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Monday, September 26, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Sunday, September 25.
1) They just don't make facts like they used to

Arthur Brisbane deals with a supposed conflict of interest between the New York Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner and a PR firm. (More background here.)
Mr. Bronner was pointed in arguing that the attack by Mr. Blumenthal, who writes critically of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians, was ideologically motivated and designed to discredit Mr. Bronner. Mr. Blumenthal’s piece may well have been influenced by an animus toward Mr. Bronner’s reportage for The Times. But the fact remains that the Lone Star engagement created a problem and stands as a reminder that The Times must be fastidiously independent, in reality and in appearance, or face attacks like this one.
In the end Brisbane's most damaging charge was that Bronner's actions constituted an "appearance of conflict of interest." I have sent a few e-mails to Brisbane about other issues. One was a story handled by Robert Mackey who used the New York Times to hone his anti-Israel credentials for future job opportunities. Mackey wrote about a case where an Arab man had presented himself as Jewish in order to seduce an Israeli woman. According to Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz the man was convicted of wanting "to be human." Mackey accepted Levy's allegation without reservation. So I wrote to Brisbane last September when Victor Shikhman and Yaacov Lozowick publicized the fact that the Levy's understanding of the case was misinformed. The basis for Levy's screed was that the Arab man had been convicted simply for lying, but Shikhman publicized that the charge of lying was the result of the plea deal. The full story was that he had, indeed, forcibly attacked the woman in question.
Back in July, Robert Mackey wrote about a story of "rape by deception" in Israel. Mackey's uptake - based on his history - is that the man would never have stood trial if he hadn't been an Arab. Please don't defend Mackey, he was still writing of Israel's culpability of the flotilla killings even after it was show that the Israeli soldiers were attacked first. His bias has been demonstrated.
Well, now, there's more information about the "rape by deception" case. Are you going to ask Mackey to revisit his story? Or are you going to explain to me that I don't understand what constitutes news and that I am incapable of understanding the news gathering process? If you're anything like your predecessors Clark Hoyt or Byron Calame, I'm sure that you will not prevail upon Mackey to retract. The only public editor the Times has employed since it started with any integrity was the first one Daniel Okrent.
I got no response and neither Mackey nor anyone else corrected the record. Maybe it was because of my rudeness. Later, in January of this year, I wrote about a number of factual errors I had encountered in recent months. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my e-mails. I had waited to write back until I had something more substantive. There are now four issues I'd like to bring up.
1) Last week, Isabel Kershner wrote about the result of a probe that faulted an Israeli soldier for the killing of an unarmed man. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/world/middleeast/20israel.html?partner=rss&emc=rss However there was the result of another probe that day. The probe of the death of the woman at the Bilin demonstration (which I wrote about to you previously). http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4016368,00.html The Israeli army found that she died of poor treatment at the hospital. Why didn't Ms. Kershner (or Mr. Bronner) report on this? The charge that Ms. abu-Rahma died of tear gas inhalation was suspect from the start as tear gas is non-lethal in the open air and there are no documented cases of someone dying as the witnesses claim she did. http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2011/01/lying-about-tear-gas-deaths-lisa.html (I also think that Ms. Kershner was incorrect in calling tear gas "toxic," it is an irritant. Water can be fatal if ingested in great quantities, but no one would call it toxic.) Since Robert Mackey wrote about Ms. abu-Rahma it also would be appropriate for him to write about the results of this investigation especially given the skeptical tone he employed in describing the IDF. (Note in the embedded video that Mr. Mackey included, how casual the protesters are while in proximity to the tear gas. If tear gas were ordinarily lethal wouldn't they be showing a bit more urgency in getting away from it?) 2) Over the weekend the result of a different inquiry - investigation into Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara - were released. Ms. Kershner's reporting was pretty good. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/world/middleeast/24mideast.html?partner=rss&emc=rss Still, I have some quibbles. In the third paragraph she writes:
The raid stirred international outrage and condemnation of Israel and its blockade of the Gaza Strip, and Israeli officials were hoping that the investigation would win the country at least some foreign support. But critics argued that the findings were a foregone conclusion.
Of course the same thing could be said about the international outrage; it was a foregone conclusion. Yet a Turkish journalist who was aboard the Mavi Marmara (and who was generally sympathetic to Hamas) confirmed the Israel version. http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/ipc_e130.htm True, Ms. Kershner at the end of the article observes:
Video images released at the time showed Israeli commandos being set upon as they rappelled from helicopters onto the ship’s deck. Some soldiers’ equipment was seized, and the commission found that two were shot during the melee, but it said it was unable to determine whether the I.H.H. activists had taken firearms on board.
Isn't this evidence that the Israeli version of the events is accurate and shouldn't it have been reported earlier in the story? Finally while this is probably out of your purview, Ms. Kershner reported:
Under intense pressure, Israel eased restrictions last summer on many goods going into Gaza through land crossings.
In recent weeks Israel has reportedly been hit by Kornet missiles. The easing of restrictions has apparently allowed more than just humanitarian goods go through. 3) In the past couple of days the "Palestine papers" have gotten a lot of attention. Your Jerusalem Bureau chief, Ethan Bronner wrote about them: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/world/middleeast/26mideast.html?partner=rss&emc=rss
Internal Palestinian documents leaked to Al Jazeera and published this week illustrate that dichotomy. The public Palestinian posture is that every inch of East Jerusalem that was taken must be yielded. In reality, Palestinian officials have acknowledged that much would stay part of Israel in exchange for land swaps elsewhere.
"In reality" is too broad a term. Perhaps these papers showing negotiating positions (rather than final positions) showed some Palestinian flexibility, but it is Jerusalem that Saeb Erekat said sunk the negotiations in 2008. http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/2074.htm
In November 2008… Let me finish… Olmert, who talked today about his proposal to Abu Mazen, offered the 1967 borders, but said: “We will take 6.5% of the West Bank, and give in return 5.8% from the 1948 lands, and the 0.7% will constitute the safe passage, and East Jerusalem will be the capital, but there is a problem with the Haram and with what they called the Holy Basin.” Abu Mazen too answered with defiance, saying: “I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places. This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign…
This is not some arcane point, a similar account was given to the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl two years ago by Mahmoud Abbas: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803614.html
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank -- though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees -- something no previous Israeli prime minister had done -- and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further. Abbas turned it down. "The gaps were wide," he said.
4) One last item has come to my attention. In the Counterpoint section of the IHT website, Daoud Kuttab wrote: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/opinion/25iht-edcounterpoint25.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=unitednations Palestine television, which falls under the president’s powers, was totally revamped and cleaned of anti-Israeli incitement. This just is not so. For example: http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=4483 Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch has been monitoring the official broadcasts for years. If you wish to contact him his e-mail is: itamar@palwatch.org Thank you very much for you time.
I received a very nice e-mail in return from an assistant to Mr. Brisbane. I was informed that they couldn't handle the fourth item because the IHT was out of their jurisdiction. But I was assured that Brisbane would address the Israeli Palestinian conflict shortly. And he did. Brisbane summed up his view like this:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in short, is the third rail of New York Times journalism. Touch it and burn.
Here's the problem, the public editor addressed an issue of an "appearance of a conflict of interest" but not documented factual errors. Blumenthal does have an animus towards Israel and isn't exactly the most truthful observer of Israel. But facts don't matter apparently, just appearances. And charges of bias at the New York Times won't be addressed unless the charge is made by someone sufficiently critically of Israel. Worse by publicly acknowledging that the anti-Israel activists have a point (this also happened last year when Ali Abumineh accused Bronner of a conflict of interest because his son was serving in the IDF) and putting its reporter on the spot, the New York Times leaves open the appearance of allowing activists to intimidate its reporters and editors. Again, that doesn't seem to bother Brisbane (or his predecessor Clark Hoyt.) One point that Brisbane brings up is that it is somehow problematic for Bronner to report a story "pitched" by the PR firm that he had dealings with. Is that really worse than uncritically reporting a story pitched by an activist group, like Breaking the Silence? Lastly, I have a lot of problems with Bronner's reporting. However, I'd acknowledge that he's better than most other New York Times reporters in recent years. Certainly he's better than Isabel Kershner and he's far superior to Joel Greenberg who now is the main Israel reporter for the Washington Post.

2) The do-over state

Israel Matzav and Elder of Ziyon note that Mahmoud Abbas's application for statehood references resolution 181 (not 242) from 1947. Consider CNN's coverage of the statehood application. (via memeorandum)
Israel has described the bid as counterproductive, and has called for an immediate resumption of talks to begin in New York and to be continued in Ramallah and Jerusalem. Negotiations broke down last year. And while a U.S. veto would block the bid for full U.N. membership, the General Assembly could still vote to upgrade the status of Palestinians, who currently hold the status of non-voting observer "entity."
Here's the New York Times with Palestinians Request U.N. Status; Powers Press for Talks (via memeorandum)
The submission of the bid for membership to the Security Council was the culmination of a months-long tangle involving Mr. Abbas, Israel and the United States. But the flurry of diplomatic activity on Friday underscored the reality that the request is just the beginning of an even more complicated diplomatic process at the United Nations. Whether the possibility of a vote at the Council will prompt a new round of peace talks after a long stalemate, whether the Palestinians have enough support to force a Council vote on their bid for membership and whether the United States ultimately will be forced to use its threatened veto of that bid, were all open questions, likely to be addressed over the next several weeks of jockeying and horse-trading. But for the Palestinians, it was a day of reckoning clearly relished by Mr. Abbas, who had long been considered to be a low-profile leader who has sought to avoid confrontation with Israel and the United States.
The Times quotes James Zogby:
James Zogby, an American pollster long involved in the peace negotiations, noted that virtually every attempt to forge a treaty since 1993 had included a deadline that expired without progress. “What we have done now for the last 20 plus years is engage people in an endless process,” he said. “As long as they were riding the bicycle it didn’t matter if it wasn’t going anywhere as long as it didn’t fall down.”
Zogby is also a Palestinian activist. Not as openly as his brother, as he needs to maintain deniability lest his polling business be compromised. To identify him simply as a "pollster" "involved in peace negotiations" gives him an authority he does not deserve. (And how is he involved in peace negotiations?) This is the New York Times, which wouldn't want its coverage compromised by appearances of conflicts of interests. Further as I noted last week, in the final weeks of 1995, Israel withdrew from significant portions of the West Bank ceding control of 90% of the Palestinians. Subsequently Arafat and Abbas both refused final status agreements. So yes the process has been endless, but Israel has made concrete concessions and the Palestinians haven't even given lip service to peace. Zogby's statement implies than outside intervention is necessary. But if Palestinian statehood is so important why did Abbas say no to Olmert? But I digress. Neither article mentions the contents of the application but focus strictly on the possible effects of the application. But if the content of application contradicts the premise of peace negotiations, isn't that significant? Charles Krauthammer in a column from 1999 explains what's going on:
In the course of that '48-'49 war, Israel fought back. The armistice lines of 1949 ending it created the current internationally recognized (pre-'67) Israel--an area larger than that outlined in 181. Hence Arafat's 181 ploy. Under 181, Israel would have to give up not just the '67 conquests (all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza) but large chunks of pre-'67 Israel proper in the Galilee and the Negev. Indeed, 181 would take not only East Jerusalem away from Israel, but West Jerusalem--entirely Jewish and always under Israeli control--as well. Before the Israeli elections, says Ehud Ya'ari (Middle East correspondent for Israel Television and an associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy), the Palestinians were preparing to go to the UN General Assembly to demand an explanation from Israel "on the measures it took illegally to extend its laws and regulations to the territory it occupied . . . beyond the territory allocated to the Jewish state in resolution 181." Now, this is worse than a non-starter. This is a peace stopper. It sabotages any possible coming negotiations. Arafat is making demands on Israel that he knows neither Ehud Barak nor the sweetest Israel dove (say, the hapless Shimon Peres) could ever contemplate.
And in an article from 1988, Krauthammer explained why Palestinian appeals to UN precedents should be treated with skepticism.
First, the PLO's "rejection of terrorism." The PLO has renounced terrorism dozens of times. It used the oldest PLO ploy on the subject, couching any apparent rejection of terrorism in the context of UN resolutions defining terrorism. Since these UN resolutions say national liberation movements have the right to "struggle" and "resistance," and since every act of butchery ever committed by the PLO has by (PLO) definition been an act of "struggle" and ''resistance," the PLO has therefore never engaged in terror. Nothing to renounce. The rhetorical rejection of terrorism at Algiers was thus both customary and empty. It was certainly not news. Moreover, even if you accept at face value the PLO's renunciation of terrorism, there remains an inconvenience: The PLO deliberately continued to sanction terrorism committed on Israeli territory. Only the PLO can declare that it forswears violence against all innocents except Jewish innocents on Jewish soil, and get credit for moderation.
By focusing on the diplomatic fallout of Abbas's gambit, CNN and the New York Times avoid dealing with its substance. The substance of the application is get a do-over for refusing 181 back in 1947 and to get international approval for continuing to deal in bad faith. Earlier this month when Abbas announced he was going forward with his application at the UN he said:
“Some Israelis complain that this is a unilateral move, but when you address 193 countries, that is not unilateral,” he said. “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.” “We don’t want to isolate Israel but to live with it in peace and security,” he also said. “We don’t want to delegitimize Israel. We want to legitimize ourselves.”
Falsely claiming that Palestinians have been under occupation for 63 years is indeed delegitimizing Israel (as Elder of Ziyon noted wryly he wasn't referring to Jordanian occupation) And if he wishes to legitimize himself he only needs to negotiation; not seek others to negotiate for him. And 63 years was no slip of the tongue; Abbas wants a do-over.

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