The Media Only Cares About Palestinians If Israel Can Be Blamed
Narrative and bias are the chief problems facing the news media today — not, as some would have it, issues of revenue created from the rise of digital media and the Internet. The tendency to condense stories into pre-formed narratives, irrespective of facts, is ruining good journalism. And The Washington Post’s reporting on the Israel-Islamist conflict is a sterling example.
For its part, the Post seems to think otherwise. The newspaper ran a glitzy one-minute ad during the February 2019 Super Bowl. Narrated by actor Tom Hanks, the expensive ad raised quite a few eyebrows, including from several Post staffers, who wondered whether a costly ad during the Super Bowl was a wise expenditure. As Town and Country Magazine, among others, documented, some employees criticized the Post for dropping millions towards an ad while their own benefits and pay were wanting.
But the ad is proof of something else. It shows that the problem with reporting in general, and reporting on Israel and the Middle East in particular, isn’t a problem of resources — which the Post clearly has, misspent or not. Rather, its one of narrative.
As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has documented, The Washington Post routinely ignores Palestinian politics and developments, while devoting inordinate — and largely selective, if not biased — coverage to Israel.
Indeed, Palestinians rarely make an appearance in The Post, unless it’s to serve as the perennial victim — and this too is contingent on portraying Israel, and only Israel, as the oppressor. When Palestinians suffer at the hands of their leaders, the Post is nowhere to be found.
Take, for example, the case of Issam Aqel, a Palestinian-American with Israeli residency.
As Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll, a co-founder of the Israeli NGO Chochmat Nashim, documented in a December 31, 2018 Forward op-ed, Aqel was detained, arrested, and tortured by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
Aqel received this punishment for the “crime” of selling land to Jews — an offense that is literally punishable by death according to PA law and tradition. Indeed, the PA itself posted on Facebook that it had arrested 43 other individuals for selling property to Jews — an attempt, some think tanks have argued, to distract from the Authority’s chronically low approval ratings among Palestinians.
This seems newsworthy. But the Western press shows little proclivity for reporting on topics that might cast the PA in a bad light.
In fact, as Keats-Jaskoll highlighted, not only did major US news outlets fail to report the detention and torture of a Palestinian with US citizenship, but several NGOs with pretensions to caring about the treatment of Palestinians, such as B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), declined to advocate on his behalf.
German, UK, and EU officials also declined to intervene — another opportunity for a story, if the Post were actually interested. Instead, the Israeli government, an Israeli group called the International Legal Forum, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman advocated for Aqel.
The Post’s inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to report on the PA’s imprisonment and torture of these Palestinians is revealing. The paper belatedly and briefly covered a selective HRW report on human rights abuses by the PA in an October 23, 2018 dispatch. Yet, as CAMERA noted at the time, this was more illustrative of the newspaper’s reliance on anti-Israel NGOs like HRW than an actual concern with, or interest in, the abuses that Palestinian leadership inflict on their own people.
Indeed, that HRW report obfuscated on Palestinian groups using their people as human shields.
To The Washington Post, it seems, Palestinians are not so much people with agency as they are victims of Israel. For proof, one needs only look at what the Post has failed to report in recent months:
- According to a February 27, 2019 Palestinian Media Watch report, a growing financial crisis has prompted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to cut salaries of Authority employees. However, Abbas, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and several other officials declined to cut payments to imprisoned terrorists and murderers.
- Tensions between Hamas and Fatah, the movement that controls the PA, have continued to increase. According to a February 24, 2019 report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Hamas is reviving the Administrative Committee in the Gaza Strip and running a campaign calling Abbas a traitor to the Palestinian people. The group has also taken over the Kerem Shalom border crossing and expelled PA officials.
- In December 2018, the PA disbanded the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Authority’s parliament. The Post provided an analysis of the event at an online-only blog, but gave it no formal reporting.
In contrast, five of the last six reports from the Post’s Jerusalem bureau are on Israeli politics. The sixth report uncritically echoes charges by the United Nations Human Rights Council that Israeli forces “may have committed war crimes” in their effort to prevent Hamas-orchestrated attempts to breach the Israel-Gaza border in the spring of 2018. The newspaper failed to note the extensive documentation — video, photographic, and otherwise — showing that the majority of Palestinians killed in those Hamas-run operations were members of US-designated terror groups.
If, as The Washington Post has frequently asserted, journalism is in danger, then the newspaper needs to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that it’s contributing to its demise. Revenue, ad buys, and media trends might change, but old-fashioned things like journalistic due diligence and ethics shouldn’t go out of style. If they do, the death of good journalism is assured.
Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.