November/December '99

EYE ON THE MEDIA: Heresy at The New York Times
By David Bar-Illan
(December 10) After years of an Arafat-can-do-no-wrong approach, born not of political blindness but the fear that criticism of the Palestinian tyrant would harm the peace process, The New York Times and The Boston Globe (same ownership) last week published editorials critical of Israel's peace partner.

Having forgiven him for refusing to comply with agreements, failing to crack down on the terrorist organizations, sheltering and embracing Hamas leaders, glorifying "the engineer" Yihye Ayyash, calling for jihad against Israel, sanctioning the use of virulently antisemitic textbooks in Palestinian schools, heaping blood libels on Israel, ordering the murder of real-estate brokers who sold land to Israelis, allying himself with America's - and humanity's - worst enemies, instituting kangaroo justice, extreme torture, and arbitrary executions in Palestinian jails, and running the most corrupt administration since the reign of King Farouk, these august publications suddenly awoke to one of his little imperfections.

What incensed them was that Arafat threw in jail prominent public figures who protested against his corruption and oppression. The Times mustered enough courage to promptly slap him on the wrist. "Mr. Arafat must learn to listen to his critics instead of jailing them," said its editorial. And the Globe, an avid Oslo-process enthusiast and as tolerant of Palestinian abuses as the Times, went even further.

Bravely defying political correctness, it committed outright heresy by casting doubt on Oslo's basic premise: the indispensability of Arafat to the peace process. "Arafat's reversion to old habits raises the awkward question of whether he is too undemocratic to negotiate a durable peace with Israel," it asserted in a December 3 editorial. As of now, the editor has neither retracted nor been fired.

Next thing you know, those devout PLO promoters in New England will cast doubt on the wisdom of the Oslo Agreement itself.

That the PA's collaboration with terrorists, which has cost hundreds of Israeli lives, never elicited the kind of indignation that Arafat's suppression of domestic dissent has done may be a sign of moral bankruptcy. These sanctimonious newspapers have always attached greater importance to abstract peace agreements than to their cost in blood.

But there may be another reason for their outraged reaction. It may have finally dawned on them that perhaps Arafat is not the fairytale figure they have conjured up in their dreams of peace, not a liberator and born-again democrat, but a despot in the worst Middle Eastern tradition. They may finally understand that by considering him indispensable to the peace process and treating him like a protected species, they have condemned the Palestinians to life under a corrupt dictatorship and discouraged those who would fight for democracy.

Few American newspapers seem to understand this. Among them are The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and The Boston Herald. The Herald, for example, opened its editorial on Arafat's suppression of dissent with "If he's behaving this badly now, imagine how Yasser Arafat will act as the head of a Palestinian state..." and reaches the inevitable conclusion "...pretty much the way Al Capone controlled Chicago."

The Al Capone analogy seems particularly cogent on reading the London Sunday Telegraph December 5 story by Tom Gross.

It is a fascinating report, scrupulously avoided by most other media, on the discovery of billions stashed away by the PLO in secret foreign bank accounts, investments, and real estate. The discovery was made by hackers who broke into computers at the PLO headquarters in Tunis.

As Gross puts it, "The timing of the disclosures could not have been more embarrassing as Mr. Arafat, seated before a stage built to resemble a giant Christmas crib, yesterday opened Millennium celebrations in Bethlehem... One embittered Palestinian said: 'Why is he sitting on a mountain of gold while there is a desperate lack of jobs and medical supplies here?' "

Another illumination of Middle East facts of life could be found in Tom Friedman's December 5 column in The New York Times. Asserting that Hafez Assad is "the most overrated leader in the world today... the leader of a failing state - a la Cuba, North Korea and Iraq," Friedman asserts that Assad would rather retain power in a backward state than risk losing it by opening Syria to Israel and the world. "Israel shouldn't exit the Golan unless it sees Syria enter the world," he concludes.

In a private conversation, Friedman compared relinquishing the Golan to Syria with giving up the DMZ to North Korea. Both would be equally insane. The same logic should apply to forfeiting strategically vital areas to a corrupt, hostile, and oppressive Palestinian regime. But Oslo groupies have not internalized this yet.

One such groupie is Ha'aretz correspondent Danny Rubinstein, who acts as the chief apologist for the PLO in a paper whose opinion pages are wholly devoted to furthering the Palestinian agenda.

Attempting to diminish the damage of Suha Arafat's "poison gas" speech, Rubinstein, in a long December 5 article, does what Time magazine and other apologists have been trying to do. He avers that she might have exaggerated a bit, but essentially had good reason to make her accusations.

"In the territories," writes Rubinstein, "they cite numerous examples of Israeli merchants who distribute faulty and contaminated foodstuffs that cause the outbreak of disease. One can also find there building materials, medicines, and other products that cannot be sold in Israel because they do not meet Israeli standards. They are sold in the West Bank and Gaza with the knowledge that they will cause damage to the Palestinian population. It is against this background that the sympathy for Suha Arafat's speech can be understood."

That there is any truth in these tales is unlikely. Neither Rubinstein nor anyone else has ever presented evidence to substantiate them. But one can only wonder if Rubinstein, who undoubtedly considers himself a humanist and a liberal, realizes how patronizing his attitude is. For if the charges are true - the existence of an unscrupulous Israeli merchant cannot be ruled out - does Rubinstein want to imply that the Palestinians are helpless children force-fed by venal Israeli peddlers?

Israeli goods are sold in the PA territories solely by Palestinians, who purchase them from Israelis. If the goods are defective, why do they buy and sell them? Don't they have a mind of their own?

Rubinstein himself admits that the Palestinian Authority has failed to establish consumer-protection agencies and a bureau of standards. He also relates that during the intifada, young Palestinian activists would torch the stores of Palestinian merchants who sold Israeli goods. To protect themselves, the merchants concealed the Israeli merchandise in warehouses, offering it for sale only in 1990, when in the buying frenzy that accompanied the Gulf War the fear of the shabiba was overcome.

Rubinstein cites a Palestinian journalist, Maher Dasouki, who says he started suspecting the Israeli government of providing defective goods when he realized that the gas masks distributed to Palestinians during the Gulf War were too old to be effective.

Rubinstein's colleague does not specify whether they were not effective enough for dancing on the roofs to cheer the Scuds exploding in Tel Aviv, or if they failed to protect firebomb throwers from Israeli tear gas. Nor does he bother to mention that the masks were distributed to protect against a possible chemical attack by the Palestinians' staunchest ally, Saddam Hussein, and that in the rush to prepare for the war, Israelis, too, received ineffective masks.

And while admitting that there isn't an iota of evidence to support any of these stories, he repeats, with palpable sympathy, revolting Palestinian canards. One is a story that Israel used a Palestinian collaborator to poison water tanks in Jenin homes, another a charge that Israel has sold Palestinian farmers poisonous insecticides that destroyed their crops.

What Rubinstein and other apologists consistently ignore is that Suha's speech, like Dasouki's ridiculous fairy tales, are no more than the latest installment in a Palestinian campaign of blood libels.

Water poisoning by Israel was blamed as far back as 1983 for an outbreak of hysterical convulsions and vomiting in a West Bank girls' school (similar to an outbreak a few days before in New Jersey).

Since Oslo, such charges have intensified and multiplied. It is an all-too-familiar campaign, whose spiritual ancestor can be found in the well-poisoning libels of the Middle Ages.

Shlomo Hillel once said that the problem with Shimon Peres's vision of The New Middle East is that it assumes we live at the end of the 20th century, when in fact much of the region is still rooted in the 16th.

Arafat seems to be working overtime to prove him right.

©Jerusalem Post 1999

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