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Jewish World Review August 29, 2001 / 10 Elul, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Is there biased reporting against Israel? -- THE Fox News Channel's nightly news hour, anchored by Brit Hume, is often the most probing of the network evening newscasts. Hume, Jim Angle and Carl Cameron raise -- and follow up on -- questions seldom asked elsewhere. On Aug. 13, for example, Brit Hume started an interview like this:

"One of the striking features of the reporting that comes from the Mideast is that Western journalists nearly always end up with growing sympathy for the Palestinians. To find out why, we turn to Keith Graves, now the U.S. correspondent for our sister network in Britain, Sky News, who has spent many years covering the Mideast, not just for Sky, but for much of his 25-year career with the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation)."

Sitting opposite Hume was the very model of a seasoned journalist with impressive credentials. Keith Graves began by saying that Israel has "a very, very good PR machine." But as for the Israelis themselves, "they are a very arrogant people, and (they are) to most journalists who go there."

Hume asked: "Is it the Israeli people, or is it the government officials that you deal with?"

"I've been accused of being a racist for saying this," Graves answered, "but it is the Israeli people."

What immediately came to my mind was the familiar statement made in this country years ago by certain Americans, who would generalize matter-of-factly: "Negroes are shiftless, and, well, intellectually not up to par. But don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are Negroes."

And here is Keith Graves saying to Brit Hume, "I've got a lot of Israeli friends."

Hume did not ask Graves why these "arrogant" Israelis reacted recently throughout Israel with public revulsion and condemnation when Israeli settlers killed three Palestinians, including a 3-month-old baby boy. And in 1982, when Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon, causing great carnage, including among children, he was also accused by Israeli investigators of involvement, however inadvertent, in the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps by Lebanese forces. Sharon was denounced by a great many ordinary Israelis. And Abba Eban attacked Sharon almost daily in the Knesset.

If I had been interviewing Keith Graves, I would have agreed with him -- as I have often written -- that Israeli officials have indeed committed formidable abuses on Palestinians, including the torture of prisoners, destruction of homes and seizing of land.

But, as a longtime journalist in the Middle East, is Keith Graves not aware that the most persistent, precise reporting and condemnation of these abuses have come from Israeli civil liberties groups -- whose reports I've received for years, and continue to -- along with statements from Israeli lawyers who have defended Palestinians in Israeli courts? And what of the huge numbers of Israelis who generated the Peace Now movement -- initiated by colonels who had fought in nearly all the Israeli wars? Were they "arrogant" Israelis?

When was there a comparable large-scale Palestinian peace movement?

In the Fox News interview, Keith Graves did say, "No Western journalist, no journalist in his right mind, would condone what these Palestinian suicide bombers are doing." But he added, "You might well want to ask what drives them to that."

He can't condone those random killings, but he can understand their motivation. I would have asked him what drove the suicide bomber in Jerusalem on Aug. 9 who carefully placed himself among children and infants when he set off his explosive pack of ball bearings and nails that killed 16 Israelis and mutilated more than 100 others in that pizzeria.

Ah, but Graves cites the "shooting by an Israeli settler in the mosque in Hebron. He killed 28 people." But that terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, was condemned by the great majority of Israelis in 1994.

By contrast, after the suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, thousands of Palestinians, in the streets of Ramallah, celebrated that glorious act of revenge. And after the June 1 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, killing 20 Israelis, most of them teen-agers, there was dancing in the streets of Ramallah again. Moreover, 76 percent of the Palestinians polled supported more suicide bombings.

After the interview with Graves, Brit Hume told me he knows of other journalists who, after starting to cover Israel, find a "moral equivalency" in the violence between the two peoples, which then becomes their increasing criticism of the Israelis. And I see this often in purportedly dispassionate dispatches from the Middle East.

Keith Graves is not alone among journalists in his clear prejudices against the Israelis. Brit Hume, as he told me, should have been more challenging in that interview.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, NEA