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MSNBC’s Sole Palestinian Voice Rula Jebreal Takes on Pro-Israeli Gov’t Bias at Network & in US Media

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A week after public outrage helped force NBC’s reversal of a decision to pull veteran reporter Ayman Mohyeldin out of Gaza, the sole Palestinian contributor to sister network MSNBC has publicly criticized its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. “We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue,” Rula Jebreal said Monday on MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily, citing a disproportionate amount of Palestinian voices and a preponderance of Israeli government officials and supporters. Jebreal joins us to discuss her decision to speak out against MSNBC and her broader criticism of the corporate media’s Israel-Palestine coverage. An author and political analyst who worked for many years as a broadcast journalist in Italy, Jebreal also shares her personal story as a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who is married to a Jewish man and has a Jewish sister.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the controversies around media coverage of the crisis here in the U.S. Over the weekend, NBC reversed its decision to remove veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza. Mohyeldin was removed shortly after he reported on witnessing Israel’s killing of four boys on a Gaza beach. His reports gave voice to Palestinian victims and placed the siege in the wider context of Israeli occupation, drawing criticism from supporters of Israel’s offensive. NBC’s decision to remove one of its top reporters sparked a massive backlash on social media, with the hashtag #LetAymanReport becoming a trending topic on Twitter. Days later, NBC backed down, and Ayman Mohyeldin resumed his reporting on Sunday. In a Twitter post, Mohyeldin acknowledged the social media campaign that demanded his return, saying, quote, “Thanks for all the support. Proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover the #Palestinian side of the story.”

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, one of MSNBC’s frequent contributors, Rula Jebreal, took to the network’s airwaves to criticize the initial decision to remove Ayman and the broader exclusion of Palestinian voices. Jebreal was speaking on MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily.

RULA JEBREAL: We’re ridiculous. We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue. Look at how many airtime Netanyahu and his folks have on air on a daily basis, Andrea Mitchell and others. I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues, not even for—

RONAN FARROW: Well, I’ll push back on that a little. We have had Palestinian voices on our show.

RULA JEBREAL: Maybe for 30 seconds, and then you have 25 minutes for Bibi Netanyahu and half an hour for Naftali Bennett and many others. Listen, the Ayman Mohyeldin story, let’s talk about this. We are home, and we can discuss this. Ayman Mohyeldin is covering the Palestinian side, and we get upset. It’s too pro-Palestinian. We don’t like it. We push him back. And thanks for social media, that brought him in. Let’s talk about these issues, and came home.

RONAN FARROW: Point taken, but doesn’t it reveal equally our thinking that we now have Ayman Mohyeldin on air? And I think there’s been very fair and balanced coverage of this.

RULA JEBREAL: Just thanks to social media and thanks for the pushback from the public opinion. And I’m not saying that everybody is like this, but it’s one-tenth is given to the Palestinian voice and 99 percent of the Israeli voice, and that’s why the public opinion is pro-Israeli, which is the opposite in the rest of the world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Shortly after the interview, Jebreal tweeted, quote, “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?” On Tuesday night, she appeared on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Rula Jebreal to talk about what happened. Rula Jebreal is an author and political analyst who frequently appears on MSNBC. She worked for many years as a broadcast journalist in Italy, where she also covered the Middle East. She is the author of Miral, which was made into a film by Julian Schnabel.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

RULA JEBREAL: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what happened and the decision you made to speak out on your own network?

RULA JEBREAL: Well, I decided to speak on my own network because we are liberal Democrats, and part of the debate of any media in the liberal Democratic landscape is to discuss our own flaws as well as others, not only Bridgegate, but also Mediagate, I would say, a media scandal regarding the biased covering of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And I looked at studies, and the studies that were made by many scholars, respected American scholars—Juan Cole and others—who are referring to the covering of the media, how much airtime is given to the Israeli officials and how much airtime is given to the Palestinian officials. And it’s a U.S. landscape that is so biased. So, for example, in 2012 you had, on CNN alone, 45 Israeli officials interviewed versus 11 Palestinians. And when it comes to this conflict today in 2014, you have 17 Israeli politicians, official interviewed versus one Palestinian. So we are going backwards regarding this issue. And that forms and shape the public opinion in America, that then transfer and become political support, unconditional, to Israel, to a policy that is very destructive both to the Israelis and to American stands in the world and their credibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you the only Palestinian consultant or contributor on MSNBC?

RULA JEBREAL: Absolutely, yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So what happened after, after your appearance on Ronan Farrow where you said what you said, criticizing their coverage?

RULA JEBREAL: I just received emails of cancellation. And I asked question about whether these cancellation are related to what I said earlier. I never had any—tried to call the producers, and nobody answered the phone. Then I tweeted what I tweeted, and immediately there was a social media uproar. I understood—listen, I worked in Egypt. I was kicked out of the country because I interviewed Omar Suleiman, the head of secret Service. I asked him about torturing. I interviewed Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. I’m accustomed with this. When I pushed Silvio Berlusconi on corruption and scandals, my TV show was shut down. I’m accustomed to this. I did not, with all honesty, expect this from us, liberal media, and us who are advocating, telling—going out, saying, “We tell the truth, and we cover this in an unbiased way,” I did not expect that.

AMY GOODMAN: The AlterNet writer Max Blumenthal spoke to an anonymous NBC producer who, he said, described, quote, “a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip,” unquote. In his piece for AlterNet, Blumenthal wrote, quote, “The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a [quote] 'witch hunt' against anyone who strays from the official line,” Blumenthal wrote. The producer told Blumenthal, quote, “Loyalties are now being openly questioned.” Did you have any experience of that, Rula? How long were you a contributor at MSNBC?

RULA JEBREAL: I have to say, I’ve been there for two years, and—I’ve been there for two years. And I have to say, I was talking about the American landscape, not only MSNBC, which has been actually a little bit better than others. But I never experienced anything like this. I mean, I understood doing what I did in Egypt would lead me to be kicked out of the country. I understood in Italy, where Berlusconi controlled most of the media. I was shocked, because most of my friends in the Middle East would tell me, “You know, you will have an issue in America.” And I always thought, “No way. We are truth tellers. We are fact checkers. We are people that actually cover both sides. This is what America stands for.” And I hope that MSNBC and other networks will actually revise their policies and will have more voices. It doesn’t have to be me. It’s not about me. We have a media scandal that we need to expose. We are responsible of these failing policies in Gaza and in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Had you tried to raise this before in the two years that you were a contributor?

RULA JEBREAL: Oh, privately, I raised it with so many, many, many, many people in the inside. I’ve been pitching myself to talk about these issues on many shows, and I’ve been privately meeting with producers and others. And I told them. I said, “Listen, you have an issue there. Our credibility here at stake. We can’t talk about Bridgegate for six months, and then, when it comes to this, we decide we duck our heads, and we decide to be exactly like the other networks. We can be different. We can be much more bolder, and we can be aggressive. And then maybe the rates are this way because of this.” I think most of them were agreeing privately with me, but then, when it comes to what goes on air, I don’t think they did have any power.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you did go on Chris Hayes last night.

RULA JEBREAL: Absolutely. Chris Hayes contacted me late in the afternoon, and so his producers—


RULA JEBREAL: And he’s on MSNBC. Of course, we disagreed, but, you know, in the media, we can agree to disagree. We have Joe Scarborough criticizing over and over, and he’s fine, and he’s OK. But one thing is to criticize certain things, but is this a hot issue that nobody can touch? Is this what America’s becoming about?

AMY GOODMAN: So did you lose your job as a contributor?

RULA JEBREAL: I have no idea. I still don’t know. My contract is up, and we’re negotiating still.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And following your appearance on the show, you said one of the things that you hoped your comments would precipitate would be a national debate on the question of Israel-Palestine and how it’s covered. What kind of shape do you think that debate would take? And if it were up to you, what kinds of issues should be raised more frequently in the mainstream media on this particular issue?

RULA JEBREAL: I think what we need to ask: Are we really guaranteeing—by supporting unconditionally this Israeli government, right-wing government, are we really helping Israel being more secure in the long term, and ultimately, American interest and stand in the world? Is that what’s happening? And look, this policy with Gaza has been failing for the last eight years. We had six bombardments in the last eight years, and this did not topple Hamas and did not limit, weaken Hamas. Actually, it empowered more and more Hamas. And moderates like myself—and, for me, Hamas is the ultimate liability for the Palestinian people—but this did not empower moderates. Moderates have been telling Israel over and over, “We want a peace deal. We will agree on most conditions that you want.” And as Gideon Levy said in this venue, in this same venue, the problem with our policy, that we want to keep the status quo. That means military occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Gaza under siege.

And we want—and what we are doing in the media, we are portraying actually a false image where what’s happening in Israel—and if you ask anybody, whether in New York, in D.C., in other places, “What do you think is happening?” they will tell you, “Well, Israel was minding its own business. The Palestinians started shooting missiles out of the blue.” This is not the reality. This is not what’s going on. And the context of this is what’s leading the public opinion to support unconditionally Israel. And politicians will do what’s popular, not what’s right. We need to do what’s right. We, in the media, have a mission. Whether it’s MSNBC, Democracy Now!, CNN, we have a mission. We are truth tellers, and we can shape public opinion to protect public interest.

AMY GOODMAN: Rula, you have a fascinating story yourself, which you wrote about in your book Miral, which was made into a film. Can you talk about where you were born and your own life story?

RULA JEBREAL: Look, I was born in Haifa. I am an Arab Israeli. I’m a holder for an Israeli citizen—I have. My family lived all their lives in East Jerusalem. I was raised in an orphanage. My family is both Muslims and Christians. I am married to a Jewish man. And I really believe in two-state solutions. A year ago, I discovered that I have a Jewish sister, because my mother, that died when I was five years old, actually had a relationship, and I discovered a year ago that she had—I have a Jewish sister, that is tweeting today, in these days, killing Arabs is a value. This is the reality that I live in.

And I have to be truth—because of what I’ve seen in the Middle East, and because of what I witness, whether it’s in refugee camps, under military occupation, under siege, I’ve seen how pain, grief, and when you keep 60 percent of the population that go almost hungry to bed, and 90 percent without clean water, the only thing that can rise is extremism. And the solution to this is not to bombard them altogether in one place. The solution to this is actually lifting the siege, empowering them financially and let them, themself, you know, create a moderate leadership that eventually can take over. We didn’t manage to topple Hamas, and this is fact. We are failing in our strategy in how to contain extremists. Hamas was dead politically. We will manage, with this war, actually, to revive Hamas and its power and its grip on the Palestinian coast.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up going from Haifa, growing up in an orphanage, to becoming a broadcaster in Italy?

RULA JEBREAL: Simply when I was 17-and-a-half, I won a scholarship from the Italian government. I went to Italy. I studied there. I attended college. I became the first anchorwoman on the Italian television—first foreign anchorwoman, black anchorwoman, on the Italian television. I was attacked by the right, especially during the Iraqi War, because I challenged their views on the Iraqi War. When I visited Iraq, it was clear to me that there was no way that a military solution will be met with cheering. And it was clear to me that the country would be divided immediately and the Shiites will take over. So I wrote about this. I was challenged by the right-wing government in Italy on these views. I was even called the N-word on air by one of the ministers of Silvio Berlusconi, who actually was pushed to resign three days after because of the uproar of the media, because of that. Then I worked for so many years in Italy. I was a reporter. I read the news. And then I decided to go to my own world. I went to Egypt. I worked there for three months. I was on-air journalist. I broadcast a TV show—until I started asking the wrong question and tough question to the establishment. After that, I was off air, kicked out of the country. And I hope to find a platform somewhere.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you’ve worked—you just talked about your work in Italy. How would you say the reporting in Europe on Israel-Palestine compares to what you’ve seen since you’ve come to the U.S.?

RULA JEBREAL: Oh, day and night, day and night, day and night—and simply because of the images that reporters bring from the ground and are allowed to show on air. Here, you know, we have a problem with what we show. The tipping point for me is when people like Rihanna and Selena Gomez are not even—celebrities—allowed to sympathize with the people that are dying—not with Hamas. When they wrote their Twitter and saying, you know, “We pray for peace in Gaza, and we sympathize with the victims,” and everybody backlashed on them. And even John Kerry was scared when his microphone was open on Fox, and then he had to actually walk back that line. That shows you something: Everybody is scared when it comes to these issues. It’s time that we in the media have the courage. We expose so many wrongdoing from our own government here and their wrongdoing abroad. It’s time to—it’s time, really, to do a service, not a disservice, to our audience and to our interests in the world—and also to the Israeli, many Israeli people that—and Jewish people, as you showed in your network—that are today calling on Israel to stop their policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Rula, we want to thank you for being with us. Rula Jebreal, author, political analyst, frequently appears on MSNBC. She worked for many years as a broadcast journalist in Italy, where she also covered the Middle East, is the author of Miral, which was also made into a film. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a debate on the U.S. media coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Stay with us.

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A Debate on Gaza: Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada vs. J.J. Goldberg of The Jewish Daily Forward

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