Israeli newspaper prints attack on EI, refuses to publish response

The widely respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has published an hysterical attack on The Electronic Intifada by a former Israeli cabinet minister, and is now refusing to publish a response.

In an article entitled “Massacring the Truth” (September 11, 2002), former Israel Labor party cabinet minister Amnon Rubinstein badly distorted a letter from the Electronic Intifada’s Nigel Parry and Ali Abunimah printed in The Economist on August 24. In that letter, Abunimah and Parry challenged the claim made in The Economist as well as in UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent report, that Palestinian officials had charged Israel with killing up to 500 civilians in Jenin refugee camp in its March-April assault.

In fact, according to the Electronic Intifada’s research, the only reference to the number 500 by any Palestinian official, was a statement by Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat on CNN on April 10 that up to 500 people had been killed throughout the occupied West Bank in Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” not just in Jenin. Erekat’s estimate ultimately turned out to be very close to the final death toll.

For a full discussion of this issue see Media Distortions and the UN Report on Jenin, by Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 1 August 2002.

Rubinstein deliberately took statements from The Economist letter out of context and twisted them beyond recognition in order to make the false claim that the Electronic Intifada had argued that “no Palestinians had spread false rumors of a massacre in Jenin and that the “myth” of the Palestinians accusing the IDF of a massacre was part of an anti-Palestinian plot.” Rubinstein also claimed that “the Electronic Intifada are not only saying there was no massacre, but that there were never any accusations of massacre, and whoever attributes such accusations to the Palestinians is misleading and lying.”

The Electronic Intifada acknowledged in its published August 1 feature — Media Distortions and the UN Report on Jenin — and in its original letter to The Economist that some Palestinian and Israeli officials used the word “massacre,” in connection with Jenin, but pointed out accurately that on the occasion when Erekat used the number 500, he did not use the word massacre even though he was falsely accused of doing so by The Jerusalem Post.

Not content to completely distort Parry and Abunimah’s position, Rubinstein pressed that the Electronic Intifada “is part of “a propaganda war [that] is being waged against Israel - including an electronic intifada - that has no counterpart in other conflicts,” and which is characterized by “hysterical anti-Semitism.”

The Electronic Intifada sent Ha’aretz a comprehensive response to Rubinstein’s attack urging the newspaper to print it “in the spirit of objectiveness for which it is known.”

Despite this, David Landau, the editor of the Ha’aretz English-language edition informed EI that the newspaper would not print the response. In correspondence with EI, Landau argued based on a highly selective misreading of The Economist letter that Rubinstein’s article was completely fair.

In his final note to Landau, EI’s Abunimah wrote:

In any case, we could of course disagree about the interpretation of our statements, and whether it is fair practice to pick things selectively, out of context, and use them as weapons to malign people and accuse them of “hysterical anti-semitism.” If you think this is worthy practice that is certainly your right.

But Mr. Rubinstein has had his say, so why not let us have ours? Surely you trust your readers enough to make their own judgment in the light of all the information, including that crucial information from our letter that Mr. Rubinstein excluded from his article?

So far, no further response from Ha’aretz, and no sign of our letter being printed.