Council for the National Interest

Settlements or Neighborhoods? NPR Takes Netanyahu’s Side

Oct 10 2014 / 11:59 pm

FAIR – NPR‘s Morning Edition (10/8/14) decided to examine the terminology used to describe Israel’s illegal building projects in the West Bank, which could have been a useful exercise. Unfortunately, its sole source for the discussion was an Israeli newspaper columnist who essentially endorsed the Israeli government’s misleading rhetoric.

NPR aired excerpts from a recent interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Morning Edition, 10/2/14), in which he said of a planned expansion: “These are not settlements. These are neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”

As host Steve Inskeep explained: “It matters a lot to Israelis and Palestinians alike just what things are called. The differences in language suggest differences in ways of seeing the issue on the ground.”

This is certainly true. But what to call something depends on what that thing “on the ground” really is. Under international law, it’s illegal to colonize territories captured in war, which is what Israel is doing by constructing housing for Israelis in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. This is true whether or not Israel claims sovereignty over the land, as it does in the part of the West Bank known as East Jerusalem, as it’s also illegal to annex territory captured in war.

But that was not the kind of perspective NPR was looking to share with listeners. Instead, Morning Edition turned to historian Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

You have to understand that for most Israelis–in this sense Netanyahu’s not alone. The neighborhoods built in Jerusalem, although in the parts of Jerusalem that were occupied after ’67, are part of Jerusalem. And therefore, probably 90 percent of Israelis see them as having a different status than the settlements in the deep West Bank, so to speak.The NPR host started off by asking, “Why would someone call them neighborhoods instead of settlements?” Shavit’s response was that Israelis mostly agree with Netanyahu:

Inskeep followed up by noting that “just as a matter of language, settlements sounds like aggressively reaching out and settling on new territory. Neighborhood just sounds like a neighborhood. It’s a friendly-sounding thing.”

But in reality, “settlements” is a euphemism for illegal colonies (Extra!10/09), so the discussion is really about swapping out one euphemism for another.

And Shavit’s point is that both sides use troubling language:

The verbal war is an integral part of the political warfare. And therefore, the terms they use are part of a political battle. The Palestinians use terms that actually describe all of this holy land as theirs. Some Israelis on the right use terms that describe the entire land as theirs.

 Inskeep picks up on this point:

You said the Palestinians use terms that describe the entire region as theirs. Do you mean to say that they don’t refer to Israel? They might refer to Palestine and occupied Palestine.

So somehow a discussion about how Israel has recast its illegal occupation as the building of neighborhoods turns into a lament about how both sides are being misleading.

They close with a discussion of Netanyahu’s other claim, that the settlement expansion in question is in “south Jerusalem.” Shavit’s verdict? “In a technical way, Mr. Netanyahu’s right,” he explains, before admitting that it is also true that “this is in the parts of Jerusalem that were conquered by Israel during the ’67 war.”

He finishes with a call for both sides to reject the “petty debate over terms and terminology” and “look for a fair, realistic way of dividing the land in a way that will not risk Israel’s security and future.” 

It’s perhaps not surprising that an Israeli columnist’s chief concern is for “Israel’s security and future”; a Palestinian journalist would likely have different priorities. Inskeep mentioned near the top of the segment that this was just “one perspective on the political wording in the Mideast.” 

When will Morning Edition devote space to another perspective, one that actually challenges Netanyahu’s misleading spin about illegal West Bank settlements?

Tell Morning Edition that its October 8 segment on Israeli rhetoric about construction in the Occupied Territories should be balanced with a critic of Israel’s colonization.

NPR Morning Edition

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Posted by on Oct 10 2014 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Featured articles, Media distortion . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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