[This is a follow-up to last Thursday's dispatch titled Yasser Arafat, "the stuff of legends". This dispatch contains a further article by myself, published this morning in the Jerusalem Post, on the media reaction to Arafat's death.]
-- Tom Gross
THE UNITED NATIONS
On Kofi Annan's instructions, the UN especially flew its flag at half-mast at its headquarters in New York to mark "President Arafat's death." This is despite the fact that Arafat did not represent any UN member state, and the UN doesn't usually mark the death of leaders of even its member states in this way. For example, the UN didn't fly its flag at half-mast when Ronald Reagan died earlier this year.
FRANCE PAYS TRIBUTE
The mayors of several French municipalities say they will rename streets and squares after Arafat. These include suburban cities near Paris and Lyons which have already been the location of frequent anti-Jewish violence during recent years.
ARAFAT AS MOSES
By Tom Gross
The Jerusalem Post
November 15, 2004
For the Guardian, Yasser Arafat was to be compared to "Moses."
On CNN, he was described as a "revolutionary romantic figure comparable to Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela."
For USA Today, he "embraced" "sorrow and hope."
South Africa's City Press described him as a leader who "marshalled freedom fighters."
And in the Toronto Sun we were told he was "murdered" by Israel.
If anyone is still in any doubt that much of the Western media has been taken in by the Stalin-like cult of personality Arafat nurtured for himself over the past 40 years, they shouldn't be any more – not after hearing or reading the lies, half-truths and distortions that were served up in the 48 hours of virtually nonstop coverage on international news networks following the announcement of Arafat's death last Thursday.
In scores of reports and interviews by dozens of correspondents on both BBC and CNN, acts of terrorism were left completely unmentioned. Instead we were treated to an almost endless stream of sanctimonious drivel. Arafat "embodied the peace of the brave"; he "saved the Palestinian people from extinction"; his life was "marked by dignity."
Arafat, we were reminded, was "a leader," "a politician," an "inspirational figure." So, too, is Osama bin Laden, but it is hard to imagine anyone in the Western media covering bin Laden's death with almost no mention of terrorism and virtually no allusion to his victims.
Reading much of the print media, watching BBC and CNN, listening to the even more partisan coverage of BBC World Service Radio (which attracts over 150 million listeners daily) it was as if these acts of terror had never happened.
It was as though those Olympic athletes had never been killed, those airliners never hijacked, those schools never bombed, those passengers in airline terminals at Rome, Vienna and elsewhere never gunned down.
It was as if the Ma'alot school massacre (of mostly 15-year old girls) had never occurred, or a bazooka had never been fired into a school bus from Moshav Avivim, wiping out an entire class and their teachers.
It was as if an American ambassador and a Jordanian prime minister had never been murdered, or a wheelchair-bound American pensioner had never been shot and dumped into the Mediterranean because he had a "Jewish-sounding name."
And it was as if an eight-month pregnant mother, Tali Hatuel, hadn't been shot in the head by Arafat's Fatah, execution-style, together with her four young children, only last May.
In many reports these victims were simply airbrushed from history.
When the time comes, will the BBC run 48 hours of virtually nonstop coverage of Colonel Mu'ammar Gaddafi's death without mentioning Lockerbie? Will they devote 48 hours to IRA leaders with barely a mention that they killed anyone?
Will The Guardian run front-page articles by writer John le Carre describing them as "cuddly," as le Carre described Arafat last Friday? Le Carre added in his piece that when he met Arafat he told him: "Mr. Chairman, I have come to put my hand on the Palestinian heart."
Arafat's terrorism was also omitted on the Web. For example, the timeline on BBC online (titled "Yasser Arafat: Key dates") jumped straight from: "1994: Jointly awarded Nobel peace prize with Rabin and Peres" to "2001: Israel blockades him inside Ramallah headquarters."
The timeline put out by the Associated Press, the world's biggest news agency, and used by news outlets worldwide (titled "Key Events in Yasser Arafat's Life"), also omitted all acts of terrorism. Indeed we can only wonder what kind of terror AP's timeline says Arafat "renounced" on December 12, 1988.
Instead of interviewing one or two relatives of Arafat's thousands of victims, we were told, repeatedly, how the UN was especially flying its flag at half-mast at its headquarters in New York to mark "this grave day for the world." And how UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was "deeply moved" by "President Arafat's death."
He was, said a saddened Annan, "one of those few leaders who could be instantly recognized by people in any walk of life all around the world."
The Pope's chief spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told us of his "pain" at the passing of the "illustrious deceased." May God "grant eternal rest to the soul" of "a leader of great charisma who loved his people," he said, while making no reference to any of those for whose deaths and injuries Arafat was responsible.
In round-the-clock coverage we were repeatedly told how French President Jacques Chirac called Arafat "a man of courage and conviction," and how before his death was announced Chirac had paid homage by kneeling in silence at his bedside.
In a relatively discordant note, the editorial of the British paper the Sun said: "There have been few more nauseating sights than the French fawning over the coffin of Yasser Arafat... What will France do when Osama bin Laden dies... Declare a national holiday?"
In one of the other all too few critical remarks by a leading newspaper following Arafat's death, the Financial Times concluded Arafat was "a brilliant manipulator of the media and public opinion."
About that there can be no doubt.
(The writer is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph.)