The parents of Reuters journalist Jeffrey Heller sent HonestReporting a rebuttal of the HonestReporting critique of Heller’s recent dispatches.
UPDATE 4/21: Jeffrey Heller himself also wrote us a letter, which is reprinted here.
April 16, 2004
BERNSTEIN BURNS WHILE SHARON FIDDLES
Dear Honest Reporting,
Let’s get right to it. We do have an agenda and a score to settle with you.
We advise you up front that we are the proud parents of Jeffrey Heller, the Reuters journalist, you so severely criticize in your Honest Reporting Communique dated 15 April, 2004. Your article was forwarded to us by some friends and relatives.
No less than you, we too are annoyed and disgusted by the bias and distortions displayed by Reuters, the BBC and other media on so many occasions. That being said , we’ll relate to your critique point by point, editorializing as you did, as we go along. Since we are not professional journalists we are permitted to do so.
We start by writing the unbiased, uneditorialized and unopinionated headline above to our rebuttal such as you did for your article with no intent whatsoever with our choice of words, as you too, surely, had no intent whatsover with yours to demean or denigrate.
To continue, you object to the phrase he used to describe Sharon saying, “he can flaunt in the face of opponents”, writing “a neutral reporter would never portray a democratic national leader as such a caricatured, vindictive figure.” .
From the press reports we are now reading, (not Reuters et al), Sharon has already lost no time flaunting (italics ours) his “achievement” while still in Washington and he continues doing so on his arrival home. Just what is so dishonest in describing Sharon as a leader who “can flaunt”when he tells his own cabinet members who disagree with him that they are free to resign, bypasses debate in the Knesset, hides details of his plans from his own constituency and finally agrees to some ridiculous registered Likud Member vote backed by a threat to bring the Labor Party and Peres back into the government for support when this party and Oslo were overwhelmingly rejected in the last elections?
Imagine, if you will, a scenario where George W. Bush is reelected President in November and decides in April, 2005 contrary to all his promises, he wants to withdraw from Iraq. He does not consult his Cabinet nor does he address Congress, reveals dribs and drabs and innuendos until he speaks with Kofi Anan before agreeing that the registered members of the Republican Party will determine US foreign policy.
For your information, we are Likud Party members who will vote against the Sharon initiative. Why? We believe it a reward for terror and will be interpreted as weakness and retreat by the Hamas, Hizbollah and the PLO when they awaken from their initial stupor.
You describe Sharon as “a democratic national leader.” You are right. He was elected Prime Minister. He was not however, elected to be a dictator. William Safire in today’s NY Times quotes Sharon as saying “I discussed this between me and myself and came up with a new initiative.” Without detracting from Sharon’s many accomplishments and credits his behavior is far from that of a “democratic national leader.”
Your expertise further tells us that “if the UN, EU and United States withdrew all financial and political support for a Palestinian state-that might constitute “the sum of all Palestinian fears.” Really? Do you know this as a fact? Has Qurie or Arafat or any other Palestinian leader told you so? Might not any of the oil rich Middle Eastern members of OPEC easily ante up the necessary funds? You describe Jeff Heller’s “distortions” as journalistic hyperbole; how pray tell, do we describe your distortions?
Let’s go on a little longer. You quote the Likud platform which does not base any territorial claims on the Bible. While this is true you fail to inform your readers that the very next line of the Likud Platform you quoted also reads “the Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities (read Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza) and will prevent their uprooting. The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab State west of the Jordan River.” While the Likud is a secular party nonetheless Menahem Begin z”l never missed an opportunity to refer to Yehudah and Shomron as the ancestral Israeli homeland. Are these omissions on your part consistent with your concept of Honest Reporting?
Finally, we’d like to relate to your presentation of Jeff Heller’s biography informing your readers that he has lived in Israel since the age of 14, and so should know better. As his parents we’ll let you in on some more backround material. We gave Jeff a choice at age 18 of serving in the Israeli Army or going to the US to college. We would have paid all his tuition and living expenses. He chose to remain in Israel and served in the IDF for 3 years. He served in the Sinai and Egypt during the Yom Kippur War. He served in the Lebanon War as a combat medic in Lebanon.. He did 30 days and sometimes more reserve army duty every year, always as a combat medic until he reached his 45th birthday when he was honorably discharged from the IDF with the rank of Sergeant.
You wonder why he distorts, why he portrays Israel”s Prime Minister as an antagonist, and Palestinians as mistreated? We wonder how you come to your highly opiniated baseless conclusions. Fellers, to put it quite simply, you’ve screwed up big and went barking up the wrong tree.
In conclusion we’d like your readers to know that Jeff Heller and his family live in Macabbim, a community which borders on the old armistice line with Jordan, and travels every day past many Arab villages on the way to his Jerusalem office.
We note that your material originates from Lakewood,NJ and as such may we suggest that you show a little more respect and humility for the true heroes of Israel’s rebirth.
Gloria & Arthur Heller
Dear Mr. Heller,
Thank you for your response to our recent communique on your son Jeffrey Heller’s articles for Reuters.
I’ll address those sections of your letter that directly related to our communique. We challenged three statements, and you offered a rebuttal to each:
1) We believe the phrase ‘flaunt in the face of opponents’ is highly tendentious. The author, like you, finds Sharon’s recent politics to lack some degree of legitimacy and conveys that opinion to readers. While it’s fine for a Likud member like you to hold that opinion (which you articulate), it is certainly not impartial news reporting in the spirit of the Reuters mandate.
2) We believe the phrase ‘the sum of all his people’s fears’ was hyperbole, and simply untrue. We offered a suggestion of what MIGHT constitute such a condition, but it’s clear that last week’s pronouncements didn’t fit any reasonable definition. The phrase was used by the journalist to increase understanding/sympathy for the Palestinian Prime Minister’s response to Bush’s statement. That, again, crosses the line of impartial reporting.
3) Regarding the Likud position on the Land of Israel: Indeed many Likud leaders, like Begin, have seen the Bible as the ultimate source for the Jewish claim to the land. But the Biblical basis is almost always understood by Likudnikim as an historical matter, not a religious mandate from God. The Likud platform conveys precisely this point, by carefully omitting any reference to God. In this regard, the Likud platform alludes to the Israeli ‘megillat ha’atzmaut’ that omits any reference to divine mandate for the land.
We are still wondering why Jeffrey Heller distorted the Likud party position in this manner.
It sounds as if Jeffrey, and you his parents, have given tremendously to the State of Israel.
Managing Editor, HonestReporting