Correspondence with San Francisco Chronicle
following my letter of May 17, 2002 regarding the Cairo Times piece. Foreign Editor Mark Abel's response May 21 is included below. My reply to him:
Dear Mr. Abel,
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter of May 17.
The intensity of my reaction was driven less by the fact that you printed a Cairo Times piece, than by the fact that you did not disclose its origin to your readers. Anybody who earns "the bulk of his living" as the editor of a Cairo-based newspaper subject to Egyptian government censorship will inevitably have a world view and a work product that conforms to his circumstances. It is inconceivable that the Chronicle should private-label such writing and give it the same legitimacy of independent journalism as, say, Matier and Ross' wonderful exposÚs of local government. If truth in labeling is good enough for consumers of peanut butter, it is also good enough for readers of newspapers.
To the extent that you do publish opinion from highly-censored parts of the world, it would only make sense to corroborate the work with other sources. The whole point of the analysis was to portray Israel as intransigent and the Arabs as ready for peace, was it not? A check on Ha'aretz (www.haaretzdaily.com) or other sources with closer knowledge of Israeli politics would have told you that Khalil's interpretation of the Likud party vote and Israel's posture on diplomacy simply didn't hold water.
Your suggestions that Crown Prince Abdullah and Bashar Assad are reasonable and that the latter is moving away from his father's rejectionist stance sound a little too good to be true. Only one month before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, Abdullah's Ambassador to Britain published a poem praising suicide bombers. Was that reasonable? A report at this link suggests that Assad continues to drive terror attacks. This news story, entitled "New Martyrdom Operation in Occupied Lands" appeared in today's issue of The Syria Times. The "occupied lands" in the headline refers to the town of Megiddo, which is within the 1967 border. It is not credible to interpret this article from the regime's newspaper as rejecting terror and rejectionism. Read the entire Syria Times website and ask yourself if this is the official voice of a reasonable statesman.
Both Abdullah and Assad will need to do much more, I suspect, to convince the Israeli public that they bear sincere offers of peace. I was a high-school student in Jerusalem when Anwar Sadat came to town to speak to the Knesset. There was little doubt this was a genuine move for peace. That is the standard against which peace initiatives will be judged, not vacuous statements calling for "a fair and complete settlement to the refugee issue".
It is not my intent to pass judgment on Mr. Khalil's entire career. In this particular case, I think, he wrote a flawed article that only served to misinform and prejudice your readers. The Chronicle should have no trouble finding better journalism and news analysis to fill its pages.
Dear Mr. Sharkansky,
I have received your communication and must take issue with it. For starters, Ashraf Khalil is anything but an Arab propagandist, which you might have confirmed for yourself had you searched the Chronicle's Web site for the many articles he has written for us over the past five years or so. Though he does make the bulk of his living at the Cairo Times, he is as American as either you or me, comes from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and works as a stringer for the Boston Globe, USA Today and a number of U.S. media outlets. ... He has been published many times in reputable American newspapers.
His piece was a news analysis and was labeled as such. Neither he nor I regard Mubarak, Assad and Abdullah as "a trio of peace activists," but at this point they appear to comprise the most reasonable leadership flank of Arab opinion toward Israel -- as I believe you are probably aware. Khalil's piece was worth running alone because of Assad's edging away from the rejectionist stance adhered to by his father. ... Do you disagree? I respectfully suggest that you are overreacting to a piece that merely noted some potentially important developments on the Arab diplomatic side, nothing more and nothing less. If the trio's peace moves prove to be bogus, we will most certainly publish that, too.
Regards, Mark Abel Foreign Editor