Tuesday, February 10, 2009

11-Feb-09: Erasing the Line Between News and Opinion

An opinion piece written by one of this blog's two authors appears on the FrontPageMag.com website. It is cross-posted below.

Erasing the Line Between News and Opinion
By Frimet Roth
FrontPageMagazine.com | 2/11/2009

Israel's media terrain is overrun with guilt-ridden writers. Rain or shine, war or lull, they put pen to paper and beat our national chest.

Normally the results of their self-reproach are relegated to the opinion pages where they rightly belong. But two of Israel's harshest critics receive very different treatment.

Gideon Levy and Amira Hass write columns for Israel's leading Hebrew-language daily, Haaretz. The agenda they blare in their newspaper articles, interviews and lectures proves beyond a doubt that they are political activists. And yet in the pages of Haaretz this pair is consistently referred to as journalists, reporters or analysts. Moreover, their writings often appear as hard news and always enjoy prominence.

Hass' and Levy's articles focus on the suffering of the Palestinians in minute detail and are generally devoid of context. On the other hand, both writers thoroughly ignore the deaths and injuries of their fellow Israelis.

This is probably easier to do for Hass, who has resided in Gaza and Ramallah, detached and estranged from her people, for the past fifteen years. But Levy, a Tel Avivan, does a thorough job of it as well. Hass favors a dry style of writing; Levy tends to the melodramatic. Both rely primarily on anecdotal evidence gleaned from speaking with Palestinians. Those sources are often anonymous yet their accounts are deemed entirely credible by Hass and Levy. And by their editors. And, eventually by their trusting audiences throughout the world.

What is confounding is that Hass herself has written matter-of-factly about Hamas' brutality towards it own people. During the Gazan war, she reported
"Hamas has sought to suppress individuals it believes endanger the group's fight against Israel and its hold on power…since the operation began… Hamas operatives have executed several people it classified as collaborators… estimates… range from 40 to 80… Executions are carried out secretly… Hamas is continuing to arrest those it suspects of criminal activity or Fatah membership... No one knows where the detained are being held… common methods include confiscating cell-phones, beatings, house arrest and firing at a suspect's legs."
Such revelations are not surprising; Hamas' tyrannical rule over Gaza has been well documented.

Khaled Abu Toameh reported in the Jerusalem Post that Hamas tortured and executed other Palestinians in Gaza during and after Operation Cast Lead. He quotes a PA government minister confirming that nineteen victims were killed in cold blood. 60 others were shot in the legs.

Even a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza, Ihab Ghissin, has conceded that his men had arrested scores of "collaborators" with Israel during the war.

Der Speigel's correspondent, Ulrike Putz, wrote that one Gazan confided: "Many people are now against Hamas but that won't change anything. Because anyone who stands up to them is killed." Putz' source, who refused to give his name, added, "There will never be a rebellion against Hamas. It would be suicide."

In this environment of repression and fear, an obvious inference would be that Gazan sources do not speak freely. Yet both Hass and Levy routinely convey Gaza-sourced testimony as incontrovertible. And the Haaretz editors reinforce this when they present it in their news section.

Are they deluded into accepting this duo as objective professionals? They have no grounds for that belief.

In August 2001, Hass confessed to the Independent/UK: "There is a misconception that journalists can be objective… But being fair and being objective are not the same thing. What journalism is really about – it's to monitor power and the centers of power."

The damage they wreak on Israel's image cannot be over-stated. For instance, a Hass article entitled "Norwegian doctor: Israel used new type of weapon in Gaza", relays uncritically the allegations of two Norwegian doctors, Erik Fosse and Mads Gilbert who were in Gaza for 11 days during Operation Cast Lead. She quotes them saying "Some Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip were wounded by a new type of weapon that even doctors with previous experience in war zones do not recognize".

Hass writes that Fosse declared "if we hadn't been there to confirm their testimony, it would all have been presented as Hamas propaganda."

In truth his testimony is the propaganda, with Hass and her editors providing credibility and cover.

Hass rarely provides the identifying particulars of her sources. But in a letter to Haaretz, Yonatan Levi notes a September 2001 interview published in a Norwegian daily, in which Gilbert is asked whether he supports the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. His reply: "I am upset over the terrorist attack, but am equally upset over the suffering which the United States has created… Terror is a bad weapon, but the answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned."

Gilbert acknowledges that he cannot separate politics from his profession: "There is little in medicine that is not politics".

Thanks to Hass, Fosse's and Gilbert's allegations against the IDF are presented as news by Haaretz.

In the lexicon of Amira Hass, there is no terrorism. "I'm not sure I approve of the very term 'terror'" she said in an interview with Matthew Rothschild on the Progressive radio station in April 2008. "Let's talk about killing."

In that and in her many other appearances, Hass presents a creative chronology of events in this region. For instance, she claims that there were no suicide bombings until the killings carried out by Baruch Goldstein in the Machpelah sanctuary in 1994. Prior to that, she instructs, there were "a few" suicide bombings but they were all "only against soldiers and settlers".

When addressing foreign audiences, the anti-Zionist Hass likes to refer to Jews as a "diaspora nation". In 2005 she participated in a debate arranged by the Evening Standard, a London newspaper. She defended the claim that "Zionism is the worst enemy of the Jewish People"… and led her team to victory.

A recent addition to the cadre of anti-Israel radicals masquerading as reporters is the Swedish freelancer, Catrin Ormestad.

Ormestad has lived in Israel since 1993 but does not hold Israeli citizenship. Since 2006, when Israel restricted travel by Israelis into Gaza, Ormestad has visited Gaza frequently. Numerous accounts of her forays there have appeared in Haaretz. At times they are published under her byline. At others they are referred to by Levy in his own pieces. Her Swedish surname probably leads readers to presume she is an unaffiliated reporter.

In fact, Ormestad moonlights as what has been called "a militant Swedish journalist from the Swedish Palestine Solidarity Association". She edits that organization's newsletter, "Nu Palestine", and appears overseas at conferences, sometimes alongside her colleague, Gideon Levy.

In Savigliano, Italy, Ormestad, Levy and two other journalists lectured at a symposium entitled "Ethos and Religion: The Case of Israel". An Italian newspaper reported that in they "unambiguously and repeatedly described the State of Israel as 'racist', 'colonial', 'imperialist', 'Nazi' and of pursuing a policy of 'ethnic cleansing' and 'apartheid worse than originally practiced by South Africa'.

True to form, following the recent Gaza fighting, Ormestad wrote: "The head of the Burn and Plastic Surgery Department, Nafiz Abu Shaban, says he has no doubt that all these burns were caused by white phosphorus." Ormestad ignores the fact that Hamas leaders were and are hiding in the hospitals from which this and other doctors spoke to her.

At Haaretz, her reports are carried as unequivocal news. Nothing she has written has ever appeared as an op-ed.

Haaretz' embrace of these agenda-driven activists has far-reaching repercussions.

Several days ago a Croatian newspaper questioned the Israeli Ambassador to Croatia, Shmuel Meriom, about "an article by Gideon Levy [in the Israeli daily Haaretz] who thinks that after Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it will be necessary to start a new trial in the Hague, this time against Israel."

Last week, Hass earned a half-page in Haaretz' news section for her piece "Life in Gaza Is Not 'Back to Normal'". There, she reports that journalists, volunteer doctors, architects who specialize in rehabilitation of disaster zones and jurists aiming for war crimes trials in international courts of justice are flooding the Strip. Hass relates that it is "emerging as patterns, phenomena that repeat themselves: bombing of buildings and enterprises that have no connection to the Hamas infrastructure – politically or militarily."

That assertion, central to the global media attacks on Israel, is sandwiched between Hass' descriptions of Gazan loss and destruction. But she offers no proof for the claim which has been repeatedly and categorically denied by the IDF.

In the same article, Hass writes that many Gazan families boast that their dead relatives were Hamas militants when, in fact, they died in their homes and "did not even know how to shoot a rifle. This and similar dubious anecdotes appear as pure fact on page 4 of the clearly-designated News Section of the weekend edition.

Haaretz' presentation of such shoddy reportage as reputable journalism is inexcusable. Many people subsist on a strict diet of Middle East reporting based on Hass' and Levy's version of events. Those readers are key players in the massive global media attack confronting Israel in the wake of the Gazan war. And the role of Haaretz' editors, as Hass' and Levy's enablers, cannot be overlooked.


Frimet Roth, a freelance writer, lives in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered at the age of fifteen in the Sbarro Jerusalem restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation in her name provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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