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While one refers to the "foreign press" in Israel, most employees are local Israelis or Palestinians who are hired for their language skills, access and local knowledge. Sometimes it isn't enough just to monitor only the news stories and critique the media. The hiring practices of the media organizations can also impact significantly on what news is reported and how decisions are made as to the information reaching Western audiences.
It isn't only the personal attitudes or potential bias of a journalist influencing the final article or television report. Other media professionals can also have a major bearing on the construction and direction of a story.
Palestinian translators and fixers may be necessary but those with a political agenda can be selective with the information they feed the journalist or, at worst, mistranslate the words of the interview subjects. Writing on the influence of Palestinian organizations on foreign news reporting, the JCPA's Dan Diker noted:
According to senior foreign news sources based in Jerusalem, the vast majority of Palestinian fixers - often close friends of Palestinian employees of Jerusalem-based foreign news agencies - are ideologically motivated by the Palestinian cause, and actively encourage journalists to report exclusively on the "evils" of the Israeli occupation, rather than on the lack of democratic freedoms or human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.
A case study of this phenomenon is Nidal Rafa who was, until recently, employed for the past few years as a producer for CNN. A simple Google search of her name reveals that she has contributed to many CNN pieces from Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as for other media organizations such as NPR and the BBC. She has also been involved with a number of pro-Palestinian organizations and publications.
Now, media analyst and commentator Tom Gross has publicly exposed Nidal Rafa's agenda. Gross was present at a debate in Jerusalem arranged for the media between the Yisrael Beiteinu and Israeli Arab Balad political parties on the issues of citizenship and identity.[*] During this media event, Rafa crossed the line from media professional to agenda driven activist.
Following the debate, the journalists in the room were given the opportunity to ask questions. Rafa, however, launched into a tirade against Yisrael Beiteinu's representative, newly elected Knesset Member and former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon. Rafa not only breached professional media standards (aggravating even her own colleagues at the debate), but also left us with no doubt as to her personal politics. Click here to see the video.
Gross was sufficiently appalled by what he saw that he posted video footage of this appalling incident, which can be viewed by clicking on the image below.
Here are some select parts of the exchange between Rafa and Ayalon:
NR: The thing is, do you agree that there will be in the future one Palestinian state [..] that all the Palestinians want is to be treated as anyone else in the world....[sic]...when you are making life equal for the people [..] when [their] dream to see Jerusalem... and in the West Bank, and Ramallah and in Jenin [..] you are not suffering at the end of the day and you want people to believe...
DA: Please, don't get excited, of course I'm not suffering because I'm not killing anybody.
NR: And you want to decide, you want people to believe, that you as previous ambassador to the UN, sorry to say fascist, fascist [..] party... where this party... I am the indigenous people, I have been here as my grandfather was here before the State of Israel [..]
Crowd: What's the question, what's the question?
NR: ...the whole thing you are talking about is bullshit, you don't want to open your eyes and you keep [being] blind, not to see what's the problem, and it is occupation.
DA: Now you know why you don't have a state.
NR: And the only guarantee to live here is ending the occupation. Do you not recognize that there is an occupation? Yes or no? YES OR NO? Do you agree that there is an occupation? Do recognize the occupation? Yes or no? Give me an answer and then you can go.
DA: I would like first the eradication of terror, first of all, and secondly, your recognition that I have the right to be here, that this my country, I'm not here by anybody's favor. This is my country, this is my land.
NR: It's Palestinian land.
DA: No its not Palestinian land, this is Jewish land, this is what you have to accept, and if you don't accept it, then we don't even have anything to talk about.
Nidal Rafa is, of course, entitled to her personal views and to act on them as she so wishes. However, this should not infringe on professional journalistic ethics. Rafa has used her media access to advance her own pro-Palestinian agenda to the detriment of those journalistic standards claimed by mainstream media outlets such as CNN.
Following her outburst, Tom Gross:
spoke with Kevin Flower, the Jerusalem Bureau chief for CNN, and he says Rafa's contract with CNN has been discontinued though he declined to provide a specific reason.
Despite this, Rafa handed out her CNN business card to several people, including myself, after her outburst against Danny Ayalon, and said she was still working for CNN. Even if she no longer works there, the question is why CNN employed someone like this for at least the last two years?
(There are many examples of anti-Israeli articles co-authored by Rafa on cnn.com. For example, "Jewish settlers on 'terror' rampage," December 4, 2008.)
When I spoke to Rafa it was clear that, like many (but by all means not all) Arab journalists working for CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press and other major Western news providers in the Middle East, she didn't think there was any contradiction between working as a journalist for an international news outlet and holding extreme anti-Israeli views.
How could CNN employ Rafa and how has she been able to push her political agenda on to other media outlets? Some more research reveals that the incident above is not an isolated one.
Nidal Rafa's political activism was certainly no secret when various media outlets employed her. An archived Jerusalem Post article from May 30, 2001 referred to three aspiring Israeli women politicians shadowing UK politicians to experience the British democratic process. One of these women was Rafa, who is described as a "Balad activist" and the chair of the radical Arab party's women's unit.
Evidently, Rafa spent some time working as a fixer for other media, including Fox News, before landing a position at CNN. Ha'aretz, in a feature several years ago, accompanied Fox News correspondent at the time, Jennifer Griffin, on a trip to Israel's Wadi Ara region:
It is Griffin, aided by an interpreter, who conveys what the Arabs have to say. Here, she is totally dependent on her interpreter Nidal Rafa. Rafa, who is considered a top professional, is an Israeli Arab from Haifa, definitely a Palestinian and a graduate of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank - and she possesses clear political awareness. She is young, opinionated and assertive, and - to put it mildly - she pretty well manages the event.
She is not pleased about the team from Ha'aretz Magazine that accompanied Griffin to Bartaa. My initial attempts to strike up a conversation with Griffin were loudly interrupted by the interpreter. When Griffin asks what I can tell her about the Wadi Ara region, as background, I don't manage to get out even one whole sentence before Rafa interjects herself, in English, with an obvious edge to her voice: "I will give you the background," she says: "This whole area was expropriated by Israel from the Arabs. Everything here belonged to the Arabs. There are Jewish settlements such as Katzir and Harish above: villas, beautiful homes. And all of it on our land."
During Griffin's interview with the bereaved father, Rafa decides what to translate and what to leave untranslated. "Do you condemn Hamas for sending the suicide bomber who killed your son?" Griffin asks. Rafa translates. Razi Kabha gives a general, unfocused answer, about the protracted conflict. "So you don't condemn Hamas for this suicide bombing?" Griffin wants to know. Rafa gives her a piercing look: "He already answered that. Go on to the next question."
Griffin persists. "Nidal, I need you to ask him that again." Rafa argues the point. The two conduct a discussion in English (the camera has been turned off) while the father sits mutely, not understanding what is going on. Finally, Rafa is persuaded and asks the question again, though making it obvious that she is doing so against her will. And so it goes on.
Griffin's original plan was to interview the family and the head of the local council in the village. But the plan got changed. Rafa channeled the visit to include the section of the village on the other side of the Green Line. She persuaded Griffin that the visit would be incomplete without visiting the Palestinian section. And so on and so forth. Did Rupert Murdoch and Roger Aisles take this kind of thing into account? Not necessarily. What is certain is that last Thursday, the person who finally decided what their news channel would broadcast from Bartaa was Nidal Rafa.
Nidal Rafa has a production credit for an infamous 2002 British documentary "Palestine is Still the Issue," produced by notorious anti-Israel polemicist Jon Pilger. HonestReporting critiqued the documentary and even Michael Green, the chairman of Carlton TV, responsible for the broadcast, described it as "factually incorrect, historically incorrect," and a "tragedy for Israel so far as accuracy is concerned." From start to finish, Pilger's documentary was a veritable encyclopedia of every anti-Israel canard in existence today.
But this isn't Nidal Rafa's only involvement with anti-Israel broadcasts. Christiane Amanpour's six-hour documentary "God's Warriors" earned CNN's senior correspondent our 2007 Dishonest Reporter Award. To recall, Amanpour's series:
Listed as one of those involved in the production of this highly contentious documentary is Nidal Rafa. While Christiane Amanpour needs no assistance in formulating her own views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how much influence did Rafa have on some of the biased and one-sided content that featured in "God's Warriors"?
HonestReporting has also previously addressed the issue of biased and unprofessional Palestinian media employees after the Jerusalem Post exposed how two of the largest wire services - Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Associated Press (AP) - had employed journalists with inappropriately close ties to the Palestinian Authority.
Perhaps the most infamous manipulation of the media by a Palestinian stringer was that of cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh. His edited footage and sole testimony from Gaza in 2000 was the basis for France 2's discredited report on Mohammed al-Dura. (See HonestReporting's "The Big Lies" interactive presentation for more on the case.)
In 2004, the BBC's Fayad Abu Shamala was exposed as a possible Hamas member after Ha'aretz reported on a Hamas preacher caught on tape stating "that Hamas man Faiz Abu Smala works for the BBC, and that way he writes the story in favor of the Islam [sic] and Muslims."
This was the same BBC employee who, in 2001, told a Hamas rally in Gaza (attended by the then Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin) that journalists and media organizations in Gaza, including the BBC, are "waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people."
Following the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, a Hamas member who worked for the BBC (confirmed as Abu Shamala) was allowed to enter Gaza to assist in efforts to free Johnston. This raised serious questions concerning the BBC's hiring policies.
As a result of the kidnapping, the foreign media fled Gaza and the vacuum was filled by local Palestinian stringers. In 2007, the Jerusalem Post noted the problems of using only Palestinian stringer-produced material:
"The people who use the stringers have to sift their material very carefully," says Jay Bushinsky, a veteran member of the Foreign Press Association. "You have to be naive to believe that in a place like Gaza you can be a fair-minded reporter. They have a mission and they don't give anything detrimental to their leadership."
It is clear that Nidal Rafa went beyond the boundaries that a media professional should be expressing in public. Rafa was at this event in her capacity as a media professional and not as a Palestinian activist. If Rafa is unable to separate the personal from the professional in this setting, how can we trust content from CNN or other media organizations to which Rafa has contributed?
As Tom Gross notes, there are many Arab employees of media organizations carrying out a professional job under trying circumstances. Nidal Rafa is not one of them. Media organizations need to make far greater efforts to avoid hiring Palestinian activists as journalists and producers in the future.
[*] This debate was one of many events held by MediaCentral, an independent project of HonestReporting which provides services to foreign journalists visiting or based in Israel. As with many of MediaCentral's briefings, footage of the event was posted online, and after a number of journalists present protested the hostility and partisanship of Nidal Rafa, Tom Gross posted this excerpt as noted and brought the matter to the attention of HonestReporting.
 http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/programmes/ correspondent/transcripts/25.5.03.txt
 http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/ 001019.html
 http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/12/04/ israel.hebron/archives/oldindex.html
 http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo= 182992&contrassID=2&subContrassID=5&sbSubContrassID= 0&listSrc=Y&itemNo=182992
 http://www.honestreporting.com/articles/45884734/critiques/ Pilger_Pilfers_the_Truth.asp
 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/michael- green-behind-the-screen-the-private-man-who-now-runs-itv-758207.html
 http://www.honestreporting.com/articles/45884734/critiques/ new/CNNs_Gods_Warriors_Hard_on_Jews,_Soft_on_Islam.asp
 http://www.honestreporting.com/articles/45884734/critiques/ new/Dishonest_Reporter_Award_2007.asp
 http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/cs/ContentServer jrn/1212610552398/page/1212610552378/simplepage.htm
 http://www.honestreporting.com/articles/45884734/ critiques/Palestinian_Insiders.asp ran for head of hamas
 http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/ archives/000039.html
 http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1182409649992& pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
 http://www.honestreporting.co.uk/articles/critiques/ BBC_Hamas_Man_Revealed.asp
 http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid= 1176152838885&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter
Addendum April 6, 2009:
We demonstrated how Haifa-born Rafa injected her own personal politics into her "professional" life, manipulating foreign journalists dependent upon her role as a Palestinian translator and fixer. The evidence presented was disturbing enough. Now, one sharp reader has brought to our attention an article from the September 2005 edition of The Atlantic Monthly (before Nidal Rafa was hired by CNN).
In a feature examining Yasser Arafat's destructive legacy, David Samuels (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200509/samuels) writes:
Most of my official meetings are arranged for me by two local translators, without whom I am often as helpless as a child. The going rate for a translator with decent contacts is $150 to $200 a day. N., a hard-core supporter of Fatah, speaks seven languages, including German, Italian, Arabic, and Hebrew. She was born in Haifa and carries an Israeli passport. She was recommended to me by a Palestinian functionary in Ramallah who welcomed the opportunity to monitor my movements and contacts. N.'s loyalty to Fatah means that she has connections that more neutral translators lack; when she hands off unmarked packages to men who dart out of storefronts and alleyways near al-Manara Square, in Ramallah, I decide that it is best to play dumb. Her favorite game is to drive the wrong way through oncoming traffic at checkpoints as the soldiers draw their guns and order us to stop. "Sahafia - journalist!" she will shout, leaving me to plead our case.
A female Palestinian fixer born in Haifa with a politicized background. Sound familiar? We think so. It is becoming even clearer that Nidal Rafa has a long history of Palestinian activism that precludes providing objective and neutral support for the foreign press.
So why did CNN (and other media outlets) hire her as a producer?
It's time that CNN and the rest of the foreign media working in Israel
put in place proper safeguards to prevent infiltration by Palestinian
activists. Too much reporting from the region is already tainted by
politicized agendas without adding the likes of Nidal Rafa into the
This article was submitted March 18, 2009.
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