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By Barry Rubin

How incredibly bad is media coverage of Israel-Palestinian issues and of the Middle East in general? Here’s an example.

CNN has just run a report on how wonderfully moderate the Palestinian Authority (PA) is. They are firing imams of West Bank mosques who are spewing out incitement against Israel!

Well, first of all this claim began five months ago, when the PA started peddling it, and I wrote about it almost three months ago, after liberal American Jews began citing it as another demonstration of the PA’s moderation. It is not a new story at all.

Second, unlike what news reports are supposed to do, this doesn’t name actual imams who have been fired, numbers, or places where these people have been kicked out. Thus, it is impossible to tell whether a single imam has been ousted.

Third, we constantly hear West Bank sermons and they are by no means becoming more moderate. The same goes, of course, with the West Bank newspapers, leaders’ speeches, and television. (See examples at the end of this article).

In fact, though, it is quite possible that imams have been fired, but not for being inciteful but for being Hamas supporters, or at least not sufficiently loyal to the PA.

And if the CNN reporter cannot cite examples, how does he know this happened? I’d bet you large amounts of Euros against small quantities of high-quality, low-fat yogurt (chocolate, thank you) that it is because (ta-da!) PA officials told him that this was so. It might have gone through an additional stage, with the PA official passing it on to a Palestinian pro-Fatah stringer, and then to the reporter.

In short, the PA issues press releases, in effect, the media publishes them as truth. Whether it be women allegedly dying of tear-gas, massacres in Jenin, or whatever, much of the mass media (and notably Reuters, AP, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio being prominent on that list) have merely become extensions of the PA advertising agency.

Or, in other words, business as usual.

Now, what about that moderation lately?

OK, here are some good stories for CNN and others:

Item 1:

If you read the following quote–thanks to Palestinian Media Watch, you’d think it comes from al-Qaida, Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, or Iran.

“There are other conspiracies which the occupation [Israel] plans so as to cause a decrease [in attention] to the Palestinian cause and to turn it into a secondary matter with no priority, such as the ethic-religious battle going on in Lebanon….the division of Sudan….What is happening in Yemen [including al-Qaida]…. There are also the massacres being carried out against the Christian communities in Iraq….”

But who is speaking here? Tayeb Abd al-Rahim. And who is he? The director of the office of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA)–in an interview with al-Hayat al-Jadida, January 4, 2011–whose name is never mentioned in the Western media without the word “moderate” being attached to it.

Item 2:
And here’s a report, thanks again Palestinian Media Watch, on PA television’s consisting claiming all of Israel as part of a future Arab Palestine

Item 3:
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has just made the Alashekeen band (of musicians, not terrorists–well not gun-toting ones at least) the PA’s official band. And here are some lyrics from their biggest hit:

“The Zionists went out from [their] homelands,
compounding damage and enmity.
But the Palestinian revolution awaits.
The orchard called us to the [armed] struggle.
We replaced bracelets with weapons.
We attacked the despicable [Zionists].
This invading enemy is on the battlefield.
This is the day of consolation of Jihad.”

Jihad, huh? Perhaps internal personal striving to be a better person? Not exactly, “Give Peace a Chance.” It might be enough to say that this promotes extremism and violence. But always remember that by the same token this kind of politics doesn’t support peace and conciliation. So if Abbas did want to make a compromise peace with Israel, he would be perceived as a traitor, partly a situation of his own making.

Thank goodness the PA doesn’t have its own talk radio show in the United States!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).  

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