Week in Review: Whitewashing Barghouti; Trump Administration Tilts Against Iran

Whitewashing Barghouti

The New York Times was widely criticized for publishing an op-ed by Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti last Sunday without initially mentioning that he was convicted of multiple murders. Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, blasted the paper for its decision, writing, “Instead of saying to him – as a responsible newspaper should – that if he doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support his stories then they can’t be published, The New York Times published them in its opinion pages and didn’t even bother to explain to its readers that the author is a convicted murderer of the worst kind.”

The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, an IDF unit that manages ties with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, similarly criticized the Times for failing “to point out that after a fair trial in 2004, Barghouti was convicted of murder and carrying out terrorist acts and was therefore sentenced to five life sentences and an additional 40 years in prison. Barghouti is a murderer of Israeli civilians.”

Jamal Barakat, the brother of a Druze Israeli policeman who died in a terror attack that Barghouti was convicted of organizing, also denounced the Times‘ decision. “I think that all the grieving families are with me … his place is not among the freed and not among free people, but behind a lock and bars,” he wrote. “Anybody who tries to soften it, tries to turn or spin it some way as some kind of goal or other, it is not acceptable at all.”

The editors of the Times eventually printed a clarification identifying Barghouti as a convicted murderer. The paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, wrote that failing to initially disclose all relevant information about an op-ed writer risked “the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.”

This isn’t the first time that the Times has come under fire for giving a platform to a terrorist in its op-ed pages. In 2007, the paper was criticized for publishing an op-ed by top Hamas official Ahmed Yousef. The paper’s public editor at the time, Clark Hoyt, argued that it was reasonable to publish Yousef because “op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself.”

But to promote Hamas’ or Barghouti’s ideas in order to foster a “healthy debate” doesn’t require the unchallenged megaphone of an op-ed page. It was wrong to give Yousef a platform. And it was wrong to give Barghouti one, even if he was later properly identified as a convicted murderer.

Trump Administration Tilts Against Iran

Three top officials this week identified Iran as a major threat to Middle East stability and American interests.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran “is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel.”

Tillerson also faulted the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which he said “only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state,” for failing to address “all of the other serious threats that Iran poses.”

Tillerson’s comments came a day after he informed Congress that while Iran was abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal (as required by law), the administration was reviewing whether continuing to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran is in the national security interest of the United States.

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters in Saudi Arabia, “everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran.” Mattis charged that Iran had its proxies, including Hezbollah, firmly ensconced in Lebanon and Syria. He faulted Iran for its support of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, saying, “We’ll have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah.”

Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, similarly urged the UN Security Council on Thursday to end its fixation with Israel. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit: Iran and its partner militia, Hezbollah,” Haley observed. “Iran and Hezbollah conspire together to destabilize the Middle East.”

Haley also exhorted the council to penalize Iran for defying or violating UNSC resolution 2231 with its ballistic missile tests, resolution 2216 by arming the Houthis, and resolution 1701 by arming Hezbollah.

In an effort to promote nuclear negotiations with Iran in 2014, former President Barack Obama told Steven Inskeep of NPR that a nuclear agreement could help Iran escape its international isolation: “Because if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of — inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.”

However, according to many experts and leaders including Tillerson, Mattis, and Haley, Iran has done precisely the opposite thus far.

The Failed Syrian Chemical Weapons Deal

The suspected sarin gas attack that killed scores of civilians in northwestern Syria earlier this month is the latest indication that a Russian-brokered deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile has failed.

Brig.-Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, who oversaw a chemical warfare program in a top Syrian military unit before defecting, said earlier this week that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad likely has hundreds of tons of chemical weapons still in his possession.

While Syria claimed that it had turned over its entire chemical weapons stockpile to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “they [the regime] admitted only to 1,300 tons, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that,” Sakat said.

Mattis also addressed the issue while in Israel, saying, “the bottom line is there can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all.”

American intelligence officials confirmed in July 2015 that Assad remained in possession of chemical weapons, despite the agreement. One of the factors given for the deal’s ineffectiveness was Syria’s ability to control the sites that inspectors could visit.

The director-general of OPCW, which supervised the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, wrote in August of last year that his group had collected evidence from over 100 sites inside Syria indicating “potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities.”

The failure of the deal to completely remove Syria’s chemical arsenal raises concerns about the viability of another agreement intended to rid a rogue regime of weapons of mass destruction.

Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, warned in July 2015 that “if this is the record of the international community in dismantling and monitoring the chemical and nuclear facilities in Syria, how exactly it will do better in monitoring the vast Iranian nuclear infrastructure?”

Feature: The Myth of the Palestinian Mandela

Shortly before the Times published Marwan Barghouti’s controversial op-ed, Dexter Van Zile systematically dismantled arguments that the convicted terrorist is somehow comparable to Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner and late president of South Africa.

Efforts to portray Barghouti as a Palestinian Mandela obfuscate the issue of his beliefs, which are antithetical to those of Mandela. For example, in a March 2014 Guardianarticle titled “Release Marwan Barghouti. He can be Palestine’s Nelson Mandela,” Martin Linton declared that Barghouti “always opposed actions targeting Israeli civilians, even while defending the right of Palestinians to resist.” This claim appears to be based on an op-ed Barghouti wrote for The Washington Post in 2002, in which he asserted, “While I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbor, I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country, and to fight for my freedom.”

Barghouti has an extensive history of advocating violence against Israelis, Van Zile observed. He is reported to have said at the outset of the second Palestinian intifada: “The time when only we sacrifice victims is past. We must take revenge. We must kill Israelis. Yes. We have bullets. We have rifles, and they will be aimed at the occupation.”

The New York Times is not the only American newspaper where Barghouti got a sympathetic hearing. In a Washington Post op-ed this week, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab asserted, “But like his idol Nelson Mandela, Barghouti has repeatedly supported nonviolent resistance while not giving up the option of force, which he sees as the right of people under occupation.”

This claim is contradictory. If Barghouti has forsworn violence, how has he not given up the “option of force?” The description also misrepresents Mandela, as Van Zile explained:

Clearly, Mandela’s great accomplishment was to turn violence and hatred into the generous desire for peace and reconciliation. A Palestinian Mandela would have to do the same. He would have to show the willingness and the ability to get Palestinians to abandon their efforts to murder, demonize, insult, humiliate, and intimidate Israeli Jews into leaving their homeland or, barring that, submit to Arab and Islamic dominance over their lives. Thus far, the Palestinian leadership has shown an unwillingness, to say the least, to do so, and Barghouti is no exception.

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Three Big Questions

After BDS campaign founder Omar Barghouti was arrested last month for evading taxes on $700,000 of income, some of his defenders accused Israel of seeking to silence him. Now a judge has lifted a travel ban on Barghouti, allowing him to travel to the United States. Doesn’t this demonstrate that Israel is a nation of laws, not of arbitrary arrests?

Marwan Barghouti has a lot of defenders, but he is in jail after having been convicted in a civilian court of multiple murders. According to activists, some 1,183 Palestinians have disappeared in Syrian prisons. As Khaled Abu Toameh observed in January, “Palestinians in Syria are being murdered, tortured, imprisoned and displaced. The West yawns.” Will those who express such concern about Barghouti, who received due process before he was jailed, show similar concern for the hundreds of Palestinians arbitrarily jailed in Syria and facing the prospects of torture and death?

“Detainees in Palestinian prisons have reportedly gone on hunger strikes to protest their incarceration and torture,” Abu Toameh reported in late January. “Unfortunately for them, they are not going on hunger strikes in an Israeli prison, where such actions garner the immediate interest of the mainstream media.” In short, he observed, “both Hamas and the PA, according to testimonies and reports, are practicing torture in their prisons.” Will those promoting Marwan Barghouti’s hunger strike show similar concern for prisoners incarcerated by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas?

[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube ]