Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday slammed The New York Times for publishing an opinion piece written by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti without noting he is serving multiple life terms for the murder of Israelis.
The prime minister said that referring to Barghouti solely as a politician, as The New York Times did, would be akin to calling Syrian President Bashar Assad “a pediatrician.”
“I read, on Sunday, the article in the New York Times that presents arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti as a ‘parliamentarian and leader,'” said Netanyahu on a visit to the southern city of Dimona. “Calling Barghouti a leader and parliamentarian is like calling [Syrian President Bashar] Assad a pediatrician.”
Netanyahu was corrected by a member of his audience who pointed out that Assad actually trained as an ophthalmologist. The six-year-long civil war in Syria has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.
Barghouti wrote his New York Times piece Sunday in defense of the mass hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners he initiated on Monday.
The Times issued a clarification on Monday, saying, “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization,” the paper wrote. “Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.”
The prime minister said, “The paper retracted it because we pointed [the errror] out to them.”
Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group. He was convicted in an Israeli civilian court in 2004 on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated in and held responsible for four other terror attacks. He is serving five life terms for the murders, and an additional 40 years for attempted murder.
The prime minister continued, saying, “The [jailed terrorists] are murderers and terrorists. We will never lose our sense of clarity because we are on the side of justice and they are on the side that is neither just nor moral.
“This moral clarity, the readiness to defend our country, the readiness to fight those who would destroy us, is one of our greatest strengths, alongside love of Israel.”
Meanwhile Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) Party, visited Barghouti’s wife and lawyer on Monday to show his solidarity with the hunger strikers.
“I’m meeting with Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of Marwan Barghouti, his lawyer Elias Sabag and the team for the struggle for prisoners,” he wrote.
In an apparent reference to Barghouti, Odeh ended his post with a demand for “freedom for political prisoners” and an “end to the occupation.”
Other Israeli politicians had already criticized the New York Times for failing to say why Barghouti was jailed.
In an op-ed published in The Times of Israel on Monday, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid decried what he called The New York Times’ “intentional deception” of its readers by omitting any mention of Barghouti’s past.
“Anyone who reads the column without prior knowledge of the facts will come to the conclusion that Barghouti is a freedom fighter imprisoned for his views. Nothing is further from the truth. The missing part of the column is that Marwan Barghouti is a murderer,” he wrote.
Lapid said The New York Times had been exploited by Barghouti. “The attempt by The New York Times ‘to be balanced’ amuses Barghouti. He understands that this sacred attempt at balance creates equal standing between murderer and murdered, terrorist and victim, lie and truth,” added Lapid.
Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren called the op-ed “a journalistic terror attack” and called on Israel to take steps against the New York Times. “We need to defend ourselves” he told Army Radio.
Oren, currently a deputy minister and a Kulanu MK, noted the op-ed was published on a Jewish holiday, which meant that the Israeli government could not respond to the article, which he said “was full of lies.”
The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which manages day-to-day relations between the IDF and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, also attacked the newspaper for omitting Barghouti’s history.
A post on COGAT’s Facebook page read: “By referring to him only as a political figure, the Times failed 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,” it added.
Barghouti has remained politically active from behind bars, and is often touted as one of a few likely successors to the 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Many Palestinians see Barghouti’s move as chiefly an internal power play in an attempt to send a message specifically to the Fatah leadership and to Abbas, who excluded Barghouti’s loyalists from a recent Central Committee meeting and did not give Barghouti the anticipated position of deputy head of the PA.