Is National Public Radio inherently unable to report Arab-Israeli news with the "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature" required of public broadcasting? Multiple sins of omission and commission in NPR's recent seven-part series, "The Mideast: A Century of Conflict," suggest this is indeed the case.
NPR -- subsidized by the federally-supported Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- aired the series because, in its own words, "too often the march of daily news obscures a broader review of the past [required] to understand the roots of the conflict."
Yet "A Century of Conflict" failed to provide that broader review. For example:
* At no point in correspondent Mike Shuster's nearly 60 minutes of reporting does the audience hear that the British carved an Arab state out of Palestine early in the conflict. NPR is silent on the fact that 77 percent of what was to have been the British Mandate for Palestine became Transjordan, from which Jews were banned.
Into this vacuum Shuster subsequently allowed Palestinian and revisionist Israeli sources with whom he stacked the series to distort the present, asserting that Israel controls 80 percent of Palestine.
* Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1947-1949 fighting receive attention, and their number inflated from 550,000 to 750,000. Omitted is any mention of the 800,000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries and Iran, of whom 600,000 went Israel.
* In installment two Shuster describes the bloody Arab revolt of 1936 to 1939 as a bid by the Arabs for "an independent state of their own in Palestine." In fact, the violence was a successful effort to pressure Britain into closing western Palestine as a refuge for Jews desperate to escape an increasingly fascist Europe.
* In installment three, NPR's correspondent allows Palestinian spokesman Philip Mattar to claim that under the 1947 U.N. partition plan, "the Jews were being offered 55 percent of Palestine when, in fact, they had owned only seven percent of the country" -- as if Palestine had not already been partitioned in the Arabs' favor with creation of Transjordan. As if the Arabs weren't promised 50 percent when they owned less than 30.
* In segment four, on the 1967 Six-Day War, NPR's reporter states that after Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping and ousted U.N. peace-keepers from the Sinai Peninsula, "he then sent scores of tanks and hundreds [emphases added] of troops into the Sinai closer to Israel." In fact, it was nearly 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks.
* Shuster finishes segment four by asserting that "after the Six Day War the Arab states could never again seek the eradication of Israel from the map." This at least acknowledges what the Arab states and Palestinian Arabs had been seeking until then. But the assertion assumes a perpetual Israeli dominance, rebutted in installment five.
* Shuster opens this segment, on the 1973 Yom Kippur War, by claiming that "this time though, Israel's attackers were not trying to destroy the country; they were fighting to regain territory they had lost in the 1967 Six-Day War." War has its own dynamic, battle often overtakes battle plan as opportunities arise. In reality, the surprise attack staggered Israel and, as Shuster reports, "Syria's thrust into the Golan Heights in the first days looked unstoppable."
* Shuster whitewashes Palestinian rejectionism by following Palestinian spokesmen Khalidi and Yezid Sayigh in fudging the distinction between tactics and strategy. According to the reporter, after 1973, "the Palestine Liberation Organization shifted its goals, laying the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, implicitly abandoning the goal of destroying the state of Israel." In fact, the next year the PLO adopted co-founder Salah Khalaf's plan for the destruction of Israel in stages, formalizing the shoot-talk-shoot approach.
As the late Faisal al-Husseini, Arafat's "moderate" representative in Jerusalem, reiterated in 2001, "We distinguish the political goals from the long-term strategic, phased goals, which we are compelled to accept temporarily due to international pressure."
* Installment six falsely implies that the 1987 - 1992 Palestinian intifada was non-lethal if not non-violent and that Israel "repress[ed] the Palestinians' desire for their own homeland" rather than was entitled to a negotiated territorial compromise as recognized by UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Further, Shuster again echoes self-serving Palestinian claims, in this case by apologist Edward Said, that the post-1993 Oslo process failed in part because "Arafat and the Palestinian public simply didn't understand what they had agreed to in Oslo." Given the symbiotic relationship established between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad; the PA's promotion of intensified anti-Israel, antisemitic incitement; its establishment of large, heavily-armed paramilitary "police" -- all violations of the Oslo Accords -- it seems Arafat meant to merge the peace process with the phased plan.
* In installment seven, "The Second Intifada and the Death of Oslo," Shuster charges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "dug in his heels, blaming the Palestinians for failing to fulfill the [1998 Wye River] bargain." Netanyahu insisted that the PA fulfill its earlier commitments before Israel execute additional withdrawals or agree to new concessions. Shuster charges Netanyahu "paid lip service to the Oslo process," as if that is not a description of Palestinian behavior.
Criticism of NPR's reporting on Israel, which often ranges from dismissive to defamatory, has become intense since the Palestinians launched their deadly "al-Aksa intifada" 26 months ago. NPR aired "A Century of Conflict" in part to prove it could get the story right. Its failure clarifies the journalistic blinders that must be removed before NPR can fulfill its mandate for "fair and balanced" coverage.