by Henry Norr
It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote to National Public Radio’s senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, and to the network’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, to ask why Elving used an Israeli formulation – “disputed” area – to characterize East Jerusalem, instead of calling it “occupied,” the term used by the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and virtually every other international body. So far, neither has replied.
While I wait, I’ve spent some time looking a little more deeply into NPR’s coverage of East Jerusalem since Israel’s announcement of plans to build 1,600 new housing units there put the area in the spotlight. The network posts transcripts of all its stories, interviews, and talk shows on the Middle East (and nowadays most other stories, too) on its website, and it has a pretty good search engine, so it wasn’t hard to review all 22 broadcasts that have discussed East Jerusalem since the controversy exploded. (NPR doesn’t transcribe its hourly headlines, so they’re not included. Neither are the Associated Press reports and Foreign Policy articles it posts on its website but doesn’t read over the air.)
Here’s some of what I found anyone depending on NPR for information about the issue would have gathered about East Jerusalem:
1. It’s part of Israel’s capital. Regular listeners have heard Jerusalem described that way in at least eight stories. In five of those cases the city was called Israel’s “undivided capital;” once the phrase was “unified capital.” When NPR’s reporters say it (as opposed to when they’re quoting Netanyahu or Michael Oren, for example), they scrupulously precede these phrases with something like “the Israelis have proclaimed” or “Israel considers” the whole city their capital.
But since NPR reporters hardly ever even hint that anyone except the Palestinians disputes this claim, these are essentially throw-away words. (The closest they come to questioning the Israel position is the statement, which I found in two stories, that “The international community believes that the final status of the city should only be determined through negotiations.”)
2. Israel has a deep historical claim to all of Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s assertion in his AIPAC speech that “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago” was quoted in three separate stories. Twice listeners have been told that Israelis consider the city – implicitly the whole thing – just as much theirs as Tel Aviv. On “Talk of the Nation” they heard an Israeli analyst explain that no government would agree to a construction freeze because Jerusalem is “the heart and soul of the Jewish people.” Weekend news analyst James Fallows informed listeners that the Israeli public considers the government’s East Jerusalem policy “necessary for their survival.”
3. Ramat Shlomo, the East Jerusalem settlement where the government plans to add the 1,600 new units, is an idyllic “neighborhood” (a word NPR reporters have used at least eight times in this context) or “community” on a hilltop. It’s “tranquil” or even “very tranquil,” full of pious Jews who “focus on their religious studies and pay little attention to the outside world.” Their only problem is that they have large families and therefore “housing needs;” this “housing crunch” explains the government’s decision to build the 1,600 units.
4. As for the Palestinians, including the roughly 250,000 who live in East Jerusalem, they are presented to NPR listeners not as people whose roots in Jerusalem go back millennia – who, legally, own East Jerusalem – but as people who, for some unexplained reason, lay claim to what Israel has: they “want” East Jerusalem, they “claim” it, they “hope” it will be part of their “future state,” they “aspire” to make it their capital. In the meantime, unlike the “unfazed” Jewish residents of Ramat Shlomo, they can barely contain their emotions: they are “angry,” “frustrated,” “incensed.” Some of them even think Israel wants to push them out of the city, but the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem is promptly called upon to dismiss this charge, and he’s given the last word.
Now, wome things NPR listeners have not been told about Jerusalem since the controversy

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