WBUR’s On Point Misleads About the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

NPR’s affiliate stations are currently in the midst of their year-end fund drive. Listeners should carefully consider whether or not they want to fund such programs as “On Point,” carried by 1,286 NPR stations, given how it misleads its audience about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Take, for example, the Nov. 18 segment of the program, broadcast the day after two Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem, armed with butcher’s knives and a gun massacred Jews praying at a western Jerusalem synagogue. The program sought to place this act of terrorism in the light of rising tensions in Jerusalem. But with essential information concealed about incitement by Palestinian leaders and the history of Muslim jihad in Jerusalem, and with the facts twisted about Jewish efforts to visit and pray at Judaism’s holiest site, listeners could not help but be deceived by the picture presented. The story of a heinous terrorist attack against blameless Jewish worshipers was turned into a false narrative of bilateral violence provoked by Israelis.

Hosted by Jessica Yellin, sitting in for Tom Ashbrook, the program featured three guests: Martin Indyk, former U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations under President Obama; Beshara Doumani, a Palestinian-American professor of Middle East studies at Brown University; and Shlomo Brom, former deputy head of IDF Strategic Planning and one-time advisory board member of J Street.

Neither the host, nor William Booth, the Washington Post correspondent called upon to summarize the situation, nor any of the above-mentioned guests explored the climate of incitement that prompted the recent wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks, including the synagogue massacre. Instead, the situation was reversed as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was condemned for criticizing Palestinian President Abbas who had fomented the violence. Booth suggested that Netanyahu’s accusations were based merely on the sense that the Palestinian president “doesn’t speak out forcefully against attacks or with a wink and a nod is permitting them.”

But it was not just that the Palestinian president did not “not speak out forcefully” against attacks. He actively encouraged them. On Oct. 17, just before the latest wave of terrorism in Jerusalem, President Abbas, speaking at a Ramallah conference, called upon Palestinians to defend the Temple Mount (al Aqsa compound) from the Jews “using all means.” Palestinians, he said, must be united “to protect Jerusalem” and the Muslim sanctuaries.

The following day, he reiterated his call to defend Muslim holy places from the Jews, whom he deceivingly denigrated as “settlers” and dehumanized as “cattle herds.” He accused Jews of defiling Muslim mosques by visiting the Temple Mount. His mendacious call was evocative of many such calls to violent jihad used repeatedly by Arab leaders, beginning in 1929 when Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini fomented attacks and massacres with a call to “defend Islam’s holy places” from the Jews.

In the ensuing days, the PA’s official television network rebroadcast Abbas’ call dozens of times. The PA and Fatah’s official print and online publication’s featured numerous cartoons depicting Jews as vermin, wolves or rapists converging on the Al Aqsa mosque. Another cartoon urged readers to “Hit the gas at 199 [km/h] for Al-Aqsa” to run down Jewish pedestrians, recalling the vehicular attacks that have killed several pedestrians and a three-month-old baby. Again and again Jews were slandered in official Palestinian media, accused of desecrating and/or planning to take over the Al Aqsa mosque. The terrorists who were killed as they murdered or attempted to murder Israelis were glorified as heroic martyrs.  Just days before the synagogue massacre, the PA official newspaper, Al Hayat Al Jadida published an Op-Ed demonizing Zionists and “the ‘rabbis’ of the secret societies” who “set the foundations for an eternal hegemony.” Immediately following the synagogue massacre, the secretary-general of the PFLP, the terrorist group with which the perpetrators were affiliated and which claimed responsibility for the attack , echoed the message of the Op-Ed, declaring the synagogue ” a kind of command center for the planning of acts of aggression against our people and our holy places. Even while Abbas was condemning the attack, his Fatah party and advisor were celebrating it and insisting that his was an insincere condemnation made under duress from the international community 

In his call for the Palestinian leadership to unequivocally condemn the massacre, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that the attack was “a pure result of incitement of calls for days of rage, of just an irresponsibility” and was unacceptable. He not only called upon the Palestinian leadership to condemn the attack, but also “to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, from other people’s language, and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path.”

But neither Booth nor anyone else presented any of this information in the program. The correspondent, instead acted as an apologist for Abbas, saying:

Abbas has been kind of resistant to Israeli demands that he denounce each new attack. He feels it kind of puts him in a box and feels that it distracts him from his mission, and he is not going to serve, he said in the past, as sort of chief apologist for the Palestinian cause.

As to the source of the tensions, Booth attributed this, not to the Palestinian leadership’s inflammatory call to Palestinians to defend Muslim holy places from marauding Jews, but to Israelis who “want Jewish people to have the right to go up [to the Temple Mount], up into this area and pray” which, he said “is a very explosive issue for Palestinians here and really for Muslims around the world. Al Aqsa is a very precious preserve for them.” Referring to the Temple Mount only as the place “where the Al Aqsa mosque is, the 3rd most holy site in Islam” Booth did not bother to mention that this is also the holiest site for Jews and that the Al Aqsa mosque sits on just a fraction of the mount.

That Jews were historically barred from their holy sites during Jordanian occupation; that it was Israel, after liberating the Temple Mount from Jordanian occupation, which handed administrative control over to the Islamic Waqf as a goodwill gesture; that in contrast to Jordan, Israel pledged that it would ensure freedom of religion to all faiths; and that it was Israeli security concerns that have restricted Israelis from praying at their holiest site– all these facts were ignored by Booth, Yellin, and the guests.

In fact, host Jessica Yellin completely misled the audience about the crux of the tension by suggesting that the debate about the Al Aqsa mosque was about Jews
who “have not been allowed to pray inside the mosque” who are now “calling for access to the mosque now.” Muslims, she explained, “fear that Jews will try to take it over and that is a source of debate, conflict and grave concern on both sides.”

Of course, Jews did not enter any of the Muslim mosques nor do they advocate praying inside the mosques. Their campaign is to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount compound, Judaism’s holiest site, outside of the mosques.

The guests, as well, misrepresented the issues. Each guest from his own perspective blamed the Israeli leadership while mitigating the Palestinian leadership’s responsibility for the rising tensions.

Martin Indyk, frustrated with his failure to propel Palestinian-Israeli peace talks – a failure for which he has notoriously blamed Israel in the past,  did not now, in the face of the attack and the incitement that preceded it, blame the Palestinian leadership’s hate rhetoric and anti-Israel indoctrination for the slaughter. Instead he attributed equivalent responsibility to both sides, blaming the attack on “the absence of an effort to resolve this conflict.” In his assssement, the violent act of terrorism was not the result of a Palestinian failure so much as a bilateral failure. And Israeli punitive measures against the terrorists in the wake of the attack, according to Indyk “plays into this narrative, that plagues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of revenge – an eye for an eye.” Elsewhere in the segment, Indyk suggested that the terrorist attack arose “from the fact that the populations intermingle.” and promoted his position (in opposition to the Israeli-held position) that Jerusalem should again become a divided city, as it was under Jordanian occupation.

Under the guise of equating both Israelis and Palestinians for the situation, Indyk managed to drastically play down Abbas’ incitement, suggesting only that “some statements” by Abbas, were “unhelpful” while at the same time attacking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in much harsher terms for “lambasting” the Palestinian president. ” Indyk hastened to convince listeners that, “Abu Mazen (aka President Abbas) has been unflinching in his opposition to terrorism.” Elsewhere in the broadcast, as well, Indyk reiterated his defense of the Palestinian leader while reserving the bulk of the blame for the Israeli leader:

[Abbas] condemned the violence yesterday…Abbas has remained committed to [security coordiation]…They both need to step back from the slinging match and particularly on the Israeli side– Israeli leaders lambasting President Abbas in a way that I think is highly counterproductive at this critical moment.

Shlomo Brom, for his part, accurately predicted early Israeli elections and answered questions as if he were electioneering for Netanyahu’s opponents. Questions directed at him were turned into opportunities to attack the Israeli Prime Minister and what Brom called his “right-wing supporters.” For example:

…So the feeling is that Prime Minister Netanyahu knows very well what he should do to calm down the situation but he is not capable of doing it because of domestic political considerations, because he is afraid he will lose his political base of support which is composed, of course, of right-wing supporters.

And, adopting Indyk’s strategy, Brom ostensibly blamed both sides, but aimed the bulk of his criticism at the Israeli prime minister:

My concern is that because of domestic considerations, the leaders on the two sides, Mr. Netanyahu and other government ministers as well as President Abbas and Palestinian leaders are more engaged in a blame game…the leaders on both sides are afraid they will lose their own base of support, specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is afraid, concerned that he is going to early elections. He is turning back to his traditional base of support which is the right-wing and he has to show them that he is a tough leader and you show that you are a tough leader by attacking the other party, by lambasting President Abbas, by demolition of houses, by harsh police actions in east Jerusalem, etc. and I don’t believe that it is helpful.

Brom’s own bias against the so-called “right-wing” became even more conspicuous when he morally equated Palestinian murderous terrorist groups with Israel’s “religious right-wing.” Both, he argued are “united in their wish to pour more oil on the fire because it serves their political interests” which, in his perception, is to turn the conflict “into a religious war.”

Such biased, simplistic and erroneous comparisons and pronouncements may perhaps affirm certain simplistic, pre-existing journalistic biases but they completely misinform listeners by obscuring the real forces at play in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Beshara Doumani, while introduced as an American academic, acted as an extreme Palestinian propagandist. His contribution to the program consisted of vicious, mendacious attacks on Israel and a consistent defense of the Palestinians. According to Doumani,  Palestinians are always the victims and bear no responsibility for any of the pernicious events in the conflict. Everything, including the terrorist attacks, are the results of negative Israeli actions, real or imagined.  And at one point he revealed his extremist colors by blaming everything on the very existence of a Jewish state. Below are some of his pronouncements in response to questions about the terrorist attack:

 This is part of a longterm problem that must be dealt with, and that is the occupation of Palestinians…


…The real event that started this kind of focus on holy places is a massacre in the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron where Israeli extremist killed 29 Muslim worhipers while they were praying…


…What’s driving all of this is exactly the fact that there is a real commitment on the part of the Israeli government to dispossess Palestinians of their land and to empty them out of Jerusalem to the extent possible, and that is creating huge conflicts… 


..This all started really with the waves of European Jewish settlers coming into Palestine to establish an exclusivist Jewish state…

At one point in the broadcast, Yellin tepidly asked Doumani about his reaction to Palestinian celebrations of the synagogue massacre, although she seemed to bend over backward to minimize the rejoicing of Palestinians in the gruesome deaths of Israelis. She hastened to assure listeners that these celebrations were “only a piece of the response,” that they only took place in Gaza (which, of course, was not true. Palestinians also celebrated in eastern Jerusalem and the west bank), and to re-emphasize that “the attack was condemned by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Despite Yellin’s attempt to mitigate the Palestinian response, Doumani
hemmed and hawed, then justified the celebrations, turning the topic into yet another attack on Israel:

Well I’m not sure what to say.  Because I don’t think any of your listeners have ever lived in an open air prison like Gaza, which just went through its own very traumatic experience of the Israeli invasion during the summer, in which 2000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, many children, were massacred as well…The situation is driving many people now to extremes. And this is I’m afraid a result of deliberate Israeli policy, of building the infrastructure for creating a single Israeli political space over all of historic Palestine while playing to the international world this song of the 2-state solution. And what’s happening now, I feel, is that the Israeli government, after decades of building the infrastructure for integrating the region under a single regime, is moving in a very deliberate way to leave behind the 2-state possibility and declare a legal annexation after a period of de facto annexation. And I think that’s what’s driving many people mad. They[the Palestinains] just don’t see how and what they can do in order to stop this from happening. And I think that all people who are under this kind of situation of military occupation have an internationally enshrined right to defend themselves, even using violence.

When asked about the synagogue massacre, Doumani was similarly unable to bring himself to uncategorically and directly condemn Palestinian barbarism without justifying it by blaming Israel:

We have to distinguish here between the grinding, daily violence of occupation with these spectacular kind of killings that I think everybody abhors. Every day the Palestinians in east Jerusalem are subject to racism, to humiliation, to physical abuse, and their neighborhoods are being invaded and their lands are being taken away and there is a political vacuum. … The Palestinian Authority has no real authority on east Jerusalem because of Israeli policy. And these 300.000 Palestinians who have been marginalized, who have been impoverished in the last 10-15 years especially, who have been subjected to attempts to come over into their exclusive neighborhoods and build Jewish settlements there have no real leadership and in many of these cases are acting out on their own because of desperation.

At one point, Doumani resentfully bemoaned the fact that Palestinians are expected “to behave in a very civil way whle their lives are being crushed.” And again, elsewhere in the broadcast:

Anytime that there is any kind of violence against Israelis, they [the Palestinians] pay a very, very high price while everyday violence against Palestinians is not big news. And so they are in a very, very difficult position where they have to maintain their composure and dignity in the face of a daily grind and onslaught, that after 47 years of the 67 occupation after a very long time of their ethnic cleansing in 1948 as one of the largest and oldest refugee populations in the world, their issues are not being resolved and every day, there is one less meter of land that they control and one less Palestinian able to stay in their home and yet they have to maintain the high moral ground in this conflict …

Yellin closed the segment by pressing Doumani, after all of his justification of Palestinian violence, about whether he believes the synagogue attack was justified.

Doumani paused, sighed, then with clear annoyance, issued a pro forma condemnation of murder in general, before declaring this an unfair question and steering the topic back to his propagandistic claims:

No I don’t believe it is justified to murder anyone, and that goes without saying, and I’m not sure how good this question is because I don’t hear it being asked of ordinary Israelis every time their government or some Israeli settler kills a Palestinian. So I think it’s important to maintain a uniformity in the value of life and not make one kind of life more important than the other.

With a line-up of apologists for the Palestinian leader and a Palestinian propagandist who blamed everything on the existence of the Jewish state, the only ones who tried to set the record straight were two of the four callers to the show, but each caller was limited to under a minute and so the NPR audience was left with a lot of Palestinian propaganda and little light shed on the tensions in Jerusalem.  Is this the type of program listeners want to support?

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