November 25, 2004
Fast and Loose With Facts at Ha’aretz
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz, a favorite of the intelligentsia in Israel and the West, and widely cited by the North American press, is frequently referred to as "Israel's New York Times." But a New York Times it is not.
Since the Jayson Blair scandal, the state-side Gray Lady has stepped-up its commitment to accountability, hiring public editor Daniel Okrent, who rigorously investigates complaints about the paper's reports, dialogues with readers about their concerns and diligently ensures that the necessary corrections run.
Don't expect comparable accountability at Ha'aretz, which describes itself as "an independent newspaper with a broadly liberal outlook," but which allows its writers to espouse extremist views unfettered by the facts.
Why, exactly, should this Tel Aviv media outlet be of concern to Boston-based CAMERA, whose mission is to promote an accurate and balanced press in North America?
As Eric Weiner, former Jerusalem bureau chief for National Public Radio, once told a Palestinian media symposium, he began every working day by scanning local papers for stories. He leaned especially on what he termed the "very respectable newspaper" Ha'aretz. He is not alone. This September, Ha'aretz was cited by the Western press corps more than five dozen times.
And, for a close-to-home example as to why Ha'aretz's prominence in Western media outlets is our problem, readers may recall the July 30 column in this newspaper by Ha'aretz writer Gideon Levy ("If the Situation Were Reversed"). The column, which originally appeared in the July 18 issue of Ha'aretz, was filled with factual errors, both substantive and incidental.
Levy claimed that Golda Meir "said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want."
Challenged for a source for the virulent quote, Levy acknowledged in an Aug. 12 e-mail he had none.
"Therefore we dropped the quotation in the original version in Hebrew and by mistake it was printed in the English version," he stated.
Neither CAMERA nor the editor of The Jewish Journal were able to obtain a correction from Levy or Ha'aretz.
That's not all. Arguing that Israelis are utterly indifferent to Palestinian suffering, Levy cited the killing of Ibrahim Halfalla, an elderly Palestinian in Gaza, and claimed that Yediot Achronot "didn't bother to run the story at all." In fact, Yediot deplored the killing in a hard-hitting editorial July 14. Again no correction.
Levy also misinforms when he alleged "our Education Ministry announces that it will not permit Arabs to attend Jewish schools in Haifa...." However, the decision regarding where particular students attend particular schools is the responsibility of the Municipality, not the Education Ministry. Last academic year, parents of students at the Arabic public schools had lobbied the Municipality for improvements. After negotiations, the improvements were agreed to. At no point did the Ministry or Municipality prohibit Arab attendance in Haifa's Jewish schools.
Levy's journalism is likewise substandard when he stated as fact: "Last week settlers poisoned a well at Atawana, in the southern Mount Hebron region, and the police are investigating."
Indeed, the police were investigating the poisoning of a well with dead chickens but they had not determined that settlers were the culprit. Palestinians accused settlers, and the police suspected settlers, but it was not a foregone conclusion as Levy asserted.
For instance, The Jerusalem Post quoted a police officer: "We are also investigating the possibility that the chickens were thrown inside the well as part of an inner Palestinian dispute."
Unfortunately, nobody at Ha'aretz is investigating how Levy's numerous errors, many of them egregious, made it into print, despite the fact that CAMERA and The Journal both provided editors with the substantive counterpoint.
The newspaper's silence regarding Levy's defamatory distortions is no surprise in light of the observation of Nahum Barnea of Yediot Achronot, who wrote about Israeli reporters who flunk the "lynching test."
These are writers who refused to criticize Palestinians even when two Israeli reservists were brutally lynched in Ramallah by a Palestinian crowd. They are: Amira Hass, Akiva Eldar and Levy, all from Ha'aretz.
In November 2000, Barnea wrote: "And then the lynching test came, and before it the test of the shooting and fire bombs of the Tanzim fighters, and before it the test of the violations of the Oslo agreement by Arafat, and it turns out that the support of some of the prominent reporters [for Palestinian positions] is absolute. ... They have a mission."
We at CAMERA also have a mission. And as long as Ha'aretz continues to shape -- and distort -- Western news reports, that Israeli media outlet is fair game for this American outfit.
Tamar Sternthal is senior research analyst for CAMERA.