Even before Ariel Sharon’s victory in the recent Israeli elections, NPR reporters were busily portraying the veteran Israeli leader as a bloodthirsty killer eager to plunge the Middle East into flames. In consecutive January 24th segments of All Things Considered, reports by Jennifer Ludden and Kate Seelye characterized Sharon as a “war criminal,” as the “butcher of Beirut,” as a man possessed by an “obsession with force,” and as one whom “many blame for helping trigger the current spasm of violence.”
The first report, a supposed profile of Sharon, featured an interview with “peace activist” Amiram Goldblum, who was allowed to demonize Sharon as building a “career out of the politics and the culture of hatred,” and looking at everything as a “battlefield where he has to conquer something.” Ludden added to the vilification, telling listeners that Goldblum “considers Sharon’s candidacy immoral, given his long military record,” but she failed to disclose facts about her guest that might have lead reasonable listeners to question his judgement and credibility.
Omitted were details such as that Goldblum is an extreme leftist distant from the Israeli mainstream. Goldblum was repudiated even by his colleagues in the very dovish Peace Now movement after he explained away Saddam Hussein’s Scud attacks and threats of annihilation as due only to Israel’s alleged failure to make concessions to the Palestinians. In 1990, after a Palestinian stabbed and killed three Israelis in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem where Goldblum lives, even his own neighbors began to stone his house in frustration at what they saw as his outspokenly pro-PLO views. Goldblum also publicly opposed the Gulf War as an alleged American grab for power and oil, rather than an attempt to liberate an occupied country and rein in a dangerous dictator.
Just the guest to interpret Ariel Sharon for NPR listeners. And, with Goldblum’s eager criticism of Israel, it should come as little surprise that he is right at the top of NPR’s rolodex, frequently gracing the network’s airwaves when an “Israeli” perspective is needed.
Underscoring Goldblum’s allegations, Ludden gave special emphasis to a 1953 raid Sharon led on the West Bank village of Kibya, which left “69 civilians dead and 49 houses blown up.” Ludden once again failed to disclose relevant facts, such as that the village, then under Jordanian control, had served as a base for terrorist attacks against Israelis. Also unmentioned by Ludden was the immediate provocation for the reprisal against Kibya, an attack on October 12, 1953 in which Arab terrorists from the area of Kibya killed a young Israeli mother, Susan Kanias, and her two children, aged one and three.
Ludden and NPR apparently consider the wanton murder of Israelis irrelevant, since also unmentioned is the toll such terrorists attacks had taken in that period, with 137 Israelis killed in 1951, and 162 killed in each of 1952 and 1953, most of them civilians. Some of the Palestinians that Israel is now negotiating with led these or similar attacks, yet NPR never refers to them as “butchers” or “brutal” or “hardline.”
Of course, Ludden did not just omit the context for the Kibya raid, she also omitted the details, which make clear that it was no massacre. Having demobilized after the War of Independence, thanks to expectations of peace with its Arab neighbors, Israel’s army had shown itself incapable of stopping terror attacks against its civilians, or even of launching effective retaliatory strikes against terror bases. Sharon, then studying law, was recalled to duty by the chief of the Israeli army. He was asked to form a special counter-terror unit that could strike the terrorists where they lived and thereby disrupt and prevent future attacks.
Kibya was the unit’s first action – the soldiers crossed the border and arrived at the town under cover of darkness, intending to drive off the town’s defenders and residents and blow up its main buildings. As Sharon’s men took control of the town, scouts reported that hundreds of villagers were seen streaming away from the area. After allowing the few people they found still in the buildings to leave, the soldiers set their charges. When the mission was complete, Sharon and his men reported that they had destroyed 42 buildings and killed 10 to 12 people, all soldiers or guards.
Afterwards, when it became known that some civilians had remained hidden and were killed unintentionally, the likeliest explanation seemed to be that previously ineffectual Israeli raids had lulled the victims into thinking they would be safe hiding in their homes. Had it been the Israeli intention to kill civilians, the defenseless villagers fleeing Kibya would have been prime targets – instead Israel allowed them to leave unharmed. All this is deemed irrelevant by Ludden and NPR.
In the seven-and-a-half minute report only one speaker was allowed to defend Sharon, Professor Gerald Steinberg, who was afforded a mere 24 seconds. (An Israeli man-on-the-street did allow as how he might have to unwillingly vote for Sharon.)
NPR followed this assault on Sharon’s character with an even more defamatory segment by its Beirut correspondent Kate Seelye, who informed listeners that Sharon was being investigated by an “international group seeking the prosecution of Sharon for war crimes,” regarding the Sabra-Shatilla massacre carried out by Lebanese Christian forces. In a report lasting four-and-a-half minutes, Seelye was unable to muster a single person who might say a single word in defense of Sharon.
While those knowledgeable about the Middle East would be hard pressed to take NPR’s coverage of the region seriously, the danger is that the great majority of listeners who are interested but not expert might well be influenced by the steady stream of tax-supported bias that NPR serves up each and every day.
Alex Safian is Associate Director of CAMERA - PO Box 428, Boston, MA, 02456.