The Israeli government and major Jewish organizations in the United States yesterday issued sharp criticism of a story in The Washington Post on U.S. diplomatic cables reporting alleged Israeli torture of Palestinian security suspects.
The expressions of opposition and, in some cases, outrage, focused on the reliability of the consular reporting, the character of the U.S. diplomat who accumulated the information and the role of The Washington Post in publishing the cables' contents.
"The Washington Post has joined left-wing and extremist groups in the United States in a sensationalist and irresponsible attack charging the state of Israel with the systematic torture of Palestinian prisoners," said a statement in the name of Theodore R. Mann, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"In publishing on its first page an unsupported allegation by a former low-ranking State Department employe who has been romantically involved with one of the terrorists whose charges were disputed by the American embassy in Israel and who was dismissed from her job for a record of difficulties with her fellow employes, The Washington Post has lent itself to a blatant anti-Israeli propaganda effort," Mann's statement said in closing. "For a major newspaper that aspires to national prestige to indulge in such reckless journalism is both scandalous and shocking."
The Israeli foreign ministry renewed earlier denials that systematic torture takes place, and depicted as unstable the author of the U.S. diplomatic cables suggesting that it does occur.
A major Tel Aviv daily newspaper, Maariv, headlined its account of the story: "Employe of the American consulate cooked up defamation on torture of prisoners in Judea and Samaria."
Judea and Samaria are the biblical names widely used in Israel for the territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Instances of abuse cited in the cables were said to have taken place in Jerusalem and the West Bank towns of Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus.
A statement from the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington called the testimony of Palestinians cited in the cables "self-serving statements of convicted terrorists dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel, against which they testified, and eager to explain away their criminal behavior in order to be admitted to the United States."
It added: "The lack of creditability of these allegations is further underscored by the fact that the former American consul who provided the information in the first place was herself once engaged to one of the terrorists whose charges she reported, an admission that the post buried almost at the very end of one of the articles."
The author of the cables, Alexandra U. Johnson, was a visa officers at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem until she was forced to leave the Foreign Service Jan. 31, having failed to obtain the necessary promotions in six years of service.
She was engaged for a brief time to one of the Palestinians cited in her reporting, making and breaking the engagement after the first and before the second of two major reports containing her conclusions.
Both her "selection out" of the Foreign Service and her engagement were contained in the Post story. The articles also referred to an assessment of her work by Jerusalem Consul-General William Newlin that contributed to her selection out.
"Miss Johnson... writes well and has the ability to organize and present material logically and persuasively. She has also demostrated considerable analytical ability," said the assessment, which is in the possession of the Post.
"Since this must be an in-depth appraisal, it is unfortunately necessary to record that Miss Johnson has difficulty in the area of inter-personal skills," the career prospects appraisal continues, concluding:
"I wish that I could honestly state that the above deficiency was, in my opinion, susceptible of amelioration to the point where it would not be an impediment to the officer's ability... Unfortunately, this is not the case."