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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Sunday, November 18.
1) Balancing? Or covering

Max Fisher, whose recent account of the death of 11 month old Omar Misharawi has been played up on the social media, has followed up with The Israeli-Palestinian politics of a bloodied child’s photo. After a back and forth on the merits of each side emphasizing civilian casualties, Fisher writes:

Implicit in these debates, still raging on social media, is the assumption that the photos and the tragedies they represent are inherently political. You might find yourself wondering who politicized them first — who is more to blame — but that question, though natural, is in many ways an extension of the same bickering. The accusations of misusing photos to tar the other side, of faking injuries to generate outside sympathy are all part of a wider, shared assumption that the world would feel differently if only everyone knew how badly “we” suffered, and how much “they” are faking it.
Fisher's missing the larger point. Yes, there's politics in play here. But why?

Despite Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas hasn't laid down its arms, continues to build its military capacity and when it feels confident attacks. When Israel responds, the number of rockets is forgotten and a somnolent media finally realizes that there's violence in the Middle East. (See this Dry Bones cartoon with the punchline, "Until Israel fires back.")

Think back on the coverage of the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara. What was emphasized? That Israel killed Turkish nationals (and one Turkish American.) That the Mavi Marmara was attempting to break the Israeli blockade to help the people of Gaza. Left out of most of the reporting was any acknowledgment of the reason that Turkey trying to break the blockade: to make it easier for Hamas to build up its arms.

In the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, Barry Rubin noted that President Obama helped make that a reality.
Who's really making the Middle East unsustainable? Barack Obama is with a policy of weakening your friends and helping your enemies get stronger.
Note that Obama did not mention the conditions for easing the blockade--that Hamas abandon terrorism and accept Israel's existence--nor did he say that anything the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is doing is "unsustainable." Only Western and Israeli policy are said to be unsustainable. In effect, Obama is saying that the policies of Hamas, Iran, Hizballah, and Syria, among others, are infinitely sustainable, especially because of his reluctance to do things to make them unsustainable.
And thus in Middle East terms, he's saying: Your intransigence has won. We couldn't move you so our policy has failed. We must give in.
The latest escalation has reporters and editorial writers remembering Cast Lead and how many Palestinians were killed. But they don't recall that the reaction to the Mavi Marmara incident played a role in strengthening and emboldening Hamas. They were too worried that Israel was isolating itself by antagonizing Turkey. They ignored that Israel was motivated by a desire to protect its citizens and that Turkey's enmity was a function of the extremism of its leaders.

Now that Hamas has re-armed and struck, they ignore that Hamas is a terrorist organization bent on Israel's destruction. (They quaintly put it, "Hamas which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States." The superfluous qualification marginalizes Israel's view.)

So when Israel strikes back and there's inevitable collateral damage, Hamas publicizes the result of their hiding among civilians as if to say, "look, we're the victims." An eager media feeds this perception. You can photograph a dead child, you can't photograph millions of people living in fear.

For all of his navel gazing, Fisher fails to address a more basic problem. Turkey's been striking at Kurdish territory for weeks now. American drones have been striking at terrorists in Pakistan. These strikes result in collateral casualties, but relatively little front page coverage follows. That coverage (some of it by Fisher himself) only seems to result when Israel is attacking and when the victims are Palestinians. The resulting outrage is amplified to put political pressure on Israel and relieve Hamas of responsibility.

A more recent death is even worse. It's the death (cited by Fisher) of the boy who was presented to Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil. Elder of Ziyon did some basic research, that most journalists don't bother to do. Elder of Ziyon determined that when Kandil was in Gaza, Israel observed a ceasefire. He marshaled supporting evidence and showed convincingly that the boy killed was killed by Hamas fire. (Richard Landes shows how this story fits into a larger context.)

Elder of Ziyon's post is notable for a number of reasons. One is that Israel observed a ceasefire even in the face of continuing fire. Also he showed the willingness of media to accept unsubstantiated reports if they make Israel look bad.

Will Fisher have the integrity to acknowledge that he was too willing to accept Hamas's version of events rather than exercising the skepticism that journalists are supposed to bring to their jobs? Until he does, his exercise in moral balancing is simply a way to provide cover for Hamas.

2) Don't know much about history

Jeffrey Goldberg makes two points in The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel's Lack of Strategic Thinking (via memeorandum) that must be disputed.
Barack Obama hasn't turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years, or who had decided, for nakedly partisan reasons, to paint him as a Jew-hater.
Actually his administration's support of Israel (so far) is welcome. However, a recent report suggests that he will not be as understanding of an Israeli ground war against Hamas in the future. The criticism of President Obama wasn't only "nakedly partisan;" much of it was based on a careful evaluation of the effects his policies had on Israel and the Middle East. It would be more helpful if Goldberg would address serious critiques of President Obama, rather than allow his own support of the President lead him to dismiss all criticism as partisan.
Israel's media campaign -- Gamify? -- is disgraceful. David Rothkopf just pointed out to me that people are most influenced by their enemies. In this case, the braggadocio of the IDF is beginning to resemble the braying of various Palestinian terror outfits over the years. All death is tragic, even the deaths of your enemies.
I'm sorry this bothers Goldberg, but it's not clear what's wrong with this approach. Israel got pummeled for Cast Lead and its assault on the Mavi Marmara. Both actions were necessary for self defense.  Instead of allowing other to dictate coverage that is overwhelmingly negative, the IDF has chosen to put its narrative forth.

Dylan Byers has a good answer to Goldberg:
Israel has engaged in its own new media campaign in order to wrest some control of the narrative from an unfavorable traditional media campaign.
If you're going to be pounded by the press, producing your own public play-by-play guarantees that your side will be heard, and cited. With all the information the IDF is releasing via social media, it would almost be irrespondible for news organizations not to cite it.
This isn't about transparency. It's about controlling the narrative.
And it would be irresponsible for the Government of Israel and the IDF not to fight back in the first place.

Finally Goldberg writes:
Here's one idea: Give Palestinians hope that Israel is serious about the two-state solution. And how do you do that? By reversing the settlement project on the West Bank. It is not unreasonable for Palestinians to doubt the sincerity of Netanyahu on the subject of the two-state solution, when settlements grow ever-thicker. There's no way around this: The idea of a two-state solution will die if Israel continues to treat the West Bank as a suburb of Jerusalem and Kfar Sava, and not as the future location of the state of Palestine.
Where's Goldberg been for the past nineteen years? Is there anyone who in 1993 applauded Oslo and Israel's subsequent withdrawals from territory (removing over 90% of the Palestinian population from Israeli control) who thought that Israel would still be subject to terror in 2012? What more can Israel do to show it is serious about peace? Since Barack Obama was elected Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel in good faith. Hamas reloaded and attacked. Why in the world would Goldberg think that peace is readily achievable with Hamas in charge and Fatah uninterested?

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