Newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post give serious attention to fact checking speeches by Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The Post even gives out “Pinocchios” when they catch a politician telling lies. The more Pinnocchios, the bigger the lie.
The recent debate between the Presidential contenders was only minutes old when all the networks and news sites jumped into “fact checking” what the candidates said.
This is extremely important. Journalists should not only report what was said, but whether what was said is true. Obviously the danger is that the journalists themselves have to be 100% truthful in fact checking. But in an age when politicians routinely lie, the press needs to be there to set the record straight. Otherwise, by simply reporting what the politicians said, they themselves can end up as being accessories to the lie — something no journalist wants to do.
Yet when the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority took to the podium of the United Nations, the story that most of the mainstream media published was simply that the two leaders traded barbs and slung accusations as they have often done. See the New York Times for an example.
But what if the media had fact checked the speeches like they have for the Presidential debate?
FACT CHECKING MAHMOUD ABBAS
First, let’s look at Abbas’ speech.
I have selected a few key claims by Abbas where the evidence against the claim is overwhelming. The text of the entire speech can be read here.
We remain committed to the agreements reached with Israel since 1993.
FALSE: In numerous agreements, the Palestinian Authority has agreed to end incitement against Israel and work against terror. Today, there is constant incitement from the highest levels of the PA. Abbas himself, in the midst or a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks, went on television to say “We bless every drop of blood that was spilled for Jerusalem.” How can he say that his government is committed to the agreements, while the Palestinians’ central obligation is violated time and time again at the highest levels?
Abbas next makes an even more incredible statement concerning terrorism.
We stand against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and we condemn it by whomever and wherever.
FALSE: Although occasionally Abbas has condemned acts of terror, in many of the worst cases he has remained silent. When a 13 year old Israeli girl was murdered in her bed, he remained silent. The next day, when a father of ten was gunned down, he remained silent. He even refused to take calls from world leaders urging him to publicly condemn these acts.
Not only does Abbas fail to condemn terrorism, but his government pays millions of dollars to the families of terrorists while hailing them as heroes.
Claim by Abbas:
There is no conflict between us and the Jewish religion and its people.
FALSE: The PA makes no distinctions between Jews and Israelis. Palestinian Media Watch recently found the following cartoons on websites associated with Abbas’ Fatah party. They are clearly aimed against Jews, not just Israelis.
Claim by Abbas:
As if this were not enough, the British Mandate interpreted this Declaration into policies and measures that contributed to the perpetration of the most heinous crimes against a peaceful people in their own land, a people that never attacked anyone or partook in a war against anyone.
FALSE: In 1929, local Palestinians initiated riots in Jerusalem and Hebron that left 133 Jews dead and hundreds wounded. An official British inquiry into the cause of the riots, the Shaw Commission, concluded that:
- The outbreak in Jerusalem on 23 August was from the beginning an attack by Arabs on Jews for which no excuse in the form of earlier murders by Jews has been established.
- [The disturbances] took the form, in the most part, of a vicious attack by Arabs on Jews accompanied by wanton destruction of Jewish property.
- The main victims of the rioting were Orthodox Jews
This is just a single example of Palestinian attacks against Jews in even before the State of Israel was established. Israeli history is filled with examples of Palestinians attacking Israelis. These attacks continue to the present day.
We continue our efforts to build the foundations of a culture of peace among our people.
FALSE: There is no evidence of any such efforts by Abbas or the PA. Quite the contrary, there is ample evidence that hatred of Israelis is a fixture in the Palestinian media and education systems.
FACT CHECKING BENJAMIN NETANYAHU
Now let’s look at Netanyahu’s speech. I have summarized the main claims made by the Prime Minister. The whole speech can be read here.
I’ve stood at this very podium and slammed the UN for its obsessive bias against Israel. And the UN deserved every scathing word – for the disgrace of the General Assembly that last year passed 20 resolutions against the democratic State of Israel and a grand total of three resolutions against all the other countries on the planet.
TRUE: Netanyahu spoke at length of the bias of the United Nations and in particular of the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO. These claims are easily verified.
When the United Nations supported the establishment of a Jewish state in 1947, it recognized our historical and our moral rights in our homeland and to our homeland.
PARTIALLY TRUE: UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (the partition plan) cited the need to avoid conflict more than the need to recognize any of Israel’s historical and moral rights. The plan called for the creation of an Arab state as well, so Netanyahu could have claimed that the UN also recognized the Palestinians’ historical and moral rights to a homeland.
However, one could make the case that the simple fact that the UN supported the establishment of a Jewish state gave international legitimacy to Israel’s claim.
The conflict raged for decades before there was a single settlement, when Judea Samaria and Gaza were all in Arab hands. The West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands and they attacked us again and again and again. And when we uprooted all 21 settlements in Gaza and withdrew from every last inch of Gaza, we didn’t get peace from Gaza – we got thousands of rockets fired at us from Gaza.
TRUE: Although many people today believe the conflict is over Israeli settlements, it is factually accurate to point out that Palestinian attacks against Israel predate the 1967 war.
We educate our children for peace.
PARTIALLY TRUE: It depends on what is meant by “educating for peace.” Many schools in Israel teach about the importance of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but not all. Although they do not support violence against Palestinians, many of the public schools in the disputed territories do not agree with the idea of a two state solution. They teach about Jewish claims to the land but not claims of Palestinians. Ultra-Orthodox schools do not spend time on the subject.
However, the contrast in what is taught in Israeli and Palestinian schools could not be greater. Israeli schools do not teach hatred nor encourage violence.
The greatest threat to my country, to our region, and ultimately to our world remains the militant Islamic regime of Iran. Iran openly seeks Israel’s annihilation. It threatens countries across the Middle East, it sponsors terror worldwide.
MOSTLY TRUE: While a solid case can be made for the danger that Iran poses, to name it as the greatest threat to the world may be an exaggeration. Iran certainly is a threat and statements from Iranian leaders indicate that despite the recent nuclear agreement, Iranian global ambitions have not changed. Iran still invests heavily in its military and is the prime exporter or terrorism. However, scholars are not in agreement over how much of a threat Iran poses.
While Netanyahu made statements that were not completely true, it is Abbas that made numerous false charges. The selections above are just a few of the main points by both leaders, but are representative of the whole speeches.
A journalist reporting on a major speech has a responsibility to inform readers if there are factual errors. It takes more work. However, the goal of the media should be to help the public understand complex events. If that’s the case, then fact checking speeches is an imperative.