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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

A gutten zummer - a good summer to everyone (that's what we say after the Shavuoth holiday).

I'd like to remind you all that I have only one holiday day because I live in Israel and that's why I am back online tonight (okay, this post is being done on Friday afternoon before the holiday started, but that's how I get posts up immediately after the Sabbath or a holiday end).

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Friday, May 25.
1) Israel's image

Recently, Ambassador Michael Oren wrote a column asking What Happened to Israel's Reputation? (or to access the complete article click on the link from here.)
There was a panoramic portrayal of Jerusalem, described as "the focus of Jewish prayers for 2,000 years" and the nucleus of new Jewish neighborhoods. Life emphasized that in its pre-1967 borders, Israel was "a tiny, parched, scarcely defensible toe-hold." The edition's opening photo shows a father embracing his Israeli-born daughter on an early "settlement," a testament to Israel's birthright to the land.
Would a mainstream magazine depict the Jewish state like this today, during the week of its 64th birthday?
Unlikely. Rather, readers would learn about Israel's overwhelming military might, brutal conduct in warfare and eroding democratic values—plus the Palestinians' plight and Israeli intransigence. The photographs would show not cool students and cutting-edge artists but soldiers at checkpoints and religious radicals.
In a nutshell, Oren explains:
It began with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's 1974 speech to the U.N., when he received a standing ovation for equating Zionism with racism—a view the U.N. General Assembly endorsed the following year. It gained credibility on college campuses through anti-Israel courses and "Israel Apartheid Weeks." It burgeoned through the boycott of Israeli scholars, artists and athletes, and the embargo of Israeli products. It was perpetuated by journalists who published doctored photos and false Palestinian accounts of Israeli massacres.
Jeff Jacoby takes issue with Oren's argument and responds, The peace process battered Israel's reputation:
The real answer is that Israel's global standing has been debased not despite the "peace process," but because of it.
For 19 years Israel has clung to a policy of appeasement that has made it seem weak and irresolute -- a policy that successive Israeli governments have justified by denigrating Jewish rights to the land, while playing up the Palestinian narrative. Ehud Barak infamously said in 1998 that if he had been a Palestinian, he might have joined a terrorist group, and that "there is legitimacy for a Palestinian to fight." Were an American presidential hopeful to suggest that under other circumstances he could see himself becoming an al-Qaeda terrorist, his White House ambitions would instantly implode. But Barak's remarks didn't prevent him from becoming prime minister.
With its embrace of the peace process, "Israel stopped defending its own claim to the West Bank and Gaza and instead increasingly endorsed the Palestinian claim," Israeli journalist Evelyn Gordon has written. "And with no competing narrative to challenge it any longer, the view of Israel as a thief, with all its attendant consequences, has gained unprecedented traction."
I understand Jacoby's answer, but it's not entirely convincing. During the past nineteen years, clearly statements like Ehud Barak's have fed or justified the growing anti-Israel sentiments we see in the media. But even before Oslo, there was plenty of bias. For example, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Six Day War, Tom Brokaw hosted a special, Six Days Plus 20 Years: a Dream Is Dying on NBC.

In the United States, though, I'd take issue with Ambassador Oren's concerns. It's true that in certain segments of the opinion making community, there is a strong tendency to blame Israel first. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to have affected the American public as a whole. According to Gallup's latest country ratings 71 percent of Americans look at Israel favorably compared to 24 percent unfavorably. Israel is also viewed more favorably than the Palestinians by a rate of nearly four to one. Granted, without the biased coverage of Israel, I believe Israel's ratings would be even better, but in the United States the hostility of the media and academic elites has not had a major impact on Israel's image.

2) Brag about a pirate day

CAMERA noticed that Iran's boast of having saved an American ship from pirates was denied by the shipping company, but that CNN never published the denial.

So it's interesting to read The Lede blog from the New York Times and see the denial mentioned but ...
The Danish company that operates the ship, the Maersk Line, said its onboard guards repelled an attack from multiple pirate skiffs after the attackers opened fire on the vessel, the Maersk Texas. “Despite clear warning signals, the skiffs continued their direct line toward Maersk Texas and the embarked security team fired warning shots,” the company told the maritime news site gCaptain. “The pirates then fired upon Maersk Texas, and the security team returned fire per established U.S. Coast Guard rules of engagement.”
But Iranian state media had a different interpretation of events on Thursday, crediting the safety of ship to a nearby Iranian naval warship. “An Iranian naval ship was patrolling the area when it received an S O S from the American cargo ship,” read a report on IRNA, the state-run news agency, that quoted Iran’s naval authorities. “Upon arrival of Iranian forces the pirates who had attacked the American ships aboard some speed boats had to flee the scene.”
"[D]ifferent interpretations?" One account is true and one is false. The next paragraph attempts to inject a little more uncertainty:
Lt. Cmdr. Mark Hankey, a spokesman for Combined Task Force 151, an international counterpiracy team off the coast of Africa, was unable to confirm Iran’s role in the episode, though he said such behavior would not be surprising. “If the Iranians responded to a mayday call, then that’s perfectly normal activity,” he told The Associated Press. But, he added, the nature of the episode was not certain. “It is not clear from the information available to date whether this was a piracy event,” he said.
So this source is quoted as saying that Iran may well have checked out the situation and that even at that it may not have a real instance of piracy. The Lede notes reasons that Iran might want to boast about having helped an American ship, but overall seems determined to explain away Iranian claims that seem exaggerated, if not false.

3) Fighting Kirk

In his dispatch over the political battle brewing between the State Department and Sen. Mark Kirk, Josh Rogin reports:
For the people involved in the issue on the ground, the distinction is not as important as the U.N. mission to feed and support these 5 million Palestinians. They see the Kirk amendment as part of a pattern of legislative moves against UNRWA in the U.S. Congress, including a drive to cut off U.S. funding by House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
They also note that the drive to redefine how UNRWA classifies refugees is supported by Israeli President Bibi Netanyahu and a similar drive is led in the Israeli parliament by lawmaker Einat Wilf.
"There are some individuals that believe if they unilaterally in America make changes, that will solve peace processes, and that's really naïve," one U.N. official said. "It has to be done by the parties involved, not the U.S. Congress."
There's a point that Rogin is missing here. The UNRWA isn't just about feeding Palestinian refugees, but about maintaining them (and their grievances against Israel.) So one of the effects of UNRWA is to expand the definition and thus the number of Palestinian refugees.

Assaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe write in Palestinian Refugees Forever?
It is long past time that limits are set on the never-ending expansion of Palestinian refugees. A new proposal from Kirk therefore sets out a more precise series of definitions for American aid to UNRWA, to be specified in the Memorandum of Understanding with the organization.
The draft amendment states that "a Palestinian refugee is defined as a person whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who was personally displaced as a result of the 1948 or 1967 Arab-Israeli conflicts, who currently does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who is not a citizen of any other state."
Refugee status would therefore no longer be heritable, at least if UNRWA were to continue to receive U.S. funding. The amendment would also require the secretary of State to report to Congress about the notoriously slippery numbers of refugees and what measures the U.S. government is taking to ensure these limits are abided by.
According to Rogin, in addition to the State Department, Sen. Leahy and the government of Jordan oppose the Kirk amendment.
I'm actually glad Jacoby wrote that column and I think he makes a valid point.

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