Washington Post’s Letter from Israel Should be Marked ‘Return to Sender’

The Washington Post’s “Letter from Israel: Outrage and dramatics when famous writers visit hardcore settlers,” (May 8, 2016) by Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth failed to properly identify anti-Israel organizations and persons that are ostensibly the article’s topic. In doing so, he defaulted to a “Palestinian-centric” perspective on Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The Post detailed a trip to Hebron by a “group of pretty famous writers” and a self-styled “human rights activist,” who helps lead an anti-Israel non-profit organization called Breaking the Silence (BTS). According to the newspaper, BTS “accompanied” the writers for a tour of Hebron to “gather material” for a forthcoming book of essays and “to see for themselves how 850 hardcore Jewish settlers, protected by 650 young Israeli soldiers, live among 200,000 angry Palestinians.”

The writers “didn’t like what they saw,” The Post told readers.

Keeping the silence

The Post omitted, for starters, that this was likely the objective of Breaking the Silence’s Hebron “tour.” Readers might have figured as much from an outline of the group’s funding and methods. But the paper failed to provide one—as it has failed to do in other instances (see, for example “Washington Post Falls for Breaking the Silence ‘Report,’” CAMERA, May 5, 2015).

According to NGO-Monitor, an organization that tracks non-governmental agencies operating in Israel, BTS provides non-Israelis with defamatory, often unsubstantiated allegations about the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The group consistently has refused to supply authorities with evidence that could support investigations into its allegations of abuses by IDF soldiers.

BTS bills itself as an Israeli non-profit. However, it receives substantial funding from European groups and governments opposed not only to Israeli policies, but in some instances to Israel itself. For example, as CAMERA has noted, one donor, Broederlijik Delen, is a Belgian Christian charity that funds openly anti-Israel organizations (“Foreign Affairs Goes Silent on Anti-Israel Group,” Dec. 21, 2015). Instead of providing Israeli authorities with verifiable testimony and evidence about abuses—contravening IDF orders that troops do so—BTS spends much of its time engaging in anti-Israel speaking tours abroad.

The Post—omitting this background—called BTS an “anti-occupation group” that reveals “how it looks and feels to a conscript enforcing it.” Booth did note briefly that “many Israelis…despise the group and its tactics, which include anonymous testimonies.” But he failed to pursue what this cloak of anonymity might say about the group’s credibility.

When fact becomes fantasy

Similarly, The Post failed to fully identify some of the writers accompanying BTS on its Hebron visit. Some of these writers, given their paper trails, “didn’t like what they saw” about Israel prior to their tour. This suggests that contrary to The Post’s description, not all of these writers would be interested in impartial fact gathering.

As CAMERA has noted (“The Shame of Anti-Israel Propaganda in The Atlantic,” July 3, 2014),one of the group, Ayelet Waldman, previously falsely claimed that in Hebron there is “racially differentiated access to water” between Jews and Arabs. She also has trafficked in fabricated quotes meant to slander Israel, and accompanied BTS on earlier “fact-finding” tours.

Other Israel-critical scribes on the bus included Assaf Gavron, who has taken to the pages of The Post before to minimize Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jews (“Washington Post Slams Israel—Opinions not Worth Paper They’re Printed On,” CAMERA, Oct. 25, 2015) and Mario Vargas Llosa, who has compared Israelis to Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group (“The Hyperbole and the Writer,” CAMERA, July 31, 2013).

The article acknowledged that Washington Post staff accompanied the writers to Hebron for what the paper described as research for a book “designed to mark the 50-year anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.” Post readers might book forward to a sequel on the 100-year Arab rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any portion of the Jews’ historical homeland, but they could extrapolate from the newspaper’s coverage that these writers would be unlikely to produce it.
As for the occupation, as CAMERA has pointed out, the status of the territories in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is disputed, not Palestinian. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, no power has exercised sovereignty over the land which Israel seized from Jordan in the Arab-initiated 1967 Six-Day War. The Post chronically refers to “the 50-year occupation” of “Palestinian territories.” Meanwhile as a Post correction requested by CAMERA put it in September 2014, “the Israeli-occupied territories are disputed lands that Palestinians want as a future state (“When is a Correction in Error, When The Washington Post Says So,” Jan. 9, 2015).”

The status of the land

The status of the land is to be resolved through negotiations anticipated by U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and Israeli-Palestinian agreements that were part of the 1990s Oslo process. These are negotiations the Palestinian Authority (PA) has frequently refused to conduct in good faith and/or rejected.

The Post failed to inform readers that Hebron is largely under the PA’s jurisdiction and responsibility. Eighty percent of Hebron is ruled by the authority and has been since January 1997, when the IDF withdrew from the bulk of Hebron municipal territory in keeping with the September 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II) between Israel and the PA.

Omitting this, The Post instead told readers that in parts of Hebron, “Palestinians are forbidden to walk” and “must enter their houses through back entrances and rooftops.” Why? The paper didn’t directly say. The answer: Israeli security measures to protect Jews from Palestinian Arab attacks. The Post noted, without details, that Breaking the Silence told visiting writers that there ha
ve been many anti-Jewish attacks. But no details like that of anti-Jewish violence that claimed the life of Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old baby shot in her stroller by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron in 2001.

The one specific instance of anti-Jewish violence mentioned by The Post was the 1929 massacre in which an “Arab mob slaughtered some 67 Jews.” This example of Arabs targeting Jews in Hebron predates the “50-year-old occupation” which BTS, some of the touring fiction writers and The Post seemed to imply to be the cause of the violence.

The writers and The Post considered Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli physician who in 1994 murdered 29 Arabs in prayer in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque (The Tomb of the Patriarchs), in an act that was widely condemned by Israel officials. Waldman called the writers’ visit to Goldstein’s grave disgusting. The group did not visit a Jewish museum in the old Hadrassah Hospital that tells the story of the 1929 slaughter. The Post did note that “if the writers had entered the museum…they could have seen the photographs of the bloody stumps” of the 1929 massacre’s Jewish victims.

Talk about fiction

Author Michael Chabon, Waldman’s husband and with her one of the book project’s leaders, claimed Israeli military occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is “the most grievous injustice I have seen in my life.” Talk about fiction. The United Nations reported in 2005, and CAMERA noted at the time, that Palestinian Arabs had a higher standard of living under Israeli occupation, even during the violence of the second intifada, than Arab citizens of Morocco, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East. Has Chabon paid attention to the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives or more, or Iran’s Hezbollah -exercised occupation of Lebanon, or Hamas’ repression of Arabs in the Gaza Strip, the continuing conflicts in Libya and Yemen, or a myriad other examples? Chabon’s comment suggests that he operates outside reality. That’s fine for fantasy; for historical fiction, let alone journalism, not so good.

The Post noted that the writers will get to “pursue their own research, which could be the subject of their essay: Some of the topics include Ramallah nightlife, Palestinian football, the separation barrier, West Bank hip-hop, child inmates in Israeli prisons and military courts.” Topics such as Palestinian child soldiers; countless attempts to penetrate the security, not “separation” barrier and perpetrate terrorism attacks as before the barrier was erected beginning in 2002; and official and pervasive Palestinian anti-Zionist, antisemitic incitement are apparently not subjects of consideration for this group of writers that Chabon claimed didn’t have an “agenda.”

By contrast

In contrast to The Post’s coverage of a bus trip of blame-Israel activists and writers promoting a book not due for a year, USA Today’s “Israel’s Memorial Day honors Americans, too” (May 9), by correspondent Michele Chabin, provided readers a timely and seldom discussed story. Chabin wrote that two weeks before Memorial Day in the United States, Israel holds its own version of the somber holiday, remembering lost members of the Jewish state’s armed forces.

Three hundred and fifty North Americans or their children and spouses are among those remembered on Israel’s Memorial Day. This year’s figure includes seven more Americans and Canadians than last. Chabin used the day of remembrance as a news peg to tell some of their stories. In so doing, the USA Today correspondent detailed Machal, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) volunteer program which “allows non-Israelis and Israeli expatriates to serve in combat.”

Chabin interviewed the family members of those Americans and Canadians who were killed in Israel, humanizing victims of Palestinian aggression in a manner too seldom done by The Post. The reporter highlighted a process of mourning layered by dual national, U.S.-Israeli or Canadian-Israeli identity.

The Post noted that organizers of the Hebron bus tour think the “Israel-Palestinian conflict needs a novelist’s chops to tell old stories in new ways.” What’s old is Palestinian rejectionism and aggression, minimized by an apologetic narrative of Israeli occupation. If the writers shepherded by Breaking the Silence tell the story in “illuminating” ways, they would really make news. But don’t wait to read all about it.

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