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CNN Tampers with Israeli Elections

by Andrea Levin Camera February 11, 2001

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s star correspondent regularly
sent to cover major international events, alighted in Israel for the recent
elections. Reflecting the general obliviousness of CNN coverage toward the
Israeli populace’s deep anxiety in the face of almost daily terror
assaults, a seemingly baffled Amanpour declared Sharon’s victory
“incredible.”


How, she asked her colleague Jerrold Kessel, “did they
manage to make this campaign succeed so well?” Kessel, a veteran in the
region, replied, “That’s the big question.”


The stunning Sharon landslide, unprecedented in Israeli
history, was, however, soon given a muted importance by CNN commentators. Low
voter turnout, Amanpour began repeating in the hours and days after the results
were known, meant Ariel Sharon would have “no overwhelming mandate.”


The interjecting of her own views in 2001 echoed
Amanpour’s coverage from 1996. In reporting the victory of Benjamin
Netanyahu, she allowed her chagrin with Israeli voters to be apparent when she
stressed the views of those who considered that outcome “a sad day and a
loss, a big loss for the Middle East peace process.” In a remarkable
statement the day before the latest vote, Amanpour revealed a striking lack of
understanding of recent events, blaming Netanyahu even now: “What many
people think is that under the several years of Netanyahu’s prime
ministership, the peace process was stalled, which basically has amounted to
the frustration that the Palestinians feel right now” (!)


As in the past, CNN relied heavily on commentary critical of
the Likud party. Thus Chemi Shalev was available for much of the coverage, and
was there to rebut swiftly the statements of Uzi Landau, a Likud Knesset member
who said the Israeli people had sent a message rejecting policies that ceded
Jerusalem and incurred war in response.


When Jerrold Kessel asked of Landau what kind of peace
“you can try and strike with the Palestinians,” the parliamentarian
responded, “a peace with give and take. That you don’t sit with
someone that, at the same time [he’s negotiating, is] running terrorist
activities against you. That is also teaching his kids from a very young age
… Jihad in order to obliterate you off the face of the earth. I mean, if we
pay hundreds of millions of Israeli shekels every month to the Palestinians so
that they will raise up the future generations to war, that’s not
peace.”


As though “give and take” were a controversial
approach and the teaching of Jihad to new generations of Palestinian children a
minor matter, Amanpour promptly sought a disclaimer from Chemi Shalev. She
said, “Those were quite extreme comments we just heard from Likud Party
member Uzi Landau. First of all, he said that this shows that the Israeli
people are totally disillusioned with Oslo. But the facts don’t bear that
out, the polls don’t bear that out.”


Shalev assured Amanpour that Israelis supposedly support
Barak’s “far reaching concessions” even if they rejected him at
the polls. CNN offered no evidence for the assertion that the public liked
Barak’s policies while rejecting him in a landslide. In fact, a January 30
poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research found that 70.4% of
Israelis thought Barak’s negotiating stance was too conciliatory.
Moreover, while the poll showed 72% support peace efforts of some variety, only
a minority of 28% now favor the Oslo process while 43% oppose it.


Nor did Amanpour or her CNN colleagues characterize any
Palestinians as “extreme,” as they had Landau. On the contrary,
Amanpour deferentially interviewed Marwan Barghouti, introducing him as the man
“who’s been instrumental in leading the Intifada on the West
Bank.” Although she noted that Israel offered dramatic concessions to the
Palestinians and was met with violence in response, she never confronted
Barghouti with his own direct role in that destructive sequence.


Similarly, while Amanpour had interviewed Prime Minister
Ehud Barak in October, aggressively demanding to know whether Israel was not
exacerbating violence with its retaliation against Palestinian assaults, she is
entirely silent about Barghouti’s orchestration of violence that has
caused death and injury to both Jews and Arabs. Indeed, Barghouti has admitted
openly (New Yorker, Jan….) that the violence was desired and fueled by the
Palestinians.


Unfortunately, Amanpour’s tilt toward Palestinian
perspectives extends beyond the subject of the elections. An earlier, February
1, segment ostensibly addressed “the issue of whether Palestinian refugees
should have the right to return to their homes in Israel.” Completely one-
sided, the report included interviews with four Arabs denouncing Israel for its
past conduct and policies and one Israeli — Benny Morris. A so-called new
historian who claims that Israel was more responsible for creating the
Palestinian refugee problem than has generally been acknowledged, Morris is
highly controversial and his research has been challenged by numerous scholars
as shoddy, false and deceptive. Nevertheless, he alone is cited for comment on
Israel’s views of this critical matter.


Segments such as this one and the tendentious coverage of
the recent elections reinforce the acute unease of many viewers about
CNN’s commitment to objectivity and fairplay where Israel is concerned.
While the network’s bias may play well among much of CNN’s worldwide
audience, that hardly justifies its sacrifice of basic journalistic standards.

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