Palestinian Media Watch’s “biased” director no expert, rules Israeli court

A judge in the Tel Aviv district court threw out a case seeking to prove a Palestinian “policy of incitement” against Israel last month.

The case collapsed at least in part because it relied on Itamar Marcus, the director of Palestinian Media Watch, as an “expert.”

The judge damningly concluded that Marcus’ work “does not constitute an expert opinion.”

Although Marcus claims on his website to be “one of the foremost authorities on Palestinian ideology and policy,” the judge dismissed his claims and practically laughed him out of court.

An unnamed victim of a shooting attack sought to sue the Palestinian Authority claiming that they had an indirect responsibility for the attack “due to a policy of incitement against Jews and the state of Israel.”

The 28 August court decision was reported in the Hebrew press this week, with one blogger quoting extensively from the court ruling (quotations in this article were translated from that blog post).

But it has received no coverage in the western media to my knowledge, although the Palestinian agency Ma’an has a report. This is a shame, because Marcus’ outfit has been fairly influential in the western press at times.

In 2007, Hillary Clinton very publicly backed the group as part of her campaign to smear Palestinian schoolbooks. Also that year, Palestinian Media Watch had a significant media hit based on a subtitled video they publicized of Farfur, a Mickey Mouse lookalike which it claimed a Hamas-affiliated TV station had used “to teach hate and Islamic supremacy.”

Yet like MEMRI, another Israeli government-linked “monitoring” outfit, Palestinian Media Watch’s claims about Palestinian media are highly selective, often exaggerated, misleading and downright deceitful.

Its real remit seems precisely the opposite of what it claims to be – in fact it promotes incitement against Palestinians.

Judge’s scorn

In her decision, Justice Dalia Ganot said Marcus tended to cherry-pick his quotations from the Palestinian media to suit his case: “most of the quotes appearing in his opinion are perversely taken” from a single paper, al-Hayat al-Jadida. However Marcus “has agreed that the al-Quds newspaper has the largest circulation among Palestinians, and that the al-Hayat has the lowest circulation.”

Ganot explained that as part of his evidence, “Marcus the expert” claimed to have examined articles over a 15-year period in which “tens of thousands of articles had been published. Marcus the expert considered in his opinion only 76 articles that were published over those 15 years.”

And even some of these examples given were not what Marcus had claimed them to be:

not all of the quoted articles constitute incitement … in fact, if certain speakers call for the return of the intifada, this must not necessarily be seen as incitement to murder and kill Israelis and Jews.

The judge explained what would be obvious to any Arabic speaker, or anyone with a passing familiarity with the word:

As was made clear by Marcus the expert, the meaning of the word “intifada” is “a shaking off” … it is not possible [as Marcus did] to interpret a priori every opinion that calls for the return of the intifada as an explicit call to murder Jews. That interpretation is far-reaching.

Asked about another Palestinian publication, Marcus stated, “I am not an expert in al-Fajr” with the judge sarcastically concluding, “I wonder – what sort of expertise is required for the reading of the articles and the understanding thereof?”

Marcus instead seems to have argued that because the Palestinian Authority owns al-Hayat al-Jadida, anything in it must constitute official policy, despite its low circulation: “I don’t care if even no one reads it,” he remarked.

The judge was not impressed by this response:

This answer is somewhat problematic, as if the purpose of this opinion is to prove the existence of a policy of incitement, directed at the masses, it would stand to reason that this policy would be reflected in the larger and more popular newspapers, which clearly have greater readership … Marcus the expert agreed that Wafa is the official news agency connected with the PLO, and despite this, the expert did not see fit to include in his opinion even one quote from Wafa although it stands to reason that if a policy of incitement exists, it will be expressed more forcefully and clearly in an official PLO media organ …

Of Marcus and of the case in general she concluded:

there is no evading the conclusion that the opinion of Marcus the expert is not balanced and that it is in fact biased, especially when it became clear that it made use of quotes from insignificant newspapers on the one hand, and it was proven that he ignored the existence of other journals and of television channels that are very popular among the residents of the PA … the plaintiffs have not proven the existence of a policy of incitement, although they have undoubtedly proven the existence of incitement in the Palestinian media, incitement which is sometimes nothing more than nauseating slander.

The final sentence of the ruling is withering:

no media documentation was attached that supported the claim about the alleged existence of a causal effect between the incitement and the murder, and with Marcus the expert having neither the knowledge nor the tools required to determine such a causal relationship.

If Marcus is such a transparent propagandist, with no real expertise, why is he taken seriously in the West?

Incitement debunked

As Israeli language and education professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan notes in her seminal book documenting the anti-Palestinian racism found in Israeli textbooks, Israel likes to claim that “Palestinians teach their children to hate us and we teach love thy neighbor” – but this is a sheer fallacy, as Peled-Elhanan proves.

Marcus and his outfit have played a key role in propagating this myth. In 2007, they launched a report on the subject that was enthusiastically backed by then-Senator Hillary Clinton – who has since unsuccessfully run for president and served a tenure as Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

In a 2008 post addressed at Clinton, the blogger Lawrence of Cyberia said: “You don’t care whether independent research has consistently shown your accusations to be false.”

This Israeli judge’s ruling absolutely trashing Marcus should surely come as an embarrassment for Clinton, who in 2007 enthusiastically praised him as “a steadfast leader” at a press conference launching the report.

Who is Itamar Marcus?

Although originally from New York, Marcus himself is an Israeli settler – he lives in the illegal West Bank settlement of Efrat. In the 1990s he worked as part of the Israeli government’s team in “peace process” negotiations, combating alleged Palestinian incitement.

He was one of the interviewees appearing in the Islamophobic film Obsession. Marcus also spoke at the 2008 “Facing Jihad” conference in Jerusalem, on the same day as Islamophobic Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

He is a contributor to Frontpage Mag, the website run by David Horowitz – a key figure in the US Islamophobia industry. His latest contribution there hysterically denounces as “genocidal” Palestinian citizens of Israel for daring to cling to a Palestinian identity, or for calling Acre, Nazareth, Tiberias, Haifa and Jaffa Palestinian cities (all were majority Palestinian cities before Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing forced 750,000 Palestinians out, turning them into refugees until this day).

The Hebrew blogger who quoted at length from the judge’s decision gives the following on Marcus:

The aforementioned Marcus has no special education in the field of media, and he doesn’t even speak Arabic, but as the scion of a very wealthy family, which funds many extremist right wing organizations under the umbrella of the Central Fund of Israel (sugar daddy for Honenu, Im Tirtzu, The Legal Forum for Israel, Yesha Watch, and a good many other organizations) and while he was vice chair of that foreign fund, he established and ran a “research institute” whose role was to review Palestinian media and cherry-pick quotes that would showcase Israel in the role of the victim. Based on the charity’s tax filings, it received donations of nearly NIS 2,178,758, [about $613,000] nearly all from a single donor, despite the fact that in prior years it had funds transferred to it through the Jewish Agency, no less.

This last point is interesting, as it suggests a strong connection between the state and Palestinian Media Watch (the Jewish Agency is a quasi-governmental organization historically responsible for encouraging Zionist colonization of Palestine).

Palestinian Media Watch’s Israeli tax return documents show that the Jewish Agency supported them to the tune of NIS 474,354 ($133,811) in 2010, and with similar amounts in previous years.

A 2012 report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz by former Israeli army captain Barak Ravid cites anonymous “high-ranking government and military sources” saying that Israel has now “unofficially outsourced some of their intelligence work to private organizations” including Palestinian Media Watch.

Itamar Marcus “until recently served as the vice president of the Central Fund of Israel,” Ravid wrote, “a New York-based right-wing nonprofit association that donates to Israeli right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu and helps fund various activities in West Bank settlements.”

Under the current prime minister, Ravid explained, “the intelligence agencies have been cutting down on monitoring the Palestinian media,” partly due to a decision to more closely monitor social networks and other online sources in the wake of 2011’s Arab uprisings.

Coincidentally enough, Palestinian Media Watch’s Israeli tax returns show no funding from the Jewish Agency in 2011. Have they started receiving more direct government funding?

I put this question to Palestinian Media Watch in an email, along with request for comment on the judge’s ruling. It’s a holiday in Israel this weekend and I have so far received no reply, but will update this post should I receive one.

Dena Shunra contributed vital research and translation from Hebrew documents.




I smiled each time I read the court addresses him as " Marcus the expert".

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).