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Al Jazeera America: Twisting Israel news, targeting opinion makers

A Jan. 13 Al Jazeera America blog post on criticism of Scarlett Johansson for her new role as pitch woman for the Israel-based company SodaStream. Al Jazeera America's coverage of Johansson's 2014 Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream was misleading, write Myron Kaplan and Eric Rozenman of CAMERA. Credit: Al Jazeera America Screenshot.
A Jan. 13 Al Jazeera America blog post on criticism of Scarlett Johansson for her new role as pitch woman for the Israel-based company SodaStream. Al Jazeera America's coverage of Johansson's 2014 Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream was misleading, write Myron Kaplan and Eric Rozenman of CAMERA. Credit: Al Jazeera America Screenshot.

Al Jazeera America, the satellite and cable television news network owned and operated by the wealthy sheikdom of oil and gas-rich Qatar, can’t seem to present its Arab-Israeli news straight. This should come as no surprise. The Qatari ruling family supported the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and the Brotherhood’s Palestinian spin-off Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.

Profit isn’t of much interest to Al Jazeera America. “That is the difference that will allow us to maintain our journalistic identity,” the network’s Palestinian-American interim CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, told the Wall Street Journal.

Translation: Unlike its commercial competitors (such as ABCCBSCNNFoxMSNBC, and NBC), the network doesn’t care that much about general viewer ratings. Rather, it aims to influence opinion makers like teachers, broadcasters, and editorial writers.

Al Jazeera America’s broadcasts are able to attract opinion makers due to technically skillful, extensive, and seemingly incisive presentations on a wide range of domestic and foreign matters. Coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict features superficially interesting but substantively biased segments that assail Israel while omitting mention of Palestinian Arab terrorism or Muslim persecution of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza. A long-term effect of such coverage might be to undermine the current strong U.S. public support of Israel over the Palestinian Arabs.

Examples of such coverage are plentiful. This winter Al Jazeera America strongly, but erroneously, implied that a 2014 Super Bowl advertisement for an Israeli product, SodaStream, was rejected by Fox TV. Al Jazeera America suggested Fox acted because the ad featuring actress Scarlett Johansson promoted an Israeli company (which happens to employ many Arabs) that allegedly operated illegally in the West Bank, where supposedly, Palestinian Arabs are victimized by Israel. Never mentioned by Al Jazeera America was the fact that the SodaStream ad was actually (temporarily) rejected because it dismissed in a jibe two Fox advertising clients (“Sorry, Coke and Pepsi”). In fact, the Super Bowl ad ran Feb. 2 during a commercial break at 9:35 p.m., with the offending phrase omitted.

Al Jazeera America’s Jan. 13 reporting on the recently deceased Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, included a problematic interview by host Stephanie Sy of Adel Darwish, former Middle East editor of the London-based Daily Telegraph. Sy was either unconcerned or unaware that key Darwish points were misleading, if not mendacious.

Darwish: “… it was a big mistake he [Sharon] made in Beirut in 1982 when he let the Phalange [Christian Lebanese militia] into the Palestinian camps and that ended his career then because the judiciary commission found him responsible for the death of hundreds. … He actually confirmed that the Six-Day War in 1967 was about water because the Syrians wanted to divert water away from the Sea of Galilee which would be putting a lot of pressure on Israel…”

First, Sharon neither ordered nor knew beforehand of a planned Phalangist attack. An Israeli commission of inquiry found that Sharon bore “indirect responsibility” for the Sept. 16-18, 1982 killings of hundreds of Palestinian Arabs committed not by Israelis, but by Phalangists. The militia took revenge for previous massacres of Christian Arabs by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, and for the Sept. 14 assassination of Bashir Gemayel, Lebanon’s Christian president-elect. The Phalange was tasked with rooting out terrorists. Sharon, as defense minister, erred in underestimating the depth of hatred by Christian Lebanese for Palestinian Arabs and letting them enter the camps.

Likewise misleading was Darwish’s assertion that the 1967 Six-Day War was about drinking water and irrigation. The war actually began after Egypt’s closure—in violation of international law—of the Red Sea Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, Egyptian expulsion of U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula, the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian troops and thousands of tanks on Israel’s borders, and Arab threats to destroy the Jewish state.

From Dec. 24-25, 2013, the network’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem promoted the “Israeli Grinch that stole Christmas” cliché. The segments distorted the impact of Israel’s security barrier on Bethlehem and failed to deal with the reasons for construction of the security barrier and “occupation.” One of these reports dealt with a Christian Arab resident of Bethlehem, Claire Anastas, and her family. Al Jazeera America correspondent Nick Schifrin cited Claire’s complaint that the barrier, harming her souvenir business, had caused hardship for the family. At one point, Schifrin asks Claire, “Were you able to buy your children presents?”

“No, no, I couldn’t,” she answered. “I couldn’t buy them. There’s just not enough money for the gifts this morning, I apologized to them.”

Schifrin omits far too much from this tear-jerker. Attractive, fashionably dressed Anastas also runs Claire’s Bed & Breakfast, in addition to a sophisticated Web site that contains an online souvenir purchase facility and solicits contributions. The Web site is well sprinkled with anti-Israel propaganda. A 2008 Associated Press story by Dalia Nammari noted that Anastas was “using the wall [Israeli security barrier] to make money” and “before getting into the souvenir business, she often hosted foreign solidarity [anti-Israel] groups in her home, which became a draw for political tourists because of its setting.”

Secondly, the report fails to provide viewers with any context about Israel’s West Bank security barrier, a fence in most places but a wall around parts of Bethlehem. Israel constructed the Bethlehem portions after terrorists from the area simply walked into adjacent Jerusalem neighborhoods to stage bomb attacks during the second intifada, from 2000-2005. Hardship faced by the Anastas family as a result of the security barrier is the consequence of Palestinian terrorism.

In its reporting, Al Jazeera America never mentions the fundamental problem underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict: the difficulty, if not impossibility, of making peace with a Palestinian Arab leadership and society whose dominant culture insists that Jews are not a people, do not deserve a state, and have no historical ties to the land of Israel. Hatred fueled by a steady stream of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel incitement from Palestinian media, mosques, and schools underlies and typifies the conflict.

Meanwhile, Palestinian terrorism proceeds apace. Palestinian Arabs, during January and February, perpetrated 20 firebomb attacks (in addition to numerous rock-throwing incidents) against Israeli vehicles traveling on Route 443, one of only two roads linking Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) also continues to reward terrorists. In February, the PA announced it would “be giving an additional $46 million a year to released prisoners, a category which includes hundreds of murderers of [Israeli] civilians,” according to Palestinian Media Watch.

Pervasive cradle-to-grave brainwashing of Palestinians is reflected in opinion polling through the years. For example, the Jerusalem Post in 2011 reported on joint Israeli/Arab polls showing that a majority of Palestinian adults in the West Bank and Gaza support suicide bombings against Jews in Israel and agree with a quote from the Hamas charter (and the Hadith, or tradition ascribed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) about the need to “kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees.”

Not that viewers of Al Jazeera America—which promises “unbiased, in-depth, fact-based” coverage—would know.

Myron Kaplan is a senior research analyst with CAMERA, the Boston-based 65,000-member Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Eric Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA. The organization takes no position on negotiated Arab-Israeli agreements. Any opinions expressed above are solely those of the writers.

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