November 2019 Press: Omission, Division, and a Point of Balance
Date:: 
December 11, 2019
Author: 

The Press on Palestine is an initiative by Palestine Square. It highlights bias in mainstream American reporting on Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

November began with the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling to deport Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir. A week later, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed 34 people, including a family of eight, and top Islamic Jihad commander, Bahaa Abu al-Ata. A few days later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a reversal in decades-long U.S. policy when he described Israeli settlements as not “inconsistent with international law.” On November 20, Benny Gantz announced that his attempts to form a governing coalition had failed, and the formation of a new government had been entrusted to the Knesset. A third general election in Israel thus appears highly likely. On the same day, during the fifth Democratic primary debate in the U.S., Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke of the Palestinians’ right to be treated with “respect and dignity” in an unprecedented departure from mainstream U.S. political discourse. On November 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.”

OMISSION, DIVISION

  1. The New York Times – Nov. 18, 2019

Are West Bank Settlements Illegal? Who Decides? By Isabel Kershner

If you don’t follow settlement developments in the West Bank regularly, it is difficult to find anything wrong in this very straightforward explainer. Kershner, however, omits crucial information. It is unlike Kershner to write a balanced, fact-based piece involving Israel. Her biased portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians has been well reported.

Firstly, in terms of numbers. Kershner writes that “more than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank,” when in fact the settler population had already surpassed 600,000 in 2017. A difference of 200,000 people is not a simple oversight. Does Kershner not consider the settlers in East Jerusalem colonists by virtue of the fact that Israel has annexed it?

Secondly, in terms of facts. We learn about the legal history of settlements, Israel’s capture of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, and its occupation of the area since then. But Kershner makes no mention of the fact that Jordan renounced its claims to the territory in favor of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1988, and that Israel recognized the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people in 1993. Also missing from Kershner’s explainer is continued and intensifying settler violence against indigenous Palestinian communities, including attacks on peoplelivelihoods, and infrastructure.

     2. New York Post – Nov. 17, 2019

Democrats to Israel: Go to Hell by Karol Markowicz

The New York Post may be a sensationalistic, Rupert Murdoch-owned right-wing tabloid, but it reaches a wide audience, averaging sales of 180,000 copies on Sundays, and is viewed by hundreds of thousands of readers digitally.

The entire article dismisses criticism of Israel without saying why Israel is being criticized or what those criticisms are. The lede provides no explanation for the purported “barrage of rockets” directed at Israel, such as over a decade of siege of the entire Gaza Strip.

Markowicz claims that Sen. Bernie Sanders uses the “Palestinian narrative” on the founding of Israel, providing no context for the assertion that “Palestinians could have had their own state side-by-side with Israel from day one,” and ignoring that Zionist militias overran much of what was to have been a Palestinian state, driving out over 300,000 Arabs, before the state of Israel was declared on May 15, 1948. The Balfour declaration, subsequent wars and UN resolutions, peace treaties and attempted negotiations, home demolitions, humiliations, massive Palestinian civilian casualties, and forced displacement are all part of Israel’s foundation and consolidation, but nowhere does Markowicz refer to them.

The article aims to be divisive, as evidenced both in the headline and in the body of the story. Not only does the article equate Jews with Israel, it calls on Jewish Democratic voters to reconsider what Markowicz calls the “party [that] despises the world’s sole Jewish state.” Perhaps pro-Israel writers need to reach a consensus on this issue: do American Jews have an obligation to Israel, as Markowicz claims? Or are American Jews and Israeli Jews starkly different in values and viewpoints, as Daniel Gordis has claimed? (Reviewed in Press on Palestine: September 2019)

SELECTIVITY

Coverage of Israeli airstrike that killed an entire Palestinian family

    3. The New York Times – Nov. 15, 2019

       a. In Srike That Killed 5 Children, Israel Said It Took Out Gaza Militant. Now It Isn’t Sure by David M. Halbfinger and Iyad Abuheweila.

The story revisits the killing of eight Palestinians before parroting Israel’s talking points justifying civilian deaths. Perhaps Halbfinger’s biased reporting is partly neutralized by his Gaza-based co-correspondent, Iyad Abuheweila, who provides a local, firsthand witness to the events. Mondoweiss covers a thorough reading of the piece’s bias here.

       b. The Wall Street Journal – Nov. 17, 2019

Israel Investigates Possible Intelligence Failures in Airstrike That Killed Palestinian Family Members by Dov Lieber

Israel and its allies feel the need (today) to justify the casual killing of civilians. Dov Lieber’s intelligence-centric article does not address the long history of Israeli attacks on Palestinian women and children (nor the body count involved), painting the November airstrike as an isolated incident. Israel’s air and artillery attacks on Gaza in July and August 2014 killed over 2100 people, at least 1500 of them civilians, and wounded 11,000. Surely this is relevant context.

A POINT OF BALANCE

     4. The Washington Post – Nov. 4, 2019

How the PLO served U.S. interests during the Iranian hostage crisis by Jorgen Jensehaugen

Providing nuance to a “natural enemy” of the United States, Jensehaugen depicts the PLO as the “good guy” in a historical episode where the organization was of assistance to the U.S. government, thereby “humanizing” and legitimizing the official representative of the Palestinian people.

The article examines how the PLO continued to maintain its ties to the regime in Tehran after having provided bodyguards to the Ayatollah Khomeini during his exile in France in the period leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. During the subsequent U.S. hostage crisis, the PLO tried to be a go-between, exploring with Iran ways of resolving the crisis, and securing the release of female, injured and other U.S. Embassy hostages. Throughout the piece, the PLO is portrayed as loyal to its goals and people, genuine in its attempt to be helpful, the American reader is asked to feel grateful for the PLO’s role in helping to rescue some American hostages.

The piece pushes back against the Trump administration’s policy towards the PLO – at what may be the lowest point in the history of U.S. government relations with Palestine, this article readjusts the balance, just a little bit.

About The Author: 
Laura Albast is Palestinian-American and works at the Institute for Palestine Studies. She holds a BA in Political Studies from the American University of Beirut, and an MA in International Affairs and Communication from Boston University. Her research has focused on public diplomacy, arms control, and community health work in the Middle East. She is also a professional translator.

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