Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mideast Media Sampler 1/13/12: Vigilante Journalism At The New York Times?, Arab Spring Passes Palestinians By

From DG:
1) Is Arthur Brisbane the Bernard Goetz of newspaper editors?

Arthur Brisbane is the public editor of the New York Times and his latest column, Should the Times be a truth vigilante, is causing quite a stir. Brisbane writes:
This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.
Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here? 
Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign debates, The Times has employed a separate fact-check sidebar to assess the validity of the candidates’ statements. Do you like this feature, or would you rather it be incorporated into regular reporting? How should The Times continue a function like this when we move to the general campaign and there’s less time spent in debates and more time on the road? 
Unsurprisingly the two targets of Brisbane's column are Republicans, whom the readers felt should have been fact checked on the spot. But my issue here is a different bias. A year ago, I wrote an e-mail to Brisbane's office about factual errors included in its Middle East reporting.

I made three main points.

  • My first point was that the New York Times did not report that the IDF had exonerated its troops in the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, who supposedly had been killed by tear gas. I pointed out that though both the paper's regular reporter Isabel Kershner and blogger Robert Mackey had reported on this story it was their duty to report the result of the investigation. Further, I pointed out that since there were no documented cases of anyone dying of tear gas inhalation in an open space, the charge should have been treated skeptically from the start and not accepted without questions.

  • My next question had to do with the results of Israel's inquiry into the Mavi Marmara raid. I noted that though the report was generally solid, it played up the international outrage over the raid and ignored until the very end, that video from the raid showed that the sailors boarding were indeed attacked, effectively confirming Israel's account regardless of outrage.

  • Finally, I asked why when reporting about the Palestine Papers that the reporter, Ethan Bronner wrote about the flexibility of Palestinian negotiators when their own public statements showed otherwise?
(I asked a fourth question, but it was about International Herald Tribune, which was outside of the purview of the public editor's office.)

I got an e-mail back that said, in part, "[w]ith regards to points 1 -3 , Mr. Brisbane plans on writing a column at some point in the future over The Times coverage of the middle east."

Indeed, Brisbane addressed the New York Times coverage of the Middle East a few months later. It was full of platitudes, such as reporting on the Middle East is the "third rail" of journalism and that since both sides criticized the Times, they must be doing something right.

I'm not disagreeing that reporters should seek to tell the truth, but given that Brisbane wasn't willing to address my points (and do his job), I can't believe that the truth is his or his paper's objective. If this vigilantism is adopted, the New York Times bias will become even worse.

2) Security concerns is a euphemism for anti-Israel sentiment

The Washington Post reports, Egypt cancels Jewish festival amid security concerns:
Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdi said the decision to cancel Saturday’s event at the tomb of Jewish holy man Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatzira had been relayed to Israeli officials and reflected a wish not to “provoke public discussion on the relationship with Israel.” 
The festival, which draws hundreds of Israeli pilgrims annually, has often sparked angry reactions from local villagers objecting to the intensive security arrangements. 
“The situation is not suitable to have it this year with all that’s going on in Egypt: the elections, the police trying to reassert control and the protests,” Roshdi said.
 But then the article continues:
The government’s move underscores the changing relationship between Israel and post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. The former president maintained relations with Israel, as laid out in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, in part by curbing civil liberties with his expansive police force. Since his ouster last winter, anti-Israeli sentiment driven by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has risen to the surface, and Israeli-Egyptian tensions have grown.
This isn't a quote from an Egyptian activist, but stated as fact by two reporters that Mubarak maintained the peace treaty by "curbing civil liberties." This is outrageous. The peace treaty governed relations between Egypt and Israel; whatever Mubarak did to his own people is outside the scope of the treaty.

While the report mentions local villagers who were angry with the celebration, there is more to the story. Elder of Ziyon notes that there is more to the objections than security arrangements.

3) The Palestinians and the irony of the Arab spring

A reporter for the Independent went to interview Ismail Haniyeh. (via Daily Alert Blog)
But what I found was not a man seeking to reach out the olive branch. It was a man who had seen how the Middle East had been reshaped and who now believed – or so he said – that his version of the Palestinians' destiny might now be on the point of being realised. 
"The Palestinian cause is winning," he told me. "With the Muslim Brotherhood part of the government [in Egypt], they [the Egyptians] will not besiege Gaza. They will not arrest Palestinians. They will not give cover to Israel to launch a war. Gaza was a main reason for the Arab Spring. It was people's anger at the regimes that co-operated with Israel and did not recognise the government here. 
"Israel is disturbed by this. It knows the strategic environment is changing. Iran is an enemy. Relations are deteriorating with Turkey. With Egypt, they are really cold. Israel is in a security situation they have never been in before. The Palestinians are winning more than anybody else due to what's happening in the Arab countries. That will come out clearly in the future."
Haniyeh definitely has a point; empowering the "Arab street" has had the effect of radicalizing the Middle East and making the Arab world even less sympathetic towards Israel. But asHillel Frish points out (.pdf via Daily Alert blog):
Both Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza are cut from the same cloth as the regimes of the old Arab order. They are one-party police-states whose main line of business is suppressing the opposition, incarcerating political prisoners, and denying media freedoms to the opposition. The rump parliaments in both the West Bank and Gaza have been moribund since the outbreak of Palestinian civil war in 2006. 
The PLO itself is the ultimate example of the old Arab order. The dozen or more factions that constitute the PLO are over forty years old; yet in none of them has leadership change taken place except through the natural or unnatural death of the leader. The same can be said of the relatively younger Islamist Jihad al-Islami and Hamas movements. There is no internal democracy in these groups. 
Remember: More than anything, the Arab upheavals of the past year are about instituting a change of leadership in the Arab world. The Palestinians are having none of that.
There are those who view Israeli/Palestinian peacemaking through the lens of the Arab spring. From that perspective Israel is not cooperating with the message of the Arab spring as it is denying the Palestinians their freedom. This is ridiculous. The only reason the Palestinians don't have greater independence now is because their leadership refuses to negotiate (in good faith) with Israel.

If there's any similarity between the Arab spring and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it could be the ongoing unity negotiations between Fatah and Hamas, which seem to be popular among Palestinians. However, as Dr. Frish points out, if one looks at the accountability aspect of the Arab spring, it has passed the Palestinians by, as their entrenched leadership is as entrenched as ever.


4) Ross's agenda

I wrote previously about Dennis Ross's recent op-ed in the Washington Post. I had only seen it as advocating a new "confidence building measure." Israel Matzav, however, believes that Ross's agenda has a different unsettling angle to it. Previously Israel Matzav had observed that the EU is trying to make Area C under the Oslo Accords, Palestinian territory.
The Europeans have decided that they are not going to let signed agreements between the parties get in the way of attempting to force Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders 1949 armistice lines that resulted from British efforts to quash the nascent Jewish state. The Europeans are going to attempt to undermine Jewish sovereignty over Area C - which as noted was agreed to by the 'Palestinians' themselves as part of the Oslo accords - by undertaking 'Palestinian' projects in that area without Israeli cooperation or approval.
This effort, Israel Matzav notes, is very similar to the scheme mapped out by Ross, making him wonder if it was Ross who initiated this effort.

Reading over the earlier Israel Matzav post, a few things come to mind.
  • Even at the end of his life, Yitzchak Rabin never envisioned a Palestinian state. Now Binyamin Netanyahu has stated that he understands the necessity of one. For one thing, those who claim that Israel's government is extremely right wing, fail to acknowledge how far Israel has come politically in the past 18+ years. The position now held by Likud, was roughly the position of Peace Now in 1993.

  • A related points is that the Palestinian leadership has not changed significantly in the same time. The pretext for decriminalizing the PLO was that it had abandoned terror. Yet for at least a decade after signing Oslo, Yasser Arafat either turned a blind eye to terror or actively encouraged it. Even now "moderate" Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas seems more interested in reaching an accommodation with the unrepentant Hamas than with Israel. Furthermore, if reports are to be believed, the most popular Palestinian politician now is Marwan Barghouti currently in jail for his role in multiple fatal terror attacks. The same people who despair that Israel must make peace lest it have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state, and possibly lose its legitimacy are not so concerned that the Palestinian continued embrace of terror somehow endangers the legitimacy of a prospective Palestinian state.

  • Finally, it's worth noting that over the years Israel has been pressured to engage in "confidence building measures." These measures have usually involved giving the Palestinians greater freedom of movement, freeing prisoners or freezing the building of "settlements." Rather than building confidence, these actions have hardened the Palestinian position. Usually there was no reciprocal demand made on the Palestinians and the Palestinians made the Israeli measures the new baseline for negotiations.

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