Palestinian journalists are up in arms. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are arresting and torturing them, and imposing severe restrictions on their work and freedom of expression. But that is not what is upsetting them.
No, the journalists are angry because a Palestinian daily newspaper dared to publish a paid advertisement by the Israeli authorities. The journalists are now demanding that the newspaper, Al-Quds, apologize for running the advertisement by the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank.
Last week, dozens of angry journalists staged a protest outside the offices of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) in Ramallah, where they threatened to boycott the newspaper for "promoting normalization" with Israel by publishing the advertisement.
Murad Sudani, chairman of the Palestinian Writers Union, strongly condemned Al-Quds for running the advertisement and accused its editors of "promoting the Israeli narrative and settlements." He also accused the newspaper of encouraging normalization with Israel, pointing out that Palestinian professional unions were in agreement over the need to oppose all forms of normalization with Israel.
Nasser Abu Baker, chairman of the PJS, who also works as a correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP), lashed out at Al-Quds for publishing the advertisement. He told the protesters that Al-Quds should not "serve the policies" of Israel.
"We insist that Al-Quds remain a national institution of the Palestinian people," he said. Abu Baker repeated his syndicate's opposition to normalization with Israel and praised his colleagues for raising their voice against Al-Quds. Abu Baker demanded that the newspaper apologize to Palestinians in general and journalists in particular for allegedly promoting normalization with Israel. "We are determined to combat normalization and those who promote it," he vowed.
Abu Baker, who recently ran in the election for the Fatah Revolutionary Council, is the architect of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate's campaign to boycott Israeli journalists and media outlets. His political activism constitutes a flagrant violation of the regulations and principles of AFP and a conflict of interests. However, this does not seem to bother his employers at the French news agency, who do not see a problem with one of their employees running in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
Last year, Abu Baker and his syndicate called on Palestinian journalists and officials to boycott Israeli media outlets. In a statement, the syndicate claimed that Israeli journalists "enter the territories of the occupied State of Palestine and work there together with the occupation army and under its protection." The statement accused Israeli journalists of being "unprofessional" and serving as a "mouthpiece for the occupation to justify its crimes against the Palestinian people."
Still, AFP does not seem to see this call by one of its senior journalists as problematic. By accusing the Israeli journalists of serving as a "mouthpiece" for the Israeli authorities and working "under the protection" of the Israel Defense Forces, Abu Baker and his syndicate are actually endangering the lives of the Israeli journalists and turning them into supposedly legitimate targets. This is the case: a journalist working for a respected international news organization perpetrates incitement against Israeli reporters, and the AFP takes it in stride.
Abu Baker is not the only journalist working for an international media outlet who is involved in political activism. Several other Palestinian journalists who participated in the protest against Al-Quds and who openly advocate boycotts of Israel have long been serving as producers and reporters for Western media outlets. This is the "dirty little secret" that Western media outlets do not wish to reveal for various reasons. One of them is because they are afraid of losing access to sources in the Palestinian Authority. Another is because these media outlets sympathize with their Palestinian producers and reporters and see them as "victims" of Israel. Yet, hell would freeze over before they would employ an Israeli political activist as a reporter or producer.
The case of AFP's Abu Baker spotlights the bias of the mainstream media against Israel. Journalists like Abu Baker are silent about anything that reflects negatively on the Palestinian Authority in general or Palestinians in particular. These journalists regard themselves as "soldiers" serving their leaders and cause. They are interested exclusively in the wrongdoings of Israel, and they are obsessed with news that paints Israel black.
This trend has even found its way to some Israeli news organizations, whose reporters actually avoid stories that could turn their Palestinian colleagues against them. Asked why he was not reporting about the conflict of interest of some Palestinian journalists who double as activists, one Israeli journalist explained that he does not want to "lose access" to Palestinian sources and he does not want to upset Palestinians he works with and seeks to interview.
Abu Baker and his colleagues have one mission: to "combat normalization" with Israel. For them, this task far exceeds in importance exposing financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority or reporting about assaults on freedom of expression. It is also evidently more important than protesting the arbitrary arrest and torture of their colleagues at the hands of the PA and Hamas.
The latest campaign against Al-Quds is not the first of its kind. In October 2016, the newspaper came under fire for interviewing Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Again, the condemnations were spearheaded by Palestinian journalists who accused the newspaper of promoting "normalization" with Israel. The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information accused Al-Quds of providing a "killer" with a platform.
Here it is worth noting that no such ban exists on Palestinian officials in the Israeli media. Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, Jibril Rajoub and Saeb Erekat are regularly interviewed by Israeli newspapers, television channels and radio stations. One can only imagine the response of the Western mainstream media if the chairman of the Israeli Journalists Union or the Government Press Office called for a boycott of Palestinian journalists.
The campaign against Al-Quds is in the context of the Palestinians' war against "normalization" with Israel. The goal of the campaign is out-and-out intimidation -- of any Palestinian who wishes to meet with an Israeli. As such, it is a campaign that severely damages peace prospects between Palestinians and Israelis.
Such a campaign of intimidation becomes even more dangerous when it is fueled by journalists, some of whom work for major Western media organizations. The Palestinian journalists' "anti-normalization" onslaught shows that they have managed to infiltrate and influence Western news organizations, which almost always submit to the dictates of their Palestinian employees. No great wonder, then, that Israel is anathema in the Western media.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.