Friday, June 08, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 6/8/2012: NGO's Ignore Abbas Crushing Free Speech

From DG:
1) Shooting the messenger

In his tendentious defense of the New York Times, Israel in The New York Times Over the Decades:A Changed Narrative and Its Impact on Jewish Readers,  Neil Lewis explains that one of the factors influencing the change in the way Israel was covered by the paper was:
The development of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) within Israel as advocates for the Palestinians which gave Western journalists a ready and credible source which could be used to criticize the Israeli government.
According to Lewis the NGO's are "credible," but he offers no evidence of this. It's just something he takes on faith.


Recently in Amnesty's credibility problem, Gidon Shaviv wrote of two Amnesty International activists, Deborah Hyams and Saleh Hijazi, who have obvious conflicts of interest (not in Israel's favor)
Hyams joined Amnesty in 2010, after a long record of pro-Palestinian activism. In 2001 she volunteered as a “human shield” in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, to deter Israeli military responses to recurrent gunfire and mortar attacks targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. In a 2002 Washington Jewish Week article, “Hyams said that while she does not condone suicide bombings, she personally believes they ‘are in response to the occupation.’” In another instance she defended the use of violence, stating “occupation is violence… and the consequence of this action must result in violence.” This background precludes any reader of Amnesty’s report from accepting it at face value. 
As with the case of Hyams, if Amnesty wants to maintain impartiality, it should disqualify Saleh Hijazi from working on Israeli issues. Hijazi, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem and raised in Ramallah, has a clear lack of objectivity in this regard. In 2005, he worked as a Public Relations officer for the Office of the Ministry of Planning in Ramallah and in 2007 he was listed as contact for the NGO “Another Voice” – under the group's signature “Resist! Boycott! We Are Intifada!” 
Hijazi has a “special” conflict of interest with regards to administrative detention in particular. On March 9, 2011, while as a researcher for Human Rights Watch, he spoke at a UN conference where he described how his father was supposedly arrested by the Israeli authorities “when the Israeli military could not find an activist neighbor.” How can Hijazi be impartial when he is simultaneously claiming to be a victim of the very same country on which he is reporting?
In another recent report, Justus Reid Weiner shows that Human Rights Watch applies one standard to Israel with respect to targeted killings, but a different standard to other Western countries:
In order to be so cautious, Walzer lists several of the IHL considerations (some of which are discussed above) that any armed force should consider before taking action; and which any organization should examine before declaring that an action, which has resulted in collateral damage, is unlawful.166  
Given the many factors that need to be considered in determining whether anaction is proportionate, a case-by-case assessment of TKs is imperative. In light of this requirement, HRW’s sweeping statement alleging that all Israeli TKs are disproportionate, as quoted from HRW’s 2004 World Report, is prima facie incorrect.Indeed, as Walzer states, it appears that HRW is “not making any kind of measured judgment, not even a speculative kind. ‘Disproportionate’ violence for them is simply violence they don’t like, or it is violence committed by people they don’t like.”167 
This conclusion is only strengthened when one notes that the actual collateral damage resulting from Israeli TKs is significantly less than that resulting from Western TKs. (Compare the numbers in the Israeli TK section in Appendix A with the numbers in the Western TK section located in Appendix B.) Roth’s statement was made with reference to TKs that resulted in more than “little or no harm to others [civilians].”168 While Roth’s assertion regarding these Israeli TKs may appear reasonable to an uninformed reader, it has no legal basis. The assertion implies that TKs that cause more than “little” harm to civilians automatically violate the central prescripts of IHL – discrimination and proportionality. As we have seen, such a claim is legally unsound.
Despite these records these organizations and others like them are regularly quoted uncritically in the New York Times (and other major media) as if their designation as rights organizations shields them from any scrutiny.

Consider a story that appeared in the New York Times last year, Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State. After a capsule summary of the issue in the second paragraph:
Critics and civil rights groups denounced the new law as antidemocratic and a flagrant assault on the freedom of expression and protest. The law’s defenders said it was a necessary tool in Israel’s fight against what they called its global delegitimization.
... the article later quotes from one such NGO:
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other human rights organizations said they were preparing to challenge the law in the High Court of Justice. The association described the law as “an antidemocratic step, intended to create a chilling effect on civil society.” 
Ilan Gilon, a legislator from the leftist Meretz Party, said, “I do not know of anything that creates more delegitimization of Israel abroad than these laws.” 
Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and other opponents of the law have pointed out that Israelis had recently launched their first successful consumer boycott, bringing down the price of cottage cheese. “Why should Israeli citizens be allowed to boycott Israeli cottage cheese, as we have heard and seen in recent weeks, but be barred from boycotting the occupation?” he said in a recent statement.
It should be pointed out that though the law was passed it hadn't necessarily reached the point of implementation. The law would also be subject to judicial review. Furthermore it wasn't necessarily different from laws on the books in other Western countries. Yet the New York Times treated the passage of the law as an assault on civil rights based on the authority of an NGO!

Lori Lowenthal Marcus reports on the state of press freedom under the Palestinian Authority:
Under the Palestinian Authority’s Penal Code, a holdover from when Jordan illegally occupied the territories, defamation suspects can be arrested and held in detention for up to six months before they are charged with a crime. Esmat Abdul-Khalik, an al Quds University lecturer and single mother of two, was arrested in late March and held in solitary confinement and denied the possibility of any visits because someone else criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas on her Facebook page, calling him a traitor and suggesting he resign. Abdul-Khalik is not the only Arab arrested recently for Facebook page activity, at least three others have recently been picked up for daring to criticize members of the government. 
In September, the director of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, was arrested for posting on his Facebook page criticism of the Bethlehem Health Department. Last month the PA judicial and executive authorities determined Canawati will be tried for defamation – a crime punishable by up to two years in prison – in the Magistrate Court of Bethlehem City. The trial was recently adjourned until September. 
Altogether, nine journalists have been arrested in recent weeks for exposing corruption or making critical remarks about the PA leadership on Facebook, and many others have been summoned for interrogation. When Facebook postings expose government critics to censure, you can be sure that no one will risk filing bona fide media reports about the topic.
And this intimidation is reaching Khaled Abu Toameh, one of the few independent Palestinian journalists who reports on the Palestinian Authority to the West:
So thirty years on, Khaled abu Toameh finds that the path he took away from censorship seems to have doubled back on itself. Rather than walking firmly on the precious path of western iconic freedoms of an unfettered press and uncensored speech, abu Toameh is finding that that road is rotting out beneath his feet. This rare truth-telling journalist is finding it increasingly harder to report the corruption and lack of freedoms in the PA, and as a result our news world is becoming a quieter, but certainly not a better, place. On his own Facebook Page abu Toameh posted this silent cri de coeur: “A campaign of intimidation, harassment, pressure, threats and boycotts has made it impossible for an Arab journalist to work in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories.”
So consider Palestinian court sentences missing Arafat moneyman to 15 years for corruption from this week.
The Palestinian Authority has asked those countries to freeze his assets and extradite him. “Without doubt the money of the Palestinian people will return to the people, sooner or later,” promised Rafik Natche, head of the Palestinian anti-corruption commission, after the conviction. 
Anti-corruption campaigners lauded the case as a sign of the maturing of the Palestinian political system, although the probe also appeared to be tinged with political intrigue. Rashid made veiled threats several months ago to disclose purported secrets about the rise to power of Arafat’s successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. 
Palestinian watchdogs, while praising growing government vigilance about corruption, expressed concern that investigations are at times being used selectively to settle personal scores.
This isn't an anti-corruption campaign or a sign of vigilance but some sort of grudge match. It is a matter of settling personal scores. Rashid is correct about the "secrets." As Jonathat Schanzer reports in Foreign Policy, in The Brothers Abbas (via Daily Alert)
New details are emerging of how close family members of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a major U.S. partner in the Middle East, have grown wealthy. Have they enriched themselves at the expense of regular Palestinians – and even U.S. taxpayers? After Abbas targeted Mohammed Rachid, an economic advisor to the late Yasir Arafat, in a high-profile corruption probe, Rachid fired back with claims that Abbas himself has socked away $100 million in ill-gotten gains. The conspicuous wealth of Abbas’ own sons, Yasser and Tarek, has become a source of quiet controversy in Palestinian society since at least 2009. 
Yasser owns Falcon Tobacco, which reportedly enjoys a monopoly on the sale of U.S.-made cigarettes in the Palestinian territories, while his engineering company received $1.89 million from USAID in 2005 to build a sewage system in the West Bank town of Hebron. Reuters reported in 2009 that Tarek’s principal enterprise, Sky Advertising, received $1 million in USAID funds to bolster public opinion of the U.S. in the Palestinian territories.
The mainstream media, aside from occasional general statements, has been silent about Abbas's corruption. No NGO criticizes Palestinian corruption or efforts at intimidation. Of course without the latter, the former can't very well get the publicity it deserves.

Yet the very same media and "rights" organizations spare no effort to criticize much lesser efforts by Israel to introduce some element of accountability into the way NGO's operate.

NGO's are "ready" but not "credible," unless they apply universal standards to their criticisms. News media that use them uncritically are not reporting but promoting propaganda against Israel.

In the meantime the Palestinian Authority "shoots the messengers" who would introduce any transparency to the way it operates, and this campaign is largely ignored by those who supposedly care about rights and good governance.

2) What Assad is doing ...

In an article, In Defense of Hosni Mubarak, Michael Young describes the nature of Hafez Assad's Syria:
If we imagine a continuum of authoritarian systems, they tend to be defined by two extremities. At one extremity are systems where the absolute reference when it comes to the law, or what passes for law, is the leader. At the other are systems built on a scaffolding of regulations and state bodies lending legitimacy to repression. Most authoritarian leaderships combine the two: There are domains controlled by the leader, but there are also those where a judicial veneer is in place to stifle dissent, but also to avoid the inevitable resort to force. 
For a long time Syria was such a place. In order to perpetuate his own rule and that of his minority Alawite community, the late Hafez Assad adopted multiple layers of behavior, bureaucracy and ideology to bolster his regime. Arab nationalism, in the guise of Baathism, was there partly to detract from the minority status of the leadership, and to act as an instrument to co-opt large swathes of Syrian society. The conflict with Israel bought the Syrian president Arab credibility and funding, while Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon earned it regional leverage.  
Syrian prisons were full, but when offered a choice between violence and negotiations to resolve his problems, Assad usually preferred the latter – albeit negotiations destined to assert his will. 
And yet there was never any doubt who was the final arbiter on most issues. Syrian institutions had no latitude to question Assad. The army and security apparatus was there to defend the Assads and their political-military clique, not Syrian society. Outside the reach of the ruling family there was virtually no autonomous political space.
Young argues that Bashar Assad made his control over the population too obvious and used force where his father would have finessed matters, which resulted in his losing control.

In Assad's Sectarian Strategy, Tony Badran argues that Assad is trying to reassert control of Syria by inextricably tying his fate to the rest of Syria's Alawite community.
The Assad regime’s Alawite-dominated forces are already little more than a sectarian militia. By arming Alawite villages and using them as launching pads for attacks against Sunnis, as he did in Houla and al-Qubayr (and possibly Haffeh), Assad is hardening the sectarian boundaries and implicating the entire Alawite community in the murder of Sunnis, further bonding its fate to his. If the Sunnis retaliate, as he surely must have counted they would, all the better. 
Some commentators have speculated that by perpetrating these massacres, Assad was trying to reinstate fear in the hearts of his opponents. However, at this point in the game, we are well past that. This is no longer about putting the Sunni genie back in the bottle. Rather, this is about sealing Alawite solidarity and widening the target of Sunni animosity. 
By covering the collective hands of the Alawite community with Sunni blood, Assad is creating total identity between his family and the broader sect, while simultaneously heightening its existential fears and feeding its primordial hatreds. “It is natural,” one Alawite woman told a reporter from The Telegraph recently, “[T]hey have to defend their sect.” “We have no future, at least not one that is worth looking forward to,” explained an insightful Alawite blogger known as Karfan in 2005. That is exactly what Assad sought to enshrine with the Houla massacre.
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