Opinion

PA daily ‘clarifies’ op-ed policy after calling US envoy Greenblatt a ‘mongoloid’

In the wake of widespread criticism, the Palestinian Authority’s “Al-Hayat al-Jadida” attempted to justify the publication of the op-ed, maintaining they allow “freedom of opinion and expression,” which they claim is a pillar of the Palestinian “democratic state.”

U.S. Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 25, 2017. Photo by Flash90.
U.S. Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 25, 2017. Photo by Flash90.
Itamar Marcus and Maurice Hirsch

This week, Palestinian Media Watch exposed an op-ed in the official Palestinian Authority daily, in which the author called U.S. President Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt, a “mongoloid,” “retarded” and acting as if he has Down syndrome. The op-ed drew immediate widespread condemnation from political figures and organizations focused on the rights of people with disabilities.

This made the official P.A. daily print a press release it called a “clarification,” which was, in fact, more a justification.

Reactions to PMW’s story on the op-ed were immediate and outraged. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he was “disgusted—not for Jason (he’s got broad shoulders)—but by this utter disregard for the value of every human life.”

U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) stated that “it is an outrageously offensive attack to level on anyone, anywhere.”

AIPAC also voiced criticism: “This is an outrageous personal attack on a distinguished U.S. official and an insult to basic human dignity.”

Greenblatt himself responded, saying: “The comments of Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul are disgusting & demonstrate a complete disregard for the dignity of every human life. Terms like “mongoloid” & ‘retarded” have no place in a civilized world. Persons with Downs Syndrome deserve our utmost respect & love. Shame on you Omar!”

The Ruderman Family Foundation, with its focus on “inclusion of children and adults with disabilities as a social-justice imperative,” likewise responded to the op-ed in The Jewish Press on March 5, 2019:

“It is unacceptable to use disability as a slur as it perpetuates stigmas that have been used to denigrate people with disabilities. … People with disabilities represent hundreds of millions of people around the world of every race, religion and ethnicity.”
Jay Ruderman, president, Ruderman Family Foundation
This article demonizing a U.S. official was not written in a vacuum. The official daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida is owned and controlled by the Palestinian Authority, its journalists represent the official P.A. line, and P.A. leaders and the newspaper itself have demonized Trump and individuals in his administration on numerous occasions.
In addition, the P.A. in general does not allow freedom of expression, and Palestinians have been arrested for a wide range of “crimes,” such as publishing statements on Facebook that Yasser Arafat was not a martyr. Accordingly, anything in the official P.A. daily almost certainly represents the official P.A. line. However, in the wake of the widespread criticism, the daily attempted to justify the publication of the op-ed, maintaining they allow “freedom of opinion and expression,” which they claim is a pillar of the Palestinian “democratic state”:
“In response to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s criticism of an article by one of the columnists, which was published in the [official P.A.] daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and in which the writer commented on American Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt’s statements, it is important to the daily to clarify that it respects freedom of opinion and expression, which is anchored in Palestinian basic law, and is committed to it, and that this freedom is not banned or subjected to censorship. Since we are a democratic state, freedom of opinion and expression remains one of the pillars of [the] political system, and one of its means of struggle for freedom and independence.”
[Official P.A. daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 5, 2019]

The paper added, “the op-eds in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida only express the opinions of their writers, while only Al-Hayat Al-Jadida editorials, which are written by the editor in chief, express the daily’s worldview and opinion on the matters it deals with.”

The claim of being “democratic state” was strange enough; after all, general elections have been held only twice in 25 years; its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. just entered the 15th year of a four-year term; the popularly elected Hamas was deposed and replaced with a technocrat government; its president just dissolved the Palestinian parliament after 12 years in which it did not function; and its official media is completely controlled and dominated by the P.A.

The daily’s clarification was the equivalent of a newspaper publishing an op-ed by a white supremacist demonizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the “N” word, and then distancing itself, saying it is democratic and allowed freedom of expression, and not responsible for the content of the articles published.

In the daily’s “clarification,” there was neither a condemnation of the writer nor an apology. Indeed, the long explanation about the “democratic” P.A. makes the piece more a justification for calling Greenblatt a “mongoloid” rather than a retraction.

In contrast to the P.A. and its daily, veteran Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab tweeted Greenblatt, saying: “The Palestinian Disability coalition calls for holding central council member Omar Ghoul accountable for his description of [Greenblatt] as a mongoloid with Down syndrome.”

Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, is one of the foremost authorities on Palestinian ideology and policy. 

Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position, he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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