By Steve Feldman
(SEPTEMBER 8, 2022 / JNS) Anti-Israel “news” reports, analyses and op-eds have been routine at The Philadelphia Inquirer for more than a generation.
An Aug. 23 staff-written news article about an anti-Jewish extremist who lost a job at a local school a year ago was especially egregious in its efforts to solicit sympathy for an avowed Jew-hater, and itself incited resentment and hatred of Jews. In addition, it violated multiple journalism ethics standards, including failure to offer even a shred of objectivity or balance.
Moreover, reporter Massarah Mikati had signed an online manifesto laced with demonstrably false accusations against Israel that called on journalists to slant the news in favor of the Palestinian Arabs. Inquirer editors never should have allowed her to report on that subject.
I addressed these issues in an op-ed. The Inquirer’s executive editor told me during a phone conversation that he would consider publishing it. But the Inquirer ultimately refused, citing a discretionary in-house rule that relegates responses to articles to the letters section.
A letter lacks the impact and prominence of an op-ed. A letter is dramatically shorter, and thus cannot address most of the malfeasances in the above news article. Especially important was that the Inquirer does not publish letters on its website. As a result, the news article will live in perpetuity on the Inquirer’s website, but those online readers would not see my rebuttal.
Below, I present some highlights from my unpublished op-ed.
There are few subjects or areas more controversial and contested than Israel and Jewish self-determination or Zionism. There is no other country in the world whose very existence routinely remains in question; no other nation faces the variety and severity of vows to annihilate it; no other place is under such scrutiny; and there is no other people who have faced the continuous incitement of hatred and resentment, and the persecution and violence the incitement sparks, as have the Jewish people.
Rather than try to bring clarity to readers, Mikati and the Inquirer seem to want to turn them into political pawns. Biased reporting about Israel—the nation-state of the Jewish people—stirs more Jew-hatred and resentment.
Mikati uses the phrases “pro-Palestine,” “advocates for Palestinian rights” and “professors and organizations that advocate for Palestinian rights” in her article. Yet there is nothing “pro” in what [subject of the news article Natalie] Abulhawa and her ilk post on social media or display at events they attend.
They don’t call for elections in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas; Abulhawa and others do not protest for an end to well-documented corruption and theft of international aid money by Palestinian Arab leaders; they are not demanding an end to the official incitement which instills Jew-hatred and denial of Israel among successive generations of Palestinian Arabs; they do not call for an end to attacks against Israelis that compel Israeli governments to respond with force to protect Israeli citizens.
What Abulhawa and the others are is anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist and against the existence of the only Jewish state.
Rhetoric attributed to Abulhawa by the watchdog group Canary Mission (who Mikati attacks in her article) that Mikati omitted from her article includes:
- On Aug. 5, 2016, Abulhawa tweeted: “Fk[sic] each and every single Zionist on this planet. I hope they rot in fking[sic] hell. Fking[sic] cts [sic].”
- On Nov. 27, 2015, Abulhawa tweeted a video of herself training with a high-powered sniper rifle. Abulhawa commented on the video: “dear white people, I’m not training for isis [sic].” The video showed several other weapons within Abulhawa’s reach.
- On June 5, 2016, Abulhawa tweeted: “all these gross a** [sic] Zionists [sic] on my flight eyeing me mad hard because I got my laptop out with its free Palestine stickers.”
Mikati claims in her article (unattributed to anyone, and thus her opinion): “[A]dvocates for Palestinian rights [are] being silenced and retaliated against for their views, particularly because support for Israel is dominant in American discourse and politics.”
Mikati makes support for Israel, America’s most reliable ally in the Middle East, seem sinister. Where is her evidence that critics are being silenced? In fact, their voices are widely read and heard today.
Mikati quotes an academic who claims that America’s “foreign policy is to blindly and unconditionally support Israel’s state policies and practices, even if those practices and policies violate international human rights.” Another lie. More incitement.
Mikati neglects to include reactions or quotes from Israeli officials, nor from any local Israelis or pro-Israel activists to rebut those allegations, nor to explain how painful social media posts attributed to Abulhawa and others are.
Zionism is not—as the writer claims—“the national ideology of Israel.” The movement predates the re-establishment of Israel by 50 years. As a vital element of the Jewish religion, Zionism (at its essence settling the Land of Israel) is as old as Judaism itself.
It will be up to a court to decide the merits of Abulhawa’s lawsuit in response to her termination from her job, and both sides will have an opportunity to present their case. The Inquirer and reporter Mikati offered only one perspective to the court of public opinion to try to influence readers to have sympathy for an anti-Israel activist. That is not the role of a newspaper and its reporter.
The Inquirer abrogated an implicit pact with its readers to inform them, to be objective, to offer balance and to ensure that reporters who have a thumb on the scale keep their hands off an article involving a subject in which they have a vested interest or bias. News reports (as opposed to columns or op-eds) are not supposed to gin up sympathy for one party to a conflict.
Sadly, both for news consumers and the profession of journalism, what the Inquirer did has become commonplace in the industry, especially as it pertains to Israel, Israel’s efforts to defend itself, the Arab and Muslim war against the Jewish people and a range of activities to attempt to delegitimize and destroy Zionism and the Jewish state.
Those of us who value and cherish the First Amendment must demand media integrity so that the press freedom the First Amendment protects is used for the purpose for which it was intended: To be a “watchdog” rather than one side’s lapdog or pit bull.
Steve Feldman is executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Zionist Organization of America and had been a professional journalist for more than 20 years.
This op-ed was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.