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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, November 1.
1) New York Times Mideast Op-ed Index, October, 2011

A) Democracy and its discontents - Geoffrey Wheatcroft, October 3, 2011
Then turn to the other grave crisis, in the Middle East, also haunted by the specter of democracy. Maybe a “peace process” could have been concluded between despotic Arab states and an Israeli dictator. Instead, the rulers of all countries concerned are the prisoners of popular sentiment. Even if Benjamin Netanyahu were himself less intransigent, and even if he were acting in complete good faith (something of which not everyone is convinced), he is hemmed in politically when it comes to make any concessions, even a halt to settlement building, without which any further progress is impossible. The challenge doesn’t come so much from the opposition parties in the Knesset as from Netanyahu’s coalition partners. His foreign minister is Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant, and a man reminiscent of that tsarist interior minister of whom it was said that the only thing further to the right of him was the wall. Lieberman will fight against the smallest compromises with the Palestinians — and he is, after all, a democratically elected member of the Knesset. So is the U.S. Congress, which repetitiously affirms its unswerving support for any and every Israeli action. The Republicans now vying for next year’s nomination are trying to win the highest office of all by frantically competing as to which can offer the most ardent support for Israel.
I hadn't noticed this article before. It is half about Israel. What's in the three paragraphs above? Israel's electoral system is what prevents peace in the Middle East. Never mind for a moment that Avigdor Lieberman whatever one thinks of him is actually on the record as supporting territorial compromise. Then an implicit charge that Jews (or at least pro-Israel Jews) influence Congress to prevent peace in the Middle East. This is an unhinged anti-Israel rant, not an op-ed

Current scores: Anti-Israel - 1 / Pro-Israel - 0

B) Is Israel its own worst Enemy - Nicholas Kristof, October 5, 2011

Kristof's column evokes Thomas Friedman and, before him, Anthony Lewis. The tone in the column is the famous "I write this more in sorrow than in anger."
That’s what democracy means: people have the right to vote on the government that controls their lives. Some of my Israeli friends will think I’m unfair and harsh, applying double standards by focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region. Fair enough: I plead guilty. I apply higher standards to a close American ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of American aid. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk — or drive a diplomatic course that leaves their nation veering away from any hope of peace. Today, Israel’s leaders sometimes seem to be that country’s worst enemies, and it’s an act of friendship to point that out.
It's friendly to offer constructive criticism. To engage in this sort of uninformed slander is not an act of friendship. Israel has made substantial and concrete contributions to the cause of peace over the past 18 years; even now moderate Palestinian leaders celebrate terrorism. This op-ed is not the act of a friend.

Current scores - Anti-Israel 2 / Pro-Israel 0

C) Mideast Power and Confusion - Rami Khouri, October 11, 2011
This is just one example of how the strongest power in the world also may be the weakest power in the Middle East, despite its armed forces fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The isolation of the American and Israeli delegations at the U.N. reflects a wider reality. Across the region, most people and governments see American policies as being contrary or even hostile to their wellbeing. This will continue to be highlighted by the Palestinian move at the U.N. in the months ahead.
This op-ed is correct in that it identifies America's lack of influence in the Middle East. It is wrong in ascribing this mostly to America's support for Israel.

Current Scores - Anti-Israel - 3 / Pro-Israel - 0

D) Gilad Shalit's release - Editorial, October 18, 2011

This editorial is notable for its absolute classlessness and cynicism. The central question of the editorial is this:
One has to ask: If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas — which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and, on Tuesday, vowed to take even more hostages — why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank?
Of course dealing with Hamas in this case was a limited deal with a specific goal in mind. However, it is well documented that it is the PA that is continually adding preconditions to return to negotiations. So blaming Israel is based on willful ignorance.

Current Scores - Anti-Israel - 4 / Pro-Israel - 0

E) Saving Shalit, Encouraging Terror - Walter Reich, October 18, 2011
Clearly, the Israeli leaders and officials who approved the exchange were willing to pay a high price to maintain Israel’s sense of solidarity. They want Israeli parents to feel reassured that the government will do all it can to save their captured sons and daughters. And Israeli soldiers are presumably more ready to go into battle if they know that. Yet, Israel’s leaders should have listened to their heads, painful though it would have been. The consequences of past prisoner releases should have convinced them that the exchange would almost surely prove, in the long run, the more costly choice. In the past three decades, according to one estimate, Israel has released about 7,000 Arab prisoners in exchange for about 16 Israelis and the bodies of 10 more.
Though this is critical of the decision made by the Israeli government it contains none of the phoniness of the editorial. The feelings here are sincere.

Current Score - Anti-Israel - 4 / Pro-Israel - 1

F) Dealing with the Enemy - Uri Dromi, October 20, 2011
With a bold move, Netanyahu can have a dramatic impact on the Gaza situation, and indeed on the whole Middle East. He can propose to ease the blockade on Gaza and to look favorably at any measure that would make life easier there. In exchange, Hamas would commit itself to a 10-year hudna (truce) — a well established notion in Islamic tradition. The Egyptians would surely love to broker such a deal, which would enhance their position as well. And, finally, this would resonate well with the spirit of progress driving the Arab Spring. This is not a recycling of Shimon Peres’ naïve vision of a “New Middle East” from the 1990s, but rather a down-to-earth idea that can address the basic needs of the people here: an economic horizon for the people in Gaza; security for the Israelis.
I believe this view is naive and I haven't been impressed with other articles written by Dromi. However there is nothing in this article that shows hostility towards Israel.

Current scores - Anti-Israel - 4 / Pro-Israel 2

G) Israel's Occupational Burdens - Ronald Krebs, October 25, 2011
First and foremost, the ongoing occupation has fueled an aggressive ethno-religious nationalism that has become increasingly prominent since the second intifada. This is happening mostly because Israelis have grown despondent over the prospects for peace: They believe Israel has tried everything to end the conflict and has been repaid only with terrorism, obstruction and global opprobrium. Israelis have not felt this alone and embattled for a generation. The country’s abiding sense of anxiety has advanced the fortunes of, among others, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his stridently nationalist party, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home). Together with allies in the right-wing Likud and the purportedly moderate Kadima, members of Yisrael Beitenu have attempted to silence Israeli NGOs focused on human rights and civil liberties. They have passed laws that seek to restrict Israeli citizens’ right to protest the occupation by boycotts. And they have the independence of the Supreme Court in their sights too. Israel’s bulwarks against the forces of illiberal nationalism are crumbling.
Amazingly the New York Times felt it didn't have enough hostile articles this month and adapted this one from Foreign Affairs. The author knows nothing about Israeli politics and simply one more "Democracy in Israel is dying because I don't agree with its policies" screed. I do Krebs credit for observing, "They believe Israel has tried everything to end the conflict and has been repaid only with terrorism, obstruction and global opprobrium." This observation is correct and anyone objective would recognize it as the truth. To Krebs, though, only Israelis feel this way.

Current Scores - Anti-Israel - 5 / Pro-Israel 2

H) Israel and the Apartheid Slander - Richard Goldstone, October 30, 2011
In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment. To be sure, there is more de facto separation between Jewish and Arab populations than Israelis should accept. Much of it is chosen by the communities themselves. Some results from discrimination. But it is not apartheid, which consciously enshrines separation as an ideal. In Israel, equal rights are the law, the aspiration and the ideal; inequities are often successfully challenged in court. The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.
Judge Goldstone continues his makeover. A few months ago he admitted that whether Israel committed war crimes during Cast Lead wasn't settled. Now he takes aim at the Russell Tribunal, which he accuses of throwing around the charge of "apartheid" unfairly. Furthermore he writes:
Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.
Goldstone has not undone the damage of the commission that bears his name but I'm glad that he's written this rebuttal of some of the more pernicious libels regarding Israel. Others have noted his change of heart.

Current Scores: Anti-Israel - 5 / Pro-Israel - 3

I) In Israel Press Freedom in Under Attack - Didi Reimer, October 31, 2011

I probably should have realized this was coming, as yesterday's article about rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza ended with this:
The judges said the soldier, Anat Kam, 24, who served in the office of the commander of the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, had acted mainly out of ideological motives. The editor in chief of Haaretz at the time, Dov Alfon, said last year that all the articles in question were sent to Israel’s military censor and received full permission for publication.
When the story was originally in the news, Yaacov Lozowick explained:
Much has been made about the fact that the story was submitted to the censor, so it must have been OK. This is dishonest, as the purveyors of the line know perfectly well but their gullible audience may not. It could perhaps have been true back in the 1960s, when the censor had teeth and was active. Ever since then, however, the powers of the censor have been whittled away, by technology, by public pressure, by reality. Nowadays the censor blocks stories with the potential to cause harm to life in clearly identified ways, but that's about it. A story in November 2008 about a discussion between officers in 2006 about an event which has long since passed won't be blocked by the censor.
But of course this is the central theme of Reimer's accusation.
Ms. Kamm and Mr. Blau operated by the unwritten code of conduct that has enabled the Israeli press to monitor at least some aspects of the country’s powerful security establishment for the past 63 years. Ms. Kamm did not leak her secrets to an enemy, or even to a foreign journalist. She gave the documents to a fellow Israeli, who consulted his editors, and submitted his article to the military censor, who gave him the go-ahead. On Sunday, we learned that this code of conduct no longer applies. Despite the steps Ms. Kamm and Mr. Blau took, the Israeli government has labored over the past year to portray Ms. Kamm as an enemy, initially charging her with espionage. Israel’s largest newspapers jingoistically referred to her as “the soldier spy,” rushing to sensationalize the case at the expense of their own vital interest in press freedom.
This is a highly romanticized account of the incident. Yaacov Lozowick tells us more. First of all, Reimer's central premise is wrong. There was no wrongdoing.
Haaretz republished most of Blau's story over the weekend, to remind us that the real culprits are the generals who are not behaving correctly. In brief, the High Court of Justice ordered that Palestinian terrorists not be assassinated in cases where they can be arrested; Kamm's documents seemed to be saying the generals were disregarding this order. Since Haaretz was so helpful as to re-publish the story, I feel confident in saying it isn't convincing. The documents they cite seem to be saying that the terrorists must be arrested, but if the choice is between letting them get away or killing them, they should be killed. In other words, precisely what the High Court said. There was also mention of the fact that should there be a need to fire at the terrorists, this would be permissible even if there was one single unidentified individual with them - but not two, say, or four. We know that in the invasion of Iraq the Americans were allowed to assassinate identified enemies along with up to 29 civilians - so the documents Kamm stole seem to prove the opposite of what Uri Blau said they proved. So Kamm wasn't a whistle-blower, and Blau wasn't uncovering an uncomfortable truth the IDF needed to hide.
Since Haaretz had so helpfully shown the stolen documents, the counter-espionage officials came to talk with Blau. Had he been anything other than a journalist, he'd have been summarily arrested and facing many years of jail. But since he's a journalist, and democracy needs journalists to be able to act freely, he wasn't arrested. A deal was cut with him and he agreed to give back the stolen documents, so that they'd never reach someone more dangerous than Haaretz. Blau returned 50 documents. When the investigators found Kamm independently of him, she told them there had been 2000 documents, not 50. The went back to Blau and his newspaper to retrieve the other 1950 documents, but he absconded, and his lawyers - who are the lawyers of Haaretz - have refused to return the documents.
There is nothing remotely honorable about Anat Kamm or Uri Blau. Those who do what Kamm did are arrested. Using this incident as a means to condemn Israel is beneath contempt, especially for someone who writes for an online publication that routinely demonizes Israel with impunity.

Final Score - Anti-israel - 6 / Pro-Israel - 3

This is much different from last month's results. With the PA's efforts at the UN in the news, there were many more opinion pieces about Israel in September. Unfortunately many of them were defending the Palestinian efforts to subvert the peace process. (From what I've seen in the past, I'd expect the anti-Israel articles to outnumber the pro-Israel ones by a ratio of 3 or 4 to 1. So September's results were disproportionately bad, and Octobers were surprisingly good.)
About the methodology: I searched the New York Times website for opinion articles about Israel for the month of October, 2011. I didn't include letters to the editor and didn't include articles that were not substantially about Israel. Even though the Walter Reich article did not appear in the search, I remembered it and included it in this survey. This is much different from last month's results. With the PA's efforts at the UN in the news, there were many more opinion pieces about Israel in September. Unfortunately many of them were defending the Palestinian efforts to subvert the peace process.

2) "Lesser Terrorists"

A columnist for Hurriyet Daily News, Burak Bekdil, writes in "Recalling terrorists and 'lesser terrorists':"
Why, really, do the Turks get offended when Kurds mourn the dead PKK men and declare them as their martyrs, like they do for “Chechen or Palestinian freedom fighters?” Is there no upper limit to this international theater of unpleasant hypocrisy? Lost in such childish thoughts and reading the hero’s welcome for the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Mr. Shalit, I recalled one man, Samir Kuntar, who had been released in 2008 in exchange for the body of Ehud Goldwasser, one of the three Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006. Today Mr. Kuntar is a hero among Palestinians, other Arabs and possibly some Turks too. What had made him a hero? He had killed an Israeli man in front of the man’s 4-year-old daughter and then killed the daughter by bashing her head with his rifle. Hence, a hero Mr. Kuntar is. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also a friend and brother of Mr. Erdoğan, gave Mr. Kuntar a medal for “supporting the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance.”
This punctures the aphorism, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Bekdil takes this a step further in Part II of his essay:
I am curious to know whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would think the assortment of bombings and killings would qualify these “strugglers” as terrorists. Or perhaps there is not a good reason to be curious about this since earlier this year Mr. Erdoğan said that “calling Hamas [members] terrorists would be disrespectful to the will of the Palestinians.” I shall all the same keep on reminding the prime minister and the foreign minister that if Kuntar or al-Bass or Muna are not terrorists, no PKK member could or should be considered a terrorist.
In the West reporters are loath to use the word "terrorist," preferring the neutral "militant." But here's a man in Turkey, who probably at some risk to his personal freedom, is willing to call terrorists what they are.

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