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Swift-Boating Goes to the Promised Land

WorldNetDaily gives Israel's prime minister the John Kerry treatment prior to that country's election.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/28/2006
Updated 3/29/2006

Apparently, WorldNetDaily has decided that its efforts in smearing John Kerry were so successful that it's taking them international.

WND's newest victim is acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. WND has regularly attacked Olmert, especially since his ascension to prime minister following the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon following a massive stroke. And with an election for a new prime minister set for March 28, the attacks have intensified, mainly in the form of articles by Aaron Klein, WND's Jerusalem reporter -- you know, the one who whitewashes far-right Jewish extremists.

The current round of pre-election attacks started Feb. 7, when Klein repeated an anonymous accusation that an evacuation of some Jewish homes in the West Bank -- or, as Klein described it, "Olmert directed Israeli forces to use extreme violence against Jewish protesters" -- was staged as "a tactic to win votes from leftist Israelis by demonstrating he is capable of withdrawing Jews from the West Bank." As ConWebWatch has detailed, Klein and WND were heavily sympathetic to the far-right Jewish settlers who refused to move out the Gaza Strip when Israel staged its "disengagement" of Gaza, going so far as to describe an AWOL Israeli soldier who shot and killed four innocent people on a bus in Gaza as being "murdered" by a mob that witnessed the shootings. Klein followed this on March 3 with an suggestion that Olmert ordered the destruction of records documenting allegedly illegal Arab building projects in eastern Jerusalem; Klein made no apparent attempt to get a reaction from Olmert or his spokesmen.

Klein's next salvo came March 15, when a Klein-penned WND article repeated accusations by a Palestinian negotiator that an Israeli raid on a prison in Jericho was also a pre-election ploy. Given WND's long antipathy toward Palestinians, it's odd that Klein would give one sudden credibility like this, but the negotiator, Saeb Erekat, regularly pops up in Klein's work. Perhaps Erekat is unaware of Klein's anti-Palestinian, pro-Jewish-extremist bias.

Klein stepped it up the next week with a trio of articles. A March 20 article used anonymous sources to claim that an investigation of alleged "multiple charges of corruption and illegal appointments" by Olmert is "being delayed until after next week's elections in which Olmert is running for top office." Klein cites "a source close to the report" and "a spokesman for the Likud party" -- which stands to benefit from Klein's attack on Olmert -- as support for the allegations; there are no on-the-record quotes at all. Again, nobody from Olmert's side is given a chance to respond.

Klein followed that up the next day with an article claiming that Olmert's family is a seething den of "pacifists" and "army deserters," citing a TV commercial by the Likud Party as his source. Klein gave Olmert representatives no space to specifically respond to the accusations but did provide three paragraphs (out of a 24-paragraph article) to a representative of Olmert's Kadima party to call the accusations "inappropriate and immature" -- followed by a quote from "an Israeli-based political consulting firm" claiming that a candidate's family is fair game. A March 23 Klein article was a rehash of the March 21 anonymous-source-laden, scandal-report-being-suppressed article.

Klein capped it with a March 24 article quoting a Kadima member, Otniel Schneller, as saying that Kadima "would divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian state to be established in parts of Israel's 'eternal capital'" -- anathema to right-wing Jews and their supporters, like WND. But Klein tells us nothing about who Schneller is beyond his Kadima affiliation; a Boston Globe article reports that he is "a former head of the council of West Bank and Gaza settlements, a body that hotly opposes any territorial compromise." The Jerusalem Post described Schneller as a "religious Zionist" -- in other words, Klein's kind of guy. The fact that Klein failed to include crucial pieces of information about Schneller and his statement in his article suggests that Klein wanted his article to be inflammatory by playing up the dividing-Jerusalem claim, as well as taking a bit of offense for a "religious Zionist" settler joining up with the party that Klein clearly despises.

(Update: On the day of the election, Klein slipped one more piece under the wire to fill in the one gap in his pre-election ouvere: an article uncritically relaying claims made by Netanyahu.)

Anonymous accusations, impugning patriotism, failure to tell both sides of the story ... where have we seen that before? Ah, yes -- that's the same way WND treated John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election, albeit much more relentlessly and viciously.

As ConWebWatch documented, WND was obsessed with making any and every attack against Kerry, true or not. It ran 72 articles referencing the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and its accusations -- none of which subjected the group's claims to any sort of fact-checking. WND editor Joseph Farah devoted a whopping 47 of his weekday columns in 2004 prior to the November election to attacking Kerry. Among the many epithets hurled at Kerry include "privileged rich boy," "traitorous," "rotten to the core," "ambitious political whore," "truly dangerous ... truly contemptuous ... truly egomaniacal ... truly without character ... truly transparent as a political huckster and charlatan," and, finally, insisting that "America's mistake was not locking this guy up in the stockades in 1971 and throwing away the key." WND also commissioned the discredited David Bossie -- whom WND itself speculated "was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage investigations" after he was caught doctoring tapes of prison phone conversations of former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell to delete exculpatory evidence -- to pen a partisan hit job on Kerry through its WND Books division.

WND cheerfully reprinted false accusations of a Kerry affair -- even violating its own credo against associating with publications that promote sex to do it. And Farah lied to his readers about Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and her connections to a charitable organization, the Tides Foundation. Farah lied that Heinz Kerry's donations supported "radical, anti-American groups" while refusing to point out that her donations to the foundation were earmarked toward specific environmental projects in Pennsylvania that were neither radical nor un-American.

Just as WND's anti-Kerry obsession prevented it from reporting anything negative against his opponent, President Bush, its Olmert-bashing prevents it from saying anything bad about Olmert's conservative Likud rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. For instance, you wouldn't know it from reading WND, but Likud fell to third place behind Olmert's Kadima party and the liberal Labor party in at least one pre-election poll. Kadima is a centrist party, but Klein regularly puts the word "centrist" in scare quotes without explanation. (Update: Klein's March 28 article on Netanyahu did note that Likud was third in the polls, but he tried to put a positive spin on it by noting that "low voter turn out and the largely unpolled younger voters could sway elections in Likud's favor."

You also won't read at WND analyses that are critical of Netanyahu or Likud, such as that offered by Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher, co-operator of the website (which offers what the Washington Post's Jefferson Morley called "hard-headed analysis," adding that "no Middle East news site, Arab or Israeli, offers such balanced or civil commentary on the struggle of two peoples for one land"). Alpher told Morley:

Netanyahu has a huge credibility problem with most of the public, including many on the right and center. The 'get tough' approach now preferred by the Israeli mainstream is unilateralism: building fences against suicide bombers and removing settlements and controlling our own geography and demography. That's what Kadima is all about.

It wasn't always this way; WND used to like Olmert. In a March 2001 column, Farah touted Olmert's endorsement of Ed McAteer -- "a Christian businessman who has been known as a friend of Israel" who was also an early organizer of the Christian right -- as U.S. ambassador to Israel. (Farah penned a eulogy for McAteer when he died in 2004.)

But past loyalties mean nothing when WND editorial policy is crossed. One of those policies is opposition to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank; in a June 2005 column, Farah called the policy "ethnic cleansing." And since Farah's opinions tend to be reflected on the "news" side (he is the boss, after all), Klein has been busy negatively portraying anyone who favors disengagement, such as Olmert, and hiding the violence and extremism of some of those who oppose the policy.

So, it appears that Klein is not quite the "Jerusalem reporter" for WND; he is, rather, the right-wing Jerusalem reporter. Not exactly living up to the vow he made when he was hired by WND to "report in an unbiased manner" about the Middle East.

Update: Klein's March 28 post-election article dismissed Kadima's win as a "minor election victory" despite the fact that the party won a clear plurality, taking abut eight more seats than the second-place party. Klein's article yet again regurgitated his alarmist Kadima-is-dividing-Jerusalem rhetoric, and he makes no attempt to explain why Likud did even worse than the polls predicted -- ultimately coming in fifth place -- saying only that it was "far below the figures the party had hoped for." Klein added that "Israeli government coalitions ruled by a leading party with less than 40 seats – which seems to be the case with Kadima – tend to be unstable" while failing to note that no party has ever won a Knesset majority and that Israel has always been governed by coalitions.

Such reporting further demonstrates how far out of the mainstream WND and Klein are on the subject of Israel. Instead of reporting what is actually happening, they are reporting only what they want to see -- which makes it not reporting at all.

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