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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, December 21.
1) Tom "recants"

Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week interviewed Thomas Friedman, about his "Israeli lobby" comment. (h/t Challah Hu Akbar)
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told The Jewish Week Tuesday that the wording of a memorable phrase in his Dec. 13 column (“Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir”) may have been inexact when he wrote that the standing ovation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received in Congress this year “was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”
I took a quick look at Stephen Walt's praise of Friedman; he didn't focus on the verbs but on the term "Israel Lobby" and its influence. If Friedman had said that he wished he used "AIPAC" instead of "Israel Lobby," he might have an argument, but here he's just being dishonest. His argument is that Israel's influence is too strong - about that he's also wrong.

Israel's support in America comes from a belief Israel is an embattled ally with similar values. Or as Martin Kramer put it:
I agree that Israel gets its way in America because of a five-letter word that contains an L and two B's. But it's not the Lobby. It's the Bible.
In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Friedman tells a story that was related to him by Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu had just appeared on television with an Arab ambassador. One of the crew told Netanyahu that he won the debate, when Netanyahu asked why:
"Look you both have funny last names, but your first name is Benjamin and his is Abdullah. He didn't have a chance."
For Friedman, American support for Israel is that superficial. But then he goes on to write:
The group of American who seemed to be most consistently and deeply disturbed about what Israel was doing to the Palestinians were American Jews, but that has little to do with concern for the Palestinians per se and more to do with with concern for what Israel as a Jewish state was becoming.
In last week's column Friedman wrote:
I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today.
In 1989 he was "deeply worried about where Israel is going today" too. It's a trope of his; not an analysis.

At the end of the article Rosenblatt writes:
Friedman has often written of his support for the State of Israel, despite his sometimes sharp criticism of Jerusalem’s policies. His was a lonely voice of support for Israel in the mainstream press during the Israeli army’s military campaigns against Hamas and Hezbollah.
I looked up several op-eds of Friedman's from 2006 and from Cast Lead. It's true Friedman didn't condemn Israel as other columnists were doing at the time. (And he was nowhere as supportive as someone like Charles Krauthammer.) But the support was qualified. For example here's what he wrote in Israel's Goals in Gaza:
I have only one question about Israel’s military operation in Gaza: What is the goal? Is it the education of Hamas or the eradication of Hamas? I hope that it’s the education of Hamas.
He didn't advocate Israel's defeat of Hamas but its "education."

After the fact even that pretense was gone as he wrote last year in War, Timeout, War, Time... :
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes.
Hamas in the end admitted that of those killed in Cast Lead, 600 - 700 were members of Hamas. Gen. Yaacov Amidror has reported that Israel estimated that 500 - 700 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the Lebanon War in 2006. Both these figures contradict Friedman's comparison of Israel to Hafez Assad's indiscriminate use of force against civilians.

Most likely Friedman was somewhat stung by the criticism so he sought out a sympathetic journalist to do damage control. But Friedman can't help himself and simply proved his critics correct.

2) Nonsense and sense

The AP reports UN members point finger at US for refusing to condemn Israeli settlement building:
“The call for bilateral negotiations without preconditions would seem a normal thing to ask for,” he said.
But Churkin said the Palestinians are overwhelmed militarily and in every other way by the Israelis and without preconditions they would not get a fair shake in negotiations.
The diplomats — including key U.S. allies in Europe — also criticized the council’s failure to take action against escalating violence by Israeli settlers and urged a speedy resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Churkin excuses the Palestinian intransigence so well described by Jackson Diehl. If one is looking for sense, there seems to be some in Holland:
Rosenthal announced the review in reply to a question by the speaker of his own faction, the Liberal VVD. "UNRWA uses its own unique definition of refugees, different to the UN’s. The refugee issue is a big obstacle for peace. We therefore ask the government acknowledge this discrepancy, which leads to the third-generation Palestinian refugees," VVD speaker Hans Ten Broeke said.
Minister Uri Rosenthal promised to "thoroughly review the subject and adopt a balanced resolution on it." He added: "I understand many involved parties regard UNRWA’s approach as highly important as it helps clarify matters and bring them into focus."
3) The New York Times of Israel

I've heard Ha'aretz described as the New York Times of Israel. It's usually meant as a compliment, to indicate that its reporting and analyses are detailed and authoritative. Indeed, when someone like Thomas Friedman wants to show how knowledgeable he is about Israel, he'll cite Ha'aretz.

Last week, Efraim Karsh wrote of his experiences and concluded in Haaretz: The Paper for Thinking People?
While there is nothing new or surprising in a paper's refusal to own up to its misreporting or publish facts and analysis contradicting its political line, it is ironic that "the paper for thinking people," as Haaretz habitually flaunts itself, would engage in the shoddy business of truth suppression and mouth shutting at a time when it self-righteously fights an alleged attempt by the Israeli government to do precisely that.
The comparison between Ha'aretz and the New York Times seems apt. Both have sacrificed credibility for ideological conformity far from the mainstreams of the countries they publish in.

4) More thoughts on Kershner and PMW

Yesterday I wrote about Isabel's Kershner's disappointing coverage of Palestinian Media Watch's new book. The article took a phenomenon and diminished its significance by turning it into a partisan issue. Of course it wouldn't be the first time the New York Times has done this.

In its initial report of Yasser Arafat's remarks in a South African mosque in 1994 (an incident referred to by Kershner) Rabin Says Arafat's 'Jihad' Remark Set Back Peace Effort, Clyde Haberman helpfully explained:
In part, the dispute centers on the translation of the word "jihad." One meaning is "holy war," perhaps the most common one for Westerners and the one that many Israelis immediately assume when they hear it. Used in connection with Jerusalem, the word is especially inflammatory for them.
But "jihad" can be interpreted in several ways, including a struggle that is not violent but rather a strenuous effort to achieve a goal.
That is what he meant, Mr. Arafat said in Oslo, explaining that the context was "I will continue my jihad for peace."
See it's just perception!

But as the late William Safire noted is in his column, If I forget thee O Jerusalem,it wasn't just Jewish paranoia at play here.
Arguments now being advanced about ruling a foreign nation will soon be applied to East (at least) Jerusalem. The U.N.'s Resolution 904 in March of this year identified "territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including Jerusalem."
But of the 550,000 people who live in Jerusalem, 320,000 live on land not under Israeli control before 1967; a majority of these 320,000 are Jewish, and may not take kindly to the imposition of Palestinian sovereignty in the eastern portion of what Israelis were led to believe was their nation's capital.
For this, they will be denounced as intransigent colonizers, obstacles to the peace process. Voices in the White House and Congress will urge cutting off aid to the "occupiers" of Greater Jerusalem. World opinion will unite to condemn the territory-grasping Jews who dare to claim sovereignty over the cradle of three religions.
And would even that final concession bring peace? In his speech to Muslims, Arafat compared his agreement with Israel to the prophet Mohammed's deal with the tribe of Kuraish, which became a model for deals with infidels: such a "despicable truce" is never permanent.
So it wasn't just a reference to Jihad, it was a statement of intent to discard the treaty. Arafat's incitement and belligerence was predictive of his behavior. Yet Kershner and her interviewee, Itamar Rabinovitch seemingly believe that only an ideologue opposed to peace would make much of Palestinian incitement. Did ignoring Arafat's incitement bring peace?

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