Why I am boycotting Al Jazeera
Over this past weekend, Al Jazeera found itself in a public relations mess in the US. The controversy was caused by the widespread distribution of its bigoted lies. A non-profit organization shared a video from an Al Jazeera platform with added English subtitles, exposing the network’s bigotry, counter-factual information, and minimalization of the Holocaust. What happened teaches us all some important lessons about the media we absorb every day.
The video was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which explained on its website that it was first shared on Twitter and Facebook on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, “an online media platform.” A producer for Al Jazeera named Muna Hawwa presented the video, which attempted to minimalize the evils of the Holocaust, blame Jews for its prominence in societal memory and claim that the murder of Jews actually aided Israel.
Hawwa said: “The number of victims of the Holocaust remains one of the most prominent historical debates to this day.” This is not true. As discussed in a previous column, there is little debate about the horrors of the Holocaust, in part because of the detailed records kept by the Nazis and because the Allied forces memorialized what they found after the war.
“Some people believe that Hitler supported Zionism,” Hawwa continued. People may believe this, but Hitler did not support Zionism. He prevented Jews from fleeing from Europe because, by 1941, he had decided to kill them all. Moreover, in 1941, Hitler told Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, that “Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews,” including in Palestine. At the same meeting, Al-Husseini acknowledged a letter he had received from Germany expressing its support for the elimination of the efforts made by Zionists. Once again, we learn much from the detailed records kept by the Nazis themselves.
Hawwa added: “The much-regurgitated narrative of the Holocaust sorrows paved the way for the Jewish immigration to Palestine.” This is blatant ignorance and bigotry. Though Jews had been living in Palestine continuously for millennia, the modern Zionist movement began in the late 1800s, and significant Jewish migration to Palestine followed. Moreover, after the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews — who were not generally victims of the Nazis — immigrated to Israel. In fact, less than half of today’s Israeli Jews are descended from immigrants from Europe, whether they arrived before or after the Holocaust. Furthermore, the language alone expresses bigotry. In Al Jazeera’s view, when people speak of the Holocaust, they are “regurgitating” a narrative, as they would vomit. That is hateful.
These are only some of the falsehoods and hateful statements that Hawwa shared in the brief Al Jazeera video. After MEMRI translated it, the video was shared widely on social media over the weekend by American politicians, political pundits and private citizens. The video alone — accompanied only by English subtitles — was enough to prove the hate exhibited by Al Jazeera.
The reaction against Al Jazeera was strong in the US and clearly embarrassing for the network
Ellen R. Wald
Eventually, Al Jazeera took down the original Arabic-only video. Mysteriously, the MEMRI video with English subtitles subsequently became unavailable on MEMRI’s Twitter account. Some people blamed Twitter for trying to protect Al Jazeera from the bad publicity of being exposed for its own hate and lies. In any case, MEMRI’s video had already been downloaded and shared widely on multiple platforms by that point, and eventually the video was available again on MEMRI’s Twitter feed.
In a press release on Sunday evening, even Al Jazeera had to admit that the video amounted to “offensive content.” As a result of the incident, the network suspended two unnamed journalists and said that it would review its management and procedures. When even Al Jazeera admitted the video was wrong, it became impossible to defend the hate and lies.
The reaction against Al Jazeera was strong in the US and clearly embarrassing for the network. Many prominent personalities, including Donald Trump Jr., criticized the video on social media and the issue was highlighted by the New York Post, Fox News, The Hill, the Daily Beast, and Arab News.
Trump Jr. specifically called out Mehdi Hasan, a prominent Al Jazeera host and commentator on CNN, for working for Al Jazeera. When a media organization shares blatantly false and bigoted information, it loses credibility and so do its journalists and hosts. I have appeared on Al Jazeera English a few times to discuss oil markets, but I will not do so again unless there is a marked improvement in its accuracy and fairness.
Finally, there is the issue that American social media platforms permitted the distribution of content that was false and bigoted; content that even the publisher later admitted was “offensive.” Yet social media regularly blocks others based on political views, perception and, yes, hate. There seems to be no consistency in the decisions of the social media tech companies. They should not be publishers for Al Jazeera’s bigotry while at the same time blocking other users for certain political or satirical content.
- Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy