Starting shortly before the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Washington Post editorials generally have been superior to the newspaper's foreign news desk reporting on Arab-Israeli subjects. That is, they have been stronger factually, more timely, better balanced. But two of three commentaries in late October and early November left the road.
In "Mr. Assad's Medicine; After sponsoring terrorism against three of its neighbors, Syria plays the victim when its own border is breached" (October 28), editorialists again outstripped news coverage.
The Post dismissed Damascus' charges of "criminal and terrorist aggression" by the United States for a commando raid on "foreign fighters" in Syria near the border with Iraq. "This from a regime whose most notable activities of the past few years have been the serial assassination of senior Lebanese politicians, including former prime minister Rafik Hariri; the continuous and illegal supplying of weapons to the Hezbollah militia for use against Israel and Lebanon's democratic government; the harboring in Damascus of senior leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups [emphasis added]; and — most relevant — the sheltering of an al-Qaeda network that dispatches 90 percent of the foreign fighters who wage war against U.S. troops and the Iraqi government."
In one sentence of commentary Post readers found more focused, substantive coverage of Syrian action than in a number of the paper's foreign news dispatches on Lebanon, Israel and Syria. It's also more accurate, the headline and text referring to terrorism and terrorist groups. And though Hezbollah terrorists are misleadingly termed a militia, the headline refers precisely to terrorism and the text to terrorism and terrorist four times, among them "Iran and the terrorist movements it sponsors." That includes Hezbollah.
The editorial acknowledges that "Israel has intervened in Syria several times to defend its vital interests, including bombing a secret nuclear reactor." It accurately describes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "dictator" and his government as "a criminal regime ...." And it updates the state of diplomatic developments. It is opinion informed by relevant news. That's what makes editorials worth reading.
The same cannot be said for The Post's commentary "An ‘Idiot Wind'; John McCain's latest attempt to link Barack Obama to extremism" (October 31) and "A Middle East Vote; Shortly after the next American president takes office; Israeli elections will set the prospects for U.S. diplomacy'" (November 1).
The Post repeats Columbia University Prof. Rashid Khalidi's non-denial of Sen. McCain's (R-Ariz.) charge that Khalidi was "a PLO spokesman" as "this idiot wind." McCain made the assertion late in his race against Senator and now President-elect. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). The editorial says Khalidi has been a friend of Obama's.
In a letter to the editor, CAMERA pointed out that
Khalidi taught at the American University of Beirut in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when the Soviet-supported Palestine Liberation Organization conducted anti-Israeli terrorism and participated in Lebanon's civil war. The editorial notes that "in the early 1990s, he worked as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at peace talks in Madrid and Washington sponsored by the first Bush administration," as if that ruled out a PLO spokesman's role.
Prof. Martin Kramer, Wexler-Froman Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Adelson Institute Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and Olin Institute Senior Fellow at Harvard University, supplies some Khalidi biography The Post omitted:
On Sept. 5, 1976, The Los Angeles Times identified Rashid Khalidi as "a PLO spokesman."
On Feb. 19, 1978, The New York Times described Khalidi as "an American-educated Palestinian who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and also works for the PLO."
A 1979 documentary, "The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Palestine Liberation Organization," produced for Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, Calif., refers to Khalidi as "official spokesperson for the PLO" and "the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa." The interview took place "at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut."
In 1982, The New York Times referred to Khalidi as "a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa." According to Kramer, "Khalidi's wife also worked as an English translator for the PLO's press agency, Wafa."
As for Khalidi's advisory role to the Palestinian delegation at Madrid and Washington in the early 1990s, the Palestinian delegates could not be PLO members. Khalidi's team of advisors reportedly served as conduit between the delegates and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
CAMERA's letter concluded that "The Post displays unwarranted credulity in echoing Khalidi's dismissal of the McCain campaign's description of him as a former spokesman for a terrorist group."
The Post has not published CAMERA's letter. It has, however, printed one by former Post Middle East bureau chief, Thomas W. Lippman. Lippman is now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. According to him, "it should be noted that Mr. Khalidi was indeed 'a PLO spokesman.' In the early years of the Lebanese civil war, Mr. Khalidi was the Beirut-based spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his office was a stop on the daily rounds of journalists covering that conflict."
Campaign charges, as a rule, are not CAMERA's concern. The Washington Post helping the influential Rashid Khalidi erase the PLO from his autobiography is.
The editorial "A Middle East Vote: Shortly after the next American president takes office, Israeli elections will set the prospects for U.S. diplomacy" (November 1) mirrors the foreign desk in over-emphasizing Israel's ability to promote Arab-Israeli peace and under-emphasizing Palestinian responsibility for its absence.
It asserts that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud "Abbas's moderates in the West Bank and the militant Hamas in the Gaza Strip are negotiating to end their rift, but even if they succeed, the qualms [emphasis added] of Israelis over Hamas's fundamentalist agenda will remain." This sentence encapsulates the upside-down view of Palestinian-Israeli news too often at work on the foreign desk and, frequently absent from editorials the past two-plus years.
• Abbas' "moderates" in the PA's West Bank administration disseminate anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish incitement virtually indistinguishable from Hamas' bloody indoctrination. Like those of its Islamist rival, PA schools, newspapers, radio and television, mosques and summer camps deny Israel's legitimacy and the Jews' history as a people in eretz Yisrael. They insist on the non-existent Palestinian Arab "right of return" to the Jewish state. They do not, as previous agreements require, promote peaceful coexistence.
• Hamas is not a "militant" organization but one of those "Palestinian terrorist groups" whose senior leaders are harbored in Damascus, as the editorial "Mr. Assad's Medicine" specified.
• Israelis do not have "qualms" — misgivings or doubts — over Hamas' "fundamentalist agenda"; they recognize an enemy committed to jihad against the Jews and their state.
But minimizing Palestinian obstacles to peace permits The Post to focus on "right-wing leader Binyamin Netanyahu" as someone likely "to put off a settlement with Palestinians indefinitely. Mr. Netanyahu is seen as inflexible and untrustworthy by many in Washington; his election could spell a fractious period in Israeli-U.S. relations." Who are some of the "many in Washington" who see Netanyahu "as inflexible and untrustworthy"? No names or even agency affiliations are cited. Meanwhile, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni "appears genuinely committed to a peace deal, though she has appeared less flexible on its specific terms than Mr. [Ehud] Olmert," Kadima's former leader and care-taker prime minister. So Livni, though better than "inflexible" Netanyahu, is "less flexible" than Olmert. "Moderate" Palestinians' "flexibility" is not addressed.
The Post omits that when Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, he negotiated agreements with the Arafat-led PA that required Israeli territorial withdrawals and other concessions. Also omitted is that his Likud Party, on Israel's political spectrum, is not "right-wing" but center-right, as the Labor Party is center-left, not "left-wing." There are Jewish parties to the right of Likud and the left of Labor. Instead of accuracy, The Post editorial over-emphasizes Israel's role and minimizes Palestinian responsibility in obstructing negotiations. That structural bias in Post news coverage should not be allowed to re-infiltrate the paper's editorials.