Thursday, March 7, 2013

For Israel, back-of-th​e-bus treatment in WaPo

For Israel, back-of-th​e-bus treatment in WaPo

Leo Rennert

In a development that's good for both sides, Israel has been steadily increasing the number of work permits for West Bank Palestinians to get jobs in Israel. As security for Israelis -- in West Bank communities as well as in Israel -- has improved in recent years, the number of work permits has gone up accordingly. It now stands at about 30,000.

Both sides like the arrangement. Israeli employers get workers who otherwise might be in short supply in Israel. Palestinians in the West Bank and their families welcome regular paychecks. A positive ripple effect for the Palestinian economy is still another plus.

So what's the problem? Well, Israelis and Palestinians on public buses crossing from the West Bank into Israel aren't always mutually welcoming. Each side complains of abusive and threatening behavior by the other side. For Palestinian workers, the only alternative has been to use so-called pirate taxis which charge exorbitant fares. Public bus transportation also required lengthy commutes for many Palestinian workers.

Faced with this problem, the Israeli Transport Ministry inaugurated a new line of buses for Palestinian workers to facilitate their transport into Israel. Shorter commute times. An end to price-gouging fares of pirate taxis. Also, the Transport Ministry stressed that Palestinian workers retained the option to board regular public buses as well.

All the players seemed quite satisfied. Except this is Israel, where overheated media and far-left politicians are never satisfied. Unsurprisingly, the cry of "apartheid" was not long in coming. Echoes of separate-but-not-equal swirled around the new Palestinian bus lines. And just as predictably, the Palestinian buses provided a news peg for Western reporters in search of Israel-bashing fodder.

The Washington Post, in its March 6 edition, gives the story top play on the front page of its foreign-news section -- a four-column spread with two color photographs ("Israeli buses drive a new wedge - Critics call lines for Palestinians ethnic separation, but some laborers welcome the cheaper alternative" by Joel Greenberg, page A8)

In fairness, let me start by pointing out that Greenberg's article covers all the aforementioned facets of this issue. So a plus for him.

But Greenberg's piece -- and the headline -- also sets a strong anti-Israel tone by giving far more prominent placement for "critics" of the Palestinian bus lines than for the welcoming applause of Palestinian workers.

When it comes to direct quotes, you would think that since the new Palestinian bus line affects first and foremost Palestinian workers that it is they whose voice should be heard first. But that's not the way Greenberg goes about positioning the main elements of his story.

In his 21-paragraph article, fairly high in the piece -- in paragraph 8, -- Greenberg quotes Zehava Galon, head of the ultra- left Meretz party, as charging that "separate bus lines for Paletinians and Jews prove that democracy and occupation can't coexist ." In paragraph 9, he cites the radical-left newspaper Haaretz denouncing the new arrangement as "racist separation." And in paragraphs 10 and 11, he cedes the platform to the self-described "human rights" group B'Tselem so it can attack Israel for trying "to use security and convenience as a cover for racism" and goes on to pontificate that "you can't have separate but equal; separation by definition is discriminatory." (Greenberg, incidentally, fails to inform Post readers that B'Tselem is heavily bankrolled by European governments with pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel agendas).

But what about the Palestinian workers who now will have cheaper, faster rides to work? Greenberg hasn't forgotten them, not quite. But their personal comments get pushed down all the way to the end -- to paragraphs 18, 19, 20 and 21. Those readers who haven't already moved to other parts of the paper are finally informed in paragraph 18 that Palestinian workers returning from jobs in Israel "welcomed the new service" which now costs them half of what privately driven vans would charge.

Greenberg quotes Bassam Hanani, a father of four, in paragraph 19 as saying the new buses are safer, and Naim Liftawi in paragraph 20 as happily welcoming the new buses for "avoiding abuse from settlers."

As far as Liftawi is concerned, when charges of "apartheid" are made, "they can say what they want, as long as I'm safe on the bus. I just want to put bread on the table of my children." Paragraph 21 in a 21-paragraph story.

As I previously mentioned, Greenberg's piece covers all angles. It's just that he also gives Israel -- and Palestinian workers -- back-of-the-bus treatment. Might we call it journalistic "apartheid"?

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers