Wednesday, 6 April 2011

On El Baradei's "war declaration" on Israel

I had an exchange of tweets with Jim Rissier (@jm111t), who believes that Egyptian presidential hopeful and former head of the IAEA Mohammed El Baradei wanted to declare war on Israel.

The background to the story is a report by the English-language website of Israeli Yidiot Aharonot daily (also known as Ynet). In the report, El Baradei was quoted as saying that he would wage a war against Israel in the event of an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip.

The allegation fuelled the fears of many, including Jim Rissier's, and also showed how pre-conceived prejudices can sometimes exacerbate a state of paranoia.

The story also showed Ynet's slipping standards, which failed to follow the most basic of journalism rules. 

According to Ynet, El Baradei said: "If Israel attacked Gaza, we would declare war against the Zionist regime."

The Israeli paper said that it took the story from another Arab newspaper called Al-Watan.

These quotes have so far been used to tarnish El Baradei, a Nobel laureate, as
it made very quick resonance on the web, and "now there are 1,9 M references!", according to Rissier.

But let's go through the facts, not the incitement. 

Al-Watan newspaper is a generic name of Arab newspapers, such as The Times or the Post in Europe and America. Several Arab papers under the same name are published in Syria, Saudi Arabi and Qatar

However, none of them published such an article, according to their websites. 

A further search on Google, shows that the original story came from a Palestinian source called Dunya al-Watan, which is not even a newspaper. 

In the original story, available here in Arabic, there isn't a single mention of the word "Zionist", or a direct quote from El Baradei on the declaration of war against Israel.
The paper says: "If he wins the elections, he will discuss ways to activate the joint Arab defence treaty in case of a future attack on Gaza."

The story adds more quotes by El Baradei on his election platform. 
Dunya al-Watan, to the uninitiated, is a news website that thrives on strange news items and generates revenue from advertisements by Palestinian companies. Yes, a sort of a tabloid, but never a serious newspaper. 

Look at few other headlines from this "news" source:
"Gaddafi sent to an oasis in the desert"
"Egyptian designer found dead in his apartment"
"Lebanese artist's travel to Egypt barred after her porn film"
Naturally, El Baradei's story was headlined: "El Baradei: We will declare war on Israel if Gaza is attacked."

In addition, the comments made by El Baradei are part of a one-hour interview on an Egyptian TV talk show, which can be viewed in full here

As part of the interview, at 2200 through the video, El Baradei answers a question about his response to an attack on Gaza:

A: "If Israel attacks Gaza, it has to, well, at the same time I can't work alone. Where is the Arab world?"
Q: "Will you send your armed forces if you are a president to repel the attack on Gaza?"
A:  "I have to think it through, I cant' tell you; I will see what the circumstances. There is a joint defence treaty; the Arab states that are fighting each other now must stand by each other."

Of course, among Rissier's 1.9 million references to this story on Google, none comes from any credible media source or publication - except Ynet. 

But since Ynet has recently begun to read anyone's mind when it comes to Israel - see their coverage of Goldstone's alleged "retraction" - then this is not a surprise.

But sourcing a news story from a shady website without checking the original material is just a new low, Ynet.

Perhaps El Baradei should consider a libel action.

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