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Washington Post’s new Jerusalem correspondent married to pro-Israel propagandist

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Ruth Eglash at the 2010 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Rio Forum (Flickr)

Ruth Eglash, the Washington Post’s recently hired Jerusalem correspondent, has what could be a serious conflict of interest – her husband’s political and business ties to the Israeli government and its overseas propaganda apparatus.

The newspaper, however, refuses to say if Eglash disclosed her husband’s activities to her bosses as company policy demands.

Her own reporting and activities indicate that Eglash has difficulties providing fair and dispassionate coverage regarding Palestinians.

Eglash, who joined the Washington Post in April, was previously deputy managing editor of the far right-wing Jerusalem Post.

Close ties to Israeli government, army and anti-Palestinian propaganda

Ruth Eglash’s husband, Michael Eglash is president of the marketing firm Upstart Ideas.

Michael Eglash, who hails from Milwaukee, has been deeply involved in efforts to promote Israel and Israeli government policy for years and this is now his main business.

His firm lists among its past and present clients and close partners numerous Israeli government and Israeli-government backed entities including the the Ministry of Tourism, Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The JNF is deeply involved in the ongoing forced removals of Palestinian Bedouins from their ancestral lands in the Naqab (Negev) region.

Eglash’s company provides “marketing analysis, strategic recommendations and full service implementation of marketing campaign and recruitment strategy for a range of Israel programs,” according to its website.

Upstart Ideas says that it “helped to establish the wildly successful ‘Hasbara Fellowships’ organization and … worked extensively with JNF’s Caravan for Democracy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel.”

The company also claims that “Our marketing strategies have turned small Israel-based educational tour organizers into the biggest players with the Taglit-Birthright Israel market.”

Taglit-Birthright, partly funded by the Israeli government, gives free trips to young North American Jews, to bolster their support for Israel and encourage them to move there.

Eglash was also co-founder of the advocacy group Upstart Activist, which appears to be an earlier incarnation of the work he now does through Upstart Ideas.

According to its website:

Upstart Activist’s speakers have delivered hundreds of lectures, workshops, and seminars on over 50 North American campuses and in communities since 2001. Upstart Activist speakers have been sponsored by Caravan for Democracy, Hillel groups, AIPAC chapters, Hasbara Fellowships, Hadassah groups, synagogues and Jewish Federations.

The speakers in Upstart Activist’s roster include members of the Israeli army, among them representatives of its propaganda wing, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Ruth Eglash herself has been on speaking gigs sponsored by her husband’s clients or partners although there’s no indication that the appearances were brokered by him.

She is listed as a member of the speakers bureau of the Jewish National Fund.

Last year, she spoke in Milwaukee at an event sponsored by the Milwaukee chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation – a member of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Several of these sponsors are members of the “Israel Action Network,” a multi-million dollar initiative set up specifically to counter the growing movement for Palestinian rights.

The Jewish Federations of North America, chief sponsor of the Israel Action Network, is also listed as one of Upstart Ideas’ clients.

Washington Post conflict of interest policy

The Washington Post’s conflict of interest policy states:

This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. We have adopted stringent policies on these issues, conscious that they may be more restrictive than is customary in the world of private business.

Having established this high standard, the policy adds:

Relatives cannot fairly be made subject to Post rules, but it should be recognized that their employment or their involvement in causes can at least appear to compromise our integrity. The business and professional ties of traditional family members or other members of your household must be disclosed to department heads.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Michael Eglash has been personally committed to promoting the cause of Israel for all of his adult life, and has helped establish and works closely with official entities dedicated to that cause.

There is also no doubt that the commercial interests of Eglash’s marketing firm, and therefore his livelihood, depend on favorable portrayals of Israel and negative portrayals of Palestinian rights advocates, especially for such clients as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism or Taglit-Birthright.

Washington Post’s response

I wrote to Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl to ask two questions: did Ruth Eglash disclose her husband’s professional and business activities; and did the newspaper believe that these activities could at least appear to compromise the newspaper’s integrity?

Jehl did not respond to either question, but sent the following statement by email, copied to the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth and deputy foreign editor Griffe Witte:

The Post is committed to its stringent policy on avoiding conflict of interest, which cover the entire newspaper, including foreign bureaus and among the contract employees who work for the foreign staff.

Ruth Eglash’s apparent biases

This response is less than satisfactory, especially given the indications from Ruth Eglash’s own work and activities.

On 4 March, soon before joining the Washington Post, Ruth Eglash appeared on a panel titled “Telling Israel’s Story,” alongside Jewish Agency social media director Avi Mayer and Israeli army spokesperson Avital Leibovitch.

The panel was chaired by Aryeh Green, a former advisor to the Israeli government, but the panel included no one known to be critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians who could provide a balancing viewpoint.

Criticisms of Zionism are “sick”

Last year Ruth Eglash wrote an outraged Huffington Post column condemning a YouTube video called “Shit Zionists Say” – part of a spate of such spoofs with such titles as “Shit Girls Say,” “Shit Arab Girls Say,” and “Shit Gay Guys Say.”

The lighthearted video featured numerous persons associated with the Palestine solidarity movement, including Rae Abileah, Dalit Baum, Anna Baltzer, Abraham Greenhouse, Jesse Bacon, Sherry Wolf, Max Blumenthal and myself.

Eglash refused to include a link to the video, claiming:

Shit Zionists Say, (does not deserve a link) is a clip made by a group calling itself “Existence is Resistance.” Disturbingly, they have turned a creative and entertaining genre into a very unfunny and failed attempt to make an extreme political point about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Their video does not feature one single Zionist, but a stream of anti-Zionist individuals expounding deep hatred in sick and very unconstructive way [sic].

While the video is highly offensive, it also does nothing to promote the very real and serious need for Israelis to recognize the rights of Palestinian people as human beings and the need for everyone in the region to work towards peace.

Anyone watching the video would see that it is a spoof of arguments and statements that Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists hear from Zionists on a daily basis, although often expressed in violent, Islamophobic and racist terms that were absent from the spoof.

Eglash’s intolerance of even this sort of mild satire of Zionism, and her characterization of people engaged in solidarity work in such sweeping terms — imputing to them “deep hatred” and “sick” language — suggests she is incapable of dispassionate reporting.

Biases in The Washington Post

Biases are also clearly visible in The Washington Post. In a recent article on Israel’s efforts to impose its curriculum on children in occupied East Jerusalem, Eglash and her colleague William Booth wrote:

Israel has declared Jerusalem its undivided capital. Yet East Jerusalem is sought by the Palestine Liberation Organization as the capital of a future state. There are about 360,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. A large but unknown number consider themselves Palestinian residents of “Occupied East Jerusalem,” others choose the term “permanent residents,” and a small but growing number are seeking Israeli citizenship.

This euphemistic passage fails to point out that eastern Jerusalem is considered occupied territory under international law, and Israel’s annexation is universally considered illegal.

No country in the world, not even the United States, recognizes Israel’s claims to Jerusalem. Yet Eglash places “Occupied East Jerusalem” in quotation marks, demoting these incontrovertible facts to the mere opinion of an “unknown number” of Palestinians.

Moreover it is not Palestinians who deem themselves “permanent residents.” Rather it is the Israeli occupation that treats Palestinian Jerusalemites as if they were immigrants in their own city, often using this as a pretext to withdraw or deny their residency cards, effectively expelling them from their native city.

Such skewed reporting ought to be deeply worrying to anyone who wishes to turn to the Washington Post as a reliable source on the situation in Palestine.