CNN is drawing criticism for a feature story on a Palestinian soccer player who is in the news for boycotting Israel. The cable network is being criticized because its glowing treatment of the Palestinian protester neglects to mention that he is a member of the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). In fact, the piece seems to reject any claim that he is a member of the group.
CNN’s fawning treatment of Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak begins with sympathetic descriptions of his hunger strike against Israeli authorities.
The piece then goes on to give Sarsak the space to complain about how the professional soccer league, the UEFA, has decided to hold its latest tournament in Israel, allowed him to discuss his (failed) boycotting efforts, and then went into a long, one-sided description of the “abuse” Sarsak claims he suffered at the hands of the Israelis while under arrest for suspicion of links to terror groups.
The long CNN piece is reported entirely from the soccer player’s perspective and readers would be excused for going away from the piece imagining that Sarsak is innocent of Israel’s charges that he is a member of any terror group. The piece paints Sarak as a victim.
But CNN neglects to inform readers of all the ties Sarsak has to the PIJ. CNN does not, for instance, report to its readers that Sarsak has been featured as the hero of several different terror groups upon becoming the instant poster boy for the anti-UEFA Israel soccer tournament.
As the Washington Free Beacon notes, Sarsak has a history of associating with the PIJ and reports a series of examples in the public domain that show how close Sarsak is to the terror group.
In July of 2012, for instance, he was depicted in a photo on the Islamic Jihad’s “Saraya” (the military wing) website wearing a PIJ scarf and being hoisted on the shoulders of PIJ operatives during a home coming parade thrown in his honor when he returned to the Gaza Strip.
Further, BBC Watch reports that on August 18, 2011, Sarsak had told the Israeli Supreme Court in his own defense that his case should be dismissed because much time had passed since he was connected to PIJM and its activities.
Others are pretty sure of Sarsak’s membership in PIJ, too. Nafez Azzam, who was described by the Canadian news service, CBC, as a “senior Islamic Jihad official,” said that Sarsak is “one of our noble members.”
If the PIJ itself claims him as a member, then why didn’t CNN report this?
The Free Beacon also points out that there isn’t a word about how a boycott of Israel’s soccer tourny could be considered anti-Semitic.
“They [also] could have spent a bit of time on the idea a boycott [on Israel] is anti-Semitic. Anytime they’d like an explanation, CNN Sports can come by and we’ll explain it,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Andrea Levin, director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), is also criticizing CNN’s one-sided portrait of the soccer player.
“The reporter makes a romantic figure out of someone with ties to Islamic Jihad and shows zero skepticism about Sarsak’s rendition of events,” Levin said.
“There’s no context for readers to understand why Israel would detain someone like this. It’s not made clear that Islamic Jihad is a terrorist group responsible for suicide bombings in nightclubs, restaurants, and supermarkets. In fact, CNN skirts saying directly Sarsak is connected to Islamic Jihad–only that Israel ‘accused’ him of such links,” Levin said.