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Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2002 /29 Shevat, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Though his cause is discredited, Arafat's friends in the media still go on the counterattack -- FOR several months after Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat launched his latest terror war, misnamed by the press the "Al Aksa intifada," the silence on the part of many who had championed him and the Oslo peace process was deafening.

After years of working overtime to sell the world on the idea that Israeli territorial surrender and empowerment of Arafat and his merry band of thieves would bring peace, there was little left to say. When Arafat rejected former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's extravagant offer of virtually all the territories and half of Jerusalem at the July 2000 Camp David summit, he put a stake in the heart of the best hopes of the Peace Now camp and its cheering section in the American media.

The campaign of Palestinian violence jump-started two months later seemed to finish the traditional argument within the Jewish world and elsewhere over the peace process. Even if there might be many Palestinians who still want peace, Arafat did not. The Palestinians had pocketed all of Israel's concessions only to arrive at the peace table demanding even more, including the so-called "right of return" of Arab refugees to Israel. There could be little doubt that mainstream Palestinian opinion was still stuck on the idea of eradicating the Jewish state.

Under the current circumstances, the violence directed at Israel can no longer be attributed to a fanatical minority of dissident Palestinians such as had been done during past terror offensives. It is not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad shooting and bombing Israeli civilians, it is now Arafat's own Fatah Party cadres and his "police" force that have been carrying out the killing.


But none of this has stopped those invested in the myth of Oslo from continuing to batter Israel and boost the Palestinians in the media. Seemingly impatient with a situation that has left Israel in possession of the moral high ground, reporters and their editors continue to churn out video and copy that is designed to legitimate that which is inherently illegitimate: Arafat's pose as a man of peace, and the Arab suicide bombers as victims rather than criminals.

This was illustrated in the coverage of the story of the first woman Palestinian suicide bomber last week. Though the deadly mission of Wafa Idris, who managed to murder an 81-year-old Israeli and wound 150 others in the heart of Jerusalem, was not unique, her gender was. And, as with the coverage of the deaths of so many other Palestinian murderers, the broadcast networks as well as America's leading newspapers managed to turn her, rather than her Israeli victims, into the focus of the story.

Gillian Finley of ABC News, James Bennet of The New York Times, Lee Hockstader of The Washington Post and Michael Matza of The Philadelphia Inquirer all played the story in the same way - with a sympathetic profile of the killer and her grieving but proud relatives.

While there is nothing new about this obscene concentration on a Palestinian killer while all but ignoring the Israeli victims, one twist used to tell this story, common to all of these journalists mentioned, was to speak of Idris as a woman who been unhinged by the suffering of her people, which she'd witnessed as a Red Crescent Society volunteer.

If that justification sounds familiar, it should. It was the same bogus argument put forward by friends and family of Baruch Goldstein, the Kiryat Arba physician who in 1994 murdered 29 Arabs in cold blood at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Goldstein's despicable action was similarly justified by a tiny minority of Jews because he, too, as an emergency worker, had witnessed Jewish blood shed at the hands of the Palestinians.

At that time, persons who rationalized Goldstein's mad act by citing his medical experience were rightly stigmatized as justifying terrorism. Yet somehow, the same argument now is made to sound reasonable when it is applied to someone who kills Jews.

Hard on the heels of this incident came yet another counterattack in the media, principally on the pages of The New York Times.

On Sunday, Feb. 3, Arafat was given space on the prestigious Times Op-Ed page to speak of his "Vision of Peace." The utterly disingenuous nature of the article, which put forward the usual condemnations of violence, rendered it worthless for any serious consideration other than as Palestinian propaganda. On the same day, The New York Times Magazine had as its cover story yet another piece by Deborah Sontag, titled "The State of the Palestinians," devoted to their opinions about the situation. While legitimate in its premise, the timing and lack of balance was suspicious.

A similar lack of balance was also present on the Commentary page of The Philadelphia Inquirer that same day when it featured three pieces critical of Israel and only one that was sympathetic.

The Times' offensive continued the next day, when news correspondent James Bennet contributed a puff piece about life with Arafat as he broods under Israeli house arrest in Ramallah. Those wondering what the old criminal was thinking these days had to endure a description of the man in command of an apparatus of terror as a "stateless statesman."

On that same day, the mysterious monthlong silence of the Times' editorial page on the Middle East (which coincided with the capture of Arafat's arms-smuggling expedition) finally ended.

While chastising Arafat for his duplicity and the Palestinians in general for their culture of Jew-hatred, the editorial was scrupulously evenhanded in taking the opportunity to bash Sharon as well. Though it understood Arafat's failings, the voice of America's "paper of record" was still locked into the Oslo mindset and urged more Israeli concessions.

The point here is not to say that Palestinian voices or criticism of Israel shouldn't be heard. But to ignore the events of the last two years and to pretend that the events that have discredited Arafat never happened isn't journalism. It is advocacy.

How else to explain the splash of media interest in the petition against serving in the territories put forward by a small group of Israeli reservists? The extensive and sympathetic coverage devoted to the Israeli "refuseniks" betrayed a bias against the position of Israel's government and for anyone who opposes it.

It is an interesting story. But stop and ask yourself if the same people would be portrayed so glowingly in the American press if they had been saying that their conscience wouldn't allow them to obey orders to abandon or remove Jews from the settlements, as an equally small number of Israeli soldiers have said in the past. Those refuseniks were written up as fanatics and extremists, not men of conscience.

When you add up all of these stories, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that for many in the media, a desire to push the Palestinian agenda always trumps the reality of the situation. For the editors and editorial-page editors of newspapers like the Times and the Inquirer, the fact that it is the Palestinians who have launched this war and who refuse to stop it never seems to influence their decisions.

While accusations of bias are sometimes thrown about carelessly and are often hard to prove, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that for some people, Oslo has not died. It lives on in their distorted coverage.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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