Yet another example of the problem in sorting out the emotions and competing narratives in discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compounded by alleged media bias, was evident this week. The center of attention was Marwan Barghouti, in part because of his effort to lead a hunger strike among fellow Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, demanding more humane treatment; and in part because of who he is.
A highly popular and charismatic leader within Fatah who has been in prison for the last 15 years, Barghouti, the mastermind of the second intifada, wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Sunday entitled, “Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons.”
He was identified by The Times as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” The paper neglected to mention that he was found guilty of having direct responsibility for several terror attacks that killed five people, including a Greek monk, and that he admitted responsibility for at least one of those attacks. Also not mentioned was that the Israeli court found insufficient proof of guilt in another 21 deaths, underscoring that Barghouti was given a fair trial.
Many in the pro-Israel community rightly pointed out this glaring oversight, prompting the Times public editor, Liz Spayd, to agree that the description of Barghouti was distorted. Following her exchange with the editor of the Opinion pages, the Times appended an Editor’s Note that said the paper had “neglected to provide sufficient context,” pointing out that Barghouti had been convicted of “five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization.”
Those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause considered the ID issue a sidelight, and instead focused on Barghouti’s graphic account of his experience in Israeli jails since his first arrest at 15, and his claim that Israel’s “inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong.”
We wonder if he would prefer the Palestinian judicial system, widely criticized for failing to meet minimum standards of fairness in a society where honor killings are common, including men murdering female relatives suspected of sexual misbehavior, and defendants who can be convicted without a trial and summarily executed.
Further, while Barghouti has written in the past that he opposed actions targeting Israeli citizens, the truth is that his terror groups, Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, has killed dozens of Israeli civilians, and he defended such actions as part of Palestinian resistance.
As for those who call out The New York Times as particularly biased against Israel, it should be noted that the Wall Street Journal, largely considered to be sympathetic to the Jewish state, carried an Associated Press story on the hunger strike, which concluded that it was led by Barghouti, “a prominent figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.”
Today reporters are scrutinized like never before, and terms such as “Fake News” are commonplace. As a result, media outlets must be zealous in protecting their credibility, and not providing those suspicious of our intentions with additional ammunition. Not only does that include doing our best to ensure the accuracy of our reports, but also providing the relevant context and painting of a complete picture.
Otherwise, we’re merely propagating a lie by omission.