This Is CNN
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
Earlier this month, I attended a debate for journalists in Jerusalem between two members of the Israeli Knesset: Danny Ayalon (Israel’s former ambassador to Washington) and Jamal Zahlaka, a Knesset member for Balad, an Arab nationalist party, who before entering politics, qualified as a medical doctor at Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Both Ayalon and Zahlaka were professional, courteous and generally reasonable in what they had to say. So were the journalists present who asked the questions, including Ethan Bronner, The New York Times’s senior Jerusalem correspondent.
But one journalist, sitting in the row in front of me, was far from courteous and I have today posted on YouTube a video of her extraordinary tirade against Danny Ayalon, in which she harangues and berates him, uses expletives and calls him “fascist, fascist.”
You can watch it here:
The journalist in question is Nidal Rafa, who for some years has been one of CNN’s senior producers in Jerusalem, during which time she has been as partisan as she continues to be now.
None of the other four dozen journalists present witnessing the episode, including Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, seem to have mentioned Rafa’s outburst in their reports.
A FAIR-MINDED REPORTER?
Rafa is an Israeli Arab, born in the Haifa area, and is well-known around town not only as a CNN producer but also as an extremely vocal critic of Israel. For example, she engaged in another anti-Israeli outburst at an IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) event in Jerusalem in February.
On other occasions in 2007 and 2008, while employed by CNN, she has publicly called for Israel to cease to exist as a Jewish state. Several years ago, in an article on how Western reporters interview Palestinians about their views on terrorism, Israel’s leading liberal paper Ha’aretz noted that “Nidal Rafa [then working for another American TV network] decides what to translate [from Arabic for the American correspondent] and what to leave untranslated.”
“The person who finally decided what the news channel would broadcast from Bartaa was Nidal Rafa,” observed Ha’aretz.
In the past, Rafa has also worked on programs for the BBC and NPR.
I 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.
Among my own past writings on the problems of impartiality among some of the Arab journalists employed by major Western news providers in the Middle East, please see this article.
I should emphasize that other Palestinians employed by Western media in the Middle East are honest and courageous and withstand persistent threats by both Hamas and Fatah, in order to try and provide impartial news.
IN CASE YOU WANT TO WATCH IT ALL
The Ayalon-Zahlaka debate took place on March 3, 2009, at the offices of MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based organization which provides balanced media services and resources that foreign correspondents in Jerusalem say they find increasingly useful.