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Monday, April 02, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Sunday, April 1.
New York Times Mideast Op Ed Index for March 2012

A) Iran, Israel and the United States - Editorial - March 5, 2012
This would not be a “surgical” strike like the Israeli attack in 1981 that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor, or the 2007 Israeli strike on an unfinished reactor in Syria. Iran has multiple facilities, and the crucial ones are buried or “hardened.” Pentagon analysts estimate that even a sustained Israeli air campaign would set back the program by only a few years, drive it further underground and possibly unleash a wider war.
It would also cast the Iranian government as the victim in the eyes of an otherwise alienated Iranian public. It would tear apart the international coalition and undermine an increasingly tough sanctions regime, making it even easier for Iran to rebuild its program.
Most of this article is not bad. But the second paragraph quoted above is troubling. These consequences of a hypothetical Israeli attack on Iran are purely speculative. The only reason to mention them is if one thinks that Israel is out of control and itching to strike at Iran. However, if Israel deemed itself to be in real and immediate danger, these concerns are secondary.
The implication of the op-ed is that the one sober observer of the Middle East is President Obama and that Israel should, therefore, trust him. The condescension here is undeniable and unbelievable.

Anti-Israel - 1 / Pro - Israel - 0

B) Israel's Best Friend - Thomas Friedman - March 6, 2012
Reports from the Aipac convention this week indicated that those advocating military action were getting the loudest cheers. I’d invite all those cheering to think about all the unintended and unanticipated consequences of the Iraq war or Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That’s not a reason for paralysis. It’s a reason to heed Obama’s call to give diplomacy and biting sanctions a chance to work, while keeping the threat of force on the table.
If it comes to war, let it be because the ayatollahs were ready to sacrifice their whole economy to get a nuke and, therefore, America — the only country that can truly take down Iran’s nuclear program — had to act to protect the global system, not just Israel. I respect that this is a deadly serious issue for Israel — which has the right to act on its own — but President Obama has built a solid strategic and political case for letting America take the lead.
Again the condescension is undeniable. This time though it is addressed to Israel's American supporters. Friedman fears that to court the Jewish (or pro-Israel) vote Republican presidential candidates will be more likely to promise war and bring it about than the cool cerebral Obama. Barry Rubin has argued that Obama didn't fully realize the implication of his words and that coupled with his unshaken faith in sanctions, Obama's assurances virtually guarantee war. Taken with the recent observations that the administration has been planting news stories designed to undercut Israeli actions to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the designation of Obama as "Israel's best friend," is just a bad joke.

Anti-Israel - 2 / Pro-Israel - 0

C) Liz Cheny: Desist - Maureen Dowd - March 6, 2012
The Israeli fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon must be respected, not least because the regime intent on developing this weapon is the world’s greatest center of Holocaust denial. And the timing is tricky. As Bill Kristol put it, Obama’s urge to wait “would precisely undermine Israel’s ability to determine her fate.”
But I’d feel better if our partner was not the trigger-happy Netanyahu, who makes hysterical arguments even in the absence of a dire threat. At Aipac, he compared those who want to be less hasty than he does to America’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz in 1944.
I’d also feel better if war was not being mongered by the same warmongers who drew us into a decade of futile, bloody, expensive and draining battles.
Again, this is an attack on Israel and its supporters. March, 2012 is starting to look a bit like September, 2011. This past September the Palestinian statehood bid was on everyone's mind and the Times used its editorial pages to defend the effort. Now with the Iranian nuclear effort dominating the news, the Times is using its op-ed page to attack Israeli concerns. So far the only defense of Israel appeared on February 29, Israel’s Last Chance to Strike Iran by Amos Yadlin.

Anti-Israel - 3 / Pro-Israel - 0

D) Iran and U.S. Election-Year Politics - Aaron David Miller - March 7, 2012
The reality is that if this were 2011, and not an election year, and the current tensions were as high as they are now, the president’s policy would be very much the same — buy time to determine if nonmilitary pressure against Iran can work (oil sanctions will kick in this summer); reassure Israel of his seriousness but don’t give ironclad commitments (yet) that America will take care of the Iranian nuclear problem if Israel will stay its hand. The president isn’t there yet.
This is mostly a defense of President Obama. I'll give Miller credit here for not overly disparaging Israel or its supporters.

Anti-Israel - 3 / Pro-Israel - 1

E) Pass the books, hold the oil - Thomas Friedman - March 10, 2012
Or as my Indian-American friend K. R. Sridhar, the founder of the Silicon Valley fuel-cell company Bloom Energy, likes to say, “When you don’t have resources, you become resourceful.”
That’s why the foreign countries with the most companies listed on the Nasdaq are Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore — none of which can live off natural resources.
This is one of Thomas Friedman's silly world economic columns. Still, he gives Israel credit where it's due, even if this column isn't mostly about Israel.

Anti-Israel - 3 / Pro-Israel - 2

F) Lessons From Another War - Arthur Brisbane - March 10, 2012
In recent months I have heard from many readers concerned that The New York Times is falling for this siren song, the narrative of war, in its coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. Not infrequently, readers and critics invoke Judith Miller’s now-discredited coverage in The Times of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, as if to say it is all happening again.
William O. Beeman, author of “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other,” told me he believes The Times’s coverage has contributed to a dangerous public misunderstanding of the situation.
“The conventional wisdom with regard to Iran is that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that they are going to attack Israel and going to attack the United States,” said Mr. Beeman, who is chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota. “But all these things are tendentious and highly questionable.”
Prof. Beeman used to be a regular contributor to the Baltimore Sun's op-ed page and was consistently anti-war and anti-Israel. Why a professor of anthropology should be considered an expert on such matters is a mystery.

The problem with most ombudsmen and public editors is that they don't confront the newspapers they are supposed to be overseeing. They are very much part of the newspaper culture and see their role as defending poor news decisions to the unwahsed public.

Note how he refers to Judith Miller's reporting as "discredited." Apparently because he (and the New York Times staff) believe her reporting led to the Iraq war, it's discredited. Might she have obtained her information in good faith and reported in good faith? To Mr. Brisbane that's irrelevant. (The New York Sun defended Miller.)

Brisbane isn't defending Miller, but he seems to be saying that the job of the New York Times is to prevent a strike on Iran.

Consider what he writes later:
She pointed to articles The Times has done on all those issues, plus one saying that American intelligence analysts continued to believe there was no hard evidence that Iran had decided to build a nuclear bomb.
But what if those analysts are wrong?

One last quote from Brisbane:
The result is an asymmetry of perspective, something I heard frequently in conversations with others about the coverage. The Times, for example, ran a 7,627-word Sunday magazine article by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman about Israel’s calculations for a possible attack. No such word count can be tied to the Iranian point of view.
“There needs to be far more effort to get into the heads of Iranians, the policy makers and their people, to understand how this chess game is being played from their perspective,” said Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and Canada’s CBC News, and now a lecturer at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto.
So what? Even when the New York Times reports from Israel, it often muddles what its leaders are thinking.

While I suspect Brisbane might have written this article regardless of which country was being threatened, in this case it's about Israel and Iran and defending the efforts of his paper to support the administration and prevent Israel from attacking Iran.

If Brisbane is responsible for oversight at the New York Times, the reporters and editors need not worry being second guessed for their worst excesses. The gist of this article certainly seems to be, that as long as the editors' agenda is achieved, the reporting is above reproach.

Anti-Israel - 4 / Pro-Israel - 2

G) To save Israel, boycott the settlements - Peter Beinart - March 18, 2012
Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.
Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it. We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel. We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities. Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.
But a settlement boycott is not enough. It must be paired with an equally vigorous embrace of democratic Israel. We should spend money we’re not spending on settler goods on those produced within the green line. We should oppose efforts to divest from all Israeli companies with the same intensity with which we support efforts to divest from companies in the settlements: call it Zionist B.D.S.
No doubt the anti-Israel crowd will appreciate his distinction.

Challah Hu Akbar has catalogued an impressive list of critiques.

I have three questions for Beinart.
  • If Beinart believes that the acquisition of territory by force is wrong, how does he feel about the Jewish presence in Hebron (driven out by force in 1929) or the Etzion Bloc or the Old City of Jerusalem?
  • Since he postulates that "settlements" render Zionism immoral, in his opinion what would render Palestinian nationalism immoral? Terrorism? Refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state? Refusal to make a deal that would end up creating a Palestinian state?
  • Finally, Beinart protests the illegitimacy of Zionism on account settlements which somehow deprive Palestinians of their rights. Yet his solution is to force more Jews from their homes, which would seem to be a deprivation of Jewish rights.
Either Beinart has principles that he applies universally, or his arguments are simply thinly disguised justifications for his opposition to Israel and Zionism.

Interesting that in its blurb for the op-ed, there's no mention that the publisher of Beinart's book is Henry Holt. So the New York Times has a financial interest in the success of Beinart's book. That should have been disclosed. (Not that the New York Times needs a reason to publish an anti-Israel screed.)

Anti-Israel - 5 / Pro-Israel - 2

H) The Bomb and the Bomber - Ari Shavit - March 21, 2012
The crippling sanctions that should have been imposed back in 2005 are yet to be imposed. The assertive-diplomacy track was not seriously pursued when it could have been effective. The creative-political-solution track was never really explored. Western leadership did not endorse a comprehensive, resourceful, consistent and tough third-way-strategy that could prevent Bomb and Bombing.
Now we are witnessing a shift. Terrified by the prospect of an imminent Israeli strike, decision makers and opinion leaders in the United States and Europe have Iran on their mind. Last week Tehran was cut off from the SWIFT bank-transfer network. By July, all E.U. nations will stop purchasing Iranian oil.
Yet all this is too little too late. Within nine months the Iranians will be immune to an Israeli air strike. By Christmas, Israel will lose the military capability to stop the Shiite bomb. As it will be existentially threatened, the Jewish State will feel obliged to take action.
I'm not thrilled with the way he framed some of his argument, but this is strong pushback against the narrative - found in both the news and opinion sections of the New York Times - that the United States is all that stands between a peaceful Middle East and one thrown into chaos by those war mongering Israelis. The situation has deteriorated, but, as Shavit writes, it hasn't been due to Israeli aggressiveness; but due to Western passivity.

Anti-Israel - 5 / Pro-Israel - 3

I) The False Iran Debate - Roger Cohen - March 22, 2012
J) The False Debate About Attacking Iran - Nicholas Kristof - March 24, 2012

Though the arguments are different, since the op-ed editors couldn't come up with cleverer titles differentiating the two, I'll judge them together. Cohen, calling on his expertise of Iran from when he visited in 2009 and concluded that the Iranian Jewish community was doing just fine, writes:
This is Ground Zero of the negotiations about to begin. It’s what you get after 30 years of dangerous noncommunication.
Is there a way out of the impasse? Perhaps not: Khamenei is a Brezhnevian figure with a locked-in world view of America as Great Satan. But perhaps yes, if real concessions are made by both sides and the nuclear issue is not taken in isolation.
The fundamental question the West must answer is how to satisfy Iran’s pride and usher it from historical grievance while capping its enrichment at a low, vigorously inspected level far from weapons grade (I can see no solution that does not allow some enrichment.) The fundamental question for the Islamic Republic is whether it can open itself to the West while preserving its system, a risk China took 40 years ago and won.
I WONDER if we in the news media aren’t inadvertently leaving the impression that there is a genuine debate among experts about whether an Israeli military strike on Iran makes sense this year.
There really isn’t such a debate. Or rather, it’s the same kind of debate as the one about climate change — credible experts are overwhelmingly on one side.
Both are part of the campaign to undermine any Israel plan to attack Iran. I don't know that such an attack is imminent. But I believe that if the threat has evolved to an unacceptable level Netanyahu will order the IAF to attack. Furthermore, I believe, that if Netanyahu will order such an attack he will have more information about the threat than any of Kristof's so-called experts have and will have seen the inefficacy of Cohen's idea of appealing to Iran's bruised ego.

Anti-Israel - 7 / Pro-Israel - 3

K) A festival of lies - Thomas Friedman - March 24, 2012
... we silently watch our ally Israel build more settlements in the West Bank that we know are a disaster for its Jewish democracy.
Usually my standard for the op-ed index is that the op-ed has to be substantially about Israel. This is the only reference to Israel. Given the other issues Friedman was writing it is meant to elevate this "disaster" on par with Friedman's other concerns. This is gratuitous and bogus. Israel's democracy is much more vibrant than the New York Times's credibility.

Final tally - Anti-Israel - 8 / Pro-Israel - 3

Methodology: I searched the archives for the New York Times for op-eds and unsigned editorials from the New York Times from March 1 - 31, 2012. I did not include letters to the editor or articles that were not mainly about Israel or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, though, as noted above, I made one exception. The impetus for these exercises was a 2007 column, The Danger of one sided debate, in which Brisbane's predecessor, Clark Hoyt, justified giving a column to a Hamas spokesman, lest the paper's opinion section be too pro-Israel. As I've regularly found, there hasn't been any danger that Israel's views would be overrepresented in the opinion pages of the New York Times in recent years.

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At 6:01 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Another measure should include what letter responses the NYT prints.
In the days that I subscribed, I noticed a pattern. Three letters would be published. One pro Israel by a person with a Jewish sounding name. Another anti-Israel by someone with a Jewish sounding name ( almost certainly gentile, intermarried ISM etc) who starts with " I am a pro Israel Jew but..." and finally a letter by someone with an arabic name that would be anti-Israel. (before the arab named person the pattern was a WASPy named person). I wonder what they do now?


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