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Some of the network’s record cited by concerned Jewish groups appears well-supported. In 2008, for example, the Arabic channel’s Beirut bureau chief held a party to welcome back Samir Kuntar, a convicted terrorist released by Israel in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. In his broadcast, Ghassan bin Jiddo, the Al-Jazeera Arabic bureau chief, hailed Kuntar, who was found guilty of murdering four Israelis, including two children, as a “pan-Arab hero.” Under pressure from Israel, the channel later apologized for the episode in writing.
But some of the criticism from Jewish groups may be misleading. On its website, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, a prominent pro-Israel media watchdog, cites the case of David Marash, a former ABC reporter for “Nightline,” who left Al-Jazeera English in 2008 after two years for what he then called its “reflexive adversarial editorial stance” against Americans.
But in an interview with the Forward via email, Marash retracted this statement.
“Actually, the anti-American bias I felt was more personal than editorial,” he said. “I have come to regret using the word.”
Marash explained that he saw the perspective aired on both Al-Jazeera’s English and Arabic channels as “definitely post-colonial, and largely anti-colonial.”
“This predisposition frequently makes them hyper-critical of America,” he said in his January 7 email, but he added, “That is not the same as being anti-American.”
Marash said that Al-Jazeera English works hard at journalistic professionalism in its Israel coverage “That they are offended by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and by the contemptuous dismissal of both Palestinian leaders and the prospects for peace by the Netanyahu government should neither surprise, nor outrage, anyone.
“As I said at the time, and still believe now, for all its flaws, Al-Jazeera English still rates as the best of the world’s English language news channels.”