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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, March 13.
1) Being a reporter means never having to say you're sorry The New York Times has reported on the UN report that raised doubts about the death of Omar Masharawi.
Isabel Kershner wrote U.N. Ties Gaza Baby’s Death to Palestinians:

Paul Danahar, the BBC Middle East bureau chief, wrote on his Twitter account that an Israeli shell had come through the roof of the small Gaza home. Mr. Danahar visited his grieving colleague there on Nov. 15 and posted a photograph of a roundish hole in the roof of a burned-out room.
But a March 6 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the eight-day conflict, which ended with a cease-fire, stated that three people in the home — Omar, a woman and an 18-year-old youth — were most likely the victims of “what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”
The circumstances of those deaths are likely to remain in dispute. Israel’s military has not determined whether it hit the house or not, saying it does not have clear information about what happened. The BBC has reported that privately, military officials told journalists at the time that Israel had aimed at a militant who was hiding in the building.
There are a few things here. Kershner reports about the "roundish hole." If that is the damage caused by Israeli mortars then there's a basis for claiming that it was Israel who fired. That's one of the points that Elder of Ziyon addressed originally. At the time he first wrote about this incident, an expert he had consulted observed that an Israeli round would have destroyed the home. None of the followups in the mainstream media have bothered to address this point. Writing that the facts of the case are "likely to remain in dispute" is a cop out. There are observations that could clarify what happened for those who want to make them.
Also Kershner mentions the BBC's role in publicizing the event. I believe that if it had been known that it was a Hamas rocket that had hit the house, the death of Omar Masharawi would not have been news. But another factor driving the story was the team effort of the BBC to make sure that the story was publicized. BBC Watch has more on this angle.
Anti-Israel activist, Robert Mackey, writing at the Lede blog at the New York Times addressed the story in U.N. Report Reframes Debate Over Image of a Father’s Agony in Gaza:
Despite this lack of clarity, pro-Israel bloggers treated the United Nations report as definitive and immediately pressed the BBC and other news organizations to apologize for publishing a photograph of the bombed-out Masharawi home taken by a colleague of the boy’s father who wrote on Twitter that the damage was caused by “an Israeli shell.”
In response, at least one pro-Palestinian blogger noted that the single sentence in the United Nations report on the family includes an obvious factual error. The report said the bombing killed “a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult.” In fact, the child’s mother was present at his funeral the next day. As Jihad Masharawi explained on the night of the bombing, in a wrenching interview with the BBC while cradling his dead son in his arms, the explosion had killed his sister-in-law and badly wounded his brother.
Why did Mackey bring up the error? Max Fisher had noticed it too, but confirmed that the U.N. report indeed was about the same incident. It is typical of Mackey to bring up irrelevant points to dispute Israeli claims.
Jonathan Tobin summed up the (media's) story in two paragraphs Don’t Let Facts Hinder Israel-Bashing:
This is a terrible tragedy that has all too often been aided and abetted by an international media eager to use shocking pictures and videos meant to depict Israeli atrocities to put forward a skewed version of what has happened in Gaza.
In this case, just as with the celebrated case of Mohammed al-Durrah–the picture of whose death in his father’s arms after supposedly being shot by Israelis at the beginning of the second intifada became a rallying point for Palestinians–the fictional narrative of Palestinian victimhood trumped the facts. Even after the story was conclusively debunked, the image of the dying child remains an icon of the campaign to defame Israel.
Similarly, Walter Russell Mead writes in Did the Palestinians murder Baby Omar? (h/t Petra Marquardt-Bigman)
After a century of effort, Palestinians remain feeble and divided in the realms of political and military action, but they are extremely good at calling attention to their suffering and creating sympathy for their cause. In this realm they can turn Israel’s strength and power against the Jewish state by highlighting their status as underdogs and attacking superior Israeli military capabilities for responding “disproportionately” to their derisory military force.
Israel has developed no effective counter to this Palestinian tactic and continues to exist in a situation in which Israel wins all or virtually all of the military contests, but the Palestinians convert their own military defeats into moral capital. Neither side finds this situation satisfactory, but neither side is able to do anything about it.
As Mead notes, without an international community willing to abet the spread of Palestinian propaganda, the claims of victimhood wouldn't resonate.
Unfortunately, neither Tobin nor Mead credited Elder of Ziyon with bringing the matter to light. However poorly the mainstream media has dealt with the UN report, they likely wouldn't have even mentioned it if Elder of Ziyon hadn't publicized it.
Yesterday, Elder of Ziyoun provided a partial list of Palestinians killed by Hamas rockets.
The Mishrawi case is hardly unique. Unless you read the mainstream media that couldn't quite figure out that many Gaza rockets fall short.
...
The question is, why can the members of the media not figure out that they are often being lied to, especially when it comes to civilian casualties? Especially when it comes from officials in a territory that can hardly be described as a bastion of free speech and transparency?
The only conclusion is that journalists' ability to think critically is impaired when they have a preconceived idea of who is right and wrong. They take all evidence - even from proven liars, like Gaza's Health Ministry - as proof their ideas were right to begin with. Israeli denials, even though they have been proven to be correct time and time again, are instead treated with the skepticism that is missing when listening to Gaza officials.
Simply put, in the Masharawi case, the mainstream media, led by the BBC, ignored the non-trivial possibility that the house had been hit by a Hamas rocket and simply focused on the one guilty party they were conditioned to suspect. It's worth recalling one of Max Fisher's tweets.
.@max_fisher A real reporter would ask the UN. Oh, wait: one did .freebeacon.com/u-n-hamas-rock… MT "not sure UN report is talking about Mishrawi"
— ElderOfZiyon (@elderofziyon) March 11, 2013
Notice how he uses "pro-Israel" to qualify those who asked him to follow up. Why wasn't the issue accuracy?
No one in the mainstream media asked the most important questions. The witnesses gave very dramatic and specific descriptions of the explosion. Yet not a single reporter asked a demolitions expert if the explosions and damage were consistent with an Israeli shell. There don't appear to have been any aircraft seen in the area at the time, either. Fisher's implicit dismissal of his critics betrays a disturbing truth: reporting has gotten so bad, it is pro-Israel advocates who are the biggest sticklers for accuracy.

2) Mr. Friedman repeats himself

In Mr. Obama goes to Israel, Thomas Friedman writes:
For all these reasons, Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.
Good news for Israel, right? Wrong. While there may be fewer reasons for the U.S. to take risks to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is still a powerful reason for Israel to do so. The status quo today may be tolerable for Israel, but it is not healthy. And more status quo means continued Israeli settlements in, and tacit annexation of, the West Bank. That’s why I think the most important thing Obama could do on his trip is to publicly and privately ask every Israeli official he meets these questions:
“Please tell me how your relentless settlement drive in the West Bank does not end up with Israel embedded there — forever ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with a colonial-like administration that can only undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy and delegitimize Israel in the world community? I understand why Palestinian dysfunction and the Arab awakening make you wary, but still. Shouldn’t you be constantly testing and testing whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace? After all, you have a huge interest in trying to midwife a decent West Bank Palestinian state that is modern, multireligious and pro-Western — a totally different model from the Muslim Brotherhood variants around you. Everyone is focused on me and what will I do. But, as a friend, I just want to know one thing: What is your long-term strategy? Do you even have one?”
Israel is not ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians and as David Bernstein recently noted No, Arabs Living Under Israeli Control are Not Going to Outnumber Jews Any Time Soon. (Bernstein implicitly accepts the claim that Israel does control the Arabs in the West Bank. That hasn't been true since late 1995.)
The words Friedman puts into President Obama's mouth, are Friedman's words. He believes against all evidence that Israel will soon be an illegitimate state. Friedman, though, presented an argument why Israel shouldn't make any more concessions. Earlier he wrote:
Finally, while America’s need to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace has never been lower, the obstacles have never been higher: Israel has now implanted 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, and the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza have seriously eroded the appetite of the Israeli silent majority to withdraw from the West Bank, since one puny rocket alone from there could close Israel’s international airport in Lod.
Forget about a "puny rocket." If Hamas would take over the West Bank all of Israel would be subject to threat that southern Israel had been subjected to until this past November (and could well be threatened with again). Why does Friedman so casually dismiss his own argument?

3) How is this pro-peace?
J-Street has a campaign in advance of President Obama's visit to Israel:
So we're asking you - when the President is at the Kotel, what should his note say? The President says he is taking a listening tour - we need to make sure he hears from us.
We'll be delivering your prayers to the consulate in Jerusalem as soon as the President arrives in Israel, so for the rest of his trip he knows the American Jewish community has his back while pursuing peace in the region.
But wait! Hamas: ‘Declaration Of War’ If Obama Visits Temple Mount. (h/t The Israel Link) J-Street claims to be pro-Israel and pro-peace. If they're really "pro-peace" how can they encourage President Obama to commit the provocative act of going to the Kotel?

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