TEL AVIV – In an interview with PBS, a senior aide to President Barack Obama made the wildly exaggerated claim that Israel is constructing “tens of thousands” of new settlements in the West Bank, an error that prompted the network’s ombudsman to demand a “clarifying or correcting” statement on Friday.
In the interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff last month, Ben Rhodes, the outgoing president’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, defended the Obama administration’s decision not to veto an anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution by citing Israel’s continued construction of settlements.
“Thousands of new settlements are being constructed and, frankly, if these trends continue, it will be impossible to realize a two-state solution,” Rhodes said. “…When people look back and they say, you saw tens of thousands of settlements being constructed…”
Media watchdog the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) first exposed the numbers as a gross exaggeration, noting that the number of settlements in total (including hilltop outposts) is 228. Additionally, Israel has not constructed any new settlements in recent years.
Ombudsman Michael Getler wrote on PBS’ website that Rhodes’ error “merits some kind of correcting or clarifying statement by the NewsHour on the air or online or both.”
“It seems clear to me that Rhodes misspoke when he talked about thousands and tens of thousands of settlements,” Getler said.
In an email to Getler, Rhodes said, “I assume I was referring to settlers/individual settlement units, rather than settlement blocs.” He described settlement units as “housing, whereas settlements are generally used to refer to a cluster of houses (which can obviously take different forms – apartments, houses, etc.).”
In the original interview with Woodruff, Rhodes answered a question about the U.S. abstention by amplifying the settlement claim even further, saying, “the question is going to be when history looks at these types of decisions, when people look back and they say, ‘You saw tens of thousands of settlements being constructed.’”
A few days after the PBS interview, Rhodes countered Israeli accusations that the Obama administration orchestrated the resolution, spurring Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer to call Rhodes an “expert in fiction” — a zinger that hones in on the White House aide’s literary past.
Earlier in the year, Rhodes confessed to creating an “echo chamber” for the media comprised of advocates of the Iran deal. In an article published in the New York Times Magazine, Rhodes, who is described as an “aspiring novelist,” said that journalists “literally know nothing” and were “saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
Watch the PBS interview here.