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November 13, 2017

The Washington Post’s Selective Language on Israel

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The Washington Post often displays two standards of language in its international coverage: one for Israel and another for the rest of the world.

Take, for example, the paper’s use of the term “terrorist.” Post reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows an aversion to the word, with the less descriptive “militant” often being a preferred substitute. An Oct. 30, 2017 report “Seven Palestinian militants killed as Israel blows up tunnel from Gaza,” is but one of many examples.

When he was The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth almost exclusively relied on the term “militant” to describe members of U.S.-designated terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), among others who target Israel (see, for example “While Israel held its fire, the militant group Hamas did not,” July 15, 2014). By contrast, the paper’s reporters hardly—if ever—used the term “terrorist” to describe those perpetrating and planning terror against the Jewish state.

Now chief of the paper’s London bureau, Booth has reported on terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Europe (see, for example “Barcelona suspect says terrorist cell planned to bomb monuments in city,” Aug. 22, 2017). And now, he uses the more precise “terrorist” instead of “militant.” Yet, both ISIS and Hamas, to name two examples, are U.S.-designated terrorist groups who commit terror attacks; it’s unclear what difference there is beyond the fact that one is primarily engaged in the realm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Post exhibits similar selectivity elsewhere. For example, the paper has referred to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territories (for example, see “A daily commute through Israel’s checkpoints,” May 29, 2017).” Yet, as CAMERA has informed Post staff—and as the paper acknowledged in a Sept. 5, 2014 correction that it disregards at will—“the status of the territories is disputed and no Palestinian state has ever existed.” Nonetheless, the paper has shown a proclivity for, at times, inaccurately labeling the territories as “Palestinian” instead of “disputed.” It has even defended doing so on the grounds that while it might not be accurate, its use is frequent (“The Washington Post: We Print ‘Commonly Used’ Falsehoods,” CAMERA, June 12, 2017).

By contrast, the paper has no compunction using the term “disputed”—or a variant—when talking about other conflicts. In one recent example, the paper reported on Iranian-supported Iraqi forces seizing “contested areas” in what was then Kurdish-held Kirkuk (“Iraqi leader’s acclaim grows after retaking of Kirkuk,” Oct. 26, 2017). Elsewhere, the article referred to areas—which once belonged to Iraq but were declared in a Sept. 25, 2017 Kurdish referendum to be part of Kurdistan—as “disputed territory.”

The Washington Post, along with other major news media, has also shown a selective use of adjectives when it comes to Israel. As CAMERA has noted, the paper has a recurrent practice of describing countries larger than Israel, such as Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, among others, as “tiny” but virtually never highlights the Jewish state’s size and population. If unintentionally, this minimizes the threats that Israel faces from much larger, and often hostile, countries.

“The aim of language,” the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once observed, is to “reveal the situation…[to] reveal it to myself and to others in order to change it.” When it comes to its coverage of Israel, the language used by The Washington Post is revealing indeed.

Posted by SD at November 13, 2017 12:46 PM

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