Former President Jimmy Carter's Middle East trip has generated a fair amount of scorn because of his direct meetings and open embrace, both literal and figurative, of the terrorist group Hamas. Carter argues that peace between Israel and Palestinians cannot be reached without talking to the terrorists.
It is not a widely shared view. "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas and we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help" peace efforts, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Even the Washington Post ridiculed Carter in an editorial April 17:
Mr. Carter justifies his meetings with familiar arguments about the value of dialogue with enemies. But he misses the point. Contacts between enemies can be useful: Israel is legendary for such negotiations, and even now it is engaged in back-channel bargaining with Hamas through Egypt. But it is one thing to communicate pragmatically, and quite another to publicly and unconditionally grant recognition and political sanction to a leader or a group that advocates terrorism, mass murder or the extinction of another state.
That's an odd thing for the Post to say, considering an op-ed column by Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar, an active leader of the group in Gaza was published on the next page. The editorial acknowledges Zahar's writing "drips with hatred for Israel, and with praise for former president Jimmy Carter." But publishing the column, granting Zahar recognition and political sanction, is justified, the Post said, because it could "provide some clarity about the group he helps to lead, a group that Mr. Carter contends is worthy of being included in the Middle East peace process."
As if Hamas' agenda requires clarity. Its charter invokes Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." The group "aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"
Forget, for a moment, whether the Post's argument is consistent. There is a more immediate question at stake: Did the Post pay its standard fee for Zahar's column? The Post compensates guest writers with a minimum $200 fee, spokeswoman Rima Calderon said. Other factors, including whether the column was solicited or had multiple authors, could increase the amount. So, what did the Post pay Zahar?
"As I suspected, we don't make this information public," Calderon said in an e-mail.
Payment of any amount could violate U.S. law banning material support or other transactions with the designated terrorist group Hamas, said Jeffrey Breinholt, senior fellow and national security law director at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Breinholt knows the law well. Before taking leave last summer, he was the deputy chief of the Department of Justice's counterterrorism section.
The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) was passed in direct response to terrorist acts by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad aimed at thwarting U.S. peace efforts. It created a list of specially designated terrorist groups and individuals and outlawed providing any support to them. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) gives the President the power to prohibit transactions with people or entities deemed enemies of the United States.
"They could say payments to individual Hamas leaders do not qualify as support to Hamas, but that's fairly laughable," Breinholt said.
No one is suggesting the papers are in legal jeopardy. But it may be time to rethink the editorial approach. This is the latest in a series of examples in which major American newspapers yield space for Hamas propaganda. Last July, the Los Angeles Times published "Hamas' Stand," by the group's deputy political director Mousa Abu Marzook. Before that, the Post and New York Times published columns by Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef on the same day.
As the IPT's Brian Hecht reported in July:
The Post's Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, shed some light on the process of how op-eds penned by high-ranking Hamas operatives end up on the editorial pages of major American newspapers. Commenting on the confusion between the Post and the Times over the publishing of two competing Yousef pieces, Howell reported:
(Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred) Hiatt said, "Our piece came to us through a representative of Mr. Yousef [in the United States] with whom we'd dealt before. He assured us afterward that he did not realize a separate piece was in the works." (New York Times op-ed Editor David) Shipley's source was in London and assured him of the same thing. (emphasis added)
Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, the dean and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, responded to the Marzook column by questioning the rationale editorial editors offered then:
But such people do not deserve the status of a sagely byline, because that destroys the distinction between honorable men and women bound by basic principles of humanity and the despots and terrorists eager to destroy those values.
If the criteria is simply because "it is an important story," then would the editors have welcomed articles by Auschwitz's Dr. Josef Mengele justifying his gruesome medical experiments, or by the Virginia Tech killer explaining why he committed mass murder? Of course, newspapers have the right and responsibility to inform their readers about dictators and purveyors of terror. But they don't have the right to bestow editorial credibility on those bent on genocide.
The same point applies to the Post's Hamas column last week. Newspapers exist to bring information to the world and bring clarity to the complex. The question is whether publishing Hamas columns aids that call or muddies the waters further by granting legitimacy to an agenda that "drips with hatred."