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Sunday, March 28 2010

Passover Pause Button

I'm taking off for the Passover holiday. Check out these nice Israel photos on Flickr. 

Evening Rhapsody: Haifa

Nature's Framing: Ramon Crater

Dawn in Sinai

Book's Cave: Jerusalem

The Sky is the Limit: Tel Aviv

Eagle Power

Morning Dawn in Kfar Yona

I'll resume blogging after the holiday. Happy Passover to all our readers.

An In-Depth Look at HRW

Marc_Garlasco_Iron_Cross A few months ago, it would've been unthinkable that a major daily like the Sunday Times of London would publish a critical, comprehensive look at Human Rights Watch.

This isn't just about Marc Garlasco (HRW's military expert quietly dismissed after Mere Rhetoric exposed his embarassing Nazi memorabilia collection), Joe Stork (deputy head of HRW, who once praised the Munich massacre in a radical leftist paper), Sarah Leah Whitson (who made a controversial fund-raising visit in Saudi Arabia), or Judge Richard Goldstone  (a conflict of intererst forced him to resign his position on HRW's board of directors).

The moral of the story is deeper than this foursome:

Human Rights Watch does perform a useful task, but its critics raise troubling questions that go beyond Garlasco’s hobby or raising money from Saudis. Why put such effort into publicising alleged human-rights violations in some countries but not others? Why does HRW seem so credulous of civilian witnesses in places like Gaza and Afghanistan but so sceptical of anyone in a uniform?

It may be that organisations like HRW that depend on the media for their profile — and therefore their donations — concentrate too much on places that the media already cares about.

Yes, HRW depends on the media for its profile. And when it comes to bashing Israel, HRW provides what the news services need most -- something NGO-Monitor refers to a halo effect:

The evidence shows that many journalists simply reprint NGO reports without question or verification. This is known as the “halo effect”, and violates both journalistic ethics, which require skepticism and independent verification, and the norm when reporting from other sources, including government officials. But when a “highly respected human rights watchdog” such as Amnesty International or HRW makes a statement, journalists tend to ignore the bias and repeat this as fact.

Read the whole story.

Gaza Journo: Hamas Censorship Hampers Objectivity

Lana_shaheen A delegation of Palestinian jourmnalists from the West Bank and Gaza met with their Israeli counterparts in Tel Aviv. The Jerusalem Post was there as they discussed various issues, including Hamas' media restrictions.

Lana Shaheen, a Palestinian TV broadcaster shared this insight:

In addition, Shaheen says she has to contend with significant censorship from Hamas on what journalists can report from the Gaza Strip. Such limits make it very difficult to present a completely objective picture of the situation on the ground.

Shaheen said “to some extent” Hamas controls what they can report. She used the example of a friend who works for the BBC who produced a report on the rather widespread making of homemade wine in Gaza, “and the next day we receive a statement from a Hamas spokesman saying they are supporting the enemy and this is immoral.”

I don't recall ever seeing a BBC dispatch on Gaza wine makers, but Elder of Ziyon found this AFP story. 

Shaheen's bravery is worth noting. In 2007, she received a threatening message from one of the Strip's numerous Islamic groups: cover up or face death.

How many Palestinian stringers -- who the Western news services rely on to cover Gaza --are equally candid in the face of Hamas pressure?


Saturday, March 27 2010

An Open Letter to Israel's 7 MIAs

Dear Zecharya, Zvi, Yehuda, Ron, Guy, Majdi, and Gilad,

As I get ready for Passover, it's worth reflecting that your tremendous sacrifices allow me to celebrate the holiday of freedom in Jerusalem with my wife and children -- in freedom and safety.

Many Israelis will add an extra chair to their seder as a show of solidarity. But for your families, the extra setting isn't an abstract political statement. You eat the "bread of affliction" but do not drink from the "cup of freedom." There have been little to no signs of life in the 27 years since the Battle of Sultan Yakoub and the battles, abductions and disappearances of subsequent years.

May you all be reunited soon with your families, and may we all be able to celebrate the Festival of Freedom together. Happy Passover, Zecharya, Zvi, Yehuda, Ron, Guy, Majdi and Gilad -- wherever you are.

Pesach Benson

Campus Radio Reprimands Anti-Israel Program

A radio program bizarrely linking Israel to Abu Ghraib atrocities was formally reprimanded by its host station.

See HonestReporting Canada's latest communique: Campus Radio Reprimands Anti-Israel Program


Thursday, March 25 2010

March 25 Podcast

HR_podcast We just posted HonestReporting's latest podcast. Yarden Frankl and I discussed:

• The glorification of terror.

• The controversial rededication of a Jerusalem synagogue.

• Follow up on the Ethan Bronner "racism" issue.

Listen on YouTube, iTunes, or click here for other MP3 players and direct listening options.

Not the White Response

The Guardian's Associate Editor's weak excuses and justifications for outrageous comments against Israel.

See HonestReporting's latest communique: Not the White Response

Swedish Blood Libel Now On UN Web Site

DonaldbostromThanks to the internet, media blood libels take on a life of their own like never before.

The latest example: A non-governmental organization called the International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) posted this statement on the UN Human Rights Council's web site alleging that Israel harvests Palestinian organs:

After Israeli physicians remove organs they think marketable, the soldiers bury the bodies in graves that carry only numbers and no names, or place them in sealed caskets and deliver them under curfew conditions to the families and supervise the digging of the graves and burial.

Journalist Donald Bostrom admitted he has no proof that the charges he raised in the Swedish daily, Aftonbladet, are true, but that hasn't stopped the unending fallout. His article:

The power of the press is already clear. That's why Bostrom won HonestReporting's 2009 Dishonest Reporter Award. But why does the UN further condone the blood libel by allowing it to remain posted on its own web site?

The answer to that may be reflected in the nature of the UNHRC's own obsessions. Yesterday, it passed three resolutions against Israel.

Read more about this at the Jerusalem Post and UN Watch.

AP: Better Late Than Never

Dalal_mughrabi_squareI'm glad to see AP finally followed up with a proper story about the Palestinian Authority naming a public square in the town of Bireh after Dalal Mughrabi.

She was part of a group of terrorists who infiltrated Israel from Lebanon in 1978. They hijacked a bus, tossing grenades and firing on nearby cars. It was the deadliest terror attack in Israeli history: 38 civilians killed (including 13 children), 71 injured, and is known in Israel as the Coastal Road Massacre.

The NY Times and the Israeli media covered Bireh two weeks ago -- a long time in blog years. But it's still significant that AP nevertheless picked up on this. Here are three reasons why I say better late than never.

  1. The PA's glorification of terrorists and incitement against Israel's very legitimacy is very under-reported in the mainstream media.
  2. Israeli attitudes towards peace talks cannot be understood without an awareness of the Palestinian atmosphere.
  3. Associated Press content is probably the most widely distributed in the world.

In that light, now let's see if the MSM picks up on this new development: Mahmoud Abbas promoted imprisoned terrorist Mahmoud Damra to the rank of Major-General. As former commander of Force-17, Yasser Arafat's personal bodyguards, Damra has quite a rap sheet. 

Damra's connected to the murders of American citizens Benyamin and Talia Kahane, Esh Kadosh-Gilmore, plus a fatal shooting attack on Israeli soldiers near Neve Tzuf in 2000. Arafat reportedly appointed him to serve as Force-17's liason to Hezbollah and Iran; Damra was also one of the fugitives holed up with Arafat during the IDF's siege of the Muqata compound.

I'll check the wires in two weeks for more on Damra.


Wednesday, March 24 2010

Tel Aviv and AFP's Lousy 'Synecdoche'

KnessetSynecdoche is a figure of speech where a part is substituted for its whole. Common examples include:

  • "All hands on deck" ("all people on deck")
  • "Boots on the ground" ("soldiers on the ground")
  • "100 head of cattle" ("100 cows")
  • "The White House said . . ." ("The Executive Branch of the United States said . . .")

One common synecdoche journalists and bloggers use is to refer to the capital city as the government of that country. You'd think the usage would be straightforward enough. Except when the city's not the capital.

Which brings us to AFP, providing today's example of deliberately lousy usage:

The deterioration of diplomatic relations between Britain and Israel comes as historically strong US-Israeli ties are under strain over Tel Aviv's plans to build new settlements.

You won't convince me that AFP was actually talking about the Ministry of Defense, whose headquarters happen to be in Tel Aviv. The overall political decisions and diplomatic activity take place in Jerusalem. Is AFP unaware that The Knesset moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1949?

Using "Tel Aviv" as an alternative noun for "Israel's government" can only be an example of media activism delegitimizing Israel's connection to Jerusalem. How else should I understand this?

PA Blinks on Press Freedom

The Jerusalem Post now reports that the PA is backing down from closing down Nativity TV, the only Christian TV station in the West Bank. But don't hold your breath waiting for owner Samir Qumsieh to resume broadcasts soon:

Nevertheless, the owner of the Christian station said he would not reopen the channel until the PA apologizes . . .

He accused the PA of cracking down on freedom of expression.

It also turns out that nine other TV and radio stations were shut down the same day.

PA Press Freedom Takes Another Hit

CensoredPublic approval of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad is declining, but you wouldn't know that from the Palestinian media. It's due to a combo of self-censorhip and PA pressure. The Jerusalem Post writes:

The three leading Palestinian dailies, Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat al-Jadida, have refused to publish the results of the poll. Editors and journalists at the newspapers said they had received instructions from Abbas’s office to refrain from publishing the findings of the survey, which also indicated a rise in the popularity of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Khalil Shikaki's survey results are online anyway.

Related reading: 2 Items on the State of the Palestinian Media

The Guardian's Obsession With Israel

Yes, the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the Dubai passport stink is news. But The Guardian's Israel obsession really goes overboard.

I'm talking about liveblogging (!), today's staff-ed, Julian Borger's podcast, Steve Bell's cartoon, commentaries by Simon Hoggart and Simon Tisdall, and articles 1, 2 and 3.

Why not go all the way and publish a special commemorative edition like the New Orleans Times-Picayune did after the Super Bowl?


Tuesday, March 23 2010

Reader Comments on UK Anti-Semitism Say it All

This is amusing: A Daily Telegraph book review about British anti-Semitism. Check out the reader comments for all the proof you need . . .


Monday, March 22 2010

Lady Ashton's 3 Omissions

Ashton_gazaLady Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, describes her recent visit to Gaza in this NY Times commentary. Care to guess what she left out?

1) A Qassam rocket launched within an hour of her arrival.

2) It killed Manee Singmueangphon, a 34-year-old Thai foreign worker in a greenhouse on Kibbutz Netiv Ha'asara.

3 ) The Anagram Times' cool take on AFP headline coverage of Ashton's response.

Okay, the last point is forgivable. But how can the Baroness heartlessly have nothing to say about the latest Qassam fatality?

2 Items on the State of the Palestinian Media

1) The Palestinian Authority shut down the only Christian TV station in the West Bank. PA police simply raided Al-Mahed (Nativity) TV and pulled the plug. Asia News (via Haviv Rettig Gur) reports:

According to unconfirmed reports that reached AsiaNews, the closure appears to be financially motivated. Palestinian authorities demanded money, a “licence” that was not paid.

The Bethlehem-based station was more likely targeted because owner Samir Qumsieh is an outspoken voice for the dwindling Palestinian Christian community. The PA was surely not amused to read what Qumsieh told the Wall St. Journal:

Christians have only recently begun to talk about how Muslim gangs simply come and take possession of Christian-owned land while the Palestinian security services, almost exclusively staffed by Muslims, stand by. Mr. Qumsieh's home was firebombed three years ago. The perpetrators were never caught.

"We have never suffered as we are suffering now," Mr. Qumsieh confesses, violating his own introductory warning to the assorted foreign correspondents in his office not to use the word "suffering."

Nativity TV was raided during Vice President Joe Biden's visit. Ethel Fenig wonders why Biden, a Christian, had nothing to say.

2) The US government finally designated Al-Aqsa TV as a terror organization, sending a message that the feds will no longer distinguish between the station and Hamas.

One example of how Hamas used Al-Aqsa TV to blur the distinctions between terror and credible journalism: Omar Silawi a cameraman on the station's payroll launched mortars at Israel, then filmed the IDF's retaliatory shelling.

As this NY Daily News staff-ed sums up the Treasury Department's move:

Better late than never.

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, and Haaretz

Stats Haaretz was called onto the carpet by its own pollster.

It seems the paper's loose translation of a Hebrew word gave editors the wiggle room to claim that Israelis overwhelmingly like President Obama. But Professor Camil Fuchs, Haaretz's pollster, slammed the paper's presentation of his work as "misleading."

He told the Jerusalem Post:

Both the English and Hebrew editions of Friday’s Haaretz led with the headline “Poll: Most Israelis see Obama as fair, friendly toward Israel.”

The English edition elaborated near a picture of Obama that “69% say Obama is fair and friendly.”

The story itself gives no numbers, but the lead says “A sweeping majority of Israelis think his treatment of this country is friendly and fair.”

The English edition contains no graphic distributing the actual numbers, either online or in print.

The print and online versions of the newspaper’s Hebrew edition included a graphic indicating that just 18 percent of respondents considered Obama “friendly” toward Israel, 3 percentage points fewer than the 21% who called the president “hostile” to the Jewish state.

Ten percent did not know, and 51% defined Obama’s approach to Israel using the Hebrew word “inyani,” which can be translated as “matter-of-fact” or “businesslike,” but not as fair.

Fuchs, who chairs Tel Aviv University’s statistics department, said he received many reactions from people around the world who were surprised by the poll’s headline. He distanced himself from the headline and criticized the way his poll was presented.

“What can I do? Only the editor writes the headlines,” Fuchs said.

“When they write the number 69 together, it is correct but misleading. They could just as easily have combined the hostile and inyani categories and gotten a different large number.”

I'll leave it to readers to comment on why Haaretz decided to lump a whopping 51 percent of the respondents with "friendly." My first reaction was to think of Mark Twain. He popularized the saying:

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."


Sunday, March 21 2010

Scholarship For 'Forming Effective Resistance'

Sari_hanafi Prof. Sari Hanafi caused a big stink at the American University of Beirut because he collaborated with Israeli counterparts on a book.

Never mind that the book, "The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," seeks to undermine Israeli legitimacy. And never mind that his co-authors from Tel Aviv University, Adi Ophir and Michal Givoni, signed this petition calling for international intervention against Israel during the Gaza war.

We're also seeing that some of the people spearheading efforts to boycott Israeli academia are willing to bend the rules when collaboration is useful. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), for example, issued a muddled statement about "The Power of Inclusive Exclusion," then released a clarification saying that they don't endorse boycotting the book

The book's introduction calls into question its own agenda and level of scholarship. The LA Times rightly quoted this telling snippet:

In Hanafi’s book, the editors insist that their scholarship is “essential for forming effective resistance to the occupation and for coming to terms with the real prospects of bringing it to an end."

If that is what their scholarship is all about, let the Arabs and their ivory tower apologists continue boycotting Israel.


Thursday, March 18 2010

Qassam Kills Greenhouse Worker
A Thai worker in a kibbutz green house was killed by a Qassam rocket today. Developing . . .
Special Report: Making Sense of the Jerusalem Crisis

A look at some of the key context and realities behind a US-Israeli dispute over Jerusalem.

See HonestReporting's Special Report: Making Sense of the Jerusalem Crisis

What's Wrong With This Headline?

Reporter Donald Macintyre visited Ramat Shlomo. See if you can spot the error in The Independent's headline:


Ramat Shlomo's not a town. It's one of Jerusalem's many neighborhoods, no different than other communities like Ramat Eshkol, Givat Shaul, Rehavia, or Emek Refaim.

This Google map should be sufficient to disprove the notion that Ramat Shlomo's a "town." I circled the neighborhood in red. I only regret that you can't see more of municipal Jerusalem to better appreciate the sense of scale. (Click on the map to see it more clearly.)


Wednesday, March 17 2010

March 17 Links

The Crisis: Was Obama's Confrontation With Israel Premeditated?
Why Iran Smiles on the Jerusalem Clashes
Why Glorify the Murderers?

MSM and the Petraeus Factor

Petraeus_obama_baghdad With Israeli-US relations strained, Mark Perry adds fuel to the fire. Perry, a fomer advisor to Yasser Arafat, claims that Gen. David Petraeus managed to fundamentally shift Washington's strategic thinking towards Israel.

The article, published in Foreign Policy gives traction to the argument that Israeli settlement policies and lack of progress in peace talks endangers US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

. . . a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

. . .

The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives.

But Max Boot disputes Perry's veracity. A military officer familiar with the Petraeus brief said the General "never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview." Boot adds:

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

Jay Bookman also smells a rat. Although he doesn't question Perry's credibility, the Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist writes:

Reading between the lines of Perry’s piece and its later clarifications, there was a clear decision at high levels, apparently from within the Pentagon, to make this story public. If so, the leak was itself a policy decision, an effort by the military to throw itself publicly behind both the Petraeus warning and the sterner line taken in response by the Obama administration.

So is the Pentagon making a strategic shift? Winnipeg Free Press correspondent Sam Segev provides this interesting tea leaf to read:

Well-placed Israeli sources revealed that a similar message was conveyed recently to Israeli chief of general staff, Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, by the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. Mullen recently told Ashkenazi he met in January with a group of senior officers who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They told him various Arab leaders perceive America as a "weak" country that is losing its influence in the region. The Arab leaders cited "America's inability to stand up to Israel."

Related reading: Is the Special Relationship Unraveling?

UPDATE March 18: Perry discusses the issue with CNN's Rick Sanchez.


Tuesday, March 16 2010

Is the Special Relationship Unraveling?

Biden_in_israelI just finished reading Richard Beeston's take on the US-Israeli tensions over Ramat Shlomo.

According to Beeston, there are "other voices" in Washington "openly questioning Israel's value as a strategic ally." General David Petraeus is the only name dropped.

The Pentagon may be coming to the conclusion that the failure to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace deal is the best recruiting sergeant for militant Islam. Live footage of Palestinians being beaten or shot by Israeli troops are beamed around the region on satellite news channels. They can whip up public fury and angry sermons from Cairo to Kabul. America may not be directly involved in these incidents but it is blamed for arming and funding Israel and providing the Jewish state with diplomatic cover at the United Nations. If America’s unwavering support for Israel is endangering the lives of US troops in Kandahar or Baghdad, then the Jewish state has a problem.

That goes way beyond a spat with one US administration.

The underlining principles behind American support for Israel go much deeper: democracy, Judeo-Christian values, individual rights such as the freedom to speak, protest, and pray, and a sense of idealism. They're the reason a very recent Gallup Poll found American public support for Israel at a near all-time high of 63 percent.

Announcing the development of 1,600 homes during a Vice Presidential visit was careless and somewhat insulting.  But at least the Wall St. Journal kept some perspective:

Since nobody is defending the Israeli announcement, least of all an obviously embarrassed Israeli government, it's difficult to see why the Administration has chosen this occasion to spark a full-blown diplomatic crisis with its most reliable Middle Eastern ally.

For further food for thought, this Haaretz commentary lists a few reasons why the US response to Ramat Shlomo is excessive. Among them:

  • The majority of Israelis support Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem.
  • Netanyahu really wasn't aware of the bureaucratic approval granted.
  • The White House underestimated Netanyahu's public approval thanks to the strident headlines generated by an Israeli newspaper war.
  • "Afghans don't care about Ramat Shlomo, or about the Palestinians and Netanyahu . . . the seven-year presence of American forces on Iraqi soil is a good enough excuse to attack Americans."
  • The heavy-handed response emboldens Palestinian intransigence.

What do you think?

400 Meters and a Day of Rage

This Reuters snippet on the Hurva synagogue re-opening is factually true, but raises a whiff of a ridiculous accusation:

Hamas and Palestinian officials affiliated with its rival Fatah movement have said the restoration work at the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's walled Old City endangered al-Aqsa, situated some 400 metres (yards) away.

Israel has denied the accusation.

The Temple Mount is a separate geographic entity from the rest of the Old City. To reach it from the synagogue's location in the Jewish Quarter Square, you have to cross the Jewish Quarter, descend to the Western Wall plaza and then ascend a footbridge over the Tyropoeon Valley.

You'd have to undermine the Western Wall and half the Jewish Quarter without being noticed before even reaching the Temple Mount. Even Gaza's best tunnel diggers aren't that good. 

Perhaps illegal Palestinian construction in the much closer area of Silwan also threatens to undermine Al-Aqsa. Anyone for a day of rage?


Monday, March 15 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg's Blogger Disengagement

At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan's heavy-handed criticisms of Israel have pushed colleague Jeffrey Goldberg over the edge. An exasperated Goldberg writes:

Yes, it's upsetting that Andrew Sullivan, a man of obvious intellectual gifts (and someone for whom I retain great personal fondness), has become an anti-Israel propagandist. But it's not my job to counter everything he says. He's not particularly interested in hearing fact-based arguments that undermine whatever argument he happens to be making, in any case. And even if he did care, it's not in the best interests of The Atlantic, or of my journalism, or my sanity, to spend my time worrying about Andrew's ever-shifting views on the Middle East.

So I'm unilaterally disengaging from this struggle. I pray, of course, that Andrew comes to see that his oversimplification of Middle East history and politics has caused real damage to real people, but it's time for someone else to argue with him.

There is another benefit to disengagement. As Goldblog readers know, I'm deeply distressed by many currents in Israeli society and politics, the continuing, disproportionate power of the settlement movement being chief among my concerns. But I find myself hesitant to criticize Israel these days because my words are inevitably used by people who don't have Israel's best interests, or the best interests of American Jews, at heart. So I want to find a new way to write about these issues.

Sullivan's take on the Ramat Shlomo controversy prompted Goldberg's last fisking.

As a media watchdog, Goldberg's frustration strikes a chord with me.

There's a small, small handful of journalists -- Robert Fisk and John Pilger come to mind -- who have a talent for cranking out content throroughly slanted against Israel. Are they worth a point-by-point response? Not really, because "fisking Fisk" is time consuming, and results in an excessive word count. (Yes, the term "fisking" really is named after Robert Fisk)

Isolating certain points may be more practical, but I worry that it doesn't do justice to other issues raised.

In the end, I don't see the Fisks and the Pilgers being open to what Israel's supporters have to say. No matter what I write, it's only a matter of time till their next screed.

I'm not ready to add Sullivan to that that class. But it's significant that Goldberg's the one saying -- in essence -- "Andrew's being Andrew again."

March 15 Podcast

HR_podcastWe just posted HonestReporting's latest podcast. Yarden Frankl and I discussed:

• NY Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner's recent comments on "Hardball With Chris Matthews."

• Hamas releasing UK journalist Paul Martin from detention.

Click to listen.

Johann Hari: Back With a Vengeance

The Independent's columnist returns with another despicable op-ed full of distortions and historical revisionism.

See HonestReporting's latest communique: Johann Hari: Back With a Vengeance

Hamas Combat Doctrine: New Report Documents Human Shields

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (Malam) picked apart the Goldstone report in a big time way. A report issued today (pdf format) stands out from other response to Goldstone because Israel's security services cooperated to declassify a lot of photos, videos, interrogations, and more.

You can't help but be struck by Malam's depth. It zeroed in on how heavily Hamas combat doctorine relied on human shields, documenting tactics such as:

  • Forcing residents to stay at home in neighborhoods where the IDF operated.
  • Assimilating terrorist operatives into civilian neighborhoods.
  • Exchanging uniforms for civilian clothing while fighting the IDF.
  • Surrounding operatives with children to facilitate escape from combat zones.
  • Making large-scale military use of civilian houses, which included constructing tunnels for assault and escape.
  • Situating military infrastructure within civilian houses and public institutions, such as schools, hospitals, mosques and police stations.
  • Deliberately turning residential neighborhoods into combat zones.
  • Firing rockets and mortar shells from within civilian population.
  • Summoning civilians to come to operatives’ houses to serve as human shields for terrorist operatives in danger of being attacked by the IDF.

This declassified video's worth watching.

Human shields aren't the only eyebrow-raising issue. Malam also shreds any notion that Hamas' political and military "wings" operate independently of each other.

See also the Jerusalem Post's summary.


Sunday, March 14 2010

Israel, and A Soundbite's Daring Dig at a Dictator


Something's going on when a Venezuelan non-governmental organization uses Israel to criticize Hugo Chavez with a daring soundbite. Reuters writes:

Homicides in Venezuela have quadrupled during President Hugo Chavez's 11 years in power, with two people murdered every hour, according to new figures from a non-governmental organization.

The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), whose data is widely followed in the absence of official statistics, said the South American nation has one of the highest crime rates on the continent, with 54 homicides per 100,000 citizens in 2009 . . . .

That means Venezuela experiences every month about as many deaths as occurred in the Gaza Strip during Israel's early 2009 offensive, Briceno said.

It's a very gutsy dig at the Venezuelan leader -- not only because critizing Chavez is risky business. The edge has to do with the fact that "El Commandante" expelled Israel's ambassador in Caracas over the Gaza war and pressured the Jewish community to denounce the military operations.

More worrisome, though, is what this might mean for Venezuela's Jewish community. Recently, the Organization of American States' human rights watchdog found:

A report by the human rights watchdog of the Organization of American States warns of a possible “threat to the life and physical integrity of the Jewish community in Venezuela” due to the Chavez regime’s violations of the political and human rights of its citizens.

The Israel comparison reflects a desparation on the part of OVV. It's a powerful soundbite Reuters could not have missed.

Mandela He Ain't, Part 2

Marwan_barghoutiHere's another reason comparisons between Marwan Barghouti and Nelson Mandela just don't work. The Palestinian terrorist managed to complete a Ph.D in political science from prison.

The Jerusalem Post writes:

Barghouti’s doctoral thesis is titled “The Legislative and Political Performance of the Palestinian Legislative Council and its Contribution to the Democratic Process in Palestine from 1996 to 2008.”

The 341-page document will be brought on Tuesday for discussion before a special panel headed by Prof. Ahmad Yussuf, dean of the Arab Academy for Research and Studies.

Barghouti was able to complete his thesis with the help of hundreds of books and documents that Israeli authorities allow inmates to bring into prison.

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are currently enrolled as students with the Open University of Israel, which facilitates their studies by allowing them to sit exams in jail.

And Mandela? He broke rocks in Robben Island's limestone quarry.

Palestinians don't compare Barghouti to Mandela, even though some journalists do.


Thursday, March 11 2010

Journalist Paul Martin Freed

After being held for nearly 4 weeks by Hamas in Gaza, freelance journalist Paul Martin is finally free.

BBC Complaints: A Complaint in Itself

What does it take to get through to the BBC? See HonestReporting UK's latest communique: BBC Complaints: A Complaint in Itself

Who's The Real Hero?

Leila_khaledActress Laila Rouass wants to make a film about Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled. The Daily Telegraph writes:

“Was she a revolutionary fighter or was she a terrorist?” asks the actress. “I suppose that is up to the individual to decide. She is still alive and lives in Jordan. I have spoken to her on the phone and I would love to go meet her in person.”

Rouass has funding for the film. “There are very few times that you see the female side of these things and what drives a woman to do what she did,” adds the actress.

Khaled was part of a PLO plot to hijack five Western airplanes and use the hostages to gain the release of other imprisoned terrorists. The Dawson's Field hijacking destabilized Jordan; an estimated 3,000 Palestinians were killed when King Hussein ordered the army kick out the PLO and restore order in an event now known as Black September.

Who knew there was a "female side" to all that? In this post-9/11 world, I'd rather see a film about the real hero, Uri Bar-Lev. Not only did the cool-headed El Al captain foil Khaled, the lawfare angle to Bar-Lev's story is just as relevant today as the aviation security.


Wednesday, March 10 2010

March 10 Links

Israeli Faith in Iran's Opposition Gains Favor
Uri Lubrani's views on supporting opposition groups in Iran are gaining traction.

White Paper Should Tackle Terrorist TV
The time has come for Australia to ban Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV.

Go After Rachel Corrie's Real Killers
An open-letter to Craig and Cindy Corrie.

Clash of the Media Titans in Israel
"Israel has seen newspaper wars before, but this one is different, Israelis say, because it's clouding journalistic judgment and fueling sensationalism . . ."

Egypt to Pay for Restoration of All Synagogues
Farouk Hosny makes nice after UNESCO debacle.

Too Graphic?
Journalism wonks debate newsphotos from Haiti. The issue's more tangled than you think.

Iran Blocking Web Sites to Curb Anti-Government Activists
But US providing free software for e-mail, instant messaging and social networking. Is it too little, too late?


Tuesday, March 9 2010

Jerusalem on the Media Frontline

See HonestReporting's latest media critiques.

NY Times and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Taghreed_el_khodaryThe dust hasn't settled from Electronic Intifada's snit over Ethan Bronner. A few months ago, they accused the NY Times' Jerusalem bureau chief of having a conflict of interest because his son serves in the IDF. They sought to have Bronner re-assigned to another post.

But the fallout instead has forced out the Gray Lady's Gaza reporter, Taghreed El-Khodary. Not only can she no longer work from Gaza, it may no longer be safe for her to even return to the strip.

According to Daoud Kuttab:

When this controversy became public, Taghreed was away in the US on a training program and then a well deserved vacation, friends say. Her colleagues in Gaza have said that she decided not to return since because of obvious worry that her network of contacts would disappear and that she would have trouble writing or even moving around in Hamas controlled Gaza.

Anyone familiar with violent conflicts, like the one in Gaza, know how easy things can turn bad for a local journalists working for a publication who suddenly is in the limelight in a very negative way. El Khodary, who doesn't wear the traditional Islamic head dress even while covering events in Gaza, could have easily been the target of any hot headed Islamists who would use this case to score some points using her as a punching bag. She in known for her credibility and honesty in reporting -- no wonder she disappeared. Gaza is such a hard place to cover and it's a challenge to gain such credibility . Her colleagues say she is not stupid to let that go by working with a boss in Jerusalem who has a son in the Israeli army that might march into Gaza any day.

When Electronic Intifada first revealed that Bronner had a son serving in the IDF, the paper's public editor, Clark Hoyt quickly called for Bronner to be reassigned, but executive editor Bill Keller nixed the idea.

So Gaza press freedom takes another hit with an unintended assist from Electronic Intifada and Clark Hoyt.

Hamas has totally cowed press corps. The MSM is strangely silent about the fate of UK journalist Paul Martin, who is still detained by Hamas. I wonder what the public editor -- or Electronic Intifada for that matter -- has to say about Khodary.

'Snarky' Dubai Top Cop Losing Luster With Media

Dubai_cctvCNN's Paula Hancocks says Dubai's deliberately setting up a "drip feed" of info on the assassination to keep the MSM spotlight on Israel:

The drip feed of information from Dubai’s police chief has kept the assassination of a Hamas leader in his Dubai hotel room on the front pages for about a month and a half.

Every day, without fail, the newspapers in the United Arab Emirates reserve part of the front page for an update, an opinion – even the tiniest hint of fresh information.

This is likely the intention of Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan. By releasing a tidbit here and there, the story stays alive and the international spotlight stays on Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, which Khalfan says he is 100 percent sure is behind the hit.

In the long run, CNN adds, this "drip feed" only benefits the Mossad mystique.

So why is Dubai's top cop doing this? A few days ago, I argued that the Gulf state's ruling elites are more interested in drawing the world's attention away from its debt crisis. And videos linked to Mossad conspiracies real or imagined are the mother of all distractions.

This LA Times blog may be another indicator that the press is tiring of Tamim. An adjective like "snarky" is the tip-off:

Nearly two months after Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel room, Tamim continues to keep the story in the media by leaking new information, embarrassing details and even snarky comments about the disguises and physical condition of the alleged assassins, thought to be members of Israel's elite Mossad spy agency.

“The mistake they made was that even the disguise was primitive, the ’70s style . . . If they want a training course in disguise, we would be happy to oblige," Tamim said this past weekend of the 26 suspects seen in surveillance videos sporting fake beards and wigs.

I think "snarky" indicates that the reporter is too polite to ask the obvious question: Wouldn't the police chief's bravado be more credible if 26 27 amateuishly disguised assassins had been caught before they killed Mahmoud Mabhouh?


Monday, March 8 2010

Lessons From IDF 'Global Health Diplomacy' in Haiti

An Islamic doctor wonders why the Arab world's humanitarian gestures to Haiti paled in comparison to the IDF.

It's remarkably introspective and honest piece. Dr. Qanta Ahmed ties together a number of important points, including:

  • The IDF's logistical feats of setting up a field hospital so quickly.
  • The tragic death of Dr. David Applebaum, a pioneer in Israeli emergency medical response.
  • Saudi Arabia's experience with "semi-permanent health infrastructures" serving 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims annually
  • How Iran rejected Israeli aid after the 2004 earthquake in Bam.
  • The Arab custom of simply writing a fat check.

Dr. Qanta concludes:

We are in an age when selfless acts of Global Health Diplomacy maybe one of the few currencies remaining which can help unite an increasingly fractured, inflamed global landscape. The current climate prevailing towards Muslims and Islam particularly behooves us to act to the best of our ability in the service of others far beyond writing cheques or wiring money. We need to step beyond the limits of entrenched politics, generational hatreds and, thus freed, lend our vibrant imaginations, our diverse experience, our own raw power and pitch in alongside others, 'even' the IDF.

Read the whole article.


Sunday, March 7 2010

Rachel Corrie Died For This?

Is this what Rachel Corrie died for?

Gaza Women Denied Inheritance Rights By Hamas

The Green Prince Debunks a Big Media Myth

I'm very looking forward to reading Mosab Hassan Yousef's book, "Son of Hamas." Until I get my hands on a copy, I'm sufficing with interviews and reviews. The Wall St. Journal notes one important myth the "Green Prince" debunked.

Myth: The second intifada was a popular uprising sparked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September, 2000.

Fact: This WSJ snippet speaks for itself:

A few months before at Camp David, the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat had turned down the Israeli offer of statehood on 90% of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital. According to Mr. Yousef, Arafat decided he needed another uprising to win back international attention. So he sought out Hamas's support through Sheikh Yousef, writes his son, who accompanied him to Arafat's compound. Those meetings took place before the Palestinian authorities found a pretext for the second Intifada. It came when future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Mr. Yousef's account helps to set straight the historical record that the uprising was premeditated by Arafat.

Mr. Yousef tells me that he was horrified by the pointless violence unleashed by politicians willing to climb "on the shoulders of poor, religious people." He says Palestinians who heeded the call "were going like a cow to the slaughterhouse, and they thought they were going to heaven."

So Yousef confirms what Imad Falouji, the PA's minister of communication asserted in March, 2001. It wasn't widely reported, but he told Palestinian refugees in Lebanon:

"Whoever thinks that this [war] started as a result of Sharon's despicable visit to Al Aksa is in error. It was planned since Arafat's return from Camp David [where he] firmly stood up to Clinton and rejected the U.S. terms."

But don't take my word for it . . .

Imagine the Headlines If Israel Did This

This from Maan News:

Sources in Gaza reported the confiscation of Red Cross files, computers and equipment when de facto government forces broke into the organization's headquarters in Gaza City on Thursday.

The world condemns Israeli if an IDF soldier so much as sneezes in the direction of a Palestinian medical facility. Now that Hamas has raided the Red Cross HQ and carted off everything, I'd like to see some outrage from non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and their international donors.

It's no different than the terrible situation of Paul Martin. The British journalist is still in Hamas custody, but the news services and journalist organizations that should be screaming for one of their own are instead strangely silent.

Why the cowed silence when Hamas holds a journalist captive and literally takes everything from the Red Cross? Can you imagine the headlines if Israel did this?


Thursday, March 4 2010

Israel Apartheid Week Comes to Town
The insidious analogy returns to college campuses as part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel. See HonestReporting's latest communique: Israel Apartheid Week Comes to Town
The Other Dubai Assassination

Jackson Diehl wonders about the lack of fuss last time someone of note was murdered by foreign assassins in Dubai.

That "someone" was Sulim Yamadayev, a Chechen rebel commander. Diehl writes: 

To his credit, police chief Tamim tried to subject Russia to the same treatment he has given Israel. At a press conference last April, he named the author of the crime as Adam Delimkhanov, a Kadyrov associate who is a member of the Russian parliament, and said he would ask Interpol for his arrest. It is, he said, “Russia’s responsibility in front of the world to control these killers from Chechnya.”

The difference, of course, is that the audience for a story about a Russian-sponsored assassination in Dubai is nothing like that for an Israeli hit. Relatively few stories were written about the Yamadayev case; there were no angry editorials in the Financial Times. Perhaps it’s needless to say that Delimkhanov and the other suspects identified by Dubai have not been arrested or extradited. As Shmuel Rosner summed it up in a dispatch for Slate: “The consequences for the assassins? None at all. For the Chechen government? None. For the deputy prime minister? None. For Dubai-Russian relations? None.”

It could be that, in the end, Israel too will suffer little from Tamim’s offensive. It will certainly be interesting to see if Dubai, a would-be regional entrepot sinking under its own debt, begins pulling aside travelers at its airport who it deems to resemble Israelis. For now, it seems clear enough that, for whatever reason, stories about the Mossad’s skullduggery are much more interesting to the rest of the world than tales about the Russian FSB --- or Libya, for that matter.

When Yamadayev was gunned down in March, 2009, the Gulf state was rolling in money. Splashy press conferences drawing attention to the murder probably weren't in Dubai's interests.

But now, police chief Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim and the powers that be have an interest in keeping the media fixated on the Mossad and an ever-growing list of suspects. It's a great distraction from Dubai's debt crisis.

2 Radical Ways to Address Israel Apartheid Week

Iaw2010Here are two radical ways to address the ugliness of Israel Apartheid Week.

1) At the Toronto Sun, Lorrie Goldstein writes, tongue in cheek:

All we’d have to do is threaten to behead any university administrators who allowed such an insult to the Jewish state — and thus to Judaism and to our God — to take place on their campuses.

Our rabbis could issue a public death sentence against them, instructing Jews that killing these infidels would be a blessing, assuring them a place in heaven were they to die in the attempt.

2) Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote:

It is hard to see how organizing events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” on a university campus could help the cause of the Palestinians. Isn’t there already enough anti-Israel incitement that is being spewed out of Arab and Islamic media outlets? . . .

Instead of investing money and efforts in organizing Israel Apartheid Week, for example, the self-described “pro-Palestinians” could dispatch a delegation of teachers to Palestinian villages and refugee camps to teach young Palestinians English. Or they could send another delegation to the Gaza Strip to monitor human rights violations by the Hamas authorities and help Palestinian women confront Muslim fundamentalists who are trying to limit their role to cooking, raising children and looking after the needs of their husbands.

Here is an idea: Let’s substitute Israel Apartheid Week with Palestine Democracy Week, where Palestinians would be urged and encouraged to demand an end to financial corruption and bad government.

How bad has IAW gotten? We're at the point where the U. of Manitoba's Jewish students were advised to avoid campus, meaning skip classes. And one Jewish U. of Toronto alumnus returned his academic degrees in protest. But those are short-term moves.

Does anyone have other "big picture" ideas?

UPDATE March 4: Credit where credit is due: Brown U. student Roberta Goldman is on Toameh's wavelength.

Senior Journalist: I Spied For Mossad and Danish Military Intelligence

Herbert (Nahum) Pundik, a senior Danish journalist and former chief editor of Politiken, admitted he provided intelligence to the Mossad and to Danish military intelligence. Haaretz writes:

"I traveled all over Africa under the cover of [being] a journalist," said Pundik. "In general, where is the boundary between espionage and journalism? For example, I wrote a detailed analysis of the tribes in Somalia and their attitude toward political parties, I investigated the political situation in northern Nigeria. These were things that the newspaper was also interested in."

Is that intelligence work? the interviewer pressured him. "Yes, in large part it was intelligence work, and I did it on one condition, which I was glad was fulfilled, that my reports be transferred to Denmark as well. The late Peter Isloe, who was no. 2 in the Danish military intelligence, received copies of my reports from the Israelis."

Pundik moved to Israel in 1948 and has served in the Israeli army. He says his association with the Mossad didn't effect his impartiality, but the revelation touched off debates on journalism ethics in both Denmark and Israel.

Makes the recent fuss over NY Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner seem awfully silly.


Wednesday, March 3 2010

Dubai's Mossad Videos: The Mother of All Distractions


Is Dubai’s police chief playing the media like a fiddle? I don’t rule it out after reading this NY Times snippet:

For the moment, Dubai’s aggressive response has interrupted the steady stream of negative news coverage about the city’s continuing struggles with debt, and — perhaps not coincidentally — shifted attention to its crime-fighting prowess. That may partly reflect the priorities of Mr. Tamim, who has strong ties to the city’s ruler and enjoys greater latitude than almost any other public official here.

Mr. Tamim has complained in the past about the foreign news media. He also has a reputation as an Arab nationalist, more ardently opposed to Israel than many in this relatively apolitical, businesslike city. (Mr. Tamim declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Releasing YouTube videos supposedly linked to the Mossad is the mother of all distractions. They nicely overshadow headlines like this:

Dubai Debt Woes Dent Bank's Profits

Badgered in Wisconsin, Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged the outrage at the U. Wisconsin-Madison over a Holocaust denial ad placed in a student newspaper.

Join the discussion on Twitter at @yourvoiceuw. Jewish students are also organizing a campus rally today. See details on their Facebook page.

Conjecture vs. Fact Drives Vancouver Sun Reporting on Assassination

Despite a lack of evidence, sensationalized reporting drives the Vancouver Sun's coverage of Dubai.

See HonestReporting Canada's latest communique: Conjecture vs. Fact Drives Vancouver Sun Reporting on Assassination


Tuesday, March 2 2010

The Deafening Silence Over Paul Martin


Hamas extended the detention of British journalist Paul Martin by 15 days.

Unfortunate news, but hardly suprising. Hamas is waging a war on press freedom, to the point of dictating throwaway lines.

What is surprising is the media's silence on the affair. Martin's not a high-profile personality like Alan Johnston. But you'd think the UK news services that have used Martin's work over the years -- particularly the BBC -- would be more vociferous.

Tom Gross points out:

Paul Martin, who formerly lived in Cairo, has worked for a number of media over the years, including BBC TV and radio. Indeed he was last in Gaza six weeks ago on assignment for the BBC, and yet the almost complete silence of the BBC now on his fate is deafening. Contrast this to the near hourly mentions, day after day, week after week, by the BBC of their former Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston while he was held in Gaza in 2007.

One suspects that the BBC’s concern for Johnston was that he was “a BBC man through and through” (which included, naturally, demonstrating a deep sympathy for the Palestinian cause in his broadcasts) whereas Paul Martin, who now only works on a freelance basis for the BBC, has at least made some attempts to be critical of Hamas as well as of Israel. (When Johnston was released, he noticeably avoided thanking the government of Israel, who had tried to help in all kinds of ways to secure his release, but instead called Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus to personally thank him. See last item here and other items on Johnston here.)

You'd also think the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association would be hawkish over Martin's safety and the woeful state of press freedom in Gaza.

But the FPA has issued just one statement. Chairman Conny Mus is dealing with more important issues: Israel's new citizen diplomacy campaign.

Read the rest of Gross's dispatch.

Related reading: 3 Important Differences Between Paul Martin and Alan Johnston


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