“Decline,” the late writer Charles Krauthammer famously observed in 2009, “is a choice.” Krauthammer’s observation was aimed at the United States and geopolitics, but it applies to journalism, as well. Many major U.S. news outlets are failing to provide readers and viewers with fact-based coverage of international affairs—including, but by no means limited to, the Middle East.
Take, for example, Foreign Policy magazine.
In February 2020, FP reporter Keith Johnson claimed that “one of the many reasons that Palestinian leadership dismissed” the latest U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal “out of hand” was “that it included a demand for Palestinians to cede the water-rich West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley to Israel.” Water rights, Johnson asserted, played a key role in the Palestinian Authority’s decision to reject peace entreaties. But there was one small problem: P.A. leadership never said that.
In his numerous comments about the proposal, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas never cited water as his reason for opposing the plan. Nor was water cited as a chief reason by Palestinian leadership when they rejected more than half a dozen other peace proposals dating back to the 1930s—an important fact that Johnson omitted.
Contravening standard journalistic practice, the FP article itself failed to specify which Palestinian leader blamed water disputes, nor did it provide a link or citation showing that “water rights” was among the reasons for Palestinian leaders’ rejection of the proposal. And when the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) contacted Johnson asking which Palestinian leader cited water as a reason for rejecting the plan, he declined to respond.
FP has provided dozens of “reports” on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a body ostensibly tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. Yet, as CAMERA has documented, FP reports are often more like press releases and advocacy journalism for the U.N. agency. The magazine frequently omits UNRWA’s documented problems, including hiring members of U.S.-designated terrorist groups and employees advocating violence and making anti-Semitic statements.
Further, FP has “stacked the deck” with quotations and citations from UNRWA defenders and anti-Israel advocates—while simultaneously omitting detailed criticisms from UNRWA critics, including the organization’s former legal counsel, James Lindsay.
More recently, FP has continued to fumble in its reporting on Israel and Palestinians.
A Sept. 17, 2021 op-ed (“Israel Isn’t Strong Enough to Attack Iran”) repeatedly implied that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. For example, it stated, “Nor can Tel Aviv afford to ignore Washington’s express….” Also: “Washington’s demands continued to limit Tel Aviv.” Elsewhere: “for which Tel Aviv and its allies blamed Iran” and “to what extent should we believe Tel Aviv is truly ready.” The magazine billed the op-ed as “an expert’s point of view.”
Tel Aviv is not, of course, the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is. Using Tel Aviv as shorthand for the capital can confuse and misinform readers. And as CAMERA pointed out to FP staff, other news outlets have corrected this same error.
CNN, for example, noted in a CAMERA-prompted correction to a July 22, 2018 broadcast that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
The Associated Press made a similar correction to a Feb. 21, 2018 article (“Palestinian leader calls for peace conference by mid-2018”), as did the Los Angeles Times in July 2017. That latter correction noted, correctly, that “the Israeli government is based in Jerusalem.” It is not based in Tel Aviv—and using that city as shorthand for the capital can unnecessarily confuse readers.
Yet, FP ignored CAMERA’s requests to correct the misleading op-ed.
On Oct. 3, 2021, the magazine published an excerpt from FP columnist Janine di Giovanni’s book, “The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets.” Di Giovanni is an award-winning war reporter. But the excerpt published in FP, entitled “In Hamas-Run Gaza, the Last Arab Christians Are Hanging On,” offers several misleading omissions.
For starters, while lamenting their plight and dwindling numbers, the excerpt fails to note just how many Christians reside in Gaza.
“Today,” Di Giovanni correctly observed, “the purging of the Christian community [in Gaza] is part of a broader vanishing of Christians in the Middle East.” Yet, the columnist seems reluctant to be forthright about the reason why: Islamism. Instead, she says that “in Gaza,” the vanishing of Christians “is partly the result of the economy and the siege, but it is undeniably made worse by life under Hamas.”
Yet, there is no “siege.” Rather, there is a defensive blockade that Israel initiated after Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip and began launching rockets indiscriminately into the Jewish state. It is Israel that is under siege—and purely due to the fact that it gives non-Muslim minorities the social and political equality that is utterly lacking throughout the rest of the Middle East. That same hatred of religious minorities is also why Christians have been under threat in the Middle East. They face the same enemy.
Indeed, the rise of Islamism coincides with the declining safety and sanctuary for Christians in the Middle East. Perhaps this context is included in Di Giovanni’s book, but it is largely overlooked in FP’s excerpt.
There is also reason to think that Di Giovanni may have blinders on when covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an Oct. 21, 2015 tweet, for example, she asserted that she was “so tired of Israel dips [diplomats] saying Palestine children [are] ‘taught to hate.’ Over 2 decades working there, never saw this.”
Yet, as CAMERA has noted, there is abundant evidence of Palestinian children being indoctrinated with anti-Semitic material via school textbooks and children’s programming which, among other things, has featured a Mickey Mouse look-alike character who promotes violence against Jews. Nor is it merely Israeli diplomats who have said as much; the U.S. State Department and several countries, as well as the European Union, have condemned this widely documented fact. If Di Giovanni “never saw” it, it bodes ill for her investigative reporting skills.
Elsewhere, Di Giovanni fails to accurately convey historical happenings. For example, she states that the “Nakba” was “when Israel fought and won its war of independence and started the mass displacement of Palestinians from their ancestral homes.” This is an inaccurate and incomplete description.
Rather, the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for catastrophe, occurred after Arab leaders rejected a U.N. partition plan that would have created two states, one Arab and the other Jewish, out of British-ruled Mandate Palestine. Instead, Arab armies tried to destroy the fledgling nation of Israel, and it was Arab leaders—chief among them the founding father of Palestinian Arab nationalism, Amin al-Husseini—who encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee, seeking to exploit their refugee status for political ends—a tactic that is still used today, aided and abetted by journalists, nonprofits, and international organizations like the United Nations.
Further, in several cases, such as in Haifa, Zionist leaders tried to encourage Arabs to stay. George Deek, the Israeli Arab Christian diplomat and current ambassador to Azerbaijan, has famously told the story of how his family, a prominent Arab Christian family in Jaffa, declined to believe the propaganda of Husseini and others, choosing instead to return to Israel in the war’s wake. As Deek told the Jewish Chronicle in a May 7, 2015 interview: “The reason I’m speaking to you as an Israeli diplomat and not [as] a Palestinian refugee is that my grandparents saw the future clearly and chose hope over despair.”
And while Di Giovanni is correct to note that economic conditions in Gaza have contributed to Gazans, both Christian and non-Christian, fleeing the enclave, she regrettably fails to note that Gaza’s economic misery was also authored by Hamas. The terrorist group’s insistence on waging war against the Jewish state—even going as far as digging up water pipes to turn into missiles—has come at the expense of the well-being of their own people.
Hamas uses Gazans as human shields and pilfers the considerable international aid that Gaza receives. Meanwhile, the group’s kleptocratic leadership lives in luxury, often abroad. Some Gazans do indeed live in comparative opulence, as the social media account “The Gaza That You Don’t See” has documented. However, presumably few, if any, are Christians—the inevitable result of living under an Islamist dictatorship.
The declining number of Christians in the Middle East is a serious topic. And it is entirely possible that Di Giovanni’s book provides the context that her FP column is missing. But the publication’s documented tendency to ignore and omit facts when they’re deemed inconvenient to its preferred narrative—a narrative in which the Jewish state is often unfairly blamed for the crimes of the same Islamists who target Christian and Jew alike—is deeply concerning.
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for the Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
This article was first published by CAMERA.