WASHINGTON (Dec. 20)
American Jews have been complaining that a four-part series on Fox News last week insinuated that Israeli intelligence had foreknowledge of the Sept. 11 terror attacks but didn’t tell American authorities.
Israeli officials have called the stories “totally baseless,” and the reports were not picked up by other media outlets. Still, some American Jews are concerned the report will foster negative images of Israel that they feared in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
“In the conspiracy media world and the hate groups, its going to have lots of legs,” said Alex Safian, associate director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA.
The series, reported by Carl Cameron in Washington, alleges that Israeli intelligence may have had foreknowledge of the Al Qaida terrorist attacks because Israelis have been spying on the movements of Arabs in the United States.
“There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks and not shared it,” Cameron said in the first segment of the series. “A highly placed investigator said there are ‘tie-ins.’ “
Israeli officials denied the spying charges, and said that most of the Israelis rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks were held for minor visa infractions and have since been released.
Later parts of the series accuse an Israeli telecommunications company, Amdocs Ltd., of not protecting private call records and billing data, which Fox said could have hindered the American investigation into the terrorist attacks.
A second Israeli telecommunications firm, Comverse Infosys, is accused of illegal moves in providing private phone information to the Israeli government.
Critics say the pieces offer no on-the-record sources and rely heavily on innuendo and hypothesis.
Safian cites one example, in which Cameron says the U.S. government “looked at Amdocs” when trying to determine the cause of leaks in a Los Angeles drug investigation of suspects linked to Israeli organized crime.
What the reporter fails to mention, Safian says, is that someone unrelated to Amdocs later pleaded guilty to leaking the information.
Other charges against Fox News — which Jewish groups felt generally has been fair in its reportage on Israel — is that the station did not seek on-camera comments or rebuttals from Israeli officials or the companies cited, and that it recycled previously aired stories.
However, American Jewish and Israeli officials are baffled about what might have led Fox or Cameron to pursue so controversial a story on the basis of evidence they regard as so flimsy.
Jewish groups that have spoken to reporters following up on Cameron’s charges have been told that American government sources have debunked the allegations. Virtually no other American media organization has run a piece on the Fox allegations — a sign that the story lacks merit, Jewish leaders say.
A Fox News spokesman said, “We stand by the story,” but would not go into further detail.
American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials said they are holding conversations with Fox News representatives, but refused to elaborate.
Jewish organizations have been receiving frantic calls from Jews concerned that the reports may fuel anti-Semitism. In the first days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Jewish organizations feared attempts to link the attacks, and Al Qaida’s hatred of the United States, to U.S. support for Israel.
While such linkage has been successfully refuted, those fears have been reawakened by the Fox report.
Fox “comes to the conclusion that if maybe” the Israelis “spied, they had the information and didn’t share it,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “That’s insidious. It almost said the Israelis were responsible for what happened.”
Foxman said the report falls just “one step below” Arab claims that Israel was responsible for the terrorist attacks. So far, there is no evidence that Arab countries or groups are incorporating the report into their anti-Israel propaganda.
Most Jewish organizations have chosen not to issue formal statements about the Fox News report for fear that it would give the allegations undue exposure.
“When a serious news outlet decides to run with a story that is factually incorrect, I think that more public damage is ultimately going to be done to the reputation of that news outlet than the target of the story,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington.