Media Reports of PA Official’s Resignation Ignore History of Smears, Incitement
There are many forms of media bias. From the more extreme forms, such as invented quotes and “facts,” to the more commonplace, such as the lack of context, HonestReporting has seen it all. One form in particular is perhaps the most insidious: selective omission. And when longtime PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi tendered her resignation recently, much of the media was guilty of failing to mention Ashrawi’s darker side.
The world’s two biggest wire agency services, the Associated Press and Reuters, are used as a news source by literally thousands of media outlets. In many instances, their stories are republished verbatim with no editing at all. So it’s noteworthy that both these widely-respected sources totally neglected to mention Ashrawi’s history of smearing and inciting violence against Israel, instead depicting her in glowing terms.
AP’s story, titled “Veteran Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi resigns,” characterizes Ashrawi as “a fluent English speaker who has been a prominent spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause in the global media for decades” and participated in “numerous rounds of peace negotiations.”
Ashrawi is depicted as a moderate, “a vocal critic of the 85-year-old Abbas’ autocratic rule and reliance on a small inner circle of men in their 70s and 80s,” and who believes it is “time for reforms in the PLO.”
The Reuters report, “Senior PLO official Ashrawi resigns, calls for Palestinian political reforms,” is written in a similar vein. That story quoted a statement issued by Ashrawi, in which she stated, “The Palestinian political system needs renewal and reinvigoration with the inclusion of youth, women and additional qualified professionals.” The story goes on to describe her as a “champion of women’s rights” and a “PLO spokeswoman … [who] articulated the Palestinian quest for statehood to the world.”
All of this tells only a very partial picture of who Ashrawi really is.
Modern-Day Blood Libel
In January of this year, Ashrawi was at the center of a modern-day blood libel, as a tweet of hers lent credence to another social media post claiming:
KIDNAPPED & EXECUTED 7 year old #Palestinian child Qusai was kidnapped by a Herd of violent #Israeli settlers, assaulted & thrown in a water well was found this morning frozen to death in Beit Hanina, #Jerusalem after #Israeli forces assaulted search teams.”
That tweet, from a now inactive Twitter account, was retweeted by Ashrawi, who added her own take: “The heart just shatters. The pain is unbearable. No words.”
Ashrawi’s tweet was then shared widely, including by US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), whose animosity towards Israel is well-documented. Thus the story went from a near-anonymous account to a Palestinian official to a US congresswoman sharing the libel with her following of some 900,000 Twitter users. It seems that at no point did Ashrawi or Tlaib engage in basic fact-checking before sharing the baseless smear.
A tragic accident has been turned into an occasion for libel – https://t.co/kC1JMgqFYe
— Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) January 25, 2020
In reality, the boy had fallen into a rainwater-filled ditch and drowned in a tragic accident. Far from preventing search teams, Israeli security forces worked together with Arab locals, using search dogs and flares as they raced to find him. It’s noteworthy too that, despite it being the Sabbath, Jewish rescue workers from settlements nearby also helped in the search.
Ashrawi eventually apologized for “retweeting something that’s not fully verified,” but even then couldn’t bring herself to offer a full, responsible retraction, adding, “It seems that the news of his being kidnapped is not certain.”
A few years ago, when President Trump announced he would finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the backlash was predictable.
In The New York Times, Ashrawi ratcheted up the hysteria several notches in an op-ed titled, “Trump Is Making a Huge Mistake on Jerusalem”:
Moreover, the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel could embolden messianic Jewish extremists — some of whom are supported by Israeli government officials — who want to build a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in the Old City of East Jerusalem.
Let’s just get that straight. Because Trump was willing to rightly recognize that Israel has a sovereign right to determine its own capital, just as any other nation does, that would somehow lead the extreme fringe of religious fundamentalist to build a new Jewish temple in one of the most politically sensitive places on the planet?
This type of fear-mongering is irresponsibly dangerous, and has already sparked Muslim riots and violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem in the past, as well as demonstrations across the wider Middle East. The rallying cry, “Al Aqsa is in danger,” is a tried and tested method for getting the masses to protest in anger. But in reality, Israeli policy regarding the Temple Mount is remarkably even-handed: Despite it being the holiest site in Judaism, Jews are prevented from praying there so as to not offend Muslim sensibilities.
Similarly, rather than changing the status quo in favor of Jewish claims, Israel ceded administrative rights over the complex to the Jordanian Islamic Waqf soon after winning the 1967 Six-Day War.
The chances of the Israeli authorities allowing the construction of a temple there are non-existent.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, one which cynically seeks to present itself as grass-roots, is actually promoted and organized by Palestinian officials. Although her image in the media is generally one of a moderate, at the same time as being engaged in peace negotiations with Israel, Ashrawi has spent her energies calling on others to boycott the very state with which she is supposed to be making peace.
— Palestine PLO-NAD (@nadplo) February 10, 2014
Not content with simply calling for BDS, she has even criticized the European Union for adopting a different position on the issue.
PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi criticizes ‘dangerous retraction’ of EU position towards BDS.
— Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) February 23, 2016
Yet for someone with a record of smearing Israel, Ashrawi is bizarrely sensitive to Israeli criticism of Palestinian policy and terrorism, casting it as incitement and “a constant barrage of hateful language that dehumanizes the victim.”
These are impressively self-unaware words for someone who has a history of amplifying vile blood libels and calling for the boycott of an entire nation — a deeply hateful act that targets all its citizens for their identity rather than for their actions.
And yet, confronted with masses of evidence of Palestinian incitement and dehumanization of Israelis and Jews, Ashrawi is utterly dismissive, callously justifying extreme hatred of Jews as being in line with that of any occupied people
Regardless of her position on PLO policies, women’s rights, and even her participation in peace negotiations, Ashrawi has a checkered past, and cannot be reasonably be portrayed as a moderate.
The media have a responsibility to include all the facts, not just the more palatable aspects of her career.
Emanuel Miller is a reporter at HonestReporting, where this article was originally published.