Newsweek seems to think so. In an article examining the uses of Web 2.0 tools for international diplomacy, Newsweek quotes Hillary Clinton speaking enthusiastically about the opportunities social media creates.
The kind of outreach that Clinton is emphasizing can have a significant payoff. At the height of the war in Gaza, Israel's Immigrant Absorption Ministry waged a campaign to recruit an "army of bloggers" made up of polyglot Israelis who could counter anti-Israel sentiment on English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and French sites. According to reports in Haaretz, after having registered with the ministry, the volunteers were directed to sites that authorities found "problematic." Volunteers could even sign up for automated alerts urging collective action in reaction to specific articles and polls.
Not bad considering Hillary's boss will be remembered for running the best social media election campaign to date. The White House's own effort remains a site to watch as the administration finds its feet.
In one of the more balanced pieces in the British Medical Journal's otherwise disparaging look at the perils of criticizing Israel, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland offers a few tips for those who want to wade in the deep waters of the Middle East conflict without suffering waves of complaints.
1. "To start with, it is wise to aim for total accuracy" - While accuracy should serve as a hallmark for any piece of writing, it is particularly important in the contentious and emotion-filled conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The fact that this should have to be pointed out, however, should serve as a warning in itself.
2. "It also helps, when writing in this area, at least to acknowledge that suffering is not the exclusive domain of one side." - In other word, a story that focuses on the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and ignores the context of Hamas missiles on Israeli civilians will always raise flags.
3. "It is wise to avoid lapsing into language or imagery loaded with historically ugly associations." - Freedland himself brings two excellent illustrations. He discusses terms such as "sinister outsiders" - ie Jews, invoked by Michael O’Donnell, one of the other writers in the same publication. He also criticizes writers such as Karl Sabbagh, who hint at Jewish plots to suppress criticism of Israel.
The suggestion that runs through both Sabbagh’s and O’Donnell’s papers—that Israel’s supporters, mainly Jews, have organised a stealthy, but powerful plot to pull the strings of the media—has an equally unhappy history. That O’Donnell then calls as a witness Richard Ingrams, a journalist who once boasted in print that he no longer reads letters supporting Israel from anyone with a "Jewish name," does not improve matters
Amnesty International's latest report accusing Israel of war crimes and calling for an arms embargo received extensive media coverage this week, especially in the UK.
Israel responded with a media blitz of its own.
First the Foreign Ministry released an official statement rejecting Amnesty's conclusions, reminding the organization that Hamas is a terror group and should be treated as one. Then, Israeli public official Uri Dromi entered the lion's den - defending Israel's actions in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.
Dromi notes that Amnesty's main claims - that Israel used white phosphorus and flechette shells - do not constitute violations of international law. He also notes the lengths Israel went to keep Palestinian civilians safe.
Go explain to Amnesty, or to the world media, that Israel, in trying to hit Hamas operatives only, took extraordinary steps not to harm civilians. Millions of leaflets were scattered over Gaza, warning the locals to evacuate certain areas before they were attacked. Phone calls were made to specific residents to leave their homes, because Hamas terrorists operated from there and thus turned them into military targets (yes, read again: you call your enemy and you implore him to leave the area so he is not hurt). Last but not least, after exhausting all those warning measures, the IDF fired close to such homes and gave the residents enough time to leave them safely, before the houses were hit.
Dromi also points out that Israel has launched its own investigations into all of the accusations leveled against the IDF. Not surprisingly, Amnesty made sure to get its own report out before the official version is released.
Of all the pressure tactics used against Israel, academic boycott may well be the most bizarre. Why target the poor professors and researchers, many of whom are Israel's biggest advocates for the Palestinians? Does anyone actually believe that academics are consulted when the government sets its policies?
But just in time for the final preparations for Durban II, a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) declared a new academic boycott against Israel. A committee in CUPE's Ontario branch passed a motion to boycott Israeli academia in general but rejected calls for boycotting individual academics as well.
The committee, which represents the union's university workers, called
on the union to develop an education campaign on what its proponents
label Israel's "apartheid" practices, such as building a wall around
Palestinian territory and invading the Gaza Strip in December; asks the
union to back an international campaign of sanctions and boycotts
against the country and asks the national union to start researching
Canadian connections to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian
It remains unclear how invading the Gaza Strip is an example of apartheid, but that only helps drain the term of its meaning even further. It also remains unclear why an academic boycott doesn't fall into the dreaded "collective punishment" category that these types of activists often accuse Israel of doing to the Palestinians.
When is an unprovoked, cross-border attack and the inevitable retaliation considered tit-for-tat violence? When Israel is attacked and forced to respond.
That's the only way to explain the AFP's coverage of the Katyusha attack on the Galilee that hurt three people.
The lead paragraph makes the moral equivalence clear:
Israel shelled southern Lebanon
on Saturday after a rocket slammed into its territory in a tit-for-tat
exchange of fire across their tense border, sources on both sides said.
Following the attack, Israel fired artillery shells back at the site of the rocket launch. No one was hurt in the return fire. But AFP reporter Jihad Siqwali focuses on the Lebanese perspective:
Panicked residents could be seen fleeing as Israel retaliated.
"My six-year-old girl was terrified," said Hassan Faqih, 49, as he
headed to the nearby coastal town of Tyre with his wife and two
children. "We will stay in Tyre if the situation escalates."
Any escalation, of course, will depend on what the Lebanese decide to do about the rocket fire. And to a lesser extend, how the media chooses to portray the violence.
The UAE is taking a media battering over its decision to ban Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer. And the Dubai tournament at the heart of the matter isn't doing too great, either. First, Tennis Channel pulled the plug on international broadcasts in disgust for Peer's treatment. Then, Wall Street Journal Europe yanked its sponsorship, along with a special tennis-themed advertising section it had planned.
Most interestingly, the WSJ said it was motivated to act because the affair contradicts the paper's editorial policies. "The Wall Street Journal's editorial philosophy is free markets and
free people, and this action runs counter to the Journal's editorial
direction," the paper said in a statement.
In an op-ed in yesterday's paper, the WSJ keep up the pressure, rejecting UAE's claim that security (Peer's, that is) and not politics was the primary motivation for keeping the country Jew-free:
Oh, wait: Dubai already forbids Israeli passport holders from
setting foot on its soil. Which gives the lie to the emirate's excuse
for excluding Israel's Shahar Peer, currently ranked 45 in the world,
from competing in next week's Barclay's Dubai Tennis Championships. In
another twist, the tournament's director added that Ms. Peer's
presence on the court might have "antagonized our fans." We used to
feel that way about John McEnroe, but that didn't stop us from watching.
With this kind of high-profile discrimination taking place, one can't help but wonder where the boycott folks have gone. I remember protest movements proclaiming "no one is free unless everyone is free." Unless you hold an Israeli passport, apparently.
Update: Israeli tennis player Andy Ram received a visa to enter Dubai to play in the men's tournament scheduled one week after the women's event. Apparently, security was no longer a problem, as tournament officials went out of their way to assure Ram's safety.
Writing in the Independent, Howard Jacobson offers an honest appraisal of the recent spate of UK protests against Israel - all of which claim nothing more sinister than a criticism of Israeli policy. He describes the sentiment expressed as:
A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its
hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an
unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion
that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the
free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and
teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community
relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the
toxins on your tongue.
But I am not allowed to ascribe any of
this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure
and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country
has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long
time; we seem now to have attained it.
If you spend enough time blogging, it becomes hard to let go, and even harder to hand over the passwords to a guest blogger temporarily filling in.
It doesn't matter if you're basking on a beach, skiing the slopes or visiting family. You don't stop thinking about your blog, about what you would be blogging, or how you would blog something differently.
Hard as it is, stepping back from the emails, HTML codes, RSS feeds, etc. can offer a fresh perspective when you return. I learned that two years ago.
With that in mind, I'm handing over Backspin to my HonestReporting colleague (and friend) Alex Margolin. I'll be back in a week.
Bruce Anderson, a columnist at The Independent provides your daily dose of historical revisionism:
The first act of the current tragedy began in 1967, after the Six-Day War. Plucky little Israel was master of the battlefield. She had overrun a vast acreage of Arab territory. Almost immediately, even by those who had never been enthusiastic about the State of Israel, distinctions began to be drawn between the pre-'67 boundaries and the 1967 conquests. Israel had a tremendous hand of cards, strategic and moral. There was never a better moment for "in victory, magnanimity.
Israel should have announced that unlike almost every previous military victor, she did not seek territorial gains; her sole war aims were peace and justice. To secure them, she was prepared to trade her conquests, with the obvious exception of the Holy Places in old Jerusalem. On such a basis, and with huge international support, a deal would have been possible. But there were problems. At its narrowest point, pre-'67 Israel was only 12 miles wide. A tank thrust from the West Bank could have cut the country in two. Although the generals cannot be blamed for failing to predict the era of asymmetric warfare in which tank thrusts would only occur in war movies, their insistence on a demilitarised West Bank complicated matters. Then a temptation emerged, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Memo to Anderson: On June 19, 1967 (a week and change after the war), the Israeli government sent a message to the U.S. it was prepared to return Gaza and the Golan in return for signed peace treaties while separate negotiations would resolve the future of the West Bank, Gaza and refugees.
History refers to the famous Arab reaction from Khartoum as The Three No's.
IDF Releases Gaza Casualty Stats, Says Hamas Duped World
The Jerusalem Post got the first look at the IDF's 200-page report cataloging the identities and status of Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead. The Post talked to Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), responsible for the collecting the numbers:
While the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose death toll figures have been widely cited, reports that 895 Gaza civilians were killed in the fighting, amounting to more than two-thirds of all fatalities, the IDF figures shown to the Post on Sunday put the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total . . .
Basing its work on the official Palestinian death toll of 1,338, Levi said the CLA had now identified more than 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities. Its 200-page report lists their names, their official Palestinian Authority identity numbers, the circumstances in which they were killed and, where appropriate, the terrorist group with which they were affiliated.
The CLA said 580 of these 1,200 had been conclusively "incriminated" as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Another 300 of the 1,200 - women, children aged 15 and younger and men over the age of 65 - had been categorized as noncombatants, the CLA said.
Counted among the women, however, were female terrorists, including at least two women who tried to blow themselves up next to forces from the Givati and Paratroopers' Brigades. Also classed as noncombatants were the wives and children of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander who refused to allow his family to leave his home even after he was warned by Israel that it would be bombed.
The 320 names yet to be classified are all men; the IDF has yet complete its identification work in these cases, but estimates that two-thirds of them were terror operatives.
The CLA gave the Post the names of several fatalities who it said had been classified by the Palestinians as "medics," but who it stated were Hamas fighters . . .
In a separate column, Post editor David Horovitz quotes Col. Levi's explanation for why the army took so long to release its figures:
CLA head Col. Moshe Levi acknowledged on Sunday that all this information - on both such specific incidents as the UN school and the overall classifications of the dead - would probably be largely ignored today, since it was being made available so long after the fighting ended. But Levi explained that the IDF was not prepared to issue information unless and until it was confident of its accuracy, no matter how grievous the damage to Israel's image, and the consequent political pressures caused by the delays in contesting inaccurate facts and figures.
Picking up on the JPost, Elder of Ziyon beat me to the next point, noting that coverage of the incident by the UN school was even more misleading than we realized:
The entire episode as originally reported was a lie: Israel didn't hit the school, 40+ civilians didn't die (as I mentioned that the time, that is a huge death count for tank shells), and most of the death were in fact terrorists.
Hamas made grenades from medicine bottles arriving in humanitarian aid shipments. The Jerusalem Post explains:
The medicine bottles were manufactured by the Jerusalem Pharmaceutical Company, which is based in el-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, and the global pharmaceutical company Shire.
The medicine bottles were filled with explosives, holes were drilled in the caps, and fuses were installed. Once Hamas fighters lit the fuses, they had several seconds to throw the grenades at soldiers. The IDF also found small explosive devices that used medical syringes to hold their fuses.
This raises quite a few questions. Here are just three:
Does this belie claims of a medical crisis in Gaza?
FrontPageMag caught up with Pierre Rehov. The French film maker was one of three defendants sued by France 2 TV for criticizing its footage of Mohammed al-Dura. He moved to the US after being harrassed by French authorities, then launched a YouTube channel seriously addressing Palestinian propaganda.
Ironically, his newest video, an offbeat look at Hamas, is far and away the most popular.
A legal committee in Britain's House of Lords ruled today that the BBC was wrong to block Freedom of Information access to the Malcolm Balen report.
The ruling means that London lawyer Stephen Sugar's legal battle for the report's release goes back to the UK's High Court. In 2004, Malcolm Balen examined the BBC's Mideast coverage. Contrary to expectations, his findings were never released to the public.
The BBC has spent an estimated £250,000 in license fee money to suppress the report. HonestReporting filed a FOI request for a copy.
1. If Benyamin Netanyahu wins:By voting for Bibi, Israelis have turned their backs on peace.
This is a sweeping generalization about the Israeli public, which remains committed to a lasting peace based on a two-state solution. Since Oslo, governments run by Labor, Likud and Kadima have accepted this, differing only in how to approach the goal, not questioning its desirability.
2. If Tzipi Livni wins:Livni and Barack Obama are the best hope for Mideast peace.
Whether or not this statement proves true remains to be seen. I'm more concerned that this dangerously raises expectations of Israel among Palestinians. Israel's relationship with the US is very important, but Livni's legacy as a peacemaker will ultimately hinge on the relationship she forges with a credible Palestinian leader, should one emerge.
3. If the results give Israel Beiteinu new political clout:Avigdor Lieberman is kingmaker because Israelis are racist.
Israel Beiteinu's surge in popularity and the intricacies of Israeli coalition politics indeed make Lieberman a likely kingmaker and a legitimate news story. The statement's fallacy is that a party expected to snag 15 percent of the Knesset suddenly represents Israel despite the other 85 percent who voted for anyone else.
4. If voter turnout is small:The winner has no legitimate mandate to govern.
In Israel's multi-party system, nobody gets an outright majority. And because Israelis have the right to not vote, newspapers can crunch the numbers in dramatic ways, like when The Guardian wrote in 2001:
Of 4.5m eligible Israeli voters, only 1.6m backed Mr Sharon. Should all Israelis be condemned by the minority's foolishness?
5. This election is The most crucial in Israeli history.
Big yawn. The press declared the same thing in 2006, 2003, 1996, 1992 . . .
Via Memri, Hamas gunmen ordered Al-Arabiya correspondent Wael 'Assam to leave Gaza immediately under threat of harm.
In his last two reports revealing too much information for Hamas's comfort, 'Assam visited a Rafah tunnel and a rocket factory, where tunnel diggers and rocket producers had a lot to say about their work.
Fortunately, Memri translated both dispatches into one video. (And it's worth the effort of the free registration.)
I’m impressed with The Guardian’s conscience on the anti-Semitism manifesting itself in leftist criticism of Israel. This staff-ed hits the nail on the head:
The left fought a long and honourable battle for racial equality, but some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism. There is an ill-considered tendency to reach for the language of Nazism in order to excoriate Israel, regardless of its impact on the climate of tolerance.
Israel's Finance Ministry shot down an idea for a “Jewish Al-Jazeera.” The Jerusalem Post quotes cabinet member Isaac Herzog:
“We considered establishing a Jewish Al-Jazeera, especially one that would broadcast in Arabic and Farsi," he said. "But that was torpedoed by the Finance Ministry, which refused to pay for it."
Last week, Jonathan Mirvis made the case for "al-Jewzeera," albeit in English:
An important conveyer of the Hamas narrative was Al Jazeera, which recently recognized the importance of communication not only with the Arab world in its native Arabic but with the English-speaking world as well. Al Jazeera gave the Hamas a media edge with which Israel could not compete. The network was on the scene in real time, and while it had the “credibility” of being an independent news source, it became the shofar of the Hamas narrative.
As opposed to this English speaking on site reporting, Israel has to filter its reports to foreign journalists, many of whom are not proficient in Hebrew. These journalists have no access to an Israeli narrative outside of the one portrayed by the government’s spokesmen and their reporting reflects their skepticism of the official line.
An important aspect of having a Jewish TV station as opposed to an Israeli one is that it will have access to the Arab capitals in the same way as Al Jazeera has access to Jerusalem.
Should Israel set up its own satellite news channel?
To his credit, Jonathan Freedland denounces the anti-Semitism manifest at European protests against Operation Cast Lead. The Guardian columnist points out that after 9/11 and 7/7, the same people were urging the world not to make those kinds of generalizations about Muslims.
Besides, this business of distinguishing between good and bad Jews has a long history. Anthony Julius, author of a definitive study of English antisemitism, says that, with the exception of the Nazis, Jew-haters have always made distinctions. Christian antisemites accepted Jews who were ready to convert and rejected those who refused. A century ago, Winston Churchill drew a line between homegrown British Jews and those spreading Bolshevism. Now the dividing line is affinity for Israel.
But the logical corollary of this is that, if Jews refuse to dissociate themselves from Israel, then they are fair game for abuse and attack until they publicly recant. Liberals rightly recoil from the constant pressure on Muslims to explain themselves and denounce jihadism or even islamism. Yet they make the same implicit demand when they suggest Jews are OK, unless they are Zionists. The effect is to make Jews' place in British society contingent on their distance from their fellow Jews, in this case, Israelis.
A Jerusalem Report cover story takes an excellent look at the issues of international law and Operation Cast Lead. This snippet sheds news light on the IDF's modus operandi:
"After one swift pincer movement, Hamas fighters suddenly found themselves surrounded everywhere," Almog, now chairman of Aleh Negev, a live-in facility in the south for the mentally disabled, tells The Report. "The IDF soldiers then moved forward behind camera-carrying unmanned aircraft, which located Hamas forces and directed accurate fire from the air and heavy artillery barrages at them. So that even before they engaged in close combat, the Hamas lost dozens of fighters. Many of the dead were company and battalion field commanders. They weren't at the head of their troops, but were deliberately picked out and hit. Through these tactical, targeted assassinations, the chain of command was severely disrupted. If the army hadn't operated in this way, we would have sustained dozens of casualties."
There were other tactical surprises, too - for example, the way the IDF was able to drop a mysterious electronic screen over Gaza. Israelis in the immediate vicinity found they were unable to open their cars by remote control; Hamas militiamen were unable to detonate booby-trapped buildings and other remotely controlled explosive devices.
Had the IDF used less firepower, Almog says, it would have cost it more casualties and greatly undermined the operation's deterrent impact . . .
Israel's chief argument in justifying and explaining the Palestinian civilian casualties is that the Hamas military machine was totally embedded in the civilian infrastructure. In an interview with The Jerusalem Report, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, a member of the war cabinet, points out that even Qassam missiles were fired from people's homes. "They fired from the roofs of houses, from schools, from shops. The mosques were full of weapons, ammunition, explosives and missiles. After it was hit, the Jabalya mosque kept on exploding for several minutes, explosion after explosion. It was probably one of the biggest arms bunkers in the Middle East, with large numbers of missiles imported from Tehran," says Herzog.
On the seventh anniversary of Daniel Pearl's murder, the Wall St. Journal reporter's father, Professor Judea Pearl argues -- fittingly, in the WSJ -- that the excusing away of terror hasn't changed.
But somehow, barbarism, often cloaked in the language of "resistance," has gained acceptance in the most elite circles of our society. The words "war on terror" cannot be uttered today without fear of offense. Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil . . . .
The media have played a major role in handing terrorism this victory of acceptability. Qatari-based Al Jazeera television, for example, is still providing Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi hours of free air time each week to spew his hateful interpretation of the Koran, authorize suicide bombing, and call for jihad against Jews and Americans.
Then came the August 2008 birthday of Samir Kuntar, the unrepentant killer who, in 1979, smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl with his rifle after killing her father before her eyes. Al Jazeera elevated Kuntar to heroic heights with orchestras, fireworks and sword dances, presenting him to 50 million viewers as Arab society's role model. No mainstream Western media outlet dared to expose Al Jazeera efforts to warp its young viewers into the likes of Kuntar. Al Jazeera's management continues to receive royal treatment in all major press clubs.
Professor Pearl also wonders what his son would think of Gilad Shalit "spending his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnappers deserve international recognition."
Baltimore native Josh Eastman, now living in Israel and serving in the IDF, shares his thoughts on the fighting he saw in Gaza:
I saw lies. The world is already trying to fault Israel, telling everyone that civilians died here, and Israelis murdered there, But I was there. My feet were on the ground and I saw the truth. I saw that warnings were given, I saw the enemy that fought us. I saw the twelve year olds with missiles and RPGs strapped to their backs. I saw that it was with sadness and great anger Israeli troops saw the need to fire on people who crossed the red line, the danger zone which meant they saw us, and knew where they were. Old people mined with bombs, children armed with detonators, tunnels that opened in the ground to swallow soldiers of ours. I watched my commanders passing out all of our food to the children who were taken prisoner. I received the commands "closed to fire on the right" if our intelligence had reported civilians in the area. I watched us, more often then not, taking cover when supposed civilian positions fired on us from the right. Yet the world thinks it can bend the truth. We were not allowed to fire on schools. We were told not to loot. We watched in anger as our bombs, so as not to fall on large civilian centers, fell on our own troops, so that we could tell the world we were attempting to scare the enemy while limiting civilian losses. Yet they won't say that in the press.