Responding to growing speculation and criticism over a sudden editorial decision to delete an opinion piece about Israel and Zionism from its website, Al Jazeera English has reversed course, saying “we should have done better.”
The piece in question, written by Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad and titled, ”The last of the Semites,” was published on May 14 and then taken down on May 19 without any explanation.
Notably though, it was received with angry cries of “anti-semitism” by US and Israeli commentators, including The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg.
Over the past few days, the network has now caught flak for the removal of the article, both inside and outside the newsroom. Speaking to Doha News, a number of Al Jazeera employees expressed their dismay at the heavy-handed decision, saying the directive came down from above.
Mindful of the criticism, AJE reposted the article on its website last night with a note to readers from Imad Musa, the channel’s recently appointed Head of Online, who said:
Al Jazeera has always demanded transparency from the centres of power around the world, and we demand it from ourselves as well…
We should have handled this better, and we have learned lessons that will enable us to maintain the highest standards of journalistic integrity.
Hours before AJE apologized, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald posted an article criticizing AJE’s lack of transparency with regards to Massad’s article. He wrote:
“How can a media outlet possibly publish an Op-Ed, quietly delete it six days later in response to controversy, and then fail to utter a single word about what happened?”
…Who made the decision to take the extraordinary step of deleting the Op-Ed, and what was the rationale for doing so?”
“… Refusing to comment on secret actions of this significance is the province of corrupt politicians, not journalists. It’s behavior that journalists should be condemning, not emulating.”
Electronic Intifada co-founder and pro-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah has also been loud in his criticism of AJE for removing the original article.
In a story about the debacle, Abunimah identified Al Jazeera America’s Executive Director for International Operations Ehab Shihabi, a Palestinian American, as the manager who ordered the article be taken down, apparently over fears it could hurt the network’s reputation in the run-up to the launch of its new US-based channel.
The assertion was confirmed to Doha News by an Al Jazeera Network source, saying such a precedent should not be allowed to stand. Though Shihabi did not technically have the authority to order the article removed, those on the website apparently acquiesced to his directive.
In a post in Arabic on his Facebook page, Al Jazeera Arabic commentator Azmi Bishara minced no words on the issue:
“If the price of Al Jazeera’s entry into the United States means its submission to Zionist dictates, then this means that America will be moving into Al Jazeera and not the reverse,” he said, as per Electronic Intifada‘s translation.
No launch date has been set for Al Jazeera’s American network launch, but employees say it is expected this fall.
Credit: Photo by Mohamed Nanabhay