by Alyssa A. Lappen – April 27, 2002
What happened in Jenin? The British press in the third week of April was playing the Jenin battle as a massacre, while American newspapers found no such evidence. Nothing supports Palestinian allegations of a massacre, despite the big play in the European press and CNN.
It’s virtually guaranteed that CNN and the BBC will never report what Jenin looks like from the air, which would deflate their claims of an IDF “massacre.” But the area flattened in Israel’s now-famous battle measured about 100 meters by 100 meters–the size of a football field. And the surrounding area even afterwards still looked like a village–not a “refugee camp,” but a village.
CNN and the BBC habitually portray Jenin as home to innocents, as doubtless many residents are. Yet before the April battle, Jenin was also home to many global-class terrorists. These included relatives of Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian mullah who in the 1980s conceived of Islam’s international Holy War. Azzam had moved to Peshawar, Pakistan to recruit and train terrorists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He was murdered in Islamabad in 1989, but according to former CNN reporter Steven Emerson, Azzam’s Jenin family continues to operate in Pakistan, and travels “deep in the heart of Hamas territory” globally, receiving funds raised by relatives and terrorists groups in the U.S.
The commanding officer of the military field infirmary that lost nine soldiers in one incident last week told Israeli reservist Moshe Chertoff in Yokne’am–19 miles from Jenin–just hours after he had left, “The whole place was one big booby trap with secret tunnels and enough explosives to blow up all of Israel twice. Don’t forget, [Jenin] is a place that not even the Palestinian Authority could go into. This was the undisputed territory of the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas.”
One could legitimately focus on CNN‘s motives following the report of a Sunday April 14 conversation in Tel Aviv between San Francisco money manager David Blumberg and CNN reporter Andrea Koppel. She effectively accused Israeli soldiers of slaughtering Jenin civilians–though she freely admitted she had no first hand evidence of atrocities. “I believe we are now seeing the beginning of the end of Israel,” Blumberg says she told him. Adam Ruskin of Zichron Yaakov, Israel and Izzy Tapoohi, the former head of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm, also confirmed the conversation’s key points.
Blumberg was extremely upset to hear such an extraordinarily geo-political conclusion from a news correspondent, and asked whether she had a background in Middle Eastern scholarship or military strategy. Her reply? She had taken one course on Middle Eastern history while an undergraduate at Middlebury College.
Blumberg emailed friends. One of them contacted CNN chief Walter Isaacson, requesting a response. Isaacson replied that Sid Bedingfield, in Israel to oversee CNN coverage, had questioned Koppel on the incident. She denied using the world “slaughter” and claimed to have said only that it was “a dangerous time” for Israel. Blumberg, however, insisted that Koppel “absolutely used the word ‘slaughter’.”
Blumberg confirmed the exchange in the next days to anyone who asked, including this writer. Koppel had “accepted without hard evidence that such killing had occurred, and she was indeed making the moral equivalence argument…. I noted this with such astonishment because my understanding of journalism would have reversed the roles. As the journalist, she should have been the questioning skeptic, asking for evidence and sources.” Blumberg found himself and others operating as the skeptics, while the supposed reporter, Koppel, had assumed the role of advocate.
Reporters are supposed to be professional skeptics, not advocates. They are supposed to be ombudsmen for the public. This they cannot do when they openly advocate for one side in a conflict as Andrea Koppel and many other Middle East news reporters clearly do.
The ethics of the individual reporter are not the issue. Rather, the incident points to the mindset embracing the entire Western press corps now “reporting” in the Middle East. On ABC Nightline Thursday, April 18, Ted Koppel interviewed Christopher Hitchens, whose stridently pro-Palestinian “reports” have appeared regularly in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Harper’s and a host of other media.
On air, Koppel made a point of noting that Hitchens, whose mother is Jewish, firmly believes that the Jewish state is “not necessary,” that its usefulness has expired. It confounds the laws of journalism that editors would trust such a man to report the truth. Good grief, what ever happened to objectivity?
Hitchens would have a great deal of trouble convincing the 600,000 Jews of France that Israel is not necessary. Also on the April 18 Nightline, Koppel reported on the rising tide of anti-Semitism in France, where soccer teams have been attacked, Jewish children beaten, synagogues burned to the ground and Jewish cemeteries defaced. Some families now plan to move to Israel, despite the war. In Israel, they said, at least Jews can defend themselves, as opposed to waiting hopelessly for authorities who don’t aid them, as in France.
Attacks on French Jews are hardly a singular phenomenon, as Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reported on the same program. Anti-Semitism, Wiesel said, is probably the oldest hatred known to man. While it is possible to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, criticism focused on Israel to the exclusion of everywhere and everything else is anti-Semitic. The New York Times, the next day, essentially agreed.
What brings reporters to consider such attitudes acceptable, even politically correct? Might it be the same phenomenon that allowed them to neglect the wave of anti-Semitic attacks that swept France, Russia and the rest of Europe–for more than two years? The issue is complex.
As a 25-year news veteran, I can report that journalists are not scientists. Generally, they do not establish a theory and test it until proven or disproven. On the contrary, the reporter who searches for truth in this way is the exception, not the rule. Most set a theory and search for facts and anecdotes to prove it. They string them together as a “story”, and lead in with a “hook.” They use conventional wisdom to validate opinions that “everyone knows.” In the end, many journalists effectively report only their own thinking. Few dig, dig and dig until they determine what is really going on.
Another factor is the human impulse to refuse to confess, and atone, even when one has committed a wrong. Journalists, being a largely egotistical lot, are especially susceptible to this malaise.
Clearly, some reporters do recognize anti-Semitism as a dangerous and growing force in the world. One of these is Fortune writer Richard Behar, who spoke at length Thursday April 18 at an event hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles at Manhattan’s Harmony Club.
Behar had spent 10 harrowing weeks tracking the cash trail to terrorism through the bazaars and hundi network of money brokers and changers in Karachi and Islamabad in December 2001 and January 2002. He left only two weeks before Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped, and had tried to arrange interviews with Islamic fundamentalists like those who not long afterwards took Pearl’s life–because Pearl was Jewish. Thankfully, while Behar scored hundreds of interviews, he left Pakistan unscathed.
Behar returned to the U.S. with video tapes and notes by the ream, and a suitcase full of Osama bin Laden trinkets–candies, key chains, t-shirts, posters and so on, plus newspapers whose banners proclaimed Islamic terrorist intentions to murder Jews everywhere. He found that most Pakistanis believe September 11 was the work of the Jews, and (shockingly) that government officials do too. In Pakistan, he found trying to engage in logical debate a fruitless enterprise. People â€œare brainwashed,” he said. â€œYou can see it in their eyes, and they can turn on you.”
Behar gets it. He described Pakistan to the mostly Jewish audience, peppered with Israeli diplomats and civilians, as a country whose military government inadequately pursues the war on terror, and ignores the terrorist breeding ground in its midst.
Yet, Behar embarked on his journalistic odyssey equipped with a video camera from CNN. When a member of the audience asked how he felt, as a Jewish journalist, to be affiliated with CNN–a network repeatedly charged with anti-Israel bias–Behar said he had no problem with it, and called CNN reporter Allan Dodds Frank to the podium.
Viewers who don’t like CNN should “vote with your dial,” Frank snapped. “You could watch Al-Jazeera.” He said he keeps an eye on CNN and CNN’s news feeds all day every day and sees no evidence of anti-Israel bias. Since the Saudis own less than 1% of AOL Time Warner, he believes they have no influence at CNN.
Yet, on the basis of emails Frank received for more than a year from this (volunteer) writer, a former colleague, he implied that a well-paid Zionist network influences the news. He said he was sure the Arabs are not so well organized, ignoring the thousands of Saudi-funded Arab lobbyists and activists described by former CNN reporter Steven Emerson in American Jihad.
Frank remains untroubled by charges of anti-Semitism in the press. At ABC, where he had also worked, he said that anchormen were routinely labeled anti-Semitic. He dismissed this notion by noting that one had been married three times and his “incumbent” wife is Jewish. (Since when does one anchorman’s spouse set his views–much less an entire network’s news policy–in stone?)
When the talk ended, a member of the audience politely asked Frank about Andrea Koppel’s comments to David Blumberg. “Where’d you get that,” Frank replied, suggesting it had been dragged in from the sewer, before he backed down and promised to look into the matter. Two days later, Blumberg’s report appeared in the New York Post.
‘A falafel curtain’
On April 22 and 23, two important columnists hinted boldly at anti-Semitism in the Western press. William Safire wrote Tuesday in The New York Times, “From Mary McGrory in The Washington Post to Mark Shields on CNN, a falafel curtain has descended across our continent, transmogrifying the Arab aggressor into the victim. ABC-Disney leads that parade, as the BBC vies with Al Jazeera to inflame the European street.
Pro-Palestinian journalists gain cover from Israel’s dovish Haaretz, but such dissent is a democracy’s strength; if a Ramallah paper criticized Arafat, the editor’s body would be dragged through the streets as a ‘collaborator’.”
Joining Safire was World Net Daily‘s Diana Lynne, who chided CNN for Andrea Koppel’s unacceptable April 14 display of advocacy.
The cat, it seems, is out of the bag. As one who has corresponded for years with figures in the major news media, I am hardly surprised by these revelations. The fact is that in choosing what to report or omit–indeed, in choosing their very words–the Western media have for some time effectively served as the propaganda arm of the Palestinian Authority. And even editors fail to recognize much less admit what they are so obviously doing.
In October 2000, I wrote to then New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld concerning a report by David Shipler, and more generally, the newspaper’s repeated erroneous “reports” that the first violence in September 2000 had occurred after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. In fact, Sharon had not been the spark that lit the blaze. Rather, on Wed., Sept. 27, the Palestinian Authority broadcast day-long incitements to violence. The next day, the PA excused Arab children from school to “reclaim” Al Aqsa, where the Imam enflamed people with a false claim that Israel would level the mosque and rebuild its Temple.
In reply, Lelyveld wrote, “Daily journalism is not armchair journalism. We cannot and do not weigh each day’s report for the impression it leaves of who’s to blame, ultimately, for the unraveling. We are not apportioners of blame; we try to be chroniclers of fact.”
The Times, however, pointedly failed to report the incitements, despite their centrality to the news. Nor did the Times repeatedly report–as it did Sharon’s visit–that violence first occurred Wed. Sept. 27 when a Palestinian bomb killed Israeli soldier David Biri, nor that a second Palestinian bomb went off Sept. 28, when a Palestinian security man shot his Israeli “partner,” point blank, without provocation. When reporters err by omission once, it’s perhaps an honest mistake. When repeated, it becomes a questionable pattern.
To my November 2000 citation of an Andrea Levin column in the Jerusalem Post, Lelyveld replied again, more testily: “On medical advice, I do not follow Ms. Levin’s screeds in the Jerusalem Post. It is bad for my blood pressure. Her job is to question the integrity of this newspaper…. We can take criticism but organized hate mail is not criticism. It’s politics and it’s intellectually dishonest.” I would disagree. Refusing to report central facts–including incitement–is what is both political and dishonest.
Still another exchange that Fall revealed that the Times had cut for “space” the key incitement–“Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them”–contained in an inflammatory sermon broadcast live on PA television from Gaza. I didn’t buy it then and still don’t. Editors don’t cut for “space” central facts, or central quotations, not without some ulterior motive. They don’t refuse to report institutional hatred igniting and enflaming a conflict–and then pretend, as news editor Bill Borders did in October 2000, that hatred is “not pivotal.” Nope, in my experience, while editors will not admit it publicly, they can and sometimes do have ulterior motives–and every reporter worth his salt should know it.
Last winter I had another disconcerting exchange, this time with international editor Serge Schmemann. Times Reporter Joel Greenberg had covered Israel Defense Force resisters who refused to serve in the disputed territories–but the newspaper had failed to disclose that Greenberg himself had once been jailed for refusing to serve in the IDF. This news made both the Jerusalem Post and James Taranto’s February 7 Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal column. Schmemann said he was uninterested in my comments on journalistic ethics. He added, “I don’t see what his military record has to do with his reporting. We have had IDF veterans write stories, and I don’t recall any complaints.” It’s called a conflict of interest.
Patterns of abuse
I have heard of other similarly disconcerting exchanges from other reporters, which I can’t disclose. Witness enough of them, and what begins to emerge is a pattern of abuse.
Behar’s April 18 audience also included a network news producer who contended, in a private conversation, that neither the major networks nor newspapers are biased. Nevertheless, he admitted that the vast majority of the cameramen and broadcast reporters operating in the West Bank and Gaza are Arabs, who do indeed report from the Arab point of view. “Israelis can’t go there,” he said, matter-of-factly, only afterwards realizing what he had said.
This says nothing, of course, about the networks’ failure to report on daily Arab attacks–sometimes at the rate of several an hour– on Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, on the road from Modi’in to Jerusalem, and in various other parts of Israel, where Israeli reporters can go. In how many western-style democracies, besides Israel, could such aggression occur–for two years–without routinely making the evening news? For the record, Israelis have sustained more than 12,000 armed attacks since September 2000. Most were reported only in Israel. Unless Jews are killed, reporters apparently do not deem attacks newsworthy.
Well, I asked, what ever happened to producer input? Arab reporters of course know the rules of journalistic engagement–but they pointedly avoid following them, because their networks allow them to advocate instead of reporting. He shrugged, “It’s a problem.”
Why, I continued, do networks aim so much of firepower at Israel. Why not send reporters, for example, to Sudan, where 2 million have been victims of an Arab government policy of enslavement and genocide in the last several years. “Israel is a democracy,” he said. In other words, Sudan and other Arab regimes do not allow a free and critical press. To my mind, this constitutes grand-scale laziness. No doubt the expense of reporting hard-to-get stories plays a role. But reporters, editors, producers, newspapers and networks are responsible for fairness–a responsibility they seem to have abrogated to other concerns.
Perhaps the rules are about to change: The New York Sun on April 24 carried a front page Associated Press photograph of an Arab murdered and mutilated–and hanging by what were left of his legs in a public square. His alleged crime: “collaborating” with Israel. Several weeks ago, the AP mysteriously deleted a cache of similar photographs–Arabs murdered and mutilated by the PA for alleged “collaboration”–from its website and catalogue. If more–and increasingly prominent–metropolitan newspapers insist on having access to and running such photos, perhaps the global news slant will gradually grow more balanced.
That was The Sun’s point. In it’s lead editorial, The Battle of Jenin, the paper wrote that liberal news media would no doubt go into “high dudgeon over Jerusalem’s decision to refuse to co-operate with the ‘fact-finding’ mission the United Nations wants to send to Jenin. Let them peer at the photograph on today’s front page of the corpse of one of three Palestinian Arabs lynched in cold blood yesterday morning by their fellow Palestinian Arabs.” This editorial followed on the heels of the Friday April 19 Wall Street Journal opinion on the Fate of Palestinian Moderates. These murders of Arabs by Arabs were also not reported widely.
While Iran is building a nuclear bomb, Communist China brutally suppresses labor unions, Saudi Arabia denies women the right to drive cars, the UN’s emergency Security Council session “was in last night to figure out how to launch an effort to smear the Jewish state for defending its citizens against a wave of suicide bombings aimed at women and children.” New Yorkers, the Sun wrote, would see through the game, but as long as the Security Council was set on investigating Jenin, “it might begin with accounts of the clash that appear in Arab press and broadcasts.”
Another kind of battlefield
The Sun, though, went further, effectively calling journalists on having given too much ground to Arab terrorists in the international media war. And make no mistake, the media is as much a battlefield as the alleys and booby-trapped houses of Jenin.
As an example, consider events the third week of April. Most major newspapers and broadcast networks filled their news columns and bulletins–as opposed to op-ed pieces and editorials–with unquestioned Palestinian Arab charges of a Jenin “massacre.” At the same time, they failed to carry either Israeli or Arab evidence that proves precisely the contrary.
It was as if the media had established a news blackout on any of the readily available accounts from Israel Defense Force reservists. Journalists quoted a few Israeli officials, here and there, but not one major news report balanced the Palestinian claims of atrocities with an equal weighting from Israeli infantrymen who after the Jenin battle sent a barrage of samizdat emails telling their friends and family what really happened.
Samizdat was the underground network that Russian literati established during the Soviet era to counter state propaganda in Pravda, inappropriately translated as Truth. I do not use the term lightly. News reports from the major media appear increasingly like those of Pravda–predictably one-sided and ill informed.
News from Jenin
Western newspapers did not carry, for example, reports on Dr. David Zangren, a pediatrician at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, who spoke on April 22 to the Hebrew Israeli daily, Ma’ariv. He was incensed by the remarks of UN Special Envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed Larsen, who had claimed Israel had conducted a “massacre” in Jenin.
“I was there during the fighting, and I saw close up what was happening,” Zangren told Ma’ariv. “I know that the IDF did everything it could to prevent civilian casualties. It is clear to everyone that if the IDF had resorted to aerial bombardment or heavy artillery, we would have completed [our mission] in the refugee camp within half a day, without suffering any casualties on our side. We did not adopt that policy, and we took risks in the fighting, in an attempt to rescue those innocent civilians that were caught up in the battles. Anyone who says that Israel carried out a massacre is lying and inciting the Arabs. Instead of acting to bring about reconciliation and peace, Larsen is creating hatred.”
Other witnesses filed corroborating reports via the Internet samizdat. Take Erez, a reservist and father of three who served in Jenin and conveyed his story to Itai Tannenbaum, an Israeli author and guide. “When we entered the camp we were convinced that within a matter of hours or at most a day these terrorists would give themselves up. After all, we had intelligence information of several dozens of armed men and the rest civilians.
“Much to our surprise,” Erez told Tannenbaum, “we discovered not a refugee camp but rather a terrorist base. (Half of all the suicide bombings in Israel originated from Jenin). In our fighting, we discovered over 100 labs producing explosives and many belts of explosives geared for used by suicide bombers inside Israel. We were also astonished to discover that children and women were employed by these death factories. We received heavy fire from many rooftops, windows and even from the minaret of one of the mosques. We conducted hours of gunfire to dismantle the enemy. During these hours many of us asked ourselves why not use air power. This way we can wipe out the resistance within minutes.
“The answer was clear,” Erez continued. “Using air power would kill many innocent civilians. The sniper on top of the mosque hit and injured several of our soldiers. We could have taken him out by using a shoulder missile, however, that would destroy the mosque. Finally one of our snipers had a clear shot and took him out.
Throughout the battle we used megaphones to demand a surrender. Many of the civilians walked. Some of the armed men gave up. However, a core of gunmen was determined to fight. They booby-trapped many buildings; they used their own civilians as human shields. Some of the gunmen killed were found wearing a belt of explosives ready to be set off when moved for burial.”
“After a week of fierce fighting,” Erez continued, “we closed in on the terrorists. It was obvious that the time had come for them to decide: surrender or death. We brought in bulldozers and warned them that if they do not walk out now they will be buried in the rubble of the building. After destroying a few buildings and watching other buildings collapse from explosives set in them by the terrorists, they understood this was it. This began their surrender. I recognized one of the most wanted leaders of the Islamic Jihad terror organization. He was brave enough to send many people to their death exploding themselves in Israeli restaurants, cafes and discos but was not brave enough to die himself.”
Via email, I have received at least a dozen accounts like these from Israeli IDF reservists and their families, some of whom volunteered to speak reporters at U.S. papers. But so far, Western networks and reporters have largely failed to follow up. Why?
The UN Committee
Instead of interviewing such witnesses, news reports spent the week of April 22 tirelessly covering Israel’s last-minute refusal to admit UN investigators–without noting why. Reporters disregarded Israel’s judgement that UN conclusions had been “finalized in advance.” News columns did not report that UN committee chair Martti Ahtisaari, Finland’s President, was Yasser Arafat’s choice to mediate future talks between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. They did not note that as immediate past-president of the European Union (never a bastion of Israelophiles), Ahtisaari had hosted Arafat in Finland in 1994, voiced and cabled Arafat Finland’s support for the Palestinian Arabs cause and Palestinian Authority, visited and praised the late Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and, according to the Voice of Palestine, criticized Israel’s continued “settlement activities,” neglecting (of course) Palestinian Arab settlement construction that was proceeding ten times faster than Israel’s rate of construction.
They did not report Cornelio Sommaruga‘s March 2000 comment, while president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “If we’re going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?” (American Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy confirmed later to the International Herald Tribune the remark that she and several other witnesses had heard.) For this critical news, readers had to turn to Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Sommaruga in 1993 publicly accused Israel of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention on Human Rights after it sealed the disputed territories following a wave of terrorist attacks. Similarly, in April 1997, Mr. Sommaruga told the Associated Press that Israeli settlement construction “in disputed territory violates the Geneva Convention.” Once again, no mention of incredible rates of Arab building.
Newspapers did not report that Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the eve of a Japanese delegation visit to the Middle East last year, urged its members to “seek self-restraint on the part of Israel over retaliatory action.” Pretty wild charges coming from a supposedly impartial UN committee.
Meanwhile, the major media also failed to carry any of the anti-Semitic incitements trumpeted daily from the PA media. One recent report on the pervasive nature anti-Jewish hatred in Arab society gave the impression that Judaism also teaches hatred of this magnitude. “In all faiths, more exclusivist or militant verses are taken out of context by some and amplified in popular culture,” Georgetown professor Professor John L. Esposito told Times reporter Susan Sachs. Similarly, George Washington University professor of Islamic studies George Seyyed Hossein Nasr, said, “[It] happens on both sides.”
But this is false. Judaism does not teach hatred. Moreover, given the tendency for humans to seize any excuse to hate the Jewish people, editors feeling compelled to print such nonsense should at minimum insist on a counterbalance from noted Jewish scholars.
Reportorial laziness, journalistic arrogance, practicality, expense, corporate profits and political correctness all come into play. But regardless of the cause, the effect is the same. Via their omission of critical facts and points of view, improper use of language, and institutional bias, the news media seem actively engaged in vilifying Israel and the Jewish people. Intended or not, this process plays into the hands of Arab and Islamist radicals and United Nations hypocrites. Thus, the press feeds anti-Semitism.
In the last two weeks, ABC and The New York Times reported that, yes, anti-Semitism still exists. Do executives at these media think this lets their news staffs off the hook for fueling its flames the rest of the time? I have news for them: It doesn’t.
–Alyssa A. Lappen
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