Israeli and US Jewish groups on Monday slammed The New York Times for failing to note in an opinion piece it published by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti that the writer is a terror chief who is serving multiple life terms for the murder of Israelis.
The op-ed published Sunday describes Barghouti, who wrote the article to explain the mass hunger strike he launched Monday by Palestinian security prisoners, as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” at the bottom of the piece.
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.
In an op-ed published in The Times of Israel, 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 being 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, now 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.
Criticism also came from American Jewish groups. The American Jewish Committee tweeted that the paper “must have forgotten to mention that Marwan Barghouti is a convicted terrorist, responsible for the murder of innocent civilians.”
— AJC (@AJCGlobal) April 17, 2017
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro also took the paper to task, tweeting: “It’s debatable if Marwan Barghouti has a political future. Pals & Israelis debate it. But NYT was wrong not cite his terrorism conviction.”
It's debatable if Marwan Barghouti has a political future. Pals & Israelis debate it. But NYT was wrong not cite his terrorism conviction.
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) April 17, 2017
On Monday over 1,000 prisoners began a mass hunger strike called by Barghouti. The strike was scheduled to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails.
Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners’ representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse. Those talks began more than a year and a half ago.
Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.
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 npt give Barghouti the anticipated position of deputy head of the PA.