Top Palestinian daily under fire from peers for Liberman interview
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PA reportedly pressured daily not to publish the interview; deputy editor says journalism must 'inform readers ...leave judgment up to them'

Top Palestinian daily under fire from peers for Liberman interview

Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate 'wonders' if Al Quds newspaper had a 'personal interest' in interviewing Israel's defense minister

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Screenshot of image circulating through Twitter that criticizes the Palestinian daily Al Quds for publishing an interview with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Twitter)
Screenshot of image circulating through Twitter that criticizes the Palestinian daily Al Quds for publishing an interview with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Twitter)

A leading Palestinian daily came under intense criticism Tuesday from its media peers for “normalization” with Israel — a harsh charge among Palestinians — after it published a full-page interview with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The deputy editor of the paper said his organization was doing its job to inform the public and decision makers.

In his interview with the Al-Quds daily published on Monday — the first-ever for the defense minister with Palestinian media — Liberman voiced his support for the two-state solution, accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of shying away from the difficult decisions necessary to achieve peace, and said he would be the first to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip if Hamas would cease firing rockets and building tunnels into Israel, but would “completely destroy” the terror group in the event of another round of conflict.

According to an Israel Radio report on Tuesday that cited unnamed sources, the Palestinian Authority pressured Al Quds not to publish the interview, but the paper’s senior editors decided to publish anyway.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate on Tuesday said the Liberman interview constituted “normalization” with Israel and that Liberman used “national Palestinian media as a platform to deliver his threat and warnings to the Palestinian people.”

A man reads the headlines of Al-Quds daily in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 13, 2014 photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
A man reads the headlines of Al-Quds daily in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 13, 2014 photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

The syndicate, which demanded a published clarification from Al Quds as to why the interview took place, also suggested that those responsible for the interview had been paid off.

“It is our right to wonder if personal benefit was not given over in return to those who coordinated and carried out the interview far from the professional and national history of this newspaper,” the group said.

The torrent of Palestinian criticism against Al Quds began on Sunday, after the paper published a small blurb on its front page advertising the interview with Liberman. Palestinian activists and large online media outlets immediately began promoting the Twitter hashtag #MediaNormalization to criticize the paper.

Among the critics of the Liberman interview is a current editor at the newspaper, Munir al-Ghoul.

Ghoul, speaking to Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday, said there was a lot of anger in the Palestinian street, especially in Gaza but also in the West Bank.

“We are also angry at our friends for doing this interview,” he said. “I must tell the editors of the paper: You erred with this interview.”

Ghoul explained he was not against the idea of the interview, saying “from time to time one must check what the other side thinks,” but said he was irate at the content of the interview and what was asked.

According to Israel Radio, the Palestinian interviewer, whose name was not mentioned in the Israeli report or in the newspaper that published the interview, said that those who are claiming the article was “normalization” do not understand what “professional journalism” is, and said he had asked 15 thorough questions.

During his 30 years of journalism experience, the Palestinian reporter said, he has interviewed many Israelis, including the late prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

The Palestinian National Committee for Boycotting Israel, the Palestinian branch of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement, also rebuked Al Quds, saying the publishing of any interview with an Israeli minister constituted a “clear violation” of the boycott on Israel.

The group added that interviewing Liberman, who they said “openly called for the genocide of Palestinians,” “constituted a violation of journalistic ethics, as the professional obligation to provide opinion excludes views that promote hatred, racism, racial discrimination.”

Doctored image circulated on Palestinian social media of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman depicting him as Islamic State executioner Jihadi John. (nrg news website / screenshot)
Doctored image circulated on Palestinian social media of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman depicting him as Islamic State executioner Jihadi John. (nrg news website / screenshot)

Amjad al-Ormi, the deputy editor of Al Quds, said those criticizing the interview with Liberman lacked an understanding of how journalism works.

“Journalism, in general, has its essential importance as an observer of the executive and legislative authorities in any society. On the other hand, the media’s mission is also to inform readers or viewers of the reality of the situation and to leave the judgment up to them, and from another angle to put the true reality in the hands of political decision-makers,” al-Ormi told the Arabic Israeli radio station A-Shams on Tuesday.

The deputy editor also clarified what he saw as the difference between journalism and normalization with Israel.

“Normalization means establishing any joint ventures with the hostile side, such as joint seminars, but any journalist who conducts an interview with an Israeli journalist or even an official, this is not normalization,” he said, pointing out that Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been interviewed on Israeli television.

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