Rectifying the Palestinian Narrative

The mainstream media in the United States and in Western Europe have often been uncritically receptive of the Palestinian narrative. Media rarely question it, but instead disseminate its distortions of history and its deliberate misrepresentation of Israeli policies and often of the Jewish community. However, alert journalism demonstrated the true nature of that narrative when it uncovered one of the more historically flagrant and outrageous fabrications about Jews in an article published by Miftah, the Palestinian think tank, at the end of March 2013.

Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, was founded in Jerusalem in December 1998 with an ambitiously stated objective: "To disseminate the Palestinian narrative and discourse globally to both official and popular bodies and decision-makers." It purports to adopt the "mechanisms of an active and in-depth dialogue, the free flow of information and ideas, as well as local and international networking." Using language that appeals to freedom-loving societies, Miftah says it seeks "to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society."

The well-known Palestinian publicist and media personality, Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, member of the executive committee of the PLO, and scholar of literature, was appointed as secretary-general of the organization and also serves as the chair of the Board of Directors. One of the members of the Board of Trustees is Rashid Khalidi, formerly a professor in Chicago and now the incumbent of the Edward Said Chair of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

The organization is very well funded, including contributions from many respectable sources such as the Anna Lindh Foundation (European Union), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Germany), UNESCO, the United Nations Population Fund, Oxfam, the NGO Development Center, a number of European countries, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, and International Republic Institute.

In late March, Miftah published an article on its Arabic language website accusing Jews of using Christian blood in the rituals of Passover. During his visit to Israel President Obama had referred to Passover as "a sacred holiday." While talking to Israeli students, Obama referred to the Passover story and to the history of the Jewish people as one of centuries of slavery, of perseverance amidst persecution, and finding freedom "in your own land."

The president's remarks provided the opportunity for one of Miftah's authors, a man named Nawaf al-Zaru, described as an "expert" on Israel and on Hebrew, to promote Miftah's "principles of democracy." This author, presumably a Muslim, used Christian allegations made since the 12th century to correct the president, whom he said did not know the relationship between Passover and Christian blood. He instructed Obama that the historical Jewish blood rituals are real and not fake; "the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover."

When a journalist quickly criticized the article, Miftah issued a statement anonymously but presumably from its leader Ashrawi. Forgetting the organization's supposed objective of "active and in-depth dialogue", a concept welcomed by people and organizations in democratic societies, Miftah at first denounced the criticism as a "smear campaign" that slandered the organization. Ashrawi, who has always portrayed herself in American television as a political moderate, refused to disavow the blood libel accusation made by her own organization. Instead, she, or someone in Miftah, blamed the victim.

Within a day or so Miftah recognized its blunder, and the offensive article was taken down from its website. The organization offered an apology, reminiscent of typical bureaucratic excuses and defenses of mistakes. It explained that the article was "accidently and incorrectly published by a junior staff member." That unnamed staffer had been reprimanded for the "disgusting and repulsive phenomena of blood libel or accusation, including its use against Jews." (One might ask what other group of people has had to face the repulsive accusation of blood libel!!).

The apology by Miftah declared that "Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, as founder has nothing to do with the day to day management at Miftah and was in no way involved in this incident." Ashrawi has been much admired by the Western TV and press media, had been a close friend of Peter Jennings of ABC News, and one may take at face to value her own statement that she has never been associated with any anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic campaign. The problem is that the nature and ideological thrust of various articles published by Miftah, as well as some of the statements made by Ashrawi, suggest caution in evaluating her true political position and that of the organization.

In spite of her self-portrait as a "moderate," Ashrawi has been an exponent of some of the main tenets of the familiar Palestinian narrative. She was the highly articulate official spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process, 1991-1993. At the United Nations Durban I Conference on August 28, 2001 she said, "I represent a narrative of exclusion, denial, racism, and national victimization." She spoke of her heavy heart "leaving behind a nation in captivity held hostage to an ongoing Nakba, as the most intricate and pervasive expression of persistent colonialism, apartheid, racism, and victimization." Israeli settlements, she declared, leads to "ethnic cleansing" in the West Bank.

One of the principal writers for Miftah, Joharah Baker, also editor of the Palestine Report, has written a number of articles arguing that Israel is a racist society, as well as praising the female suicide bombers who targeted Israeli civilians. In a July 2006 article she applauded "the string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause."

The criticism of the article in Miftah and consequent reluctant "apology" by the website is significant. It illustrates that a rapid response by independent and courageous media to inaccurate statements and prejudiced accusations can and sometimes does result in rectifying them and shaming the accusers. It is a valuable lesson to the mainstream media when in future they refer to Middle East affairs or are confronted by the Palestinian Narrative to return to Shakespeare and "stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood," and forgo their grudges against the State of Israel.