Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crossing the Line: Journalistic Irresponsibility at The Hartford Courant

On March 21, The Hartford Courant published a commentary by Bessy Reyna (email <bessy_reyna@hotmail.com>) entitled "Amid Repression, Provocations of Palestinians, It's Business As Usual," (available at http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-reyna-israel-palestinian-cou.artmar21,0,6910479.story) which not only crossed the line separating even harsh but legitimate criticism from a hateful screed, but which contained numerous blatant factual errors.

The following email was sent to the editorial page editor of The Courant. PRIMER awaits a response.

I was disappointed to see yet another Bessy Reyna commentary about Israel published, the second of which I'm aware since our 2008 meeting at which we were told she had been instructed to stop writing on that subject.

Besides her expected extreme bias and sins of omission which go beyond any responsible commentary, Reyna again included several blatant factual errors. On behalf of PRIMER-Connecticut and in line with the responsibility of newspapers when factual errors are published, I request that corrections be issued.

Among the factual errors:

•" … the announcement of Israel's plan to build a new settlement of 1,600 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem."

The plans are not for a "new settlement." They are for additions to an existing community. (The Israeli government hasn't approved any "new settlements" since the start of the failed Oslo process.)

There also is no entity by the name of "East Jerusalem," despite the widespread, but incorrect use of that term. Ramat Shlomo is not even in the eastern portion of Jerusalem; it's actually in northwest Jerusalem

It's also highly questionable to refer to the area as occupied, since it isn't even in the portion of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan but it's in what had been a "no man's land" between the Israeli portion and the portion occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967.

•" … prompted by Israel's decision to name the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron- a Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century - and the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah in Bethlehem as Jewish heritage sites, thus limiting Muslims' access to their own mosques."

Including these sites on a list of Jewish heritage sites (which they clearly are) in no way limits the access of Muslims. Indeed, the improvements planned will actually increase the accessibility for Muslims. (One might consider the latter assertion as a matter of opinion, but Reyna's statement was asserted as fact and is clearly false.)

It's also false to refer to the first as a "Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century," since it is indisputable that there was no "Palestinian people" at that time.

What Reyna misleadingly refers to only as the "Ibrahimi Mosque" is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It has had some significance to Muslims, but that is predated by millennia by the holiness to Jews, something Reyna completely omits.

Similarly, what Reyna misleadingly refers to only as the "Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah" is actually Rachel's Tomb, similarly revered by Jews long before Islam arose.

These omissions may not technically be factual errors, but are certainly misleading distortions which qualify as egregious violations of journalistic responsibility.

•…"The peaceful demonstrations which have resulted as a reaction to the taking of these mosques …"

The demonstrations were far from peaceful. Some of them involved throwing stones at people trying to worship at the Western Wall. (This affected me personally, since I happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, was planning to visit the Western Wall and changed those plans primarily because of the violent demonstrations.)

To refer to "the taking of these mosques" is also totally false; nothing has been taken.

•"Known as the Goldstone Report, it concluded that there was strong evidence confirming that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 17, 2009."

This is also false and contradicted by the words of the author of the report. Judge Goldstone himself has stated "If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven."

One can reasonably question the wisdom of certain Israeli actions, but like Reyna's previously commentaries on the Arab war against the existence of the only Jewish state in the world, this column was venomous, goes far beyond the line of reasonable criticism, contains unacceptable distortions resulting from what can only be inferred to be the deliberate omission of highly relevant facts and contains blatant factual errors.

Again, on behalf of PRIMER, I request The Courant appropriate issue official corrections for the blatant factual errors and in the future refrain from staining its pages by publishing additional commentaries which so blatantly cross the line separating legitimate criticism from hateful screeds.

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