The True ‘Right-Wing Extremists’
If you follow Western media coverage of Israel, you think that the Jewish state has an extreme, right-wing government. Pejorative adjectives are used regularly to provide “context” when Israeli leaders are mentioned in articles.
You could even be forgiven for not knowing that Israel is a democracy in which voter turnout is far higher than in the United States. The fact that Israel exists as a real democracy in a region where the norm is brutal dictatorship is rarely mentioned amid the labels of “hawkish” and “extreme.”
If you happen to be knowledgeable about Israeli politics, you know that, in fact, the prime minister’s Likud party is considered to be on the right side of the political spectrum. When one compares it to the Zionist Union (the traditional Labor party) and Meretz, it does espouse a more “hawkish” view — though there are Israeli parties much farther to the “right.”
But most readers of the New York Times, or viewers of the BBC or CNN, are not experts in Israeli domestic politics. For them, the terms the media use to paint the leadership of Israel reflect an absolute extreme and intolerant quality — quality that is independent of other Israeli political options.
That’s a real problem, because although Likud is “right-wing” compared to other Israeli parties, when compared to the main political parties in the Palestinian Authority, it and Netanyahu are extremely moderate, even “left-wing.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Fatah party. His term was supposed to have expired in 2009, but he has refused to allow presidential elections for the past seven years. He is, by every definition, a dictator. He and his party allow no room even for mild criticism. According to Khaled Abu Toameh of the Gatestone Institute:
For many years, Palestinians were hoping that one day they would enjoy freedom of expression under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA). But more than two decades after the establishment of the PA, Palestinians have learned that democracy and freedom of speech are still far from being introduced to their society.
Since then, Palestinians have also learned that their leaders are “untouchable” and above criticism. Both Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, have even taught Palestinians that “insulting” their president is a crime and an act of treason.
While the “right-wing” government of Israel has approved in principle the concept of a Palestinian state, has released Palestinian prisoners serving time for terrorist activities and even implemented a settlement freeze in 2010, it is difficult to find a single example of any type of concession proposed by Abbas or Fatah.
On Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees, recognition of Israel — all the main issues of the peace process — there have never been any official Palestinian concessions.
Yet media outlets are extremely reluctant to refer to Fatah as “right-wing,” “extreme,” “hawkish” or any of the terms that are used to give Netanyahu and Likud a negative image. So the majority of news consumers will fail to understand the true reality of Abbas’ and Fatah’s rule.
Then there is Hamas. In absolute terms, it is a terrorist organization that controls Gaza with an iron fist. If anything, it is even harsher than Fatah to those who dare challenge its rule.
Describing Hamas in relation to the postponed municipal elections that were slated to take place in the PA on October 8, Abu Toameh writes:
The first sign of Hamas’s frightening platform emerged when one of its top muftis, Yunis Al-Astal, issued a fatwa (Islamic religious decree) banning Palestinians from voting for any other party other than Hamas. “Any person, male or female, who votes for a party other than Hamas will be considered an infidel and apostate and his or her repentance will not be accepted even if they fasted or prayed or performed the hajj [pilgrimage] to Mecca,” the mufti ruled.
I have looked for references to Fatah and Hamas as the “left” and the “right” of Palestinian politics in the mainstream media. I didn’t find any.
I have looked for descriptions of either party in absolute terms. Fatah is sometimes referred to as the “moderate” party. Hamas is either called “militant” or even “Islamist.”
The same publications that repeatedly label the Israeli leadership in unfaltering terms seldom mention the reality that mark Fatah and Hamas’ stranglehold on Palestinian politics.
So why the double standard?
Yarden Frankl is a former senior editor for HonestReporting.