Washington Post: McCarthyism as News Coverage

Often Arab-Israeli news coverage, including that of The Washington Post, calls for constructive criticism. Occasionally, however, an article or broadcast demands exposure, not a critique. Such is the case with “Israeli human rights groups decry effort to probe funding,” a January 20 report by Joel Greenberg, a special correspondent for The Post.
The report leans so far it nearly overturns. It quotes an opponent of a proposal before Israel’s Knesset (parliament) to make funding of anti-government NGOs (non-governmental organizations) more transparent. He says the measure “smacks of McCarthyism.” And The Post uses the “McCarthyist” charge in its own paraphrase of critics. Yet, relying on often loaded or evasive language and on a narrow range of sources, the article itself could be termed McCarthyite — after U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wis.) tactic in the late 1940s and early ’50s of tarring alleged subversives as communists or fellow travelers.
The Post ostensibly covers a call by the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home) Party for an investigation of funding of “local human rights organizations.” The dispatch terms Yisrael Beiteinu a “far-right party.” Only two “human rights organizations” are identified by name. One is B’tselem, identified as “a leading rights group” when context would indicate it is an anti-settlement, pro-Palestinian if not anti-government organization. The other is the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which is not otherwise identified. This implies that ACRI is what its name suggests, rather than another anti-government organization that sometimes parrots the charges of Israel’s adversaries.
NGO-Monitor, an Israeli organization founded by Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gerald Steinberg, has found that, among other things, B’tselem’s executive director has alleged that “in some cases, the situation in the West Bank is worse than apartheid in South Africa.” The group has minimized Israeli security concerns, misrepresented international law and relied on erroneous statistics. A staff member was forced to resign after claiming Israel demonstrated “devotion to Nazi tactics.” B’tselem’s board chairman called for international sanctions against Israel and supported the so-called Palestinian “right of return.”
CAMERA has highlighted B’tselem’s repeated statistical falsifications and noted its reliance on European funding, for example, “UPDATED: In 2007, B’tselem’s Casualty Count Doesn’t Add Up,” Nov. 2, 2008. There also is B’tselem’s tendency to doubt official Israeli claims while accepting without corroboration Palestinian charges. This skepticism extended, for example, to the military’s claim, supported by videotape, that its commandoes boarding the Gaza Strip blockade runner, Mavi Marmara, were attacked by passengers. 
Regarding the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, NGO-Monitor found, for example, that the group’s September, 2010 report on Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, was “based almost exclusively on Palestinian ‘testimony’” that could not be verified independently. The “‘testimony’ is clearly designed to promote the desired political conclusions …. and reinforces the artificial image and ideology of Palestinian victimization.”
NGO-Monitor adds that the association “report repeats tendentious terminology used by political organizations, such as the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department,” including the phrase “Judaize,” which “erases the intense Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem and suggests that the very presence of Jews is alien and unacceptable …. While it is perhaps not surprising that the PLO would employ such terminology, it is immoral for human rights organizations to use phrases supporting ethnically-based exclusion.”
But wait, there’s more
Greenberg writes that “the Gaza war two years ago … brought allegations of Israeli war crimes.” He adds that the U.N.’s Goldstone commission “investigated the Gaza war and later accused both Israel and the militant Islamic group Hamas of war crimes.”
But Greenberg does not say why the war was fought — to stop Palestinian war crimes including terrorist attacks, among them thousands of rocket and mortar launches against Israel. Having raised the matter of alleged Israeli war crimes, The Post does not report that these allegations virtually all were spurious, or that charges of Hamas war crimes, including routinely targeting Israeli non-combatants and using Palestinian non-combatants as human shields were factual. Also not mentioned is the fact the Goldstone panel’s anti-Israel nature. (See, for example, CAMERA’s Nov. 3, 2009 Backgrounder, “The Goldstone Commission, a Study in Duplicity”).
The Post quotes a lobbyist for ACRI as saying that the planned inquiry is a “political investigation” since such groups already must report funding sources. It does not say that some fault current reporting as opaque and difficult for citizens to penetrate.
The article cites Hebrew University Prof. Shlomo Avineri as suggesting that since many Yisrael Beiteinu leaders immigrated from the former Soviet Union, they may not understand democracy and liberalism. The Post no doubt could have found a party leader or supporter to opine that since they had lived under an anti-democratic, illiberal “people’s republic,” they were attuned to confiscation of liberal democratic language by those who employ it, judo-like, to obstruct a free people’s ability to defend itself. 
The Post quotes two members of the governing Likud Party — which the newspaper labels “right-leaning” — who see the proposed investigation as “very dangerous.” The article concludes with a letter from “prominent academics, artists and writers,” apparently none of them “left-leaning.” The writers apocalyptically claim that “when elected officials begin investigating citizens, it spells the end of democracy.” As if U.S. congressional committees don’t examine all sorts of funding-related activities, and as if American law doesn’t require those subsidized by other governments, as some of the Israeli “human rights groups” are, to register as foreign agents.
The article provided no context about the political agendas of organizations resisting the proposed Knesset probe. Reliance by some on funding from foreign groups and governments dismissive of if not hostile to Israel’s security concerns and historical, legal and religious claims is part of that context.
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CAMERA has included ACRI and B’tselem with other Israeli “human rights” or civil society groups whose claims are “tainted by ideological bias and factual distortion” but nevertheless relied on by The New York Times (“All the News Unfit to Print,” March 18, 2010). With “Israeli human rights groups decry effort to probe funding” The Post follows The Times’ lead.

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