In what is shaping up to be a protracted public battle between former Associated Press correspondent Matti Friedman and his ex-boss Steven Gutkin, Gutkin has made two rather astonishing claims, ostensibly in his own defense: first, that Israel’s supporters control policy in the US, and second, that Friedman and other journalists who have made similar claims bear some responsibility for the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Let’s take a look at them one at a time. Towards the end of his essay, Gutkin writes:
Matti is preaching to the choir. The deluge of supportive commentary following his essays doesn’t necessarily mean his fans are more numerous, just more vocal. And yet it must be said that the opinions of the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd, those who are incapable of seeing any Israeli culpability, do matter. These are people with the power to make and break politicians, and alter the foreign policy of the United States.
It’s hard to see how this is at all relevant to the charge at hand, which is, that the AP’s reporting omits important facts and stories, thereby contributing to wide-spread misperceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s also hard to see how anyone can still make this claim, when the President of the US has shown himself to be a steadfast critic of Israel and its policies, and when the US Secretary of State can sit before Congress and claim that Israeli building in its own capital city was responsible for the failure of a peace process that he himself appears to have botched. What is most shocking, however, is what it reveals about Gutkin’s personal beliefs — that a handful of pro-Israel Jews are controlling US foreign policy.
Gutkin goes on to assert in his concluding paragraph:
The truth is the real danger does not come from the media reporting the news. But there does seem to be something dangerous about a persuasive writer feeding a beast that keeps Israel on a disaster course. By pandering to the worst fears of those who feel the world is out to get the Jews, Matti and the recent slew of other journalists who’ve written similar pieces help stoke the fires that prevent a two-state peace, doing little to further the Zionist goal of a Jewish and democratic Israel.
Once again, Gutkin’s own words prove Friedman’s thesis. Friedman claims that AP editors have propagated the false narrative that it is Israeli recalcitrance that is responsible for the ongoing and current impasse between the two sides. Gutkin now states, as though it is fact, that Friedman and “other journalists who’ve written similar pieces help stoke the fires that prevent a two-state peace.” Here, Gutkin has revealed his belief in the very canard that Friedman claims infected the AP’s Jerusalem Bureau. To this day, moreover, Gutkin appears not to be cognizant of the fact that it was the Palestinians who rejected peace in 2000 and then again in 2008.
That rejected 2008 peace offer, unsurprisingly, is another point of contention between Friedman and Gutkin. In his original piece on Tablet, Freidman alleged that Gutkin buried that story. Friedman and I both noted that Gutkin’s first response did not deny this. Gutkin now attempts to do so:
Let me state this unequivocally. At no point did the bureau suppress any story about an Olmert peace offer. We in fact reported this offer many times in various forms. Here is just one of those stories, as it appeared in the Jakarta Post, the newspaper of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
His link, however, is to a story that begins as follows:
Israel proposed to annex 6.8 percent of the West Bank and to take in a few thousand refugees under a peace deal, but it has not revealed its position on the most contentious issue — the future of Jerusalem, the chief Palestinian negotiators said Friday night.
The eighth paragraph of that article offers that “Israel offered to give some of its own territory as compensation, but not an equal trade in size and quality, Qureia said.” It is not until the twelfth paragraph that the report indirectly reveals that this offer was conveyed by the Israeli Prime Minister himself.
By way of comparison, here’s how those same events were eventually portrayed in a different news outlet:
On September 16, 2008, Olmert hosted Abbas at the Israeli Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister outlined his historic proposal, which would have established a Palestinian state and which would have seen Israel make the most significant concessions ever offered.
The two men discussed Olmert’s proposal in great detail, poring over a large map Olmert unfurled showing the dramatic territorial concessions Israel was prepared to make. Abbas acknowledged the offer and returned to Ramallah.
A reader with no background on the situation would not even be able to tell that these two accounts describe the same series of events. And on Friday, another former AP reporter corroborated Friedman’s account of this event.
The rest of Gutkin’s new response is primarily based on conclusory slurs, using terms like “ludicrous” and “comical,” and most of the other links that he provides do not support the assertions that he makes. (For example, Gutkin provides two links from 2008-09 that discuss Hamas fighters firing from civilian areas, however, those links do not report that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians.)
Looking at Gutkin’s concluding paragraph, in which he describes what he perceives as the danger of “feeding the beast” of the recalcitrant Israel that refuses to make peace, it is quite difficult to believe his claim that this apparitional concern did not drive his editorial decision-making. Just as his first response did, the follow-up serves primarily as an illustration, rather than a rebuttal, of the way the AP’s Jerusalem Bureau is tainted by an agenda that prevents accurate reporting.