Last week, we published a piece by Lee Smith on Al-Monitor. We received the following email on Friday from the site’s “Israel Pulse staff,” which we are reprinting here in full. Mr. Smith’s reply is directly below it.
As Editor and Contributing Writers to Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, we request that you retract and apologize for the insidious piece by Lee Smith, which includes innuendo and selective reporting to smear Al-Monitor as pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah.
First, you should know that Smith’s questions to Akiva Eldar and Ben Caspit (quoted in the piece) included “what is it like for a Jew to work for an Arab?”, referring to Al-Monitor’s owner, Jamal Daniel, an American of Arab descent. You can tell me how Tablet, or most Jewish Americans, would respond if it became known that an Arab-American journalist asked someone, “what is it like to work for a Jew?”
Second, to imply that Al-Monitor is taking a “pro-Assad line” because of its spot-on coverage of the rising influence of Jabhat Al-Nusra, Salafist, and related groups in Syria, and the spread of sectarian violence to Lebanon, is a combination of smear and stupidity. The worry about terrorist groups in Syria and the spread of the conflict to Lebanon are well-established, critical components of both U.S. and Israeli policy in Syria, and also the subject of regular media coverage of Syria and Lebanon. Let me remind you of just a few statements by President Obama (here and here) and Director of National Intelligence Clapper, as well as Al-Monitor interviews with Congressmen Pete King (R-NY) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), both good friends of Israel, about concerns about the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra and terrorist groups in Syria. Take it from us, if it is not known already, that Israel’s leaders and citizens share this concern, too.
Akiva Eldar kindly gave Smith a heads up about an article he was writing in which he slammed Assad for “the massacre he is committing against his own people.” It is also ironic that Tablet published this piece the day Al-Monitor had as its lead article a first-hand account of a Syrian activist imprisoned in Aleppo entitled, “Inside Syria’s Gulag”—link here, which is hardly a sign of a “pro-Syrian line.”
We could go on and on.
Third, in Smith’s selective research and broadside of As-Safir as “pro-Hezbollah”, he neglected to mention that Al-Monitor translates and posts Al-Safir columnists such as the Egyptian novelist and democracy advocate Alaa Al-Aswany, and the strategist Mustafa El-Labbad, and that many well-known journalists, such as Hisham Melhem, now with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyah, were once with As-Safir before going on to bigger pay days with the state owned media enterprises elsewhere in the region. Al-Hayat is a virtual tie with As-Safir in number of translations. The remainder of translations come from diverse regional papers throughout the region listed on the site.
Fourth, Smith’s copious use of unnamed sources and unidentified critics leaves fair-minded readers and honest observers to question the motivations, biases, and veracity of the criticisms leveled at Al-Monitor. Smith may feel his terrain is threatened by Al-Monitor’s access, sources, and team, including some of the top reporters, experts and analysts throughout the region. As reporters, and Israelis, we welcome others’ access and insight into Hezbollah, for example. This is a huge benefit for all of us in the business, and for Israelis who need to “know thy enemy.” As Ben Caspit said in Smith’s piece, he would interview Nasrallah if he could. It strikes us as bizarre that any reporter worth his salt would disparage the value of this type of access, or advocate that a journalistic enterprise should avoid those who can gain such access, or label such access by a few journalists, among many, as conveying “Hezbollah line” for Al-Monitor. A cursory review of Al-Monitor at any given time will put the lie to the charge that it parrots a “pro-Assad” or “pro-Hezbollah” line.
Such questions, I would think, would have been at the core of any editorial review.
Tablet’s publishing such a piece strikes us as bewildering, following your 2012 report characterizing Al-Monitor as “less political than temperamental: earnest, comprehensive, and vaguely do-gooder (take this video interview  with the authors of the optimistic Another Israel Is Possible). One could imagine news junkies and bloggers following it; one could also see it being attractive to business people whose interest in understanding the region is more plainly pragmatic,” and that Tablet in the past has often linked to Al-Monitor’s articles.
For our part, we are delighted to be associated with Al-Monitor, creating a buzz here in Israel, and throughout the region, for its diversity, rigor, and independence.
What a contrast compared to Lee Smith’s shoddy and hit-job journalism.
Akiva Eldar, Contributing Writer, Al-Monitor; former Senior Columnist & Editorial Writer, Haaretz.
Ben Caspit, Contributing Writer, Al-Monitor; Senior Columnist, Sof Hashavua; senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers; Commentator on Israeli Radio and TV.
Shlomi Eldar, Contributing Writer, Al-Monitor; Israel TV Channels 1 and 10
Mazal Muallem, Contributing Writer, Al-Monitor; formerly with Bamachane, Haaretz, and Maariv.
Claudine Korall, Editor, Al-Monitor Israel Pulse
Lee Smith replies:
Alas, I don’t recall ever asking Akiva Eldar or Ben Caspit what it was like to work for an Arab, though I should have. Given that so many people around the world—Arabs, Israelis, Americans and others—believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a wound that bleeds into the rest of the Middle East, it would have been reasonable to ask two Israelis what it feels like to work for the owner of a publication devoted to covering regional politics who was born in Tartous, Syria, and, according to the Beirut Daily Star, holds Lebanese citizenship, as well as an American passport. Likewise, if I were reporting a story on a publication owned by a Jewish Israeli covering the Middle East that published Arab journalists, it would be useful to know what it is like for an Arab to work for a Jew.
In any case, I’m curious why Al-Monitor’s response to the article came from the editor and contributors to “Israel Pulse,” rather than from the site’s founder and owner, or its editor, or the contributors to the site’s “Lebanon Pulse” section. After all, the vast majority of my piece is devoted to detailing the professional affiliations and political sentiments of the writers who contribute articles to Al-Monitor’s “Lebanon Pulse” on the war in Syria and its affects on Lebanon. And it is peculiar that the email takes issue with my “use of unnamed sources” when Al-Monitor not only regularly avails itself of the same journalistic convention, but has published several pieces dealing with Jabhat al-Nusra that use not only anonymous sources but are written by anonymous reporters, signed only by “an Al-Monitor correspondent in Beirut.”
Regardless of the interlocutor, I wish representatives from Al-Monitor would address the one substantive question raised by sources here: what message observers and readers should take from the fact that the overwhelming majority, not simply a slice, of the coverage of Jabhat al-Nusra—both the work produced originally for Al-Monitor as well as the pieces translated from the Lebanese press—comes from journalists also writing for pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah media outlets. I remain open to hearing their thoughts on this question.