The uproar in the Israeli political echelon continued on Tuesday against The New York Times for describing Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” and for omitting the fact that he is also a convicted murderer. The description of Barghouti appeared following an op-ed piece written by him and published by the paper.
“This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognized the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy,” the paper added in an editor’s note in the online edition of the piece a day after it was published, a clarification that did little to dispel the outrage over the column. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the addition did little to correct the original offense.
“Calling Barghouti a ‘political leader’ is like calling Assad a ‘pediatrician,’” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s academic training as an ophthalmologist. “They are murderers and terrorists. We will never lose our sense of clarity because we are on the side of justice and they are on a side that is neither just nor moral.”
“This moral clarity, the readiness to defend our country, the readiness to fight those who would destroy us, is one of our greatest strengths, alongside love of Israel,” Netanyahu concluded.
Netanyahu’s comments followed criticism of the paper by a series Israeli politicians, including Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Deputy Minister for Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren described the piece to Army Radio as a “media terror attack.”
Barghouti rose to prominence as a Palestinian leader during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s when he commanded the Tanzim, a terror gang that gained notoriety by attacking Israeli motorists along major highways in Judea and Samaria and retreating quickly to the cover of Palestinian civilian territory. Barghouti was an outspoken supporter of armed resistance when the Oslo process collapsed.
Although Israeli security officials believe that Barghouti bears direct or indirect responsibility for the deaths of dozens of civilians, he was only charged with five counts of murder due to insufficient evidence. He was convicted on all charges and sentenced to consecutive life sentences for each conviction and an additional 40 years for attempted murder.
After beginning the hunger strike, Barghouti was transferred on Tuesday to solitary confinement and moved to a new prison.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused Barghouti of using the strike as an election ploy ahead of the internal Fatah elections next month.