On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that he would be implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The announcement that the president would be enacting a law passed by an “overwhelming bipartisan majority” two decades ago and “reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago,” met with predictable outrage by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and others. It also met with predictably poor reporting by many major US news outlets.
As The Times of Israel noted in an editorial published shortly after the president’s remarks, Trump highlighted the absurdity of the US previously declining to “acknowledge any capital at all” and pointed to the Jewish people’s historical and religious connection to Jerusalem.
Importantly, The Times also pointed out that the speech “included a call to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.” Further, the president explicitly stated that his announcement did not commit the US to a position “on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of the contested borders.”
Yet, these facts failed to mollify Palestinian leadership. And many major US news outlets, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Hill, among them, omitted these details in their reporting.
Hamas, the US-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, called for three “days of rage.” Fatah, the movement that dominates the PA, claimed that by complying with US law and “recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the US was “pushing the region…into the furnace of violence, chaos, extremism, and bloodshed.” Fatah’s official Facebook page warned: “Millions of Martyrs are marching to Jerusalem.”
Some news outlets, such as The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and others, reported some of the threats by Hamas and Fatah. However, many also painted the threats of violence as organic, omitting the Palestinian leadership’s roles in propagating them. What is more, many in the media failed to note the long history of Palestinian leadership threatening—and using—violence to get their way.
In 2017 alone there were no less than three other instances of Palestinian leaders calling for “days of rage.” As recently as July 25, 2017, Hamas called for “days of rage” after Israel increased security measures — found at other major religious sites throughout the world — near the Temple Mount, following a terrorist attack in which two Israelis were murdered. In May 2017, Palestinian factions in the West Bank called for a “day of rage” to protest the US president visiting — this, despite the fact that the US gives copious amounts of aid to the US.
Indeed, when the US government threatened to halt financial support if the PA didn’t quit paying salaries to terrorists and their families — a violation of the terms of the Oslo accords that created the authority and from which it is funded — Palestinian leaders responded with threats, claiming it was their “right” to reward anti-Jewish violence to the tune of more than one billion in the last four years alone. In an act of brazen projection, PA officials even described attempts to stop payments as “blackmail.”
Not only did most US news outlets fail to report this recent history, many omitted the history of Palestinian leaders rejecting offers for statehood in exchange for peace with and recognition of Israel. As recently as 2008, PA President Mahmoud Abbas turned down an offer for a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem—a pertinent fact that Politico, USA Today, The Baltimore Sun, and others omitted in all of their numerous reports on Trump’s remarks.
The Washington Post — in six reports and two commentaries that appeared within twenty-four hours of Trump’s speech — didn’t report any of these rejected peace offers. Nor did they detail the PA’s refusal to participate in bilateral negotiations — also a condition of the Oslo accords — over the last several years. In thousands of words spilled over several articles, the best that The Post could manage was observing “there has not been any meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace process since 2000” — failing to explain why this is the case and why Israeli offers in 2001 and 2008 don’t count as “meaningful.”
In fact, many media outlets didn’t report the president’s remarks accurately, omitting essential context. Some, such as The Baltimore Sun, claimed that the decision reversed “decades of American policy” but failed to note that it was, in fact, implementing a US law passed with an overwhelming bipartisan consensus and reaffirmed by the US Senate in 2017 with a 90-0 vote (“Trump declares Jerusalem status,” December 7). Indeed, the last four party platforms of the Democratic Party called for such a move and Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), among others, applauded its belated enactment.
The Baltimore Sun, for example, omitted this background, claiming that it “fit neatly into Trump’s political calculus” of appealing to evangelicals and conservative voters (“To evangelicals, Trump delivers,” December 7). The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor echoed this line, referring to the implementation of US law as caving to “domestic pressure.”
Many outlets also didn’t inform readers that Trump’s statement doesn’t change existing US policy towards holy sites or the possibility of a “two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.” Some reporters — like the Palestinian leadership — even seemed outraged at the idea of recognizing the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and central to Judaism and the Jewish people.
Ayman Mohyeldin, an MSNBC reporter who has previously falsely claimed that Israeli troops gunned down an unarmed Palestinian man, unprofessionally editorialized that the decision meant “we are one step closer to a One-State Solution.” On his MSNBC show, Ali Velshi provided an uncritical platform for Diana Buttu, a former adviser to PA leadership, who said that the implementation of US law was a “nail in the in coffin” of the peace process. The Washington Free Beacon, citing research by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), noted that Buttu has previously asserted that Hamas rockets don’t contain explosives — among numerous other documented lies. MSNBC listed her as an “expert.”
The press also cited Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, who claimed that Trump’s decision “destroyed any possibility of a two-state” and “disqualified” the US from the peace process. Yet, in a March 27, 2009 interview on Al-Jazeera, Erekat hailed the decision by PA leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas to reject the 2000 and 2008 offers for statehood and, on another occasion, called the convicted murderer and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade founder, Marwan Barghouti, a “hero.”
Yet, the various outlets that quoted Erekat, such as CNN, failed to note these inconsistencies. Nor did they ask why the PA didn’t express similar apprehension about US involvement in the peace process on Nov. 26, 2017, when its official daily newspaper accused the US and Israel of being responsible for an Islamic State terrorist attack.
The famed Washington Post correspondent Carl Bernstein once observed that “disinformation and a contempt for the truth” has “overrun real journalism.” Looking at coverage of the implementation of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, it’s hard to disagree.
The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.