In a familiar syndrome, many otherwise impartial American journalists newly posted in Israel slip quickly in their reporting into unmistakably hostile views of the country. Why?
One factor is their sources in the Israeli media. As Eric Weiner, former Jerusalem bureau chief for National Public Radio, told a Palestinian media symposium, every working day began with scanning local papers for stories. He relied especially on what he termed the "very respectable [Israeli] newspaper" Ha'aretz. Like NPR, countless other media cite Ha'aretz writers regularly, while a global audience reads the paper's English Internet edition online.
Although Ha'aretz bills itself as "an independent newspaper with a broadly liberal outlook," many of the opinion writers and some reporters espouse views of the extreme far left, and factual accuracy is often sacrificed to their political predilections. Reporter Amira Hass, for example, has just been ordered by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to pay $60,000 in damages to the Jewish community of Hebron for her false and incendiary report that Jewish residents there had abused the corpse of a dead Arab shot by Israeli Border police in a violent incident. The allegations were disproved by multiple televised accounts of the event.
The same reporter's stories, replete with distorted and inaccurate charges that Israel is an "apartheid" state, steals Palestinian water, callously targets Palestinians over the age of 12 with sniper-fire, and generally subjugates Arabs out of sheer viciousness, are posted on countless anti-Israel websites. So also is the commentary of a score of other Ha'aretz writers (Gideon Samet, Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar, Baruch Kimmerling, Ze'ev Sternhell, Joseph Algazy, Danny Rubenstein, Moshe Reinfeld and many more), in the company of other favorites of such websites like Noam Chomsky, Hanan Ashrawi and Edward Said (eg: cesr, pmwatch, globalsolidarity, liberate-palestine).
Indeed, a look at such sites and the content of the Ha'aretz articles posted suggests that Ha'aretz writers are in the vanguard of those making the Palestinian case against Israel.
Hass and the extreme among her colleagues are also eagerly quoted by the most virulent anti-Israel commentators in the American media. The Orlando Sentinel's Charley Reese, a syndicated writer obsessed with supposed Israeli iniquity praises Hass for writing "poignantly of this practice [of targeting Palestinians over 12 with sniper-fire] in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz."
A ferociously anti-Israel writer at Connecticut's Hartford Courant, Amy Pagnozzi, warmly endorses the observations of veteran Israel-basher Robert Fisk from Britain's Independent newspaper, who said: "In particular, coverage in the Israel newspaper Ha'aretz 'outshines anything' reported in the States...The Israeli paper's Gaza correspondent, Amira Hass, recently reported on an Israeli Defense Forces sniper whose orders were to shoot anyone over 12 as fair game."
In addition to the Reeses, Pagnozzis and Fisks who seize on the strident anti-Israel voices at Ha'aretz, more mainstream American reporters and commentators routinely reflect the less radical but still harsh views of others at the paper (as well as carrying at times the views of less ideologically driven and more factually accurate Ha'aretz reporters). These, for instance, are a few of the Ha'aretz observations conveyed to millions of Americans.
Danny Rubenstein told National Public Radio listeners in October 2000 that Jews do not value the land of Israel the way Arabs do, since Jews are urban dwellers. He blamed Israel for not having dismantled "even one settlement since the Oslo agreement" - as though Oslo had stipulated such measures.
Rubenstein is the same journalist who reported as fact, and without including the IDF's vehement refutation of the lie, that Israel was using poison gas against Palestinians (Ha'aretz February 15, 2001).
Doron Rosenblum, another favorite with the American mainstream media, often provides ridicule of Israeli leaders. An Associated Press story quoted a December 2000 Rosenblum observation that prominent Israeli figures Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu are, "a bunch of junk satellites that continue to orbit the earth even after their mission is over - an eternal beehive of has-beens
Akiva Eldar too, despite a record of factual sloppiness and twisted interpretation, is often cited. A May 23, 2001 New York Times story quoted him declaring that Ariel Sharon's "shelling of Jibril Rajoub's house removes any remaining doubts. Ariel Sharon has decided to turn the Palestinian Authority into the enemy." Thus eight months into an unprecedented mini-war launched by Arafat's PA, Eldar points the finger at Sharon.
Like many of his colleagues, Eldar joins the outside world continuously in wagging his finger at the Jews. A Washington Post story (July 21, 2000) quoted him saying that Israeli public opinion against the division of Jerusalem is indicative that, "there is something about Jerusalem that addles the brain."
Another Israeli journalist based at a different newspaper, Yediot Ahronot's Nahum Barnea, wrote in November 2000 in a publication of The Israel Democracy Institute that there are Israeli reporters who do not pass the "lynch test." These are journalists who could not bring themselves to criticize the Palestinians even when two Israelis were savagely murdered by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah. Which journalists? Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz. Barnea wrote: "And then the lynch test came, and before it the test of the shooting and fire bombs of the Tanzim fighters, and before it the test of the violations of the Oslo Agreement by Arafat, and it turns out that the support of some of the prominent reporters [for Palestinian positions] is absolute. ...They have a mission."
The ultimate political effects of prestigious Israeli media disseminating continuous and often inflammatory anti-Israel misinformation in English in the era of the Internet should not be underestimated.
Copyright © 2001 by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East
Reporting in America. All rights reserved. This column may be reprinted without prior permission.