Monday, May 14, 2018

Barbara Opall-Rome: defense specialist or war industry stooge?

Spending three decades as a stenographer for the weapons industry would give anyone a warped sense of morality. So when Barbara Opall-Rome – the doyen of Israel’s “defense correspondents” – refers to “journalistic integrity,” she may understand that term differently than most people.

Opall-Rome recently tweeted that she had stayed “at a gorgeous property owned by the emir of Qatar” while on vacation. Because the details she gave were sparse, I contacted her to enquire if the Qatari authorities had provided her with free accommodation.

In response, Opall-Rome assured me that she and her husband “paid top dollar” to holiday at a Seychelles resort and were unaware that it was Qatari-owned until after their arrival.

“Sorry to confuse you with the facts,” she added. “And I trust if you have any journalistic integrity, you will rephrase your questions so they more closely resemble actual questions rather than accusations.”

I have zero intention of rephrasing the questions put to Opall-Rome. It is not unreasonable to ask public figures for clarification about something they have written or posted on the Internet.

In this particular case, it was legitimate to enquire if Opall-Rome had accepted any gifts from Qatar, given how its government has been wooing Israel’s supporters lately.

Opall-Rome’s apparent advocacy of journalistic integrity sits awkwardly with how she has built up a career promoting an industry based on death and destruction.

As recognition of her long service to the arms industry, Opall-Rome now hosts her own show on the Tel Aviv-based television channel i24News.

She uses “Strictly Security” – the show’s name – to celebrate Israel as a “land of milk and cyber startups.”

A recent broadcast marking the anniversary of the state’s establishment applauded how Israel had become a leading player in the global arms trade.

“In 70 years of independence, this small immigrants’ country is in a constant state of war,” Opall-Rome said. “But Israelis – as they often do – take these lemons and make lemonade.”


Only someone amoral could resort to such a euphemism. Opall-Rome was likening the weapons with which Israel inflicts terror on Palestinians to fizzy drinks.

“Strictly Security” portrays the occupation of the West Bank as sophisticated. Earlier this year, it reported on how Israel had installed “smart checkpoints” in Hebron.

The advanced surveillance technology in these checkpoints “minimizes the physical contact between Israeli soldiers and the residents,” Opall-Rome gushed. A clip showing one of those Palestinian residents saying the word “apartheid” did not alter how the entire feature was an effort to sanitize Israel’s brutality.

For the past 30 years, Opall-Rome has been a reporter with DefenseNews. That magazine is – if its marketing brochures are accurate – read by a global elite that oversees military expenditure worth more than $1.75 trillion per annum.

Opall-Rome, who previously worked from Washington, has headed the magazine’s Israel office since 1999.

Some of her “reporting” has been thinly-veiled lobbying for the arms industry. In a 2017 article about how the boss of Israel Aerospace Industries had been denied a visa to the US, she noted how contesting the refusal had cost the publicly-owned weapons maker at least $100,000 in attorney fees.

The $100,000 sum was “Israeli taxpayer money that could have gone into research and development,” she lamented.

Although Opall-Rome responded promptly to my email about her vacation, a follow-up query on why she shills for weapons makers went unanswered. In that query, I asked if she had ever exposed the harm caused by the arms industry.

Tough questions?

The closest Opall-Rome gets to posing tough questions is to ask why Israel relied on F-16s rather than the “precious” new F-35s in its arsenal while bombing Syria a few months ago.

The legal and ethical questions about attacking another nation were ducked in her “analysis.” Echoing state propaganda, Opall-Rome has depicted Israel’s previous actions in Syria – such as the 2007 assault on a nuclear facility – as benevolent.

Similarly, she has taken at face value Israel’s assertions that Iran is the “aggressor.” And she has described people in Gaza who try and enter present-day Israel as “infiltrators.” That racist slur omits how Palestinian refugees have a UN-recognized right of return to historic Palestine, as well as the right to resist occupation and apartheid.

During its annual conference last weekend, the National Union of Journalists for Britain and Ireland discussed how Israel and its supporters are seeking to influence press coverage with their propaganda activities. The union made a commitment to support journalists who disobey instructions from editors or management that they cover Israel’s most blatant propaganda exercise this year: starting the Giro d’Italia bike race in Jerusalem.

The union’s discussion was sorely-needed. Too many reporters – from Britain, Ireland, the US and beyond – have treated Israel’s talking points as if they are solid facts.

By doing so, they have ignored the plight of Palestinian media workers who risk – and sometimes lose – their lives while chronicling Israel’s crimes.

Opall-Rome is the kind of reporter who should be disowned by her profession. Her stories recycle – without any hint of skepticism – lies pumped out by the Israeli authorities and the pro-Israel lobby.

She is a “journalist” with a complete lack of integrity.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 26 April 2018.

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