Khaled Abu Toameh, Israeli hasbara agent
By Nureddin Sabir
Observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict expect from time to time to come across individuals and organizations whose intent is to find the worst possible news and information from the Arab and Muslim worlds and disseminate them widely while painting a rosy picture of Israel and Zionists.
Usually these tarnished messengers are themselves Israelis or organizations with close links to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad such as Memri, foreign Jews who act as Israeli agents abroad (known as sayanim) or non-Jews who perform services on behalf of Israel (sometimes referred to as Sabbath Goyim) such as the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel lobby groups in the British Parliament. Rarely, however, are they Arabs, let alone Palestinians, although, as the British and French discovered in World War II, traitors and fifth columnists can be found everywhere.
Inconvenient truths or black propaganda?
Recently, I stumbled upon an article written by one Khaled Abu Toameh in which he highlights what he describes as “inconvenient truths that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank do not want others to know about”.
The article was originally published by the Gatestone Institute – of which more later – and republished by Your Middle East, a privately owned and funded website which takes pride in “Disrupting the global news flow with a unique online digital media about the Middle East and North Africa”.
Among the “inconvenient truths” mentioned by Abu Toameh is the fact that senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah officials hold Israeli-issued VIP cards that grant them various privileges, including the freedom to enter Israel and travel abroad at any time they wish, and the fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to summon and arrest political opponents, journalists and bloggers who criticize its leaders.
On the face of it, neither of these facts is new or surprising. The privileges Abu Toameh refers to have existed since the signing of the Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO in 1993, a fact which he acknowledges. It is also common knowledge that the PA is uncomfortable with media freedom and freedom of expression. More generally, the fact that the PA is prone to corruption and elitism is well known and had been one of the main reasons why Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006.
However, as I continued to read Abu Toameh’s article I became increasingly suspicious. According to Abu Toameh, “of the 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip who arrived in the West Bank … to celebrate Christmas, dozens have asked to move to Israel because they no longer feel comfortable living under the PA and Hamas”. Furthermore, he claims that dozens of Christian families from East Jerusalem “have moved to Jewish neighbourhoods in the city because they too no longer feel comfortable living among Muslims”.
I had never heard of Khaled Abu Toameh before stumbling upon the above article, where he is described as “an Arab Muslim” and “a veteran award-winning journalist” who “currently works for the international media, serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ of foreign journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.
But what he was saying about Palestinian Christians in particular directly contradicts what Palestinian Christian leaders have been repeatedly telling the world. One such leader, the veteran Catholic priest in Gaza Father Manuel Musallam, is adamant that Christianity in the Holy Land had been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel. “Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora,” he told Irish ministers and MPs in 2010.
After a few seconds’ cursory research I discovered that Abu Toameh is in fact an Israeli Arab, and what triggered my suspicion was the fact that, as an Israeli Arab with full access to everywhere in Israel, and as “a veteran award-winning journalist”, Abu Toameh failed to interview even one of the dozens of Christians whom he claims prefer Israel and Jewish neighbours to their Muslim Palestinian brothers and sisters.
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Surely, natural if not journalistic curiosity should have prompted him to explore why Palestinian Christians would take such a drastic step that would mean, among other things, burning their bridges with relatives and friends in the homeland and risking the stigma of being labelled as traitors.
Was it harassment from Palestinian Muslims that allegedly drove the Christians into the arms of Israel? Was it the Islamist Hamas movement making life intolerable for them? Or was the reason more benign, such as the desire to reunite with relatives from whom they had become separated by the Israeli occupation?
Alternatively, perhaps the whole story was made up, a propaganda lie intended to distract world public opinion from Israel’s crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and its racist discrimination against its own Arab citizens.
With my suspicion aroused, I searched deeper and the picture that emerged was a truly ugly one.
First, I discovered that the Gatehouse Institute, the original publisher of Abu Toameh’s article, “is a neocon think tank/publishing house specializing in hyping Islamophobia. Its founder is Nina Rosenwald, a rabid neocon.”
Next, I discovered that Abu Toameh is symbiotically linked to some of Israel’s and the United States’ most right-wing, anti-Arab and neo-conservative bodies. One of these is The Jerusalem Report, which comes under the corporate umbrella of the Israeli right-wing Jerusalem Post Group.
Another of the organizations for which Abu Toameh writes is the Hudson Institute, a think-tank based in Washington DC. According to the Centre for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch website:
While describing itself as “non-partisan” and preferring to portray itself as independently “contrarian” rather than as a conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute gains financial support from many of the foundations and corporations that have bankrolled the conservative movement. The Capital Research Centre, a conservative group that seeks to rank non-profits and documents their funding, allocates Hudson as a 7 on its ideological spectrum with 8 being “Free Market Right” and 1 “Radical Left”.
Straight out of Israel’s propaganda sewer
Now we come to Abu Toameh himself. The self-proclaimed “eyes and ears” of foreign journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in fact comes straight out of Israel’s propaganda sewer.
According to Wikipedia, Abu Toameh is listed as a speaker for the Hasbara Fellowships, an organization that brings students to Israel and trains them to be effective pro-Israel activists on college campuses. The Fellowship in fact brought him to more than a dozen talks at various university campuses.
In addition, Abu Toameh has given numerous talks sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization based in Los Angeles with branches in New York, Denver, Michigan, Chicago, Seattle, Orange County, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, the UK and Israel. Among these talks was one given at their annual conference in Los Angeles in 2008.
If that is not enough, Abu Toameh is on record as saying in 2009:
Israel is a wonderful place to live and we are happy to be there. Israel is a free and open country. If I were given the choice, I would rather live in Israel as a second class citizen than as a first class citizen in Cairo, Gaza, Amman or Ramallah.
It is no wonder, then, that our self-styled ”veteran award-winning journalist” was described by the former Palestinian ambassador to Australia, Ali Kazak, as a “traitor”.
As for Abu Toameh’s journalistic awards, in case you are wondering, two were given to him by Israel Media Watch in 2010 and 2011 and the other by the neocon Hudson Institute in 2011.
There remains one question. Your Middle East, which republished Abu Toameh’s suspect article, is an innovative and respected news website which combines news from social media, citizen journalists and news agencies to bring the kind of news and analysis which the traditional media often fail to provide. What on earth its editors were thinking of when they decided to publish Abu Toameh’s article is beyond me.
Nureddin Sabir, Editor, Redress Information Analysis.