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Media Backspin
« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

Wednesday, July 29 2009

Times to Times: Terror is Terror
The Times of India takes the NY Times to task over the T-word.
Bungled Headline of the Day

This from MSNBC:


You have to read the article to find out that Modiin Illit, the community featured here, has 45,000 residents -- way too large to be considered an "outpost." Even the original NY Times headline referred to Modiin Illit as a settlement.


Tuesday, July 28 2009

Pounding the Pavement in Eastern Jerusalem

I'm tired of reading about eastern Jerusalem. It's time to see what's going on.

For my traveling convenience, this morning's walk begins along Highway One, where the municipality is building a light rail system, running as far north as Shuafat and Pisgat Zeev.

This particular stretch is being built along the highway, which, from 1948-1967, was no man's land between Jerusalem's Israeli and Jordanian sectors. Prior to the 1948 War of Independence, the city had never been divided, so the concept of an "East" and West" Jerusalem is relatively new.

Here, the Israeli Antiquities Authority is excavating along the path of the tracks before construction begins.


I haven't seen news reports of any finds. But at the nearby Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood, archaeologists discovered a Roman-era quarry, which was part of a network of quarries around Jerusalem.

One such quarry is adjacent to the US consulate in Bab Az-Zahra, a two minute walk from where I am.


I continue down Nablus Rd till I arrive at the Tomb of the Kings. No kings were ever buried here, but it's widely believed that that one of several sarcaphogi found here belonged to Queen Helena of Adiabene, who converted to Judaism around 30 C.E.

The site currently belongs to the French government. I later learn that I might have been allowed to enter the grounds had I but banged on the gate loudly enough.


The Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood is a short walk from here, but I wanted to first make a quick stop at the Orient House.I don't know the building's official (or unofficial) status now, so I had no expectations of what I'd find; I can't explain what I did see. 

Behind the wall, were parked several white vehicles, all clearly labeled UN. At the top of the steps leading into the building was a blue flag loosely tied up; I presume it was a UN flag. Two men were standing in the parking lot, and a third guarded the entrance door itself atop the steps. When they saw me getting ready to take a picture, one of the two men told me photographs were forbidden and began walking towards me --though not in an overtly hostile way.

I left, but doubled back and managed to get one photo before someone else -- the man in the foreground -- yelled across the street that photos are forbidden. This is the only picture I managed to take.


The Orient House was last in the news in 2007, when Mahmoud Abbas said he wanted it reopened. Israel shut down the building as the PA's Jerusalem office immediately after the 2001 Sbarro's suicide bombing when 15 people were killed.

On my way down to Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon HaTzaddik, I passed the American Colony Hotel. It's the hotel of choice for foreign journalists -- making it ground zero for media groupthink in Israel and opportunistic Palestinian fixers. A quick photo and off I go.


Continuing down Nablus Rd., I see a sign pointing the way to the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik, perhaps the last truly great High Priest of the second temple period. He's quoted in Ethics of Our Fathers, appeared to Alexander the Great before battles, and was one of the last members of the Great Assembly.

His cave is blissfully air conditioned, and there's no shortage of long-life, low-energy bulbs in the light fixtures affixed to the stone walls and uneven ceiling. A sign warns kohanim, (Jews who descend from the priestly family), not to pass by a certain point for reasons of ritual purity. It's well after the normal time for morning prayers, but two latecomers quietly rock back and forth in front of the green and gold cenotaph. Nearby, four men sit silently immersed in study.


Above the cave lies Nahalat Shimon, a tidy, if somewhat ramshackle compound where a handful of families live. A string of little Israeli flags flutters over a playground, all under the watchful eye of a guard at the compound's upper entrance on Nablus Rd. where I exit.

The nearby Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood was originally established in 1891, but fell to Jordan in 1948. Jews returned after Jerusalem's 1967 reunification.

Looking around to get my bearings, I realize I'm close to the top of Sheikh Jarrah when I spot a monument standing at the side of the junction where Nablus Rd. suddenly veers left and also connects to the Mt. of Olives Rd on the right.

Why the monument?

It was at this hairpin turn -- also known as the Nashashibi Bend-- where Arabs ambushed a Hadassah medical convoy going up to the Mt. Scopus hospital. It was a massacre by any standards: 79 doctors and nurses, and Haganah escorts were killed.

The monument is at the right of the photo. The taxi is turning left onto the continuation of Nablus Rd.


The monument is so close to the street I didn't feel safe standing in front of it for any length of time as cars passed awfully close behind me. The junction gave me the creeps; it was indeed the perfect place for an ambush.


Bearing to the right, I continue up the hill following the Mt. of Olives Rd. I soon find myself across the street from the British consulate. A Union Jack lists from the top of a proud flagpole; on the dusty driveway, security guards loiter between the front gate and heavy concrete planters from which small flowers add a touch of color.

I know I'm very close the Shepherd's Hotel: the British consulate made the first fuss, bringing the project to Washington's disapproving attention -- Jews are moving into their neighborhood now. I follow the curve in the road, and see the Shepherd Hotel.

And it's not much to look at.

This nondescript building sits in a lot surrounded by parched brown grass, dirt, rocks and a few trees. In better days, it housed a Border Police station, but they moved into a newer building on Highway One. A car and a Bobcat construction vehicle are parked outside the building.  


The building itself was originally built in the 1930s for the Mufti of Jerusalem, local leader of Palestinian nationalism and Nazi sympathizer, Haj Amin al-Husseini. If there were any workers (or protesters), I was evidently too early. I didn't see a single soul.

Across the street lay a field of olive trees with a nice view of Mt. Scopus and the Mt. of Olives. This area also belonged to the mufti and is known as the Mufti's Vineyards.


Following the road a little further takes me to a traffic circle and a wider, more modern road leading in the general direction of Mt. Scopus. To the left of the traffic circle, is a government district named after Menachem Begin, including a police station and a few ministries. On my side of the street, is the Sheikh Jarrah Health Center, where I hope to find a water fountain and refill my bottle.

Outside the center, cars -- mostly Subarus like you see around the Jerusalem -- with yellow license plates vie for limited parking spaces. Inside, I find a modern, clean building no different from other medical centers around town. Signs in Arabic and Hebrew direct people to the appropriate areas for hearing tests, ultrasounds, pediatrics, blood tests, physiotherapy, etc.

No wonder renewed talk of dividing Jerusalem sparks an increase in Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship. Nobody wants to lose access to Israeli health care and other social benefits.


After refilling my bottle, I find a chair where I pause to enjoy the air conditioning.


Monday, July 27 2009

There Goes the Neighborhood

Nadav Shragai put together an excellent paper on The US-Israeli Dispute Over Building in Jerusalem.

It includes an important overview of Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood's history and mixed demograhics, plus issues of foreign Arab investment in the area.

Point of No Return notes the neighborhood's tangled ownership issues.

The British consulate in Jerusalem, which is literally next to the Shepherd Hotel plot, wasn't so neighborly in raising the first fuss with the US about the construction.

For now, I'm giving the last word on the matter to this video.


Sunday, July 26 2009

July 26 Links

New Tool Uses Facebook to Boost Israel’s Image
Will Hamas Culture War Acknowledge Nazi Ties?
Activists Work to Elude Iran's Internet Crackdown
Watch Out For An Iranian Backlash
Associated Press Takes on The Web

Imagine the Headlines If Israel Did This


Without any prior warning, Iran cut off all electricity to Iraq.

Imagine the high voltage headlines if Israel were to do the same to Gaza.


Thursday, July 23 2009

Kuwaiti Columnist Slams Breaking the Silence

Tundra Tabloids translates a Kuwaiti columnist who slams Breaking the Silence's allegations of IDF misconduct in Gaza. The original commentary's in Arabic here:

The report by “Breaking the Silence” was unfair, unbalanced, and lacking in proof, so one wonders where it was when Hamas used schools and homes for weapons storage or for missile launchers. Israeli pilots reported many secondary explosions after they hit Hamas targets. Where was that organization when Hamas smuggled tons of illicit weapons through a network of tunnels from Egypt?

If only more Arab pundits had the courage to be as frank as Abdallah al–Hadlaq.


Wednesday, July 22 2009

Giving the Finger to Accuracy

What has a photo of an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator have to do with building policies in eastern Jerusalem? See HonestReporting's latest communique: Giving the Finger to Accuracy


Tuesday, July 21 2009

July 21 Links

Operation Cast Lead and the Ethics of Just War
Gazan Fantasies
Fatah Gears Up For a Rare Meeting
Iran Turmoil May Cost Hezbollah, Hamas
New Era As British Hostility Reaches Crescendo
How Modern Media Would Cover Moon Landing


Monday, July 20 2009

A Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Message

In recent days, Haredi residents of Jerusalem demonstrated against the controversial decision to open a parking lot on Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath, and against the way police handled the case of a haredi woman accused of starving her son.

On Thursday, AFP photographer Ahmad Gharabli snapped this photo of one such protester.


His caption is straightfoward enough:

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations against the arrest of a woman accused of child abuse in Jerusalem on July 16, 2009. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police for a third day in protest at an 'unjustified' arrest of a religious woman and the opening of a parking lot on Saturdays, the Jewish holy day of rest. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Fast forward to today, where the same photo appeared in The Australian's coverage of -- the US-Israel disagreement over construction in eastern Jerusalem. The caption's Down Under version doesn't even say what the demonstration is about.

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations in Jerusalem.

So Australian readers could assume this is an example of Israeli defiance of the US.

This isn't the first time we've seen problems of photos unrelated to news stories come up. Last year, for example, Sky News removed an unbalanced photo montage it said had been auto-generated.

Now why would an editor juxtapose a story about Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem with an unrelated image of a haredi demonstrator flipping the bird? What subtle message does The Australian convey here?


Sunday, July 19 2009

China's Casualty Count Reliable, Israel's Not?


China admitted killing a number of Uighurs in recent unrest. A reader took exception to this BBC report:

Some 200 people - mostly Han Chinese - died in the clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi.

There's no qualifier that the 200 fatalities figure is based on the Chinese government, much less whether the number was independently verified. It's presented as an authoritative number. Yet, the BBC finishes off, saying:

Uighur groups in exile have said hundreds of Uighurs were killed.

For comparison, there's a wide disparity between Israeli and Palestinian casualty counts, and reports routinely note this.

I won't fault the BBC for treating Israeli, Palestinian and Uighur figures with a healthy dose of skepticism. But on what basis are the Chinese numbers assumed reliable?

July 19 Links

Arabs Need to Talk to the Israelis
IDF Soldiers Give Testimonies to Counter Gaza War Crimes Claims
The End of Proportionality
In Jerusalem, Battle of Palestinian Day Camps
Signs of Hope Emerge in the West Bank
Web 2.0: A New Diplomatic Approach
Ban on Al-Jazeera Operations in West Bank Lifted
Israel’s Enemies A Strong Match in Cyber Realm
Face to Face With Bruno’s “Terrorist”
Resolution 1701's Violent Legacy
Canadian Official Takes Issue With Facebook Privacy


Friday, July 17 2009

Borderline Caption Blunder

What's wrong with this Reuters caption?


The Rafah crossing, where this protest took place, is along Gaza's border with Egypt, which sealed the border due to -- surprise, surprise -- security concerns. The Egyptians most recently  opened the border at the end of June.

(Hat tip: Elder of Ziyon)


Thursday, July 16 2009

Breaking the Silence: More Rumor & Hearsay

The media rushes to promote another report based on unverifiable allegations from Gaza. See HonestReporting's latest communique: Breaking the Silence: More Rumor & Hearsay

A Matter of Focus

Interesting that the US media doesn't appear very interested in Breaking the Silence.

While CNN and McClatchy News followed up on the allegations, credit NY Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner for staying focused on more important stories:

Israel Sees Evidence of Hezbollah’s Rearming in Explosion


Wednesday, July 15 2009

Unanswered Questions


Breaking the Silence released a booklet of anonymous soldiers' testimonies about the Gaza war. Unfortunately it raises more questions than answers.

• What do the people at Breaking the Silence really expect me to make of their booklet of allegations?

• How am I supposed to trust a report based entirely on anonymous testimony?

• Given the vague details in the incidents described -- no names, units, or locations are identified, nor are any incidents put in a perspective of a date -- how are IDF investigators, journalists or human rights activists to look into these claims?

• Why is so much testimony based on hearsay and word-of-mouth?

• Did the Breaking the Silence make any effort to independently verify the stories themselves before going public with such explosive allegations?

• Why haven't these allegations already come up in numerous investigations already undertaken by the army, media, and non-governmental organizations? • Just why should I believe that these 30 soldiers represent the entire IDF?

• Is there any reason to believe Breaking the Silence has its own agenda?

• Did the EU and Britain -- two of the organization's donors -- fund this new booklet?

• Hasn't the media learned from Dani Zamir and the soldiers' testimonies that sparked a wildfire of hysterical coverage in March?

• Why didn't Zamir's reaction to the controversy get equal billing to the sensational headlines?

• Did Breaking the Silence's uncorroborated allegations deserve a double-page center spread like in today's print edition of The Independent?

• And why did The Independent see fit to post on it's web site the full copy of Breaking the Silence's booklet?

• How do we explain today's British media's fixation, while the US media (except for McClatchy News) completely skipped the story or used wire coverage?

• Did certain papers rush the story because it fits a pre-conceived storyline of Israeli brutality?

Palestinian Media Follies

In the West Bank, the PA suspended Al-Jazeera after it aired allegations that Mahmoud Abbas helped Israel and the US poison Yasser Arafat.

But Al-Jazeera's a joke compared to Hamas, which aired a special show about women suicide bombers dedicated to the "martyr," Reem Salah al-Riyashi. YNet News explains how low Hamas has sunk:

Producers invited al-Riyashi's children to the show, so they can see a live reenactment of their mother's death in the terror attack. The shows host, a bear called Nasour, invited "martyr Riyashi's children" to enter the studio, before they proceeded to watch a video accompanied by music.

Understanding the Occupation

Must read: Avinoam Sharon's fascinating look at the question: Why Is Israel's Presence in the Territories Still Called Occupation?

This is a very thorough and well-researched look at the legal aspects of the Israeli "occupation" of lands captured during the Six-Day War. Among the issues Sharon touches on:

  • What occupation is and isn't.
  • The evolution of the relevant international laws and customs and how they apply to Israel.
  • The impact of Israel's peace agreements, disengagement, and other developments on the land's status as "occupied."
  • Frank assessments of the arguments for and against Israel.
  • What it means for other international issues.

Read the whole thing.


Tuesday, July 14 2009

Gaza Solidarity Telethon Scams Greeks

Last February, Greece's state-run TV ran a telethon to raise money for a Christian hospital in Gaza. The six-hour appeal raised $1.67 million. Now the JTA has discovered it was all based on a scam:

The hospital that was the focus of a campaign, which included the participation of Greece’s president and foreign minister, never actually existed . . . .

A JTA investigation revealed, however, that no Christian hospital was on the list assembled by the United Nations and the Red Crescent Society of structures in Gaza damaged and destroyed as a consequence of the Israel-Hamas war in January.

JTA spoke to two Palestinians living in Gaza who are active in or former members of nongovernmental organizations there, both of whom looked into the issue independently. Both reported that the only Christian hospital in Gaza, Al Ahli, was used during the war and did not receive a scratch. Al Ahli is financed by the Church of England.

This raises an awful lot of questions: Where did the money really go? Was this a deliberate fraud, or were well-meaning organizers themselves conned? Who is responsible for the fiasco? Lastly, isn't Israel owed an apology for being smeared? As the JTA points out:

One thing is certain: In a six-hour telethon loaded with Israel bashing, the Greek public was deceived that money contributed would go to rebuild a Christian hospital destroyed by the army of the Jewish state.

The BBC and Sky News treated a similar UK appeal like a hot potato, and nobody questioned the integrity of its organizers.

Moooving On The Border

CowsLebanon's having a cow about the Blue Line.

But despite efforts to milk the controversy, the UN says there's udderly no problem with the border.


Monday, July 13 2009

Facebook's Helping Hand for Hate

Andre Oboloer says Facebook aids the spread of hate by refusing to remove Holocaust denial groups.

Netanyahu's 'Nazi Language'?

Incendiary headlines and a cynical op-ed contort the "Judenrein" term. See HonestReporting's latest communique: Netanyahu's 'Nazi Language'?

Journalism Union Expels Israeli Chapter

The International Federation of Journalists expelled its Israeli chapter.

Relations between the union and Israeli journalists nosedived during the Second War in Lebanon when the IFJ condemned the IDF for attacking Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV network. The Israeli chapter responded to the IFJ by temporarily suspending its membership and withholding dues.

The Israeli chapter (a.k.a. National Federation of Israeli Journalists) was further angered by the IFJ's response to the Gaza war. The Jerusalem Post explains:

In January, the International Federation began issuing a series of letters condemning Israel for refusing to allow journalists to enter Gaza to cover Operation Cast Lead. The International Federation also published a report [pdf format] criticizing Israel's actions in Gaza and urging International Federation members and affiliated organizations to speak out against Israel's treatment of foreign journalists during the war.

According to Shibi, the International Federation report about Gaza was compiled without any Israeli input.

"No one called us to hear what we had to say," he said. Israeli journalists had things to say about the balance of rights of journalists to cover the war and the pressures coming from the army and the state, but the report was compiled without consulting a single Israeli source, he said.

The biggest irony is that the Israeli chapter is the only one in the Mideast with any real press freedom and due process.


Sunday, July 12 2009

A 'Judenrein' West Bank?


Benjamin Netanyahu raised eyebrows in the media when he told German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that the West Bank must not become "Judenrein."

Reuters called it "an especially tainted term," used in "jaw-dropper defiance." But even more over-the-top was its headline's overdramatic exclamation point:

Judenrein! Israel adopts Nazi term to back settlers

And Peter Beaumont of The Observer wrote a whole op-ed slamming the Prime Minister:

The evocation of Judenrein by Netanyahu and by other commentators is the most cynical of ploys in a negotiation that his government feels that is going against it. Under pressure from Obama to freeze settlement building completely – including the construction that Israel likes to label as "natural growth" – it is being forced into ever more extreme language to defend the continued existence of the settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories in language, like that used with Steinmeier, to embarrass and cajole.

UK wonk Robin Shepherd responded to Beaumont:

Beaumont’s argument is straightforward. International law, he says, condemns the settlements as illegal. It is because they are settlers, not because they are Jewish settlers that they have no right to be there. Beaumont is also astute enough to refer to the fact that Jews lived in the West Bank for thousands of years, apart from the period between 1948 and 1967 when Jordanian control ensured that the land was free of Jews. He might also have referred to the Jews of Hebron who were expelled from their homes following a vicious anti-Semitic pogrom perpetrated by Palestinians in 1929 in which 63 Jews were killed.

But this would take him too close to the core issue that his piece ignores. For it is precisely the hatred of Jews qua Jews that has always lain at the heart of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim opposition to the existence of any Jewish state, whatever its borders, and regardless of who does or does not live in the West Bank. It was this hatred that led Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the leading Palestinian political figure of the 1930s, to join up with the Nazis in World War II.

Judenrein? The Prime Minister was telling it like it is.

Thursday, July 9 2009

Anonymous Sources on Resettling Refugees

Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the US will resettle 1,350 Palestinian refugees forced to flee Iraq. Curiously, the headline spins this as "risking Israel's ire." The source for that idea is an anonymous source (which also gets my goat). The Monitor writes:

The US reluctance to accept Palestinians is because it "doesn't want the refugee program to become an issue in its relationship with Israel," says a diplomat in the region, who requested anonymity because he is not cleared to talk to the press. But these Palestinians, he says, will be processed as refugees from Iraq.

What makes this noteworthy is that this is taking place through hrough the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and not the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Natan Sharansky lays out the difference:

Instead of working to relieve the refugees' misery, the United Nations has dedicated an entire agency, UNRWA, to perpetuating it. For the rest of the world's refugees, the U.N. works tirelessly to improve their conditions, to relocate them, and to help them rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. With the Palestinians, the U.N. does exactly the opposite, granting refugee status to the great-grandchildren of people displaced in 1948, doing nothing to dismantle the camps, and acting as facilitators for the terrorists' goal of grinding an entire civilian population under their thumb. Nowhere on earth do terrorists get so much help from the Free World.

If anything, a precedent bypassing the UNRWA deserves Israeli applause. The UNRWA and Arab governments haven't helped any Palestinians. Lebanon -- for example -- restricts Palestinians from 70 categories of jobs, and (irony of ironies) tightly restricts the natural growth of UNRWA-run refugee camps.

Thanks to the UNHCR, and not the UNRWA, an estimated 350,000 people of Palestinian descent live as an integrated community in Chile, not in camps.

These 1,350 owe their good fortune to the fact that they happened to be stuck in Iraq when the US invaded. The other 1.3 million stuck in 58 UNRWA camps scattered throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza aren't so lucky.

Do the Palestinians Really Want a State?


A spate of arguments calls into question whether the Palestinians really want a state of their own.

I'm starting off with Robert Malley and Hussein Agha (you read that right),

Palestinians came to accept the two-state solution by the late 1980s, though that acceptance was always somewhat grudging. Statehood acquired the trappings of a national cause but it never truly matched national aspirations. For most, it appealed more to the head than to the heart; it was an arguably useful way of achieving greater goals but never the objective in and of itself. Unlike Zionism, for whom statehood was the central objective, the Palestinian fight was primarily about other matters. The absence of a state was not the cause of all their misfortune. Its creation would not be the full solution either. . . .

Today, the idea of Palestinian statehood is alive, but mainly outside of Palestine. Establishing a state has become a matter of utmost priority for Europeans, who see it as crucial to stabilizing the region and curbing the growth of extremism; for Americans, who hail it as a centerpiece in efforts to contain Iran as well as radical Islamists and to forge a coalition between so-called moderate Arab states and Israel; and even for a large number of Israelis who have come to believe it is the sole effective answer to the threat to Israel's existence posed by Arab demographics. Those might all be good reasons, though none is of particular relevance to Palestinians; and each only further alienates them from the vision of statehood, the purported object of their struggle.

Universal endorsement has its downside. The more the two-state solution looks like an American or Western, not to mention Israeli, interest, the less it appeals to Palestinians.


Israeli columnist Sever Plocker reacts:

The message conveyed in the article is greatly commensurate with the argument presented in the new book published by Benny Morris, the leading historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The book, titled One State, Two States (Yale University Press, 2009,) details the notion of “two states for two people” starting with the early stages of Zionism and until today. The conclusion is as follows: The Palestinians never adopted the notion of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state existing alongside Israel, regardless of its borders; similarly, the Palestinians have rejected the notion of a joint bi-national state . . . .

The article written by Agha and Malley, associated with the Left, and Morris’ book, on the Right, convey deep pessimism. The Palestinians will not agree to either divide or share the country. They continue to cling to the revolutionary dream of “national liberation,” and until this unrealistic liberation materializes, they prefer to exist as a national rather than political entity; one that has no obligations and is always seen as a victim, in its own eyes and in the eyes of the world.


Johns Hopkins professor Jakub Grygiel raised the same question in a very powerful essay earlier this year:

• The state is no longer the only way to organize and manage large groups. New technologies impart cohesion and strength to an increasingly larger number of dispersed individuals.

• The proliferation of weapons and dual-use technologies challenges the monopoly of violence of states by allowing individuals or small bands of people to present serious security and strategic challenges.

• The presence today of great powers, and especially of the American preponderance of power, with growing military capabilities to destroy other states, serves as a strong incentive to keep a low, stateless profile: To be stateless is to decrease one’s own footprint, to decrease one’s chance of being a target of retaliation, and thereby to increase one’s odds of survival.

• Many of the modern groups espouse radical ideas, tinted by religious and/or extremist views, making them less interested in the establishment of states. States require some sort of political compromise and, even if they are managed in an authoritarian or totalitarian style, they rarely can match the expectations of extremists who tend to become disappointed in political solutions.

The essay's worth reading in full. But I'll give the last word to The Atlantic's Robert Kaplan's response to Grygiel:

But the U.S. should also brace itself for an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that may never end, because the Palestinians may already have what they want.


Wednesday, July 8 2009

Debunking the Domino Theory


The NY Times reprinted an amazing excerpt from Dennis Ross and David Makovsky's book debunking the idea that settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to resolving other regional conflicts too:

Since the origins of so many regional tensions and rivalries are not connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is hard to see how resolving it would unlock other regional stalemates or sources of instability. Iran, for example, is not pursuing its nuclear ambitions because there is an Arab-Israeli conflict. Sectarian groups in Iraq would not suddenly put aside their internal struggles if the Palestinian issue were resolved. Like so many conflicts in the region, these struggles have their own dynamic.

In addition, as tragic as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has become, it has not spilled over to destabilize the Middle East. There have been two Palestinian Intifadas, or uprisings, including one that lasted from 2000 to 2005 and claimed the lives of 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis – but not a single Arab leader had been toppled or a single regime destabilized as a result. It has remained a local conflict, contained in a small geographical area. Yet the argument of linkage endures to this day, and with powerful promoters. Why does it persist? And why has it been accepted among top policymakers as if it is factually correct?

Yoram Ettinger recently pointed out that there's no end to how far the spurious linkage can be stretched:

The US Administration-devised linkage reinvents the Middle East, transforming a 100 year old (Arab-Israel) conflict into the alleged root cause of the 1,400 year old Middle East turbulence. Is there a logical linkage between a potential Iranian takeover of Bahrain and "apostate Saudi Arabia" on one hand, and the future of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria on the other hand?! Why not a linkage between an end to Iran's subversion of Iraq and an end to IDF counter-terrorism operations in Judea and Samaria?!

Or how about a stretched-linkage between the prevention of al-Qaeda takeover of Pakistan's nuclear capabilities and a total Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria?! And, what about the grand-linkage between an end to Sunni-Shiite rift, Sudan's civil war, Lebanon's internal rifts on one hand, and the repartitioning of Jerusalem on the other hand?!

Related reading: Mideast Dominoes: A Falling Theory
Free Gaza's Deja Vu All Over Again

Lauren Booth wasn't the only Free Gaza activist stuck in Gaza after last August's boating jaunt.

Turns out that Booth's shipmate, Jenny Linnell, who volunteers for the International Solidarity Movement, is unable to leave via Israel or Egypt. The Herald Express explains:

Ms Linnell added: "The Egyptian officials at the border asked how we entered Gaza and we said we arrived on the Free Gaza Movement Boat.

"They told us 'so you already know why you're not being allowed out'.

"This would suggest we're being detained as a form of unofficial punishment for our humanitarian work in Gaza."

For security reasons, Israeli law prohibits foreign nationals who illegally enter Gaza to cross into Israel. Egypt hasn't explained its refusal to Linnell and never explained the delay in allowing Booth to leave in September.

As Yogi Berra would say, "It's like deja vu all over again."


Tuesday, July 7 2009

3 Lessons For Israel From Jacko, Lakers and Iran


Thanks to Michael Jackson and the Lakers (both local stories), plus Iran, the LA Times is setting personal bests in web site traffic to related articles and blogs, and attracting an amazing social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Some of the stats Jamie Gold shares from this internal memo are simply eye-popping.

There are are three important lessons to learn from this.

• Multi-media, real-time, interactive journalism is clearly what people want. A video of Jackson fans sharing their thoughts on the paper's YouTube channel has now drawn 632,00+ viewers and a whopping 4,000 comments. A half-million Jackson fans can't be wrong. This supply and demand will only grow.

• Smaller papers can only parlay their local stories into items of national interest, but if they already have the necessary Web 2.0 infrastructure and know what to do with it. While everyone's covering the national stories of Sarah Palin and Steve McNair, the Anchorage Daily News and the Nashville Tennessean are working with a home field advantage. Are they getting any benefit?

• Anyone who cares about Israel must be part of "the conversation" on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. This requires proactive expression. As Alex Margolin wrote in January:

Because of the "social" nature of today's Internet - where content is increasingly generated by users, not the sites themselves - quality content is not enough. It is also vital to maximize the quantity of people spreading Israel's message.

In other words, state agencies can do great work providing videos, images and information and activists can organize the material and create channels for public participation, but success in the media war will largely be determined by what the masses of supporters do with the information.

As you get active, don't forget to network with us on Facebook and Twitter.


Monday, July 6 2009

Disproportionate Coverage of Israel Boomerangs on Oxfam

A British report recently found that the UK media's disproportionate attention to Israel is having a bad effect on fund-raising efforts for developing countries. When a mere three countries account for half the foreign news coverage, you know donations will be effected:

. . . during the two weeks of the study, more than half of all international coverage on the main UK bulletins focused on the USA, Australia and Israel.

Oxfam's media director Sam Barratt groused that his organization "is adjusting to the decline by establishing media partnerships and longer-term projects that are better insulated from these pressures.”

But the NGO-Monitor blog blisteringly says Barratt's reaction is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black:

Oxfam’s comments however, are ironic given the fact that Oxfam is itself a major part of the problem. Its own activities reflect a highly disproportionate focus on Israel and obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Oxfam Great Britain alone put out 16 press releases on Israel between December 27, 2008 and January 30, 2009 – more than all of the press releases issued about the entire world in the month of June, 2009. Oxfam has also lobbied the EU, held press conferences and published reports [pdf format] on the situation in Gaza, promoting the Palestinian narrative and fueling the conflict. As part of the DEC, Oxfam attempted to televise an appeal for Gaza on the BBC and Sky News, not for any other crisis.

The report was commissioned by the UK Dept. for International Development. The full version's in pdf format.

(Hat tip: NGO-Monitor blog)


Sunday, July 5 2009

BBC Pro-Israel? Don't Make Me Laugh


HonestReporting editor Simon Plosker got op-ed space in the Jerusalem Post to debunk a recent commentary suggesting that the BBC and Al-Jazeera (!?) are biased in Israel's favor.

Plosker was responding to a recent commentary in The Guardian by Sharif Nashashibi, who authored a "study" for the London-based Arab Media Watch (pdf format). Nashashibi is AMW's chairman.

See HonestReporting's own long-terms studies of the BBC here, here and here. See also Trevor Asserson's in-depth studies of BBC's coverage of Israel.


Thursday, July 2 2009

Press TV: Take it Off Air?
Ofcom investigates the Iranian propaganda arm as BBC Newsnight asks the real question. See HonestReporting UK's latest communique: Press TV: Take it Off Air?
Sheridan's Broadside

Australian columnist Greg Sheridan wonders about the left's silent on Iranian repression. This particular snippet's tie-in with Israel blew me away:

Where are you on Iran, Louise Adler, happy to accuse Israel of war crimes without the slightest evidence, but apparently unstirred by the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians in Iran?

What have you got to say, Antony Loewenstein, stupidly and inaccurately labelling Israel an apartheid state and approvingly quoted in the Iranian official media, but listless on your blog in the face of the Iranian repression?

What about The Age's cartoonist Michael Leunig, who once drew a cartoon so morally obtuse, stupid and offensive that it was happily accepted by an Iranian newspaper in a competition for cartoons that would offend Jews (the cartoon was submitted without Leunig's knowledge), but who is apparently unmoved to draw an image in sympathy with young Iranian democrats?

Read the whole thing.

Dueling Spin Over the Amnesty Report

Amnesty International released its report on the Gaza war and I'm scratching my head at a fascinating disparity of coverage. The Irish Times writes of Amnesty:

The organisation contrasts the Israeli attitude with that of Hamas, which rules Gaza and freely permits human rights organisations to conduct investigations into Israeli and Palestinian abuses.

But according to Financial Times:

While Hamas has said it would help the mission, the fact that its officials have often accompanied the investigators in Gaza has drawn scepticism about the ability of witnesses to freely describe the militant group’s actions.

Are the Times and the FT talking about the same Gaza? I don't understand how any journalist as reasonably knowledgable about Gaza as Jansen can write that with a straight face.

The Amnesty and UN investigations are further examples of the tear-jerker journalism phenomenon.

UPDATE: Is the dueling spin more of a reflection on Amnesty's lead researcher, Donatella Rovera, than on the MSM? AP writes:

She said investigators were able to operate freely in Gaza, without any intervention by Hamas security forces . . . .

The U.N. is examining the conduct of both sides to the conflict. Hamas allowed veteran war crimes investigator Richard Goldstone and his team into Gaza last month, but Hamas security often accompanied them, raising questions about the ability of witnesses to freely describe the militant group's actions.


Wednesday, July 1 2009

The Other Press Crackdown


Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wonders why the MSM isn’t interested in media repression and torture when the perpetrators are the Palestinian Authority.

In June, an Al-Jazeera crew investigating the death of a Palestinian prisoner apparently tortured was stopped at a PA checkpoint where a videotape was confiscated and erased. Toameh explains why you didn't hear about this:

One can only imagine the international media's reaction had the TV crew been detained by Israeli security forces. Anti-Israel groups and individuals would have cited the incident as further proof of the "occupation's brutal measures" against the freedom of the media . . . .

Yet foreign journalists and human rights activists working in Israel and the Palestinian territories either chose to ignore the story or never heard about it simply because it was lacking in an anti-Israel angle.

One can also imagine how the media and human rights organizations would have reacted had a Palestinian died in Israeli prison after allegedly being tortured.

At least Reporters Without Borders condemned the incident.

'Israel as Brutal as Iran'

Huffington Post falsely equates Israel with Neda's murderers. See HonestReporting's latest communique: "Israel as Brutal as Iran"

Bad News For Press TV

BoothThe Times of London reports that presenter Nick Ferrari quit his job at Press TV to protest the Iranian station's biased coverage of the post-election violence:

Ferrari, who hosts LBC’s weekday breakfast show, told The Times that Press TV’s news coverage had been “reasonably fair” until the election — but not any longer. “I imagine they’ve been told what to do, and I can’t reconcile that with working there,” he said.

The Times also reports that Ofcom is investigating Press TV:

Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, is investigating a complaint that Press TV has breached its duty to be accurate and impartial, and many Iranians living in Britain are appalled that it can operate so freely.

Although Reporters Without Borders calls Iran the "world’s biggest prison for journalists," Booth dug in her heels about being on the Iranian payroll:

Booth told The Times that her weekly programme, Remember the Children of Palestine, was “too important for me not to make it”.

George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley and Andrew Gilligan -- also employed by Press TV -- insisted that there's no political interference in their shows. Of course, parroting the party line doesn't require that.

Free Gaza's Bad Timing

Israeli navy towed Free Gaza boat to Ashdod. The 21 activists competing for headlines with Iran and Michael Jackson will be deported.


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