The Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2003

THE FOREIGN MEDIA'S FAILURE

By Michael Freund

On behalf of the people of Israel, I would like to thank the foreign media for enlightening us all about the true nature of Hamas.

After years of being targeted by stabbings, shootings and suicide bombers, Israelis had naively begun to think that the Islamic Resistance Movement was in fact a terrorist organization out to spill Jewish blood.

Thank goodness, then, for those intrepid journalists out there, who have made it their task to set us straight by informing us that not all Hamas murderers are necessarily bad. You see, they would have us believe that some Hamas murderers can be "moderates" too.

Take, for example, last week's reports on Israel's elimination of Hamas mastermind Ismail Abu Shanab. An item on the CNN web site referred to Abu Shanab as "a moderate member" of the group, while Time magazine labeled him a "political leader" who was "considered rather moderate at that".

Needless to say, it was this same "moderate" Hamas leader who regularly justified suicide bombings against Israelis, praised those who carried them out and labeled all Israelis "legitimate targets" of Palestinian violence.

Just last summer, after a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up at the entrance to the Mifgash HaSharon restaurant in Herzliya, killing a 15-year old Israeli girl, Abu Shanab applauded the atrocity, telling journalists that, "the Zionist escalation should be faced by a Palestinian escalation" (Associated Press, June 11, 2002).

In March 2002, during US envoy Anthony Zinni's visit to the region, Abu Shanab vowed that Hamas would continue to attack Israel. "Our resistance will continue as long as the occupation exists on our land. This is our strategy," he said (The Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2002). And shortly after the start of the current Palestinian terror campaign, Abu Shanab made clear that no Israeli would be considered off-limits. "We are in a state of war, and in a state of war all Israeli targets are legitimate," he insisted (The Jerusalem Post, October 12, 2000).

But as misleading as CNN and Time were in their portrayal of Abu Shanab as a "moderate", the prize for obfuscation goes to the Associated Press, which filed a story that at times read like a eulogy.

Entitled "Slain Hamas Leader Known as Moderate", (there's that "M" word again), the AP item had this to say about the late Mr. Abu Shanab, "While he backed the Hamas position that there is no place for a Jewish state in the Middle East, he was known as one of the group's more sober minds."

In other words, Abu Shanab may indeed have wanted to destroy the State of Israel and murder all 5 million of its Jewish citizens, but don't let that fool you, dear reader, because he still had a "sober" mind.

Silly us. How could we have viewed things so narrowly? Apparently, the parade of funerals and orphans filling Israel's TV screens last week led us to misconstrue Abu Shanab's otherwise peaceful intentions.

But the dead terrorist's character traits are not the only matter about which the foreign media has been misleading the public and misrepresenting the truth. For, when it comes to Hamas itself, many correspondents would have us believe that not everything about the group is really that bad after all.

This past Monday, after an Israeli strike in Gaza killed four Hamas members, including Ahmed Shtewe, its chief operations officer in the area, the New York Times identified Shtewe as being "a member of the violent wing of Hamas", as though there is a "non-violent wing" to it as well.

Similarly, CNN and others occasionally refer to Hamas' "political wing", implying that a division exists within the organization. And yet, there is absolutely no evidence to support this contention. Just the opposite. By all indications, Hamas' so-called "political leaders" are directly involved in planning and facilitating acts of terror against Israel. Indeed, Abu Shanab himself was reportedly taken out by Israel last week in part because he was behind the August 20 Jerusalem bus massacre in which 21 people were killed.

The whole exercise of trying to distinguish between Hamas military and political wings is, in any event, beside the point. The organization's primary goal is to wage war against Israel and to kill the maximum number of its citizens. Does it really matter, then, if a particular leader of the group is involved in carrying out the violence or merely inciting it? Either way, he is engaging in terrorism and bears responsibility for the outcome.

What's more, it is difficult to recall a single instance in which similar distinctions were drawn with regard to groups such as Al-Qaeda. Somehow, when it came to the killers of Americans, journalists managed to refrain from making such dubious assertions.

And, as has been widely noted, the media more often than not refers to Hamas perpetrators of anti-Israel violence as "militants", shying away from use of the word "terrorist", which it unhesitatingly applies to attacks elsewhere around the globe.

Aside from ignorance, the only possible explanation for this is that the foreign media is out to put Israel in a bad light even when it comes to acts of self-defense against Hamas. After all, if Abu Shanab is a "moderate", then why should Israel kill him? And if Hamas has a "political wing", then shouldn't Israel try to talk to it?

Inevitably, then, the reader is left with the impression that Israel has "retaliated" too harshly, and that its efforts to forestall terrorist attacks against its citizens are, at best, misguided.

While foreign journalists will deny this vehemently, the fact is that the cat is out of the media's bag. If they cannot recognize the iniquity of Hamas for what it is, and insist on muddling an otherwise straightforward story, then there is something quite wrong with both their judgment and their reporting.

Moreover, by shying away from presenting Hamas as the thoroughly evil organization that it truly is, reporters have enabled the group to escape the international censure that it so richly deserves, thereby making it easier for them to continue with their deadly war against the Jewish state.

And that is something which the people of Israel will neither forgive nor forget.

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The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu.



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