December 3, 2010 by Eric Rozenman
The Washington Post is obsessed with Israel. Obsession, by its nature, distorts perception and behavior. So it was with The Postâ€™s foreign, and to a lesser extent, national desk news coverage of Israel in November.
Novemberâ€™s negative tone and exaggerated emphasis was hardly new. It extended a pattern seen in October (see “The Washington Post: scary before Halloween” November 5 ) and continued years of one-sided, virtually one-dimensional attention to the Jewish state.
Does obsession indicate an anti-Israel bias? First, November examples:
1) “Israeli air security is easy on most, intrusive for a few; Profiling leads to close scrutiny of Arabs and some foreign nationals,” a November 27 dispatch by Post Jerusalem bureau chief Janine Zacharia. The headline and subhead accurately summarized passenger monitoring and airline security at Israelâ€™s Ben-Gurion International Airport. The article, however, focused on a few instances in which law-abiding travelers â€” including an Israeli Arab and a prominent American â€” were severely questioned and/or searched.
Rather than report in detail on Israelâ€™s targeted anti-terrorist profiling in contrast with Americaâ€™s “everyoneâ€™s equally suspect” approach, “Israeli air security” inverted minor over major facts. This resulted in unwarrantedly negative “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-donâ€™t” coverage.
2) “U.S. pinning its Middle East hopes on 90-day settlement freeze; But time limit, focus on borders present their own problems,” a November 16 article by The Postâ€™s diplomatic correspondent, Glenn Kessler. An omission and misleading assertions marred what otherwise could have been an informative article. The Post refused CAMERAâ€™s request for clarification:
* “U.S. pinning its Middle East hopes” claimed that the fate of Jerusalem “is perhaps the most difficult â€˜final statusâ€™ [issue] to overcome, with key members of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahuâ€™s coalition insisting that not an inch will ever be given up.” This one-side implication of Israeli rigidity omits the view by Israelis across a wide range of opinion that the biggest obstacle to an agreement is Palestinian refusal to recognize and accept Israel as a Jewish state.
* The Post claimed that “the â€˜right of returnâ€™ is the Palestiniansâ€™ main trump card â€” giving up their right of return to homes in Israel.” The first use properly puts “right of return” inside quotation markets to signal that the phrase is not to be taken literally. But it is not so noted in the explanatory reference. This confuses readers over whether or not Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants possess a “right to return” to property inside what became Israel in 1948. They do not, regardless of Palestinian claims. If U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), or resolutions 393, 394 (both 1950), or 513 (1952) established such a right, the Arabs would not have voted against them at the time. The Post failed to tell readers that the resolutions proposed peaceable repatriation when practicable or resettlement and compensation in Arab countries but established no rights.
3) “Letter from Safed, Israel: Allegations of racism and questions about a townâ€™s character,” a November 14 feature by Joel Greenberg, a special correspondent for The Post and former reporter for The New York Times and Chicago Tribune. Another example of minor examples emphasized over major realities, this molehill-into-mountain story indicts an entire country by hearsay:
“To civil rights advocates and other critics, the unsettling developments in this normally quiet community … are a window into ugly currents of racism in Israeli society …. reflect[ing] a growing intolerance under a government and parliament dominated by parties of the nationalist right.” At the core of this article lies the “racist Israel” innuendo. Since “racism” is perhaps the ultimate charge in the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state and since Palestinian racism â€” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas demands a “Palestine” free of Jewish communities â€” goes unreported, “Letter from Safed,” displacing much more important international news on The Postâ€™s usually tight “The World” pages, is a particularly nasty item. Read here.
4) “Netanyahu moves on U.S. incentives for construction freeze in West Bank,” a November 15 dispatch by Greenberg, with material from Post White House reporter Scott Wilson. This relatively straight-forward dispatch suffered from two major omissions:
It reported that “[Israeli-Palestinian] [p]eace talks relaunched in early September broke off after the [10-month Israeli] building freeze expired, and the Palestinians said they would not resume negotiations unless there was a complete halt to settlement construction, which they said was eating up territory they seek for a future state.” But it did not remind readers that Palestinian Arabs let nine months of the settlement construction freeze pass before yielding to U.S. pressure to join the talks, and that far from “eating up territory” Jewish communities comprise less than five percent of the West Bank. Read here.
5) “Israel plans housing in E. Jerusalem,” a November 9 report by Greenberg. This short article refers to plans for new Jewish apartments “in areas of the West Bank annexed to Jerusalem” and “the neighborhood of Har Homa and … the neighborhood of Ramot, both built on West Bank land annexed by Israel to Jerusalem after the 1967 war.” With these apparently new usages, “areas of the West Bank annexed to Jerusalem” and “West Bank land annexed by Israel to Jerusalem” The Post goes beyond reporting to editorializing. It assigns Jewish neighborhoods built in Jerusalem after 1967 on land owned and developed by Jews to the West Bank.
The Post implicitly takes the Arab position by writing that “the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip” while ignoring a fact at least as salient: The Israelis claim all of the reunited city of Jerusalem as their capital, invoking Jewish religious and historical ties going back 3,000 years, and that the sovereign status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains disputed, subject to negotiations to resolve Jewish as well as Arab claims. The Post periodically refers to eastern Jerusalem as “disputed,” but virtually never makes the same, equally accurate reference to the West Bank. Read here.
6) “Warnings in Israel of need for peace deal; West Bank Crisis Feared; Some in military foresee Hamas rise to power,” November 17, by Zacharia. This one-sided article relies on one named Israeli source, one identified Palestinian source, and two unidentified Israeli officials to argue that Israel must reach a deal soon with “the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank” or the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement might take over there as it has in the Gaza Strip.
The sources sited are newsworthy, but hardly representative. The Post does not tell readers that they advocate a “support Palestinian leaders in their weakness or things will get worse.” A similar claim was advanced for making agreements with Yasser Arafat but not requiring him to implement them. The newspaper does not remind readers that approach helped lead to the second intifada.
Neither does The Post examine how continued anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement by the Palestinian Authority qualify it for description as “moderate leadership.” The Post refers, without attribution, to “Netanyahuâ€™s hard-line Likud party, which has long been cool to territorial concessions” â€” but not so “hard-line” that it has not upheld repeatedly such concessions. To a recent poll of Palestinian public opinion showing a “hard-line” majority that views a “two-state solution” as the first stage of an ultimate take-over of Israel the paper refers not at all. And it alleges, without qualification, that “a delegitimization campaign against Israel … [is being waged] because of its ongoing rule in the West Bank.” In fact, much of the international boycott, divestment and sanction movement is aimed at delegitimizing Zionism and destroying the Jewish state; Israelâ€™s occupation of the West Bank (legal as a result of self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War) is a convenient lever. Read here.
7) “Israelâ€™s military faces loss in recruits, status; Growing number of exempt citizens, recent scandals are among the reasons cited,” November 7, by Zacharia. The article does not just note some real, negative trends affecting Israel Defense Forces recruiting, it exaggerates them, as countervailing information buried in the report suggests. What amounts to a “the glass is three-fourths full, one-fourth empty” story is presented the other way around, and given an unwarranted front page spotlight. Its doomsday conclusion is a quote from “an avowed leftist” and former Israel military correspondent that “failure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians would further erode public enthusiasm for military service.” For The Post, itâ€™s once more all about “the occupation” and Palestinian Arabs, the filter obscuring news about Israel.
Skewing the region
When Post Middle East coverage moved beyond Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, it still discounted news important to if not directly about Israel and Jews.
The lead November 18 “The World” article, “Iraqi Christians flee after violence; Late October massacre at Baghdad church galvanizes fears of already dwindling religious minority,” by The Postâ€™s Leila Fadel and special correspondent Ali Al-Qeisy, noted a “new wave of displacement [that] could devastate an already dwindling Christian community.” It added that “according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, â€˜only half of the pre-2003 Iraqi Christian community is believed to remain ….â€™” The Post does not tell readers that the Arab Christians have been emigrating from predominantly Arab Muslim lands for more than a century, long before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or that Israel is one of the only countries in the region in which the Arab Christian population has grown and the only one in which it is free.
A major November 26 article, “Lebanonâ€™s Hariri striving for unity even as he pursues justice; Practical approach to be tested as tribunal acts in his fatherâ€™s slaying,” by Zacharia and datelined Beirut, highlights the tenuous position of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, squeezed by Hezbollah, Iran and Syria while beholden to Saudi backers and supported, more or less, by France and the United States. The dispatch notes Hezbollahâ€™s attempts to derail an international tribunal investigating the assassination of Haririâ€™s father, former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The current prime minister “doesnâ€™t have the military or political power to disarm Hezbollah, as the United States and others have pressured him to do. And he acknowledges that the militia must be dealt with respectfully.”
The article does not remind readers that, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted at the end of the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, Hezbollah was required to disarm. It omits that not only has the organization not surrendered its weapons, it instead has greatly expanded its arsenal, including missiles able to hit all major Israeli population centers. Nor does The Post note Hezbollah bombed the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in the 1980s or that the United States and Israel list it as a terrorist organization.
The root cause?
The Postâ€™s pattern of Israel and Arab-Israeli coverage â€” by commission and omission virtually always tilted toward the Palestinian Arabs â€” recalls Prof. John H. Riskindâ€™s introduction in his 2004 CAMERA Special Report, “The Psychology of Anti-Israel Bias.” Dr. Riskind, professor of psychology at George Mason University and editor of The Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, wrote:
“Anti-Israel bias is not just a temporary negative feeling or single, isolated judgment about Israel that is overly harsh. Rather, it is manifested by a pattern of such judgments. To say that someone has an anti-Israel bias is to say they have a rather stable and general pattern of harsh or unfavorable attitudes toward Israel. To say that someone has an anti-Israel bias is to say that they have a repeated pattern of reaction to Israel with negative preconceptions. They apply unfair generalizations about Israel, Israelis, or Jews that are derived from faulty or incomplete information. The person holding such a bias is oriented to perceiving and judging Israel in a harsh, hostile manner.”
Leo Rennert, retired Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, CAMERA supporter and consistent critic of Post Arab-Israeli coverage, has now amplified Riskind. In a posting at the widely-viewed American Thinker Web site, he says The Washington Postâ€™s news coverage of Israel qualifies, at least technically, as antisemitic. At first glance, the charge is beyond consideration. The Post staff includes many Jews, the paperâ€™s coverage of Jewish religious and Holocaust-related stories is often sympathetic even when superficial, and its ownership was active, for example, in the restoration of the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center.
And yet, as Rennert points out, the State Department itself, recently warning of “significant increases of anti-Semitism around the world,” used Natan Sharanskyâ€™s criteria for identifying when the line separating legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Zionism that becomes antisemitism has been crossed. The criteria are similar to Riskindâ€™s. They include: accumulating criticism that results in demonization; holding Israel to a double standard of behavior and a double standard of (disproportionately heavy) coverage; frequent hyper-critical coverage that reinforces propaganda of Israelâ€™s enemies; and obsessive, critical reporting. Read here.
The Washington Post is not an antisemitic newspaper. But its news coverage of Israel habitually if not intentionally skates over thin ice.