“An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.” – Adlai E. Stevenson, governor of Illinois, Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, and President John F. Kennedy’s ambassador to the United Nations. He wasn’t talking about Washington Post Arab-Israeli coverage – but he could have been.
Editorializing the News I
* In his February 21 article, “Israeli Cabinet Backs Pullout Plan,” Post Jerusalem correspondent John Ward Anderson termed the Gush Etzion bloc just south of Jerusalem “a massive group of settlements.” The Etzion bloc comprises 15 settlements with 20,000-plus Jews (and about 10,000 Arabs) in an area of roughly 10 square miles. That makes it somewhat less “massive” than Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. with 50,000 residents in 13 square miles. Israel being quite small (something the Post virtually never points out), Gush Etzion is significant. But in Post readers’ common understanding of the word, it’s definitely not massive.
Anderson also refers without context to “territory seized [by Israel] in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.“ Nothing in the article informs readers that the land in question was taken in self-defense and retained after Arab rejection of numerous proposed compromises and repeated Arab aggression.
Editorializing the News II
* A dispatch by Post Jerusalem correspondent Molly Moore appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle’s February 4 edition under the headline “Israelis OK West Bank pullout plan.” Describing Israeli plans to withdraw troops from West Bank cities and release Arab prisoners, Moore said:
Israel’s initial proposals are relatively modest overtures in response to newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to curb militant violence…
That language did not appear in the Post’s own version of the story, so CAMERA staffer Gilead Ini queried the Chronicle about adding editorial comment to news coverage. The Chronicle replied that the phrase “Israel’s initial proposals are relatively modest overtures” in Moore’s story as it appeared in the San Francisco daily “reads exactly as it did when the story arrived …. Your point about editorializing is well-taken.”
Revisionism as News
* In his February 10 report, “Peace Talk Met With Skepticism In Mideast; Years of Violence Breed Pessimism,” Anderson wrongly equates Israelis and Palestinians:
Another key impetus for peace is the devastation suffered by both sides during the current Palestinian uprising and the sense that enough is enough. About 1,035 Israelis and 3,090 Palestinians have died in a conflict that has wrecked their economies, isolated both peoples internationally and spawned deep anguish at the tactics employed by their own fighters and governments.
This summary explanation repeatedly misleads readers:
1. Israeli and Palestinian casualties are not equivalent – more than three-fourths of Israeli deaths have been non-combatants, 30 percent female; two-thirds of the Palestinian dead have been combatants and Arabs killed by other Arabs, less than five percent female. That is, Palestinian Arabs intentionally target civilians, Israelis attempt to minimize civilian deaths.
2. Palestinians started the “al-Aksa intifada,” a terror war against Israel, after seven years of economic growth during the Oslo “peace process.” Their resultant economic devastation is self-inflicted. Israel’s economy began bouncing back from intifada-related contraction two years ago. While relatively high unemployment lingers, foreign investment and the technology sector are expanding and tourism has resumed. Israel’s “Arafat-recession” was over when Anderson filed his report.
3. Israel faced hostile international initiatives, like the U.N.’s International Court of Justice decision against its West Bank security barrier, but was hardly isolated. European countries in particular – recognizing America’s strong support for Israel – began improving their own bilateral relations with Jerusalem. Meanwhile, it was the Palestinians under an increasingly ostracized Yasser Arafat who faced growing isolation, with even Arab countries suspending aid.
4. The Post never has documented “deep anguish” among Palestinian Arabs over anti-Israel terrorism. In fact, Anderson and Moore, in covering Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential race, reported the continuing popularity of “militant” (anti-Israel terrorist) groups. The paper recently has acknowledged Palestinian war-weariness, induced in part by effective Israeli counter-terrorism. Meanwhile, the Post has not documented widespread “anguish” among Israelis over the government’s counter-terrorism efforts. Regret that it was necessary, perhaps; but hardly anguish.
Avoiding the News
* In his February 11 report, “Radical Palestinians Attack Jewish Settlements in Gaza; Abbas Reacts Quickly by Firing 10 Security Officials,” Anderson doesn’t mention an important Hezbollah-Syria-Iran connection. The article notes rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) against Jewish settlements “less than two days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to violence …. Although Abbas declared an end to violence against Israel at a summit Tuesday … powerful Palestinian groups – most notably Islamic Jihad and Hamas – have not said they would stop attacking Israeli targets.”
Who benefits in that case? The Washington Times’ Feb. 11 Associated Press dispatch, “Abbas responds firmly to attack; Fires security officials, warns against further truce breaches,” suggests an answer that eludes the Post:
A Palestinian official, however, blamed Hezbollah for the attacks, saying the Iranian-backed militia is deliberately trying to undermine the fledgling Israeli-Palestinian truce announced this week. “We know that Hezbollah is pushing some parties among the Palestinians to destroy the agreement …” a senior Palestinian official said. Noting Palestinian plans to discuss the cease-fire with Syria, AP added that “Syria virtually controls Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based.”
Israeli charges of a Hezbollah-Hamas tie have been little-covered by the Post; likewise a parallel link between Iran and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – until the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Before the murder, U.S.-French pressure on Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon, and large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut, the Post periodically reported signs of “reform” in Syria and downplayed its military control of Lebanon and encouragement of Hezbollah. The paper still largely ignores Iran’s anti-Israel policy, from nuclear threats to fomenting and funding anti-Israel terrorism.
* In its February 19 editorial, “Harvard’s Free Mind,” the Post discussed the imbroglio over Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ speculation that innate male-female differences might be one cause for under-representation of women on leading science faculties. The editorial added that “Summers has sparked controversies on other subject, too, including political diversity in the law school, the quality of African American studies and campus criticism of Israel.”
But Summers did not spark controversy over “campus criticism of Israel” – he warned in a 2002 speech that tolerance for antisemitism was spreading as criticism of Israeli policy mutated into anti-Zionism and then became camouflage for revived Jew-hatred. The editorial misrepresents, and softens, Summers’ warning. The Post’s initial coverage of Summer’s speech on campus antisemitism was late and minimal, especially in comparison to the New York Times.