On January 31, Ma’an News Agency ran an opinion piece on its Arabic-language website in which the author, Ghassan Mustafa al-Shami, unleashed his decidedly vile opinion that the Holocaust is a “myth” spread and exploited by Jews for our own nefarious ends:
The Jews have excelled at promoting what they call the 'Holocaust'. Every year the Zionists hold ceremonies in this place or that to commemorate its so-called Memorial Day with minutes of silence, reading out names of victims, and by visits to a monument in occupied Jerusalem.
…They hate anyone who tries to investigate or research the history of the 'Holocaust' and Jewish lies and claims according to which Nazi leader Adolph Hitler cremated six million Jews in a Nazi detention camp at Auschwitz in Poland....
Many Jewish goals were achieved by having these lies disseminated throughout the world. They took advantage of them to win sympathy and acquire aid in establishing an entity for themselves on Palestinian land. This despicable dream came true upon the skulls and body parts of our fathers.
…Revisionist historians have exposed the false numbers presented by Zionist institutions in the United States relating to the imagined slaughter of six million Jews. The revisionist writers have explained how a few hundred thousand Jews died in World War II, just like others died during the war whose victims number [a total of] 45 million—22 million of whom were Soviets, for example—in addition to wounded, refugees, and disabled.
Before anything else is said, this must be said: The foregoing is awful, and it should not have been allowed into pixelated print, because it’s truly vile. To read the rest of the translation (if you really want to), you can go to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). You can’t read it at Ma’an (even if you read Arabic) because the post was taken down almost as quickly as it went up, a result of PMW’s absolutely appropriate complaint to Ma’an’s offices.
Having said that, it’s important to note that in its response to al-Shami’s post, PMW omitted or failed to obtain some relevant facts, most importantly that the post appeared in a subsection of Ma’an’s opinion pages reserved for the reading audience—sort of a long-form letters-to-the-editor section—and was not written by anyone on staff at Ma’an. The employee who allowed the post to appear was, of course, on Ma’an’s staff, and anyone who oversees the publication of vicious Holocaust denial (whether glorified letter-to-the-editor or not) certainly deserves censure. Yet it’s an important distinction to make.
Furthermore, PMW suggests a kind of duplicity on Ma’an’s part by noting that al-Shami’s post “was posted on Ma'an's Arabic website and not on its English site,” without also clarifying (or, possibly, knowing) that none of Ma’an’s opinion pieces appear in English translation. There’s no case-by-case decision to keep certain material from English-reading eyes; opinion pieces are exclusively in Arabic.
Another thing PMW got wrong, according to Raed Othman, CEO of Ma’an Network (which includes Ma’an News Agency, as well as television, video, and radio production), is the question of Ma’an’s funding. The headline of the PMW post reads “European-funded Ma'an published Holocaust denial,” but Othman reports that while the network did once depend on foreign donations, it’s been self-sustaining for three years, and today the only outside support goes toward training courses for journalists and the like.
To complicate matters yet further, just one day before al-Shami’s post appeared, Ma’an had removed a different antisemitic opinion piece and replaced it with the following comment (original in Arabic):
This article has been removed.
It was written by a Ma’an News Agency reader, Sawsan Najib Abdul-Halim, not by Ma’an journalists, reporters or editors. It was a reader-submitted article. It has been removed because it included inaccurate information and unjustified, hateful content which does not reflect—by any means—Ma’an's views or editorial policy.
The article was published during the war on Gaza. Our team did not take sufficient time to review it carefully as a result of the workload during the war, and it appeared under a section set up for reader submissions. Despite that, Maan is reviewing its system for publishing reader submissions in order to avoid similar mistakes.
This, too, came at PMW’s request, and the system review had only just started when al-Shami’s post appeared, Othman says. “Of course, it’s something that isn’t acceptable for our policy,” he adds.
Discussing the issue by phone from Bethlehem, Othman expressed his own regret and frustration over the post’s appearance, and affirmed that going forward, the agency will be holding all opinion pieces “to the same international journalistic [standards]” to which the rest of MNA is held.
Finally, PMW gave conflicting information in its February 11 report, writing both that the al-Shami post had been removed, and that it was still up. According to both Othman and other sources I’ve consulted in Bethlehem, the post was in fact removed within about 24 hours. Othman explains that no clarifying note replaced the post largely because he was not in the office when the issue arose, and he felt that the earlier statement would serve for both cases.
So, to sum up: An exceptionally awful piece of Holocaust denial appeared on Ma’an’s Arabic-language website in an Arabic-only forum set aside for community commenting, one day after Ma’an assured readers (in Arabic) that it would be “reviewing its system…to avoid similar mistakes.” According to its CEO, Ma’an Network is not, in fact, funded by outside donors, and it would seem that the al-Shami post was, in fact, removed from the site very quickly. Othman has unequivocally rejected the sentiments expressed in both posts (in the first case, terming them “unjustified, hateful content”), and says that he has taken steps to assure that such material does not appear again on any of Ma’an’s outlets.
Palestinian Media Watch was absolutely right to call MNA’s attention to the egregiousness of the posts, but I suspect that none of what I’ve written here will reassure them, or, indeed, a host of other folks.
What concerns me, though, is the possibility of Palestinian media and opinion shapers not grasping the depth of the offense.
Palestinians often misread Israeli Jews and the broader Jewish community, and vice versa. Both sides often fail to give credence to each other’s stories and far, far too often, the Palestinian community and supporters of Palestinian rights fail to understand the darkness that still hangs over the world’s Jewish community.
Within living memory, efforts were made to genuinely—not metaphorically, not symbolically, but quite, quite literally—kill all Jews, everywhere. That is simply not something that can be blithely ignored or belittled.
The number “six million” is so mind-bogglingly large that it can be hard to truly see it, or get even a little bit of a hold on what it means, and if one is literally at war with the surviving descendants of many of those six million, it might be easy to not make an especially concerted effort.
But if Palestinians of any stripe—media outlets, politicians, intellectuals, and folks in the street—want to ever reach real, lasting understanding with the Jewish people, they have to make a bigger effort. They have to educate themselves. They have to learn the profundity of the sorrow and the pain that the memory of the Holocaust evokes, and they have to respect it.
It’s a simple human truth that if we want people to listen to us, we must also listen to them. If Palestinians want Israelis and the global Jewish community to respect their story, they must also respect ours.
As for the Ma’an story, I’m of the opinion that a terrible mistake was made, and rectified. My hope is that going forward the lesson will be learned and heeded well beyond Ma’an’s own offices.