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January 28, 2013

USA Today editorials on Israel fail reality check

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USA Today’s idea of editorial balance is unbalanced, at least when Israel is the subject.

The newspaper’s editorial “Israel election leaves a glimmer of hope” (Jan. 24, 2013) asserted that an Israeli act of self-defense was the provocation for Palestinian terrorism. That is inverted, journalistically and morally. USA Today also argued that the political right in Israel right and construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is the biggest obstacle to peace.

But the primary obstacles are not in Israel: A 2011 poll indicated that nearly two-thirds of Israeli respondents thought a two-state solution acceptable, but two-thirds also told pollsters they did not think that a two-state solution will be reached, primarily because of Palestinian rejection. Palestinian Authority insistence on seeking a “unilateral statehood declaration” from the United Nations instead of resuming the direct negotiations with Israel it committed to in the Oslo accords bolsters Israeli doubts.

USA Today did offer an informed response, but only online. Instead of balancing the editorial in print, it let Alan Baker, a former legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israeli ambassador to Canada rebut the paper’s assertion that settlements are illegal. Baker’s virtual appearance was necessary, but not sufficient. Now director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he offered a bit of historical context largely absent from the editorial. There was no justification for not publishing it alongside the editorial.

Contrast Baker’s “virtualization” with the counter-point treatment given to the newspaper’s editorial headlined “Latest warfare in Gaza reflects Hamas’ miscalculation” (Nov. 20, 2012). It could be said to have stated a “moderately” anti-Israel opinion. But instead of publishing a pro-Israel “counter-point,” the ostensibly balancing opinion came from the implacably anti-Israel polemicist Richard Falk.

In his commentary, “U.S. cheerleads Israel’s assault,” Falk—a 9/11 skeptic who asserted that an independent (non-U.S.) investigation was still needed and whose removal as U.N. special rapporteur on Israeli-Palestinian affairs has been recommended by the Obama administration—merely restated the editorial’s view in stronger terms.

Why did USA Today think Falk had any credibility on the subject? He has endorsed terrorist violence in the pursuit of political ends, supported suicide bombings as a method of Palestinian “resistance” and opposed Western humanitarian intervention in Libya. A professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University—truth often is stranger than fiction in academia—Falk argued that no matter how distasteful the Gaddafi dictatorship was, it was the lawful government of Libya. He neglected to mention that Gaddafi came to, and stayed in power through violence, had no popular mandate and in the past promoted and conducted international terrorist acts.

In his USA Today “counter-point,” Falk does not acknowledge the refusal by Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel’s right to exist, sustained Palestinian violence targeting Israeli civilians and widespread hatred of Israelis that suggests genocidal intentions.

Meanwhile, USA Today’s editorial presents Hamas’ November conflict with Israel as a “miscalculation” rather than a reckless disregard for the safety and prosperity of Palestinian Arabs, let alone Israeli non-combatants. If it is the newspaper’s intent to offer opposing viewpoints, the balance to its editorial blaming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government for the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiation should have been a commentary from someone who might argue, correctly, that the Gaza Strip’s greatest impediment to peace is its Hamas leadership and that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is perhaps most notable for spurning “two-state” peace offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008.

USA Today’s editorial page performance is oddly out of synch with the newspaper’s generally well-balanced coverage of Middle East news in general, Arab-Israeli affairs in particular. Perhaps the former department doesn’t read what the latter reports? –A. W.

Posted by ER at January 28, 2013 04:35 PM

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