For as long as I have been covering Israel, former Philadelphian David Bedein has acted like a one-man Ministry of Information, urging Israeli and foreign journalists alike to focus on Palestinian misdeeds and the “wishful thinking” behind the peace process. His organization is called the “Israel Resource News Agency Center for Near East Policy Research” although it’s not a news agency per se: It’s an advocacy organization, targeting Palestinian incitement, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and Israeli pro-negotiations groups like The Peres Center for Peace.
Bedein’s overall portrait of a double-talking P.A. and a corrupt UNRWA is not necessarily inaccurate, but his efforts are agenda-driven. (Good luck finding a Bedein report on settler incitement against Palestinians.)
That’s the context for unpacking his Jerusalem Post oped yesterday, in which Bedein “reports” on an exchange he had with Ha’aretz correspondent Chemi Shalev at the recent convention of the American Jewish Press Assocation. Like much of Bedein’s work, it’s one-sided — and in this case seriously mischaracterizes what Shalev said. I know — I was in the room.
Here’s Bedein’s version:
At the annual American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) Conference…our news agency posed a question to Shalev: “Why does Haaretz not report what the Palestinian Authority communicates to their people in their language, on the PBC TV, the PBC radio, Palestinian Authority newspapers and [in] the Palestinian Authority schools”?
Shalev’s candid response to this query was: “We do not have room to cover all of that.”
The follow-up question was simpler: In the context of articles that Haaretz runs on Middle East negotiations, why not mention what PA spokespeople say that day to their media and in their own language? Shalev: “As an editor, I would recommend not covering that.”
In other words, a respected senior editor of a major Israeli newspaper admitted to a gathering of journalists that as a matter of policy, Haaretz will not report the consistent message that the PA conveys in Arabic.
First of all, it is a huge stretch to say that Shalev was quoting Ha’aretz “policy.” It was a roomful of journalists, and Shalev was suggesting various reasons why his editors may make the decisions that they do. In his reply to Bedein, Shalev said that to most Israeli readers and reporters, stories about Palestinian incitement are “dog bites man” — so typical they stop being thought of as news. He said that editors make choices based on what they feel is the most significant news of the day, and that Ha’aretz is interested in news, not “hasbara,” or propaganda.
And Shalev acknowledged that Bedein would make different choices if he were editor. I don’t recall him saying Ha’aretz didn’t have “room” for such stories — rather, that its reporters may disagree about what constitutes news given the plain fact that no newspaper covers everything.
Bedein also overdoes it when he writes the following:
You will not find a single Israeli media outlet, across the political and religious spectrum, that will provide coverage of what the PA communicates to the Arabs in the Arabic language.
Actually, such pieces are not that hard to find. There was this one in Ha’aretz in February, a lengthy and hard-hitting report by Avi Issacharoff titled “Palestinian television still glorifies terror attacks against Israel.” In June, Ynet ran this oped by Yigal Walt. The Jerusalem Post, where Bedein’s article appeared, ran this piece by Israel Kasnett in February, and this profile of Palestinian Media Watch in May.
Bedein may have a point, however: Palestinian incitement may well be under-reported. But distorting a journalist’s public remarks is no way to make that point.