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Media Backspin
« May 2009 | Main | July 2009 »

Tuesday, June 30 2009

Palestinian Kids Abuse Israeli Prison System

Memo to Tim McGirk and your editors at Time:

The Times of London, Reuters and the Globe & Mail have already documented that a lot of Palestinian kids look forward to being sent to an Israeli prison and deliberately get themselves arrested. Israeli prisons give Palestinian kids three square meals a day, an education, and street cred.

Much of McGirk's coverage is based on a non-governmental organization called Defence for Children International. Here's why to be wary of this NGO.

State of the Jews Vs. State of Denial


Till now, Israel’s treaties with Egypt, and Jordan and its peace efforts under the Oslo rubric were based on the simple recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Throughout the years of negotiations, Israelis presumed that the concept of Israel as an acknowledged Jewish state was self-evident.

But Oslo’s collapse lays bare the Palestinian state of denial over recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. As former consul-general Alon Pinkas explains:

The Arab world has de-facto recognised Israel’s existence, but not its right to exist. The Arabs recognise Israel as a strategic fact of life, a military power that currently is invincible. Israel, according to this paradigm is not a permanent feature in the Middle East.

Give or take 200 years and they will be driven out. So goes the Arab argument.

Now, Netanyahu -- who signed the Wye River and Hebron accords without demanding a higher level of acknowledgement -- is pointing out that it’s a waste of time to engage in peace talks with people who can’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Recently, the Washington Post talked to Israeli officials about this new demand, not only focusing on the question of why, but – more importantly – why now?


"If there is no recognition that the Jewish people exist, that the Jewish people emerged from this land, then you have no end of conflict," said Michael B. Oren, Netanyahu's incoming ambassador to Washington. "During Oslo, the thinking was: We don't need recognition. We are strong. We are the winners. Give them a chance. Give them an opportunity to acclimate to peace. This was wrong." . . . .

In the intervening years, Arab Israelis -- about 20 percent of the country's population -- became more assertive about their national identity and pushed for Israel to become "a state of all its citizens," said Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli lawmaker. The intifada that erupted in 2000 and the rise in popularity of the Islamist Hamas movement, advocating Israel's elimination, reinforced the sense that a purely diplomatic accord would not leave Israel secure, said Yoram Hazony, who helped research Netanyahu's 1993 book, "A Place Among the Nations."

So What?

• Jews have legitimate national aspirations for self-determination.

Israel_seal • A state that is merely the “sum of its citizens” has no soul. Such a polity only reflects the character of the people living there at that time.

• A two state solution that also allows for Palestinian right of return will undermine the stability of Israeli society. Arabs have no track record for successful multi-ethnic states; the social tensions stoked by internal and foreign rejectionists will make Lebanon’s civil war look like a walk in the park.

• Nobody demands that a Palestinian state be “a state of its citizens.” It’s taken for granted that the state of Palestine will have no room or rights for Jews as equal citizens. The Arab states that expelled 850,000 Jews from their lands, have no right to demand that Israel simply be a state of its citizens.

• Should this recognition be a precondition for talks, or is it an issue that can be worked out in the course of peace talks? That’s a fair question. (The knee-jerk Palestinian reaction to Netanyahu’s speech didn’t encourage me.)

• Is Israeli consensus lacking on the question of what it means to be a Jewish state? Yes. But that’s an internal matter for Israeli society to decide. It’s not for outsiders to define another nation’s character, whether we’re talking about Israel, Turkey, Iran. or any other country.

I’ll give the final word to Pinkas:

So Arab recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews is a monumental educational process that is a prerequisite to lasting peace.

Once Israel is “The state of the Jews” in Arab eyes, it has a right to exist. Once it has a right to exist (this in fact is a silly debate: What “right” to exist do Belgium or Uruguay have?) durable coexistence is attainable.

UPDATE June 30: According to deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, Israel doesn't need this level of recognition from the Palestinians; rather, the Palestinian leaders must educate their people that Israel is a Jewish state. This video was posted on YouTube just today.


Monday, June 29 2009

Iran's Press TV to the Rescue


Thank goodness Press TV clears away the hype and misinformation surrounding the death of Neda Soltan. According to Iranian state-run news channel:

The man who drove her to hospital said in an interview that her death looked “highly suspicious”, claiming there were no security forces or Basij members nearby . . . .

Her death first became suspicious after revelations that she was killed by a small caliber pistol -- a weapon that is not used by Iranian security forces.

Iranian security forces have dismissed the reports out of hand, asserting that they did not open fire on protestors during the sporadic unrest.

“Policemen are not authorized to use weapons against people,” Tehran Police Chief Azizallah Rajabzadeh said on the morrow of Neda's death.

How long till Press TV "proves" that the caliber is used by the Mossad, CIA, and Michael Jackson's doctors? CNN picked up on the so-called scoop with a big grain of salt:

Press TV did not name the man, who spoke Farsi and was subtitled in English on the broadcast.

CNN has not identified him and cannot confirm his account.

As the NY Times aptly points out, the lines between journalism and social media are blurring in Iran thanks to the government's media clampdown and the tech-savvy protesters.

But if there's any doubt on where Press TV's sympathies lie, check out this video of George Galloway heaping praise on the mullahs and Iranian democracy.


Sunday, June 28 2009

If It Bleeds, It Leads: An Exception to the Rule

Michael Jackson's unexpected death is certainly good news for Iran's ruling mullahs. Globe & Mail cartoonist Brian Gable points out an unfortunate exception to the media maxim: If it bleeds, it leads.


Might the King of Pop's demise actually kill the Iranian uprising too?
Special Report: CBC Issues On-Air Clarification

Behind the scenes efforts secured an important on-air apology from the CBC after it incorporated misleading footage into a report about Hamas. See HonestReporting Canada's special report: CBC Issues On-Air Clarification


Thursday, June 25 2009

Gilad's Grim Anniversary


While Israelis mark the third anniversary of Gilad Shalit's capture, YNet News finds that a B'Tselem ad calling for the reservist's freedom has been banned in Gaza:

The group spokeswoman said the ad was published on Thursday by the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, which is circulated in the West Bank, but the Gaza-based daily 'Palestine' refused to print it . . .

"They ('Palestine' newspaper staff) did not give us a reason for the refusal, but we assume it's because the issue is a complex one (in the Hamas-ruled territory). The press in Gaza is apparently not so free. The ad was published in Al-Quds, and we hope the residents of Gaza will read it there."

Meanwhile, solidarity for Shalit is building on Twitter. As I write, #Gilad is now the no. 4 trending topic according to the #Hashtags website. Have you shown your support yet?

20 Years of Fatah and Favre

It's official: Fatah party congress scheduled for August 4 in Bethlehem, its first in 20 years.

In other words, the last time Fatah met for a party confab, Brett Favre was getting ready for his junior season in college, Gilad Shalit was three-years-old, and the Oslo talks were years away.


Wednesday, June 24 2009

June 24 Links

Crisis Rocks Mideast Power Balance
Arab media has a self-interest in not giving much prominence to Iranian protests. UPDATE: See also this blunt assessment at The New Republic (via Jeffrey Levin).

Netanyahu’s Peace Stipulation
Good background on why this condition has come up 16 years after Oslo .

Iranian Internet User Stumps Obama
Reporter at press conference poses tough question on behalf of a protester. The White House tweets in Persian though . . .

The David Rohde Puzzle
The NY Times nearly paid a $1 million ransom after negotiating with terrorists. This might explain why the paper still isn't saying much about its reporter’s kidnapping.


Tuesday, June 23 2009

The World's Biggest Prison

Reporters Without Borders (via Harry's Place) calls Iran the "world’s biggest prison for journalists."

Iran's the same country which employs Lauren Booth, the journalist who maintains that Gaza is the world's largest prison. Her claim to fame is when she sailed into the strip last year vainly trying to prove it. This so-called "journalism" won Booth a Dishonest Reporter Award.

I don't see her spearheading any "Free Iran" efforts.

Galloway Censured By Ofcom

British MP's radio show breaches impartiality guidelines. See HonestReporting UK's latest communique: Galloway Censured By Ofcom

Neda and al-Dura: Equivalent Icons?


Neda Agha-Soltan, the 27-year-old Iranian women shot and killed by Iranian security forces has emerged a powerful icon in the protest movement. Her dying moments were captured by amateur video, posted on YouTube, sparking outrage across Iran and the world.

Now, I'm seeing Neda compared to another so-called "martyr," Mohammed al-Dura. The Financial Times baldly states:

The footage of a Palestinian man being shot dead next to his 12-year-old son, Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah, by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2000 has been etched in the minds of many Iranians, as state television has continually replayed the images to highlight the “Zionist regime’s brutality.”

Now, the Islamic regime itself has become the subject of similar allegations at home and abroad after gruesome footage of a dying young woman during the suppression of an opposition protest on Saturday was released on the internet.

The idea that the IDF killed Dura is by now discredited. Here's a mere shortlist of key debunking developments:

  • A physicist and engineer's re-enactment raised the first questions.
  • German documentary Three Bullets and a Dead Child concluded Dura could not have been killed by IDF fire.
  • James Fallows of The Atlantic concluded Israel could not have shot Dura.
  • Two independent journalists invited to watch then-unreleased raw footage conclude IDF fire could not have killed Dura.
  • A French appeals court ruled that Philippe Karsenty was within his rights to call France 2's footage of Dura a hoax after France 2's Charles Enderlin sued Karsenty for defamation.

Unless it's proven that Neda was either -- dare I say -- killed by protestors for propaganda purposes or that her death is simply a hoax, don't degrade her with al-Dura comparisons.

One suggestion for putting this icon equivalency to rest: renaming Tehran's Mohammad Dura St. in Neda's memory.

UPDATE: According to Dr. Amy L. Beam, a photo of the wrong woman has become the symbol of the protesters. There is, apparently, another Neda Soltani who is very much alive and possibly in danger now.

Human Rights Silence on Shalit 'Is Fascism'


Must read: Elena Bonner (see here if you're not familiar with the former Soviet refusenik) slams her human rights colleagues for their silence on Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Bonner writes in The New Republic:

AND ANOTHER question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It's a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn't the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit trouble you in the same way as does the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?

You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know prison conditions, the prisoners' everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to torture. The result of your efforts has been a ban on torture and a law to close this prison. President Obama signed it in the first days of his coming to the White House. And although he, just like president Bush before him, does not know what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, there is hope that the new administration will think up something.

But during the two years Schalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Schalit's rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Schalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents?

And yet I still think (and some will find this naive) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Schalit. Release, and not his exchange for 1,000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Schalit is an Israeli soldier, Schalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.

Israelis are marking the third anniversary of Shalit's kidnapping. Also killed in the attack on Kerem Shalom were Lt. Hanan Barak and Sgt. Pavel Slotzker.

Read Bonner's full commentary, via Martin Peretz.

George Galloway Censured


Ofcom, the UK's media watchdog, censured George Galloway and his radio show for broadcasts during the Gaza war. The BBC sums it up in a nutshell:

Ofcom ruled the show "crossed the line from legitimate and provocative debate" to one calling listeners to action.

However it also ruled the show did not break rules on offering opposing views.

Ofcom said that although Galloway did not in any way encourage or incite hatred or violence, he turned the debate into "active campaigning on a major matter of political controversy".

Times of London columnist Oliver Kamm disagrees with Ofcom's decision that Galloway was fair about presenting opposing views. Kamm writes:

Well, I was one of those guests (in "a blazing on-air row" according to an impeccable and respected source) and I'm unconvinced that Ofcom has got this right. I realised this only after our discussion, but Galloway made liberal use of the fader button to make sure that my replies to his questions were not heard. He would ask a question and block the answer from the airwaves after literally two or three seconds.

Now, some readers will doubtless think I should have been grateful to be a contributor to Galloway's programme and that the format of a radio programme is the prerogative of the host rather than the guest. But even so, the radio station itself acknowledged that my observation was correct. I have no doubt that Talksport has a sincere policy of allowing different points of view to be heard. But from my experience, that doesn't happen on Galloway's programme.

By the way, the Iranian public should censure Galloway too. Here's a great video of Galloway shilling for the mullahs on Iran's Press TV (video via Rob Breakenridge).


Monday, June 22 2009

IndyMedia And the Wrong Soldier


Israel is investigating IndyMedia Israel after its web site posted a photo of a soldier it claims killed Bassem Abu Rahma. The photo was labeled “murderer” and invited readers to identify the soldier. But AFP reports that IndyMedia may have "outed" the wrong soldier:

But prosecutors claim the soldier, who they say might easily be identified from the image, had nothing to do with the incident.

Deputy chief prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered police to investigate whether Indymedia Israel had breached the soldier's privacy.

IndyMedia responds.

Abu Rahma died in April after being hit in the chest by a tear gas canister during weekly Bilin clashes.

Hamas Going Soft Without Iranian Sugar Daddy?


First, Khaled Mashaal deferred an expected policy address. Now, YNet News reports that Hamas summer camps are not teaching military training.

Shehade adds that in addition to religious training the kids also receive a healthy dose of sports, art, and cartoons, mentioning Tom and Jerry specifically.

He says reports of extremism in the summer camps were unfounded.

Of all cartoons, that one? Iran maintains Tom and Jerry is a Zionist conspiracy. Is Hamas going soft? Of course, a better barometer of Hamas "pragmatism" is freeing Gilad Shalit. Stay tuned . . .


Sunday, June 21 2009

Iran Uprising 2.0

A collection of Iranian items worth your attention:



Thursday, June 18 2009

1,089 Days Later . . .


I can't imagine Gilad Shalit's plight will draw much attention away from Iran's upheaval -- but credit the Red Cross for trying to prevent the kidnapped reservist's plight from being overlooked.

Following up on Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas leaders in Gaza, this Red Cross statement reiterates the fact that they and the Shalit family have been denied any contact with the captive -- a violation of international humanitarian law.

It's now 1,089 days since Shalit was kidnapped.

Iranians Use Israeli Web Tool To Be Heard
Fring, a made-in-Israel social network application, is helping Iranians get their messages out to the world. Sky News explains:

The protesters have been using social networking sites like Twitter to communicate, which the Government says it has now blocked.

Yet, using tools like Fring and some ingenious other methods, Iranians are proving adept at circumventing the authorities' electronic road blocks.


Wednesday, June 17 2009

Omar Silawi: Journalist and Hamas Terrorist


Elder of Ziyon digs up the story of Omar Silawi. When Silawi wasn't filming for Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV, he fired mortars and processed explosives for the Mujahidin of al-Qassam Brigades. He was killed on his way to get footage of IDF shelling.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights -- and the news services that rely on it -- list him as one of the "civilians" killed during the Gaza war. Silawi's a great example of the way the Palestinians blurred distinctions between civilians and combatants.

Last month, The New Republic talked with Khalil Shaheen of the PCHR and Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, a retired Israeli intelligence officer about the discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian casualty figures:

Many of the disparities between the PCHR and IDF numbers seem to be definitional. The IDF has repeatedly stated that any member of Hamas security forces--armed or unarmed--is fair game. Shaheen has a much narrower definition of an uninvolved civilian: "According to international humanitarian law, all armed people are classified as militants and all the people who are unarmed [are civilians]," he says. So if the person was armed at the time of death--which he or his fieldworkers determine by investigating the bodies as they arrive at the hospital--he'll count them as a militant. If the person is not armed, his team will check with family members, neighbors, political parties and Palestinian armed factions to determine the deceased's status as a militant or a civilian. He also checks press releases issues by armed factions. "[The IDF] can say whatever they want," he says. "I mean, [these are] facts on the ground."

But even facts can be subjective. For example, Halevi accuses Shaheen's organization of mislabeling Hamas cleric Nizar Rayan as a civilian. Shaheen explains that Rayan was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his home. There are jihadist posters of Rayan all over Gaza, and yet, "I cannot count him as a militant or fighter," Shaheen says. Rayan was unarmed with his wives and children when he was killed, Shaheen explains. "I cannot count this case as a fighter because he didn't participate as a fighter in the offensive. He was a civilian the whole time--going to the mosque, praying, coming back to his house."

Keep in mind that Silawi was employed by Al-Aqsa TV, which means his "civilian" paycheck came from Hamas. Earlier this year, the station was banned in France after regulators determined the broadcasts breached European laws "prohibiting incitement to hatred or violence on the grounds of race, religion or nationality."

Read the whole TNR story for more on the divergence of the stats. And see NGO-Monitor for more on PCHR.

June 17 Links

IAEA Chief Admits Iran Wants Nuclear Weapons
"They want to send a message to their neighbours, to the rest of the world, don't mess with us," says Mohammed ElBaradei.

Hacktivists Target Iranian Gov't Sites
No tears shed here, but Denial of Service attacks may be clogging the country's limited bandwidth.

Gazans Flock to Hamas-Run Religious Summer Camps
Kids will be kids.

Challenger Mousavi Has Conservative Past
"He specifically approved Tehran's purchases of centrifuge equipment from the nuclear black market run by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan . . ."

Olmert's Lament
In first interview since stepping down, former PM confirms there were understandings with US over settlements.


Tuesday, June 16 2009

Press TV Silent on Iranian Election Mayhem

Harry’s Place: Why the dichotomy between Press-TV’s non-coverage of Iranian election fallout and its own UK ad campaign?

Razing Awareness

The Guardian picks up on the latest NGO report about Israeli home demolitions.

As is typical of these news stories, correspondent Rory McCarthy doesn't acknowledge the issues of rampant illegal construction in Jerusalem -- much of which is actually funded by the PA, according to Justus Reid Weiner.

Meanwhile, the Reform Party of Syria (via Camera Snapshots) reports that Syrian authorities tried to demolish 71 houses outside Damascus this week. Compared to Israel, world outrage over that -- as well as other recent demolitions in Jeddah, Palm Beach, Montreal, and Atlanta -- is remarkably scant.


Monday, June 15 2009

Roger Cohen Eats Crow


Fox News (via Gateway Pundit) reports that Western journalists are being beaten and AP says the regime has taken other measures like jamming BBC signals and closing Al-Arabiya's office. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Which is why Hillel Neuer of UN Watch says NY Times columnist Roger Cohen should resign for his repeated apologetics of the Iranian government. I don't agree with the call for Cohen's head, but I do agree the journalist needs to eat crow.

And to Cohen's credit, that's exactly what he does. Cohen now writes:

I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval.

I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.

UPDATE June 16: Gotta love James Taranto's response:

The wonderful news is that this epiphany did not require a nuclear holocaust to bring about, only an apparently stolen presidential election.


Sunday, June 14 2009

How Well Do You Apply Humanitarian Law in Wartime?

12 questions, each with a time limit, creating a sense of urgency. Take the test and see what you know.

CBC Ombud Upholds Complaint Against Al-Jazeera English Reporter

If Al-Jazeera English enters the Canadian media market, it'll be with a troubling track record. See HonestReporting Canada's latest communique: CBC Ombud Upholds Complaint Against Al-Jazeera English Reporter


Thursday, June 11 2009

So What If Iran's Reformists Win?


As far as Israel's concerned, victory for Iranian reformists in tomorrow's elections will mean a change of style, but not substance. If the ruling mullahs want nuclear weapons, Iran will continue, whether or not the next president earns the proud MSM label of "reformist."

Daniel Kliman explains the risk of relying on the myth of moderates:

Iran appears ripe for a similar misperception. Reformists evince an interest in rapprochement with the US. For policymakers in Washington, it will be tempting to place the reformists at the center of any strategy for halting Iran's nuclear program. After all, they represent a potential ally inside Iran against hard-liners like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet, Iran's actual decision-making process is opaque, and the influence reformists wield is deeply uncertain. They may have little ability to thwart Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. They may even believe that Iran is entitled to them. If the US relies on Iranian reformists to generate internal pressure against nuclear arms, it risks grasping at straws.

And as former Israeli ambassador Dore Gold told AFP:

"All of the candidates support continuing the nuclear programme."

Indeed, tomorrow's elections aren't democratic in the truest sense of the word. This AP primer on the electoral system shows how the theocracy retains control, no matter what the outcome:

All hopefuls for high elected office must be cleared by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of clerics and scholars loyal to the ruling theocracy. The council often rejects potential candidates considered too liberal or critical of the Islamic system . . . .

The president has control of some domestic policies and serves as the international face of the country. But the non-elected theocracy, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, controls all major decisions and directly oversees key government posts such as the foreign, intelligence and defense ministers.

Big media has already abused labels like ultranationalist and conservative; now"reformist" is ripe to be misapplied.

In the event of a Mousavi victory, the MSM will overplay the "springtime in Iran" angle. The implications for Israel won't be as rosy as tomorrow's headlines.

Tear-Jerking Journalism, Part 2

From Gaza, The Guardian's Inigo Gilmore produced another superficial, tear-jerker video lacking any context. Gilmore today focuses on Palestinians trying to get medical treatment in Israel.

Unanswered questions abound:

  • How can it be that the people who want to destroy Israel also demand its medical care?
  • Dr. Elihu Richter's study on medical entry permits documented instances where Palestinians abused the permits to carry out terror attacks or visit relatives in Israel. He also documented refusals for mundane reasons like lack of available beds. Why were no Israelis given an opportunity to explain that a high percentage of medical requests are indeed approved, as Dr. Richter found?
  • Are the Hamas-Fatah bureaucratic turf wars still killing Palestinians?
  • What about treatment in Egypt?

And as I pointed out yesterday in response to the first video, Gazans aren't brave enough -- or stupid enough -- to tell Western reporters like Gilmore anything other than the Hamas party line.


Wednesday, June 10 2009

Tear-Jerking Journalism


This video in The Guardian is probably the shallowest piece of journalism I’ve seen come out of Gaza. The strip isn’t short on destitution. But how can anyone call Inigo Gilmore’s dispatch responsible journalism?

Every Palestinian interviewed in this 7-minute dispatch is simply given a soapbox to talk about their woes without any context for the images of destruction and stories of despair.

Even if Gilmore asked hard questions, what could Gazans possibly say? Palestinians aren't brave enough -- or stupid enough – to tell a Western reporter about the homes used as cover for rocket fire, the mosques used as weapons dumps, or the hospitals commandeered by Hamas leaders.

Palestinian stringers employed by the Western papers are subject to the same intimidation. After all, they have to make a living and take care of their families after Gilmore leaves.

Which brings me to Mustafa Khalili, one of the people the video credits. Earlier this year, HonestReporting debunked a package of Guardian videos and articles he helped produce. Khalili made a name for himself by emailing bloggers to sensationally promote the issue of Israeli war crimes. This video is just another example of why to be wary of some Palestinian stringers.

Unfortunately, intimidation doesn't only pull wool over the eyes of The Guardian. AP reports that Hamas minders are also strangling the UN’s own Gaza war crimes investigation:

And Hamas security often accompanied his team during their five-day trip to Gaza last week, raising questions about the ability of witnesses to freely describe the militant group's actions.

There have been exceedingly rare instances of Palestinians talking frankly – Der Spiegel comes to mind as a stark contrast to The Guardian. Reporters and the people they interview are certainly under the constraints of Hamas. This reality calls for a journalist’s disclosure, which isn't forthcoming from Gilmore and Khalili. That’s what really makes The Guardian's video a tear-jerker.

Guardian: The 'So-Called Threat from Iran'
The Guardian's columnist labels Israel as the real threat while downplaying Iranian and Palestinian terror. See HonestReporting UK's latest communique: Guardian: The "So-Called Threat from Iran"

Tuesday, June 9 2009

Does MSM Pay $$$ For Hezbollah Press Credentials?


While covering the Lebanese elections for the Globe & Mail, reporter Patrick Martin had to obtain media credentials from Hezbollah.

It was at the Hezbollah media relations centre, of all places, that I found myself admitting guiltily that I didn’t have a local press card. Without a government press card, I was told, I couldn’t complete the application for the Hezbollah press card, without which I couldn’t hope to see the people I had sought to interview . . .

At one point while waiting, I told the Interior ministry official that in the many trips I’d made to Lebanon, I had never needed a permit until now. He was surprised. But he was completely bowled over when he heard it was Hezbollah that followed the law and forced me to abide by the regulations.

Which raises a question more associated with red tape than with journalistic ethics and law: Do journalists pay Hezbollah a fee for the terror group's media credentials?

Simply put, reporting from Hezbollah areas requires the organization's permission. It's not just a bureaucratic issue. The credentials allow Hezbollah to throw its weight around, and keep tabs on journalists and the stories they file. So even if money doesn't change hands, journalists registering for a press card are already playing Hezbollah's game.

I'll let Chris Albritton (via Michael Totten, also worth reading) explain the significance of that. He covered the Second War in Lebanon for Time, and wrote on his blog:

Every morning since I’ve been here, I’ve heard the thump-thump sound of the pamphlets being dropped by jets. To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.

Journalists working under the constraints of Hezbollah don't typically disclose that information. CNN's Anderson Cooper was a rare and laudable exception.

How many so-called "political parties" issue their own media credentials independent of the state anyway?

Spotlight On The Jewish Refugees


The plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has largely been off the world's radar. Pogroms, discriminatory laws and expulsions that hit Jews living in Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon have raised scant media interest over the years. But in recent days, there's been an interesting spike of noteworthy developments and commentary.

Libya: Dictator Muammar Gaddafi wants to meet with Jews of Libyan descent now living in Rome during a trip to Italy this week. According to YNet News, the Libyan Jews are interested in restitution for lost property, but are wary that Gaddafi wants the meeting more for propaganda than for reconciliation.

The meeting appears to be a non-starter for another reason: Gadaffi wants it scheduled during the Sabbath.

Background reading: The Final Exodus of the Libyan Jews in 1967


Yemen: The dramatic Operation Magic Carpet of 1949 didn't close the chapter on Yemen's Jewish long-suffering community, which dates back to Biblical times. But last year's murder of Rabbi Moshe al-Nahari (pictured) appears to be the final straw. Lyn Julius notes the quiet exodus of Yemenite Jewry:

Jews, tribal sheikhs, rights activists and lawyers all concur that harassment has reached an all-time high. After al-Nahari's murder, the Jews were besieged in their own homes and petrol bombs lobbed at them. Moshe's brother, rabbi Yahia Ya'ish, appealed to the government: "protect or deport us". . . .

The lesson one draws from the final exodus of the Jews of Yemen is that the Arab world does not even tolerate non-Zionist Jews. There can be no future for the pitiful remnant in Arab lands if their safety cannot be guaranteed.

According to the Yemen Observer, there are no more than 380 Jews left in the country all of whom are expected to be relocated to the US or Israel.

Background reading: The Jews of Yemen


Mideast in general:The Point of No Return blog raises a very important point about President Obama's Cairo address and what it calls the speech's "equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian 'narratives.'"

In reality the plight of the Palestinians is the unintended by-product of an antisemitic genocidal project-gone-wrong. This genocidal project was originally Hitlerian and the Palestinian leadership was its driving force. Radicalised Arabs connived in it and sympathised with it. They have never been called to account for their part in it.

To be frank, the 1948 Arab genocidal project ("This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades" - Azzam Pasha, sec-gen of the Arab League) was carried out on two fronts - it was a war against the Jews of the Arab world, and it was a war against the Jews of Palestine. The struggle to 'ethnically cleanse' Jews from the Arab world was a resounding success; but in Palestine the Jews miraculously defeated the Arab campaign to destroy them in the only corner of the Middle East they can call their own.

How many refugees are we talking about? According to an excellent 2003 NY Times report:

While 856,000 Jews lived in Arab nations in 1948, only 7,800 were there in 2001, the American Sephardi Federation reports. About 600,000 went to Israel, the remainder to the United States and Western Europe.

Why is all this happening now? With peace talks being placed on the front burner, Jewish refugees may finally come to the fore, bringing to the table issues of compensation, de-facto population exchange and a narrative of their own suffering and resettlement to counter international sympathy for Palestinian refugees.

For very comprehensive background reading, see The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.

UPDATE June 6: An excellent commentary by Andre Aciman in today's NY Times makes a similar point about the president's Cairo speech:

With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle . . . .

But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground . . . and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

UPDATE June 10: Reuters picks up on Gadaffi and the Libyan Jews. Good to see the frank background in a wire report:

The Jewish community in the former Italian colony, which traces its origins to Roman times, numbered about 38,000 at the end of World War Two. But it declined steadily after anti-Jewish pogroms in 1945 and 1948 . . . .

After he came to power in 1969, the vehemently anti-Israel Gaddafi confiscated all Jewish property and canceled all debts to Jews. The Jewish community in Libya is now virtually non-existent.


Monday, June 8 2009

MSM's Revisionist History of Hezbollah


Had Hezbollah and allies won yesterday's elections, no doubt, we would be seeing a lot of coverage looking at the organization's history.

And if Time is a reasonable indicator of what the mainstream media thinks it knows about Hezbollah, then we dodged a wave of inaccurate, revisionist coverage. Reporter Alyssa Fetini describes Hezbollah as:

Originally a small-scale guerrilla group in Southern Lebanon formed to resist Israeli invasion in the 1980's . . .

In fact, Hezbollah was founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to be a beach head for Tehran's ruling mullahs, but was quickly co-opted to a degree by Lebanon's Syrian overlords. As a young boy, Lebanese journalist Hussain Abdul-Hussain was an eyewitness to Hezbollah's 1982 origins in Baalbek:

This was an Islamic republic in formation. Hezbollah's slogan at the time was "the Islamic Revolution in Lebanon." But the Syrian regime was in control of most of Lebanon, including Baalbek, and was unwilling to see an Iranian seed sprout in its backyard. Syria therefore inspired its loyalist Shiite group, Amal, to wage battles against Hezbollah, and these continued until the conclusion of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, when Iran and Syria reached a deal over the role of the party. According to the deal, Hezbollah would be allowed to maintain its arms, but its role would be limited to "resistance."

Hezbollah became a joint Iranian-Syrian venture and turned its slogan into "the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon." Hezbollah was also integrated into the Lebanese political fabric. Later, it would win a parliamentary bloc and gain a say in all of the nation's affairs.

Its history was rewritten. Today, most academics have it that Hezbollah was founded in Beirut in 1985 as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The truth is that Hezbollah was founded in Baalbek in 1982 as the nucleus of a hoped-for Islamic republic in Lebanon.

Read Abdul-Hussain's full account.

The March 8 coalition's defeat is good news, but Lebanon's political stalemate will likely continue. Unfortunately, the MSM's revisionist approach to Hezbollah's history will likely continue too.

NBC, Obama & the Lessons of Buchenwald
NBC's Tom Brokaw attempts to lead President Obama into Israel - Nazi comparisons. See HonestReporting's latest communique: NBC, Obama & the Lessons of Buchenwald

Sunday, June 7 2009

Tom Brokaw and the Lessons of Buchenwald

At the Buchenwald concentration camp, of all places, Tom Brokaw of NBC News tries to "teach" a new lesson about the Holocaust with a question to President Barack Obama insinuating that Israelis are the new Nazis:

BROKAW: What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?

OBAMA: Well, look, there's no equivalency here.

The insensitive question comes up at the 4:05 mark on this video.

So what lesson should Israel learn from Obama's visit to Buchenwald, in terms of treating the Palestinians?

For starters, government officials may need to more clearly articulate to journalists like Brokaw why the Green Line is often referred to as Israel's Auschwitz borders, which the world expects Israel to concede to the Palestinians.

One Dozen Suicide Bombings Overlooked

In a roundup of reactions to the Obama speech, the NY Times' Opinionator blog quotes an outright lie from the blog of Egyptian journalist Jano Charbel, who wrote:

The US President emphasized the historical relationship binding the US & Israel, and condemned the “violence” of Palestinians “who fire rockets at sleeping children” and the “bombing of buses full of innocent civilians and elderly passengers.” It must be remembered that the last Palestinian suicide bombing took place in November 2004, and that their primitive home-made rockets usually don't kill Israelis.

The eagle-eyed Elder of Ziyon lists a dozen suicide bombings in the four years after November, 2004, then hits the nail on the head:

Normally, a lying, terror supporting Egyptian blogger is not worth much attention, but when the NYT uncritically quotes him saying something factual, people will believe the fact.


Thursday, June 4 2009

Understanding the Understandings


The NY Times picks up on Israeli assertions that President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon had an understanding allowing for natural settlement growth.

On one hand, Ethan Bronner's report is a maddening read because Israeli and US officials dispute each other, and also because they're all unidentified (anonymous sources get my goat, but that's a separate issue).

However -- to his credit -- Bronner links to a recent Elliott Abrams commentary acknowledging US allowances for natural growth. Abrams wrote in April:

But those settlements exist, and there is no point in debating whether it was right to build them. President Bush largely resolved the issue of the major settlement blocs in a 2004 letter to Sharon. He stated a truth that Palestinians have come to recognize: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities."

So the real issue is not past settlement activity but the demand for a settlement freeze. . . .

For the past five years, Israel's government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas. The clear purpose of the guidelines? To allow for settlement growth in ways that minimized the impact on Palestinians.

See the full text of the Bush-Sharon letters they exchanged and you'll understand why Israel might not have disengaged from Gaza in the absence of some kind of quid pro quo.

It is certainly legit to question whether the letter and its understandings were tentative or not, and whether new leaders in Israel and the US are bound by -- as Abrams puts it --  "guidelines" that were "never formally adopted." It's also fair to ask journalists to shed a little more light on why sources like Bronner's only talk off the record.

Given the not-so-secret letter and Abrams' commentary, I don't understand how someone like former US ambassador Marc Ginsberg can emphatically deny the existence of understandings -- whatever they were -- as "hogwash."

Anyone who who wants to deny there was an understanding -- and is in a position to know -- should go on record too.

UPDATE June 4: While I continue waiting for the MSM to quote US officials on the record, Dov Weisglass, explains the evolution and context of the settlement understandings. Weisglass was Sharon's chief of staff.


Wednesday, June 3 2009

June 3 Links

Different Rules For Israel
UN Human Rights Council condemns Tamil Tigers' terror, affirms Sri Lanka's right to defend itself. Imagine the UNHRC speaking up for Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terror . . .

Arab States Cool to Obama Pleas for Peace Gesture
President Obama wants Arab leaders to make a gesture to Israel. Don't hold your breath waiting.

Sderot Trauma Facilities to Close
Lack of funds means future Qassam casualties may need to be transported to Ashkelon or Beer Sheva for treatment; families battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to go it alone.

Egypt Launches ‘Moderate’ Satellite TV
Al-Azhari to combat fatwas issued by unqualified "satellite sheikhs."


Tuesday, June 2 2009

NY Times Used by Anonymous Sources?

Paper_bag_head Did the NY Times spark a diplomatic dust-up on the back of naive journalism? Helene Cooper reports that the Obama administration is considering symbolic measures against Israel to register its disapproval of settlement activity.

Such steps include "stepping back from America’s near-uniform support of Israel" in the UN, and "making use of Mr. Obama’s bully pulpit to criticize the settlements."

That's quite a policy shift, and a real scoop for Cooper. Unfortunately, the story is based on anonymous "administration officials," including one who "spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly."

Most likely, this was purposely leaked by Washington insiders precisely to put pressure on Israel and create a storm -- while using the Times. Here's why I think that:

  • First and foremost, it raises the diplomatic stakes between Israel and the US.
  • A policy shift reported in the NY Times won't be overlooked or ignored.
  • Anonymous threats remain perfectly deniable.

The problem with unidentified sources is that there's no way for readers to judge for themselves how credible the information is or the motives behind their release. Standard disclaimers saying the source "isn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly" only lend an aura of drama and legitimacy to something akin to sock puppetry.

The Times, for it's part, defends the use of anonymous sources as a necessary evil. (See managing editor Jill Abramson and public editor Clark Hoyt.) The Gray Lady's previous public editor, Daniel Okrent, told LA Weekly's David Ehrenstein:

“I hate unattributed sources and think they’re absolutely necessary to journalism,” says Daniel Okrent, recently appointed public editor at The New York Times. “I know that sounds like a terrible contradiction, but I have no other way of addressing it. They’re used much too much. They undermine the credibility of journalists and publications. On the other hand, if you did not have any unattributed sources, you would have very few whistleblowers. Let’s say there are 100 unattributed sources and 99 of them are spinners or people who are using the press, and the 100th is offering the Pentagon Papers.”

To which Ehrenstein immediately responded:

Okay, let’s. And how many Pentagon Papers have been unearthed since Ellsberg? Exactly. Thankyouverymuch. Moreover, the source of the Pentagon Papers wasn’t unattributed at all. Daniel Ellsberg’s name emerged immediately. And so did Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the “whistleblower” who blew the lid off the tobacco industry. So what are we to make of those 99 other sources who don’t want attribution because it will blow their cover as paid propagandists? Ask any journalist or editor and your head will spin from the speed at which they change the subject.

The issue of anonymity isn't limited to the NY Times, of course. The Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride offers journalists Questions to Ask Before Going 'Off the Record' with a source. Cooper and the Times were played like a fiddle, and it flies in the face of logic that we're supposed to blindly trust them.


Monday, June 1 2009

Al-Jazeera to Air Israeli Documentary?

PBS picked up on Under Fire, an Israeli documentary about two Israeli-Arab families who lost loved ones to Hezbollah's rockets during the 2006 war. According to Haaretz, Al-Jazeera's also considering airing the film by Avi Naiman, a retired professor from New Jersey who spent his life savings launching an Israel-advocacy film production firm.

Al Jazeera's decision will be made in a few weeks. The promo's worth watching.


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