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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, April 10.
1) Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame had a reputation for being anti-Israel. Elder of Ziyon dug up a recording of his 1958 interview of Abba Eban that showed:
Wallace comes across as being hostile towards Israel's very existence.
CAMERA offered a critique of his career here. CAMERA has also reproduced a couple of David Bar Illan's columns criticizing Wallace, including his report on Syrian Jews in the 1970's.

In her dishonest recounting of the breakdown of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2000, Deborah Sontag of the New York Times wrote:
But Palestinians drove away from that dinner with something else on their minds -- Mr. Sharon's coming visit to what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews know as the Temple Mount. Mr. Arafat said in an interview that he huddled on the balcony with Mr. Barak and implored him to block Mr. Sharon's plans. But Mr. Barak's government perceived the planned visit by Mr. Sharon, then the opposition leader, as solely an internal Israeli political matter, specifically as an attempt to divert attention from the expected return to political life by a right-wing rival -- Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister.
In her debunking of Sontag article, blogger Lynn B. of In Context, identified the likely interview as being with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes". Wallace was known for having conducted 5 interviews with Yasser Arafat.

After Arafat died, Charlie Rose interviewed Wallace. During the interview Wallace stated that he learned that Arafat was a liar at about 13 minutes into the interview. At 13:20 Wallace seemingly mentions the claim about begging Barak not to allow Sharon to walk on the Temple Mount as an example of Arafat's dishonesty. Unfortunately he never followed through and changes the subject.

Though he sometimes used this to deflect from criticism that he was anti-Israel, Wallace mentioned on a number of occasions that he said Shema every night before going to bed.

2) The Islamist goodwill tour

Last week representatives of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Ennahda party came to Washington to reassure Americans of their benign intentions for their respective countries. The Washington Post commented at Two Islamist paths:
Both Islamic movements deserve some benefit of the doubt. They have won free and fair elections, sought to strike deals with secular opponents and are reaching out to Washington. The Obama administration has rightly responded by proposing $100 million in direct aid, as well as loan guarantees, for the Tunisian government. Wrongly in our view, it has renewed military and economic aid to Egypt even before the scheduled transition to a democratic government this summer.
Tunisia offers the more promising model. Election results notwithstanding, it seems clear that the vast majority of Egyptians as well as Tunisians seek economic progress and respect for human rights, and not a theocracy. Secular citizens and minorities, who make up a large part of the population, will not accept discrimination. Islamic movements will succeed in government, and retain their following, only if they recognize those realities.
My inclination is not to give either movement a benefit of the doubt. The editorial sounds more like its authors are trying to convince themselves of the moderation of the Islamists but not that they truly believe it themselves.

However, Barry Rubin observes:
Most dangerous is this sentence:
“Islamic movements will succeed in government, and retain their following, only if they recognize those realities.”
What nonsense. This implies that unless the Islamic movements become more moderate they will lose their supporters and fall from power. Have the editors of the Washington Post never heard of repression? Of using demagoguery and foreign adventures to mobilize the masses? Of the creative use of anti-Americanism and hatred for Israel and Jews? The monopolization of the media and other institutions to buy opportunists, intimidate potential dissidents, and rally hysterical support?
Eric Trager showed that the moderation displayed by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in Washington has been phony:
Thus, the Brotherhood presented a version of its politics very different from the one that would be familiar to Egyptians. For instance, when asked about the organization’s plan to sink Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel by putting it to a referendum—which multiple Brotherhood officials have called for quite publicly—Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party MP Abdel Mawgoud al-Dardery simply denied it. “No referendum at all concerning international obligations,” he told Ben Birnbaum of The Washington Times. “All our international agreements are respected by the Freedom and Justice Party, including Camp David.” Sondos Asem, editor of the English-language Brotherhood website Ikhwanweb, was only slightly less misleading. “We’ve reiterated our position towards both the treaty with Israel and all the treaties that have been signed by previous governments,” she said on CNN. “We are not willing to change any of these treaties unless if there is a massive popular will to change that.” Asem’s “unless” qualification seemingly went unnoticed, neatly buried under her pro-peace platitudes.
Trager also noted that the Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists (as well as Islamists from other Arab countries) were in the States under the aegis of the Carnegie Endowment of Peace. It isn't clear if the representatives of Eygpt's Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Ennahda Party met with the Washington Post's editors separately. Here is how Carnegie describes its role:
Carnegie’s experts in Washington and Beirut draw on a deep understanding of the Arab world to provide detailed political analysis and recommendations, with particular expertise in Islamist participation in pluralist politics throughout the region.
It seems that Carnegie views its goal as convincing the West of the benign (or "pluralist") intentions of Islamist parties in the Middle East. Despite the likely efforts of Carnegie to get the Islamists to speak the language of political moderation, it seems that the editors of the Washington Post are hopeful but still uneasy about the development.

3) Cutting down Grass's poem

The New York Times reported Israel Bars German Laureate Grass Over Poem:
Tom Segev, an Israeli historian and columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, wrote an article criticizing the poem but opposed the decision to bar Mr. Grass from entering Israel. “It’s very unpleasant because it moves us in the direction of countries like Iran and Syria that apparently give out entry permits according to people’s political views,” Mr. Segev said.
Mr. Grass’ best-known novel, published in 1959, is “The Tin Drum,” a stirring allegorical exploration of the rise of Nazism in Germany and Poland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999; the Nobel committee described “The Tin Drum” as a new beginning for German literature “after decades of linguistic and moral destruction.”
Mr. Grass has also shown a willingness time and again to enter the arena of politics, where he campaigned for the left-leaning Social Democrats. He has also long sought to act as a national conscience for the Germans over their Nazi past. When he revealed in 2006 that he had been a Nazi soldier at the end of World War II, something he had kept hidden for decades, he was accused of hypocrisy.
Grass's hiding his Nazi ties while acting as a "national conscience" for Germany is hypocrisy. Accusations really are unnecessary. To a large degree the article tries to minimize Grass's violation of decency and present his views as something debatable.

But it's not as bad as what the Times did a few days ago in its Arts Beat section. In Günter Grass’s Poem About Israel Provokes Intense Criticism, the reporters write:
Denouncing the poem on the front page of another German newspaper, Die Welt, Henryk M. Broder, the author of “A Jew in the New Germany,” called Mr. Grass, “the prototype of the educated anti-Semite who means well toward Jews. He is hounded by guilt and feelings of shame but at the same time driven to reconcile history.” (Mr. Broder’s article also incorrectly stated that the poem would also be published in The New York Times.)
Isn't it great, the New York Times is insisting on accuracy! One of Grass's critics made a mistake. What's disturbing is that this article also claims:
The poem, which also expressed Mr. Grass’s basic solidarity with Israel, prompted an immediate outcry in a country whose relationship with Israel is complex, defined by many red lines drawn partly by inhibitions and guilt and partly by an acute awareness of the Holocaust, which is taught to every German schoolchild. The Central Council of Jews in Germany called it an “aggressive pamphlet of agitation.” The Israeli Embassy in Berlin issued a statement accusing Mr. Grass of propagating old-fashioned blood libel.
Jeffrey Herf analyzes the poem in The Odious Musings of Gunter Grass. (h/t Mr. Moe)

Herf summarizes the themes of the poem:
Grass wrote that “my origin” in Germany is “laden with a never to be overcome burden,” namely the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, and that he had therefore been “silent” about the policies of Israel, “a country to which I am bound and will remain bound.” But, Grass explained, he was now willing to break that silence and say that the “nuclear power Israel” threatens world peace—because if he waited any longer to speak out “it could be too late.” Suggesting that Israel was contemplating a “first strike” with nuclear weapons against Iran—which “could extinguish the Iranian people”—and that a submarine which Israel had received, or will receive, from Germany would be used for such a first strike, Grass said that Germany could be “deliverer of a crime” and would thus share in the guilt of this possible crime. He criticized the German government for providing the submarine, “whose specialty consists in the ability to deliver all-annihilating warheads to a country in which the existence of even a single atom bomb remains unproven.”
To the reporters at the New York Times, one line ("a country to which I am bound and will remain bound") constitutes "solidarity," despite the overall viciousness of the poem accusing Israel of planning a first nuclear strike against Iran and absurdly claiming that criticizing Israel automatically gets one branded an "antisemite." Perversely, the reporters for the New York Times point out an irrelevant mistake made by one of Grass's critics but take an obviously insincere statement and use it to give the benefit of doubt to a one time Nazi soldier.

In contrast to the New York Times, Herf mows down Grass's arguments:
The poem is, to put it bluntly, morally obtuse and politically embarrassing. Having reversed the arrows of causation, Grass says nothing about the hatred of Israel that the Iranian regime has publicly expressed since 1979, about its specific threats to “wipe it off the map” in the past decade, or the vicious Jew-hatred that is a steady diet of its propaganda. Apparently he has not read the most recent reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency that confirm Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. Nor does Grass understand that the purpose of missile-carrying submarines is to ensure the credibility of a second strike should Iran or any other power attack Israel first. These submarines are essential for a stable system of deterrence. No Israeli leader has spoken about delivering a first strike with nuclear weapons that would “extinguish” the Iranian people. All of this comes from a man who was “silent” for five decades of his very successful literary career about the fact that as a young man he was a member of the Waffen SS at the end of World War II.
The idea, put forward by Grass, that there is a taboo in German intellectual and political life about criticizing Israel and its policies has been a favorite theme of Israel’s critics since the 1960s. But the taboo does not exist. There has been no silence in Germany, especially in such places as Der Spiegel or the Süddeutsche Zeitung, not to mention among intellectual and political forces to their left, for many decades. On the contrary, hostility to both Israel and the United States, and the view that these two countries are the major threat to world peace, became embedded in the German left-wing and left-liberal mainstream many decades ago. In this sense, Grass’s diatribe is part of a long established conventional wisdom. It takes neither courage nor intelligence to run with the mob. Grass’s poem seeks to make the mob yell even louder.
4) Silence on virtue in the Middle East

In The Other Arab Spring, Thomas Friedman wrote:
If you ask “what are the real threats to our security today,” said Brown, “at the top of the list would be climate change, population growth, water shortages, rising food prices and the number of failing states in the world. As that list grows, how many failed states before we have a failing global civilization, and everything begins to unravel?”
Hopefully, we won’t go there. But, then, we should all remember that quote attributed to Leon Trotsky: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Well, you may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you.
Folks, this is not a hoax. We and the Arabs need to figure out — and fast — more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats where we can and to build greater resiliency against those where we can’t. Twenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about.
Actually there is someone doing or willing to do something about these issues. Israel.
Surging population growth and overpumping of ground water has caused the aquifer to drop alarmingly, causing a rise in salinity from the sea.
"In Gaza, they have been responsible in its entirety for the underground aquifer since 1994," Landau said. "It is totally destroyed. That's why desalination for Gaza is highly important."
...
"Our expertise is available to all of our friends, including some of those who don't accept us there, which is the Palestinians. We would like to see their projects going on. They however say they want to take care of their own needs, which is fine with us."
More likely Hamas will refuse to do anything so it claim a crisis (of Israel's making).

Ten years ago Friedman made a big deal about the so-called Arab Peace Initiative. If only Israel would be reasonable regarding the Palestinians, the Arab world would deign to normalize relations with Israel. Friedman essentially justified the Arab boycott of Israel due to the Arab League's righteous indignation over the Palestinians.

Of course the indignation wasn't righteous but cynical. The Arab world wouldn't even deal with Israel for its own benefit! Israel could provide much help to the Arab world especially regarding the environment and agriculture. But they would rather maintain their grievances against Israel than help their own people.

Friedman's silence on this possibility again demonstrates his phoniness. Instead of encouraging the Arab world to seek greater Israel's assistance, he is silent. Israeli help will not solve all of the environmental problems Friedman's concerned about, but it would be able to alleviate them. He is content for enmity to persist and for people to suffer as a consequence.
I posted and commented on that Mike Wallace interview with Abba Eban here.

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