Loren Jenkins, foreign editor since 1996 at National Public Radio, ordinarily works behind the scenes where his extreme anti-Israel views aren't on public display. He does sometimes dispense bromides via the NPR Ombudsman's column about the network's devotion to getting the full story on the Middle East and not judging "who is right or who is wrong."
But an audience in Aspen, Colorado on February 17, 2009 got a full dose of his bias — and "who is wrong" — during a revealing extemporaneous discussion held under the auspices of Aspen public radio at the Given Insitute.
How extreme are the NPR official's views? In the past, Jenkins has depicted Israelis as imperialists and interlopers in the Middle East and even linked Jews to Nazis in his writing. In a 1983 Rolling Stone article entitled "Palestine, Exiled" he wrote, for example, that an Israeli-administered south Lebanon prison was, in the words of a nameless Red Cross official, "a concentration camp. There is nothing else to call it." PLO leaders, in contrast, were characterized admiringly as freedom-fighters, as "modest" people, speaking in "soft and warm" voices. Of Yasir Arafat he said: "it is his liquid brown eyes that impress one the most." PLO terrorism, while "abhorrent," was primarily deplored as a tactical blunder that caused "image" problems.
At the Aspen gathering, NPR correspondent Anne Garrels shared the stage with Jenkins as they recounted the tribulations of covering far-flung world events. In reviewing a range of issues, Jenkins turned to explaining the deadlock in the Middle East which, predictably, he attributed to Israel alone. He said:
The depressing news, I think, and I — both of us probably agree — is that, one, the Arab-Israeli dispute is unresolvable as it is now and in the near future. And all the talk of finding a two-state solution where the Palestinians would have their land and the Israelis would have theirs has probably already evaporated.
Israel has taken total control and colonized the West Bank — the occupied territories — to such an extent it's unimaginable that you would see a two-state solution at any time in the immediate future or even longer cause they've transformed the situation on the ground with settlements, roads that only Israelis can drive on and the Palestinians are forced to take dirt roads on the side so there — what was once a unified state or territory occupied by Israel since 1967 — is now almost already become colonized by Israel, and it's very hard to imagine that can be resolved when Obama tries. I mean certainly... he's just appointed George Mitchell as a new mediator who's going to go and talk about a peace process, but I don't think there is a peace process. And what one can expect is more conflict and more war.
At least one member of the audience was troubled by the distorted and erroneous characterization of the Arab-Israeli conflict and concerned about the significance of such views being espoused by NPR's influential editor. He rose to pose a question to Jenkins, saying:
I live here about a third of the time, and in Minneapolis most of the time. I'm a big fan of NPR and support it better in Minneapolis than here, but I do it in both places (laughter).
I do have a question — this may not sound like a question — but I just heard Loren Jenkins pretty much lay at the feet of Israel and its settlers, the entire blame for the impossibility of settling the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And it seems to me, that ignores the fact that the settlements have been a subject that has been discussed a great deal in the treaty negotiations and that the treaty that's been on the table for years now — since President Clinton — at the end of the peace talks — at the end of the Oslo agreement — at the end of 2000 — had in there that the Israelis would have three groups of settlements that would be agreed — that would stay with the center of Israel or part of Israel and that the Israelis would give an equal amount of land to the Palestinians.
And that the Israeli army would have to fight their own settlers and get them out of there. And they have done that in the past. It ignores, also, that the reason for these separate roads — and these separations you spoke of — was that the Palestinians were bringing bombs in to blow up night clubs and kill kids at pizzerias and various places like that. And little by little these checkpoints and separations [crowd murmering, interruption by podium]. Okay, I'll get to my question.
Anne Garrels interrupted the questioner with:
I think we know your question!
The questioner persisted:
My question frankly is — that if this kind of anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic news is called even-handed (interrupted) — if it’s called even-handed (interrupted) — if it’s called even-handed, why the heck should I give you any money.
Jenkins shot back:
It's been forty years and I'm sick and tired of — any time someone doesn't like the reporting, they stoop to accusing people of being an anti-Semite. That's a really nasty, dirty thing. I'm sorry. I'm not an anti-Semite and I hate being accused of this and it's a cheap shot that the right wing in Israel uses to try and shut up the American press. (applause from audience)
But if you want to go back to it, there is no treaty. There were negotiations between Israel, the U.S. and the Palestinians and it was never signed — it fell apart — it doesn't exist. Every time the U.S. government has asked Israel to help move the peace process along by shutting down construction of settlements, Israel has turned around within the course of a week or two, and signed more construction contracts. There are now 300,000 settlers in the West Bank which has changed the nature of it. It can never be turned over — it can never be another state. It'll be part of Israel. It'll be part of a colonized part of Israel.
(attempted interruption by questioner)
Israel pulled out of Gaza because it was so hard to rule. (indistinct). As we've just seen, Israel has used Gaza as a bombing target practice and killed — for every Israeli killed, the Israelis killed 100 Palestinians. I'm sorry — if you look at the balance of that fight...That Gaza has been created — which is amazing that it was created by a Jewish state — that created the biggest ghetto we've known in society. A million and a half people surrounded — they're not allowed to cross the border — they're not allowed to have a livelihood — they're not allowed to trade abroad, are kept bound in — in this miserable place — and they are all going to be turned into Palestinian terrorists because they have nothing else to do. They have no outlook for life [interrupted by smattering of clapping].
As the questioner rightly said in his opening, Loren Jenkins' original statements were grossly deceptive and false, omitting entirely Arab terrorism that has continually undermined peace efforts and forced Israel's defensive measures such as checkpoints. Likewise, Jenkins evaded the questioner's correct observation regarding the potential "treaty" agreement of Camp David/Taba that would have addressed the settlement issue with land swaps. The Palestinians refused even to counter-offer, choosing a terror war against Israeli men, women and children, attacking the heart of civilian life of the nation.
The questioner also accurately pointed out that Israel had already removed its settlements from Gaza, a reality Jenkins ignores in blaming these communities as a whole for the stalemate.
So, as the questioner logically asked, why should listeners who seek balanced and fair coverage financially support a network whose foreign editor holds views so at odds with reality and fact, so blatantly hostile to the Jewish state.
Not surprisingly, Jenkins was particularly outraged at the reference to "anti-Israel, anti-Semitic news." Yet even those hesitant to impute anti-Semitic intent to NPR or its editor may be aware of the effects of inflammatory, one-sided and frequently inaccurate media coverage in fanning anti-Semitism. Influential British media, which are often highly biased against Israel, are, according to experts, fueling rising anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. Telling listeners that the Jewish state is, for example, blocking all hope of peace and acting brutally toward a blameless adversary, as Jenkins told his audience, can obviously foster prejudice.
Morever, Jenkins' outburst against the questioner broadened into a virtual tirade against Israel's conduct of the Gaza campaign, revealing again his penchant for disregarding the facts and invoking references to historic persecution of the Jews as a cudgel against Israel. He charged Israel with creating in Gaza "the biggest ghetto we've known in society."
The intrepid questioner, if he'd had the chance, might have asked which Jewish ghetto in Jenkins' recollection had fired nearly 10,000 rockets into and otherwise pursued the destruction of its neighboring communities.
His various other charges about Israel using Gaza "as a bombing target practice" and turning Palestinians into "terrorists because they have nothing else to do" were equally devoid of factual merit. Israel targeted Gazan bomb factories, missile sites and other military infrastructure used to attack Israeli civilian towns over a period of eight years and continuously sought to warn Palestinian civilians ahead of time with leaflets, text messages and phone calls. All this had obviously been widely documented before Jenkins spoke in Aspen.
Nor do Palestinians become terrorists because "they have nothing else to do." They turn to terrorism as a consequence of the intensive indoctrination to which they're subjected in schools, mosques, media and political gatherings where Israel is demonized as an illegitimate, sub-human and brutal entity to be destroyed. As MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) voluminously documents, the drumbeat of violent invective includes women pledging to become suicide bombers:
We are all the daughters of Palestine, the daughters of steadfast Gaza. We will set out, booby-trapped. From every home, a bomb will set out, and it will explode among the sons of Zion. We are no less than Fatima Al-Najjar and Rim Al-Riyashi [two Palestinian women who blew themselves up among Israelis]. We will blow ourselves up among those traitors, those apes and pigs." (December 31, 2008 Al Aqsa TV)
That Jenkins, who clearly harbors prejudicial views about Israel, remains ensconced at NPR with influence over what is broadcast about the Middle East should be a worry to those who care about decent and factual coverage of the region.