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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 09, 2003

I Challenge WaPo on Bias Question, WaPo Answers.

Martin Kimel sends letter to papers on their bias, their inability to to see Hamas for what it really is.Best advice: read the entire exchange.
As my regular readers know, I have criticized WaPo, NPR and others for downplaying Hamas' goal of destroying Israel. Here are the guts of a letter I sent to WaPo ombudsman Mike Getler, asking for a reply:

The Post’s story today "Suicide Bomber Kills 15 on Bus in Northern Israel" (News, March 6) again made a mistake that unfortunately is all too common in press reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The article describes suicide bombings as the hallmark of radical Palestinian groups that are fighting against "Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip." The Post used virtually the same language in a Feb. 15 story that focused on the terrorist group Hamas.

Describing the current intifada as aimed at gaining the West Bank (which would include Jerusalem) and Gaza is misleading because the avowed goal of the radical groups the Post speaks of is not the "mere" capture of that land, but the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement by an Islamic one. It should be obvious to reporters and their editors that this is a major point because it casts doubt on the ability of Israelis to ever reach a peaceful accommodation with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their followers. Yet the Post (along with National Public Radio and other major American media outlets) has made this mistake over and over again, despite repeated efforts to bring the issue to its attention. It is for reasons like these that many view your coverage of the conflict as tilted against Israel.

Mr. Getler was kind enough to forward my letter to the paper's Foreign Editor. Here's his reply:

As we have told readers many times before, the goals of Hamas are ambiguious. Sometimes they ascribe to the goal of destroying the state, at other times ending the occupation. Certainly ending the occupation is the immediate goal. One of my first rules is not to let the Israelis define the Palestinians and vice versa. So, I look askance at letters which want us to adopt a black-and-white statement imposed by Israel on the goals of Hamas. Islamic Jihad is more radical and I think they do ascribe to the larger goal of destroying Israel. However, they are also much smaller and do not have a wide popular base like Hamas. There are other splinter groups too. I don't think every story has the scope to parse everyone's goals.

It certainly explains a lot that the Post views the goals of Hamas as ambiguous. Let's tease this one out, as one of my old law professors was fond of saying. The editor (I think it's Philip Bennett, but I'm confirming that) acknowledges that Hamas at least sometimes ascribes to the goal of destroying Israel, but finds that insufficient because at other times Hamas says its goal is ending the so-called occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. (I'm not sure Hamas ever uses the word "occupation" to refer strictly to the West Bank and Gaza but, for sake of argument, I'll accept the editor's word for it.) Hmmm. Could it be that Hamas sometimes tones down its stated goals depending on how it thinks they will play to particular audiences abroad?
I had seen in print a Hamas leader being interviewed and, when asked to define "occupied lands," referred to the land taken in '67 and to all of what is now Israel! [click here for links and more]