 15, by Associated Press correspondent Amy Teibel in Jerusalem. Though an AP dispatch, it fits the template of The Post’s Israeli-Palestinian reporting. It tells readers that “Israel thinks creation of a Palestinian state must be achieved through negotiations and charges [emphases added] that the [Palestinian Authority’s] U.N. bid is one of a series of steps to bring unwarranted pressure on the Jewish state.”

Israel doesn’t just “think” the PA and its parent, the Palestine Liberation Organization, should negotiate potential statehood, the PA and PLO committed themselves to do so in the 1993 Declaration of Principles and subsequent Oslo “peace process” agreements. Israel doesn’t just “charge” that the Palestinian bid for unilateral statehood declaration via the United Nations is part of a strategy to bring unjustified pressure on Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas said so in his May 17 New York Times Op-Ed; for example, the Palestinian leadership intends to use statehood recognition as a tool to drag Israeli leaders before international courts on trumped up “war crimes” charges.

But AP and, by foreign desk selection, The Post, imply that Israel’s position rests on self-justification rather than an insistence on upholding previous agreements and principles of international law.

AP persists in describing Abbas’ PA as “moderate,” even after it welcomed as “heroes” the hundreds of terrorists, including convicted murderers, exchanged for Israeli captive Sgt. Gilead Shalit and after its declarations that not only will no Jews, or at least no Jews owning weapons, be allowed to live in a presumptive “Palestine,” but that Arab “Palestine” will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The dispatch includes the reflexive description of Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, Australia, the European Union and others — only as the West Bank PA’s “militant” rival.

But wait, there’s more

* In “Young Palestinian activists push their own agenda; Disenchanted with Fatah and Hamas, an embryonic group sees human and civil rights, not territory, as the basis of its struggle,” November 6, Greenberg again strains unpersuasively to find a significant civil rights movement among Palestinian Arabs. “Freedom Riders” spotlighted six people; “Young Palestinian activists push their own agenda,” a long news feature, attempts to make a movement out of “a still-undefined, embryonic group of a few hundred across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” This, in November, even though their protests “peaked in March.”

What it is these Arab human rights activists want? Peaceful coexistence between “Palestine” and Israel, equal rights for Muslims, Christians and Jews, male-female equality in Palestinian society? Not primarily. They want Hamas and the PA’s ruling Fatah movement to reconcile. They don’t care so much about a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, since in The Post’s explanation of their views, that “is a shriveled vision of what Palestinians at home and in the diaspora deserve.” They want to dispossess the Jews of their own state, their own rights as a historic, indigenous people.

That’s not exactly how Greenberg reports it, however. Instead, he writes a of a so-called one-state solution “with equal rights of Jews and Arabs, and Palestinian refugees allowed to return.” Never mind that most Palestinian Arabs counted as “refugees” never lived in the Israel they would “return” to. Forget, like The Post, that religious, ethnic and national minorities virtually always suffer oppression in Arab Muslim majority countries. Just read that these “activists envision a campaign similar to the American civil rights movement and the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa” extending to “Palestinian refugees in neighboring Arab countries and Israeli Arabs.”

Commentator Elliot Jager eviscerates “Young Palestinian activists” in “Finally, a Palestinian ‘Peace Now’?” posted at Jewish Ideas Daily on November 14 and linked to here.

* “In Israel, speculation about strike on Iran; Recent military actions, media focus spur talk of attacks on nuclear sites,” November 4, by Greenberg, reads mostly like a straight-forward news report. That’s except for references to “Iranian-backed militants on Israel’s northern and southern borders.” Those “militants” are Hezbollah and Hamas, the
former, like the latter, a U.S. designated terrorist organization.

But readers of “Israel’s choice: Sword or shield; Iran’s nuclear push sees Jewish state weigh traditional posture vs. defense,” by Reuters correspondent Dan Williams (Baltimore Sun, November 13), find both essence and nuance absent from The Post’s earlier article. A nuclear-armed Iran would be not just “a threat,” but, in Israeli eyes, “an existential threat to the Jewish state.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak emerge in the wire service’s dispatch as more “cautious” and “circumspect” than they appear in The Post. Reuters quotes more authoritative Israeli sources, cites more relevant recent history than does The Post. Again, when it comes to reporting Israel in full, The Washington Post stumbles.

* “UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; U.S. pulls funding; Federal laws forbid aid to any U.N. agency that grants such recognition,” November 1, by Post U.N. reporter Colum Lynch, with assistance from Greenberg and Post reporter William Branigin. This article has it all:
False equation — “…a surge of cross-border violence between Palestinian militants [yet again, not terrorists, though they commit the defining terrorist act of attacking non-combatants] and the Israeli military.”
Misleading description — “Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group.” No, like Hamas, Islamic Jihad is designated by the United States, Israel and other countries as an Iranian-backed “terrorist group.”
And glaring omission — Nowhere in the 880-word article does The Post remind readers that the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. bid for statehood recognition violates PA commitments in Palestinian-Israeli agreements and relevant Security Council resolutions, including 242 and 338. But Palestinian and U.N. disappointment with the U.S. move to cut funding is noted.

While The Post was so covering Israel, Palestinian terrorists continued to launch rockets from the Gaza Strip, one narrowly missing an Israeli kindergarten. Israel’s chief of staff warned that the country “cannot tolerate repeated cycles of violence” from Gaza and may soon need to launch a major counter-offensive. Fatah appeared ready to dump PA Prime Minister Salim Fayyad, considered a competent, uncorrupted administrator by Western donors, in finally forging a unity government with Hamas. A Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council spoke at a rally in Tunisia for the Islamist Ennahda Party, the victor in that country’s recent elections. Here was another indicator that the “Arab spring” was leading not to Western-style democracy but expanded Muslim Brotherhood influence. These developments The Post mentioned in news briefs, if at all.

Yes, The Post still maintains a network of foreign correspondents. Sometimes their work, like that recently from Libya and Afghanistan, is well worth reading. But Arab-Israeli coverage like that highlighted above continues to raise the question, why bother?

Comments are closed.