NEW YORK (Nov. 1)
Protest continued to pour in from Jewish leaders today denouncing the ABC-TV presentation of the film “Terror in the Promised Land” as a one-sided glorification of Palestinian terrorist outrages. The one-hour documentary was aired in most of the country Monday night by some 200 ABC network owned and affiliated stations.
Most of the protests faulted ABC for carrying the inflammatory material at a time when Israel and Egypt are engaged in negotiations for a peace treaty. Several of them took the form of letters to ABC executives.
Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-American Section, stated in a letter to ABC-TV president Frederick S. Pierce that she took strong exception “to comparison of the Palestinian refugees’ situation with the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe. The comparison is dishonest and contributes nothing to an understanding of either tragedy.”
She observed that “one of the insidious notes introduced was the contrast between the living conditions in one of the worst of the refugee camps with the neatness and order of an Israeli kibbutz. The legitimate contrast would be between the way Arab refugees are forced to live by their Arab brothers and the way those same Arab brothers themselves live, in the oil-built palaces of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc.”
Jacobson suggested that “because of the way the material was handled, ABC-TV will have to share in the responsibility for any future terrorist attacks because they glamorized the PLO and its activities.”
EVILS OF FILM CITED
Bertram H. Gold, executive vice-president of the American Jewish Committee, questioned “the good judgement of ABC News” in a letter to the network’s board chairman Leonard Goldenson. “Essentially the program served to glorify outlaws whose so-called ‘heroism’ is directed against innocent people, including women and children,” Gold wrote.
“Further, while the program went on at great length to explain what prompts terrorists to perform their brutal acts, it barely touched on the rights of others with whom they come into conflict….A program such as this can only result in poisoning the atmosphere in which peace must flourish. We regret that ABC News produced and showed it.”
EXTENSIVE CRITICISM BY ADL
The most extensive attack on the program was released by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in a statement by its general counsel, Arnold Forster, a day before the film was shown. ABC denied an ADL request for a preview on policy grounds. Forster said “The evil of the ABC film is its acceptance of the PLO rationale of its murder program, almost giving the impression that the producers understand and accept that rationale.”
Forster listed several specific examples that he called “irresponsible and misleading content.” He noted “a suggested equation between the suffering and murder of six million Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany with the plight of the Palestinian refugees”; that “the film fails to report on the social, economic and educational advances enjoyed by inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza since they have been under Israeli administration”; and ” allegations by individuals of Israeli torture of prisoners are accepted at face value despite abundant evidence that most such charges have been fabricated.”
Richard Cohen, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said, “Having presented a subtle and insidious propaganda film that justifies PLO terrorism and presents a sympathetic portrayal of the murders of innocent civilians as attractive and idealistic young people,” ABC News is now “obliged to tell its viewers just what the PLO goal is: the destruction of the Jewish State. This the program failed utterly to do….We therefore call on ABC in the name of fair reporting an fair play, to provide the opportunity for a representative Jewish community spokesman to make clear the true aims of the PLO, to put its terrorist policy in proper perspective.”
Another statement of protest, released by the United Zionists-Revisionists of America and Herut-U.S.A. on Oct. 27, two days before the broadcast, said the film “is, by its very nature supportive of the PLO. Any broadcast that brings an hour of interviews with guerillas seeking to explain their despicable crimes becomes a platform for murderers,” the statement said.
ABC RESPONDS TO CRITICISM
ABC responded so far only to the advance criticism by the ADL. Mary Fifield, director of public relations for ABC News, said it was “unfortunate that they (the ADL) made their determination before the program was aired.” In a telephone interview yesterday with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, she said that the documentary “speaks for itself” and “made clear that it was not intended to include all views on the Middle East but was interested in a single angle.”
Frank Reynolds, who narrated the documentary, said at the opening and close of the broadcast that it was intended to present the Arab-Israel conflicts as perceived by the Palestinians and as a reply to the Palestinian charges that their point of view is never heard in the West.
Fifield noted that ABC News has aired more than a half dozen specials and documentaries on the Middle East during 1978 alone and many of these included interviews with Premier Menachem Begin and other prominent leaders who stated the Israeli position on terrorism and other matters. She said a News Closeup broadcast last Jan. 30 dealt with the ravages of terrorism on Israelis.