Hogging the Op-eds

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A few telling statistics: since September 28, 2000, the first day of the current Palestinian uprising, seven of America’s leading newspapers have collectively published a total of 153 op-ed pieces on the crisis in the Middle East. Of those, 115 have been unabashedly pro-Israeli: they almost completely ignore Palestinian suffering, insist that the Intifada is an orchestrated sham, that Israel is in mortal danger, that the Israelis have been overly generous in their peace offers to the Palestinians, that they have been restrained to a fault in their response (the 300 killed being in their consideration an acceptably low number), and so on and so forth. Of the remaining 37, 22 can be deemed as fair pieces that look at both sides of the issue, while only a paltry 15 represent the Palestinian view. That’s an average of 2 pro-Palestinian columns per newspaper, for the whole of the past 10 weeks! 

Closer to home, during that same period, the Philadelphia Inquirer (one of the seven papers surveyed) has published a total of 26 columns on the crisis. Of those, only 5 can be qualified as either balanced or pro-Palestinian, while the remaining 21 are pro-Israeli. For those who like percentages, this means that the Inquirer is about 5% below the already ridiculous national average of about 24 balanced to pro-Palestinian columns for 76 staunchly pro-Israeli columns. 

The Inquirer’s leading columnist, Trudy Rubin, is a perfect illustration of how otherwise fair minded, intelligent columnists continue to churn out one-dimensional, pro-Israeli opinion pieces, week after week. 

Let’s take Ms. Rubin’s recent column of December 15th (“Arafat hoping a new lineup creates support”), by no means one of Ms. Rubin’s most fervently pro-Israeli pieces. 

To begin with, Ms. Rubin insists on referring to the popular Palestinian uprising, now more than ten weeks old, as simply “a wave of Palestinian violence”. We read nothing of Palestinian demands for a fully sovereign state, free from Israeli interference and secure within recognized borders. Reading Ms. Rubin, one is left with the impression that violence is a first, primary cause, rather than a perfectly understandable reaction to colonial occupation and oppression. 

Second, Ms. Rubin insists on taking as a given a proposition that no one who follows the Middle East seriously entertains any more: that Arafat can stop the uprising (which of course Ms. Rubin refers to as “violence”) anytime he wishes. If these ten weeks have taught us anything, it is that Arafat is not the only player in this Intifada, nor even the main player. The popular uprising is just that, popular, and unlike the first Intifada of the late 80’s, this one is a well organized, grass-roots resistance movement that is very focused on one goal: gaining full independence from colonial presence. 

And third, in an attempt to disabuse her reader of any thought that real changes in American Mideast policy are afoot in the new Bush administration, Ms. Rubin cites as evidence the inclusion of Ed Djerijian and Daniel Kurtzer — both well known pro-Israeli cheerleaders — in the Bush Mideast Team. However, Ms. Rubin strangely omits mention of the one big pink elephant in the Middle East room: Collin Powell! His name is not mentioned once in her piece! Strange, to say the least! But then again, there might be a perfectly rational reason why Ms. Rubin could not find a spot for the Gulf War hero in her neatly pro-Israeli rendering of the conflict. In answer to a question about the Middle East, General Powell reiterated the usual mantra that the U.S. must maintain its friendly relationship with Israel, but then he did something that bodes ill to the extreme pro-Israeli camp. He added a “but”: that the aspirations of Palestinians and other parties in the region cannot be ignored. A refreshing twist on the old “yes but”: yes, Palestinians have some rights, BUT only if and when they stop their violence and only if and when Israel decides to generously grant them those rights. 

Time only tell whether or not this means that the era of American shameful obsequious submission to Israeli intransigence is about to come to an end. In the mean time, perhaps Ms. Rubin, along with her pro-Israeli co-columnists, could start writing pieces with the intelligence, compassion, and fair-mindedness they usually display when the topic is anything other than the Middle East conflict. It also would behoove the opinion page editors of America’s leading papers to begin respecting the intelligence of their readers and to live up to their responsibility of offering them with both sides of the issue. They truly owe it to their profession to do so.

Mr. Ahmed Bouzid is President of Palestine Media Watch 

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