When the media use advocacy groups with political agendas as sources, they have an obligation to present the views of the other side. At the very least, they should make clear when their sources have political goals.
Yet the Washington Post neglected to do so. In the article, Israel Plans West Bank Settlement Expansion Amidst Policy Shifts in Washington, they use Settlement Watch and J Street as sources. Both groups have clear anti-settlement agendas and have been vocal in their opposition to the policies of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Settlement Watch is an Israeli anti-settlement political organization. J Street is a far left American political organization that has taken positions in support of the Iran agreement, continued U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, and against anti-terror Israeli military actions. Neither group could be said to represent public opinion in their host countries. In addition, J Street is constantly opposing polices advocated by the vast majority of American Jewish organizations that support Israel.
Yet these groups were not asked questions about their opposition to Israeli settlements. They were used to provide information and analysis about the Israeli move.
The Post then adds to their biased sources by quoting Hanan Ashrawi a long-time foe of Israel who represents the PLO. She, not surprisingly, slams Israel, claiming the move was exploiting the new U.S. Administration and continuing Israeli violations. She does not explain what exactly Israeli is continuing to violate.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Post next goes to the Palestinian Authority for an official response. The response, printed without any other opinion, is that the Israeli move is so bad that it will:
…undermine efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and will promote extremism.
Are readers to believe that the PA has been busy with efforts to bring peace to the Middle East? The government that spends million of dollars on monthly stipends for terrorists claims the building of homes promotes extremism? The Post prints this absurd accusation without a dissenting view.
One short line is given to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and another to Avigdor Lieberman, the Defense Minister.
Netanyau is quoted saying:
We’re building — and will continue to build.
Then the Post quotes Lieberman with another short line. Undoubtedly, the Defense Minister had more to say on the subject of the Israeli building. But this is what they used:
We are returning to normal life in Judea and Samaria.
These are mere sound bites, not analysis.
The article then returns to J Street for a concluding thought. This time the anti-settlement group gives an opinion on international law and settlements:
It may really feel good for Israel’s government not to feel the sting of an American rebuke in the wake of this latest announcement,” said Ben-Ami, whose group supports a two-state deal between Israel and Palestinians. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the world has made it very clear that these actions have no legal validity.
Why is one of the most partisan advocacy groups against Israeli settlements being used to speak about international law?
If advocacy groups must be used, why not ask a more mainstream group such as AIPAC?
If the Post wants an opinion on settlements and international law, they could interview Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich. After all, his column on international law appears regularly in the Post itself!
By limiting sources to those with an interest in opposing the move, readers will be unable to make an informed, objective conclusion.
Journalists should always be cautious when using politically biased advocacy groups as sources of information and analysis. At the very least, they should make clear to readers the agendas of these organizations. It would also be a good idea to provide balance by including sources with a different perspective.
It is interesting that the New York Times covered the same topic without using Settlement Watch, J Street, or any other advocacy organizations.
This article originally appeared in The Algemeiner.