Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/1/2012: Media Piles On Romney's Israel Visit

From DG:
1) Brother Tom's traveling misinformation show
I’ll make this quick. I have one question and one observation about Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel. The question is this: Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return. Really, Vegas would have been so much more appropriate than Jerusalem. They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas.
"The Wailing Wall?" Anyone still using this term betrays a contempt not just for Israel but for Judaism.

The observation is this: Much of what is wrong with the U.S.-Israel relationship today can be found in that Romney trip. In recent years, the Republican Party has decided to make Israel a wedge issue. In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to “out-pro-Israel” the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel. This arms race has pulled the Democratic Party to the right on the Middle East and has basically forced the Obama team to shut down the peace process and drop any demands that Israel freeze settlements. This, in turn, has created a culture in Washington where State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are “an obstacle to peace” — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel.
This is pure ignorance. The peace process shut down because Abbas expected Obama to  pressure Israel to make unilateral concessions and refused to negotiate - after rejecting an offer from previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - until he got those concessions. Even once Netanyahu agreed to a building freeze in Judea and Samaria, Abbas refused to negotiate until the freeze was nearly over and then made no real effort.

Of course even though the settlement freeze was unprecedented, Friedman treats it as if it were a standard aspect of Israeli-Palestinian negotations. Based on other columns, Friedman's blanket use of the term "settlements" extends also to Israeli communities that Israel is expected to keep in any peace deal.
Add on top of that, the increasing role of money in U.S. politics and the importance of single donors who can write megachecks to “super PACs” — and the fact that the main Israel lobby, Aipac, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are “pro” and which are “anti-Israel” and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not — and you have a situation in which there are almost no brakes, no red lights, around Israel coming from America anymore. No wonder settlers now boast on op-ed pages that the game is over, they’ve won, the West Bank will remain with Israel forever — and they don’t care what absorbing all of its Palestinians will mean for Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy.
Let's just point out that Adelson's money didn't buy Newt Gingrich the nomination. (However, an extremely pliant press made a significant contribution to Barack Obama's election four years ago. Given that the media is supposed to be adversarial, this represented a greater corruption of our political process than any amount of money. Friedman, like most of those who claim to be appalled by the corrupting influence of money in politics only object to money when his side is outspent.)

Dani Dayan's op-ed was damaging because it would be used like this. But Dayan is an interested party and his proclamation is contradicted by the fact that over 90% of Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority. The demographic threat is non-existent now and has been non-existent since late 1995. The lack of a Palestinians state should not be equated with occupation. Conflating the two serves as a pretext for the Palestinians to refuse negotiations. Friedman and people like him do more to undermine peace in the Middle East than Jews living in Efrat or Ramat Shlomo.
It is into this environment that Romney wandered to add more pandering and to declare how he will be so much nicer to Israel than big, bad Obama. This is a canard. On what matters to Israel’s survival — advanced weaponry and intelligence — Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Monday, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
And of course, no politician ever embellished the truth for the sake of an alliance. But there's more to Israel's security than military cooperation.
While Romney had time for a $50,000-a-plate breakfast with American Jewish donors in Jerusalem, with Adelson at his elbow, he did not have two hours to go to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, to meet with its president, Mahmoud Abbas, or to share publicly any ideas on how he would advance the peace process. He did have time, though, to point out to his Jewish hosts that Israelis are clearly more culturally entrepreneurial than Palestinians. Israel today is an amazing beehive of innovation — thanks, in part, to an influx of Russian brainpower, massive U.S. aid and smart policies. It’s something Jews should be proud of. But had Romney gone to Ramallah he would have seen a Palestinian beehive of entrepreneurship, too, albeit small, but not bad for a people living under occupation. Palestinian business talent also built the Persian Gulf states. In short, Romney didn’t know what he was talking about.
Friedman's ironic here. In a number of columns Friedman promoted the idea of  "Fayyadism," arguing that unless Israel supported Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his ideas they'd never have peace. Forget for a moment that Fayyad's moderation means that he has no political base. Guess who Romney met with on his trip to Israel? Salam Fayyad! Romney was not criticized by the big bad Israel lobby but Fayyad was criticized for meeting with Romney even by an unnamed Fatah official! If Fayyad was such a big deal, why not at least acknowledge that Romney met him, instead of complaining that he didn't meet Abbas who has done absolutely nothing for peace other than not being Yasser Arafat? "Fayyadism" wasn't a serious concept, it was just a cynical excuse to criticize Israel.
On peace, the Palestinians’ diplomacy has been a fractured mess, and I still don’t know if they can be a partner for a secure two-state deal with even the most liberal Israeli government. But I do know this: It is in Israel’s overwhelming interest to test, test and have the U.S. keep testing creative ideas for a two-state solution. That is what a real U.S. friend would promise to do. Otherwise, Israel could be doomed to become a kind of apartheid South Africa.
In 1993 Israel agreed to the Oslo Accords and proceeded to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria. In 1996 Israel face an unprecedented wave of terror. In 2000-2001 and 2008 Israeli leaders offered peace deals that were rejected. After rejecting the 2000 offer made at Camp David, Yasser Arafat launched a terror war against Israel. After withdrawing form southern Lebanon Israel suffered as Hezbollah built up its offensive capability and started cross border attacks which got progressively worse until Israel was forced to strike back in 2006. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and the same thing happened, with Israel striking back against Hamas in 2008. What avenue of peace has Israel not pursued during these past twenty years? And which one of these efforts have brought peace closer?

Worse, last month, as he's argued before, Friedman wrote "... with the conservative Muslim Brotherhood dominating Egypt and with conservative religious-nationalists dominating Israeli politics, both will either change their behaviors to make Camp David legitimate for both peoples or it will gradually become unsustainable." In other words he believes that Israel doesn't even deserve peace with Egypt unless he satisfies the Muslim Brotherhood and that treaty has existed for over 30 years!
And here is what I also know: The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.
Carter blundered into Camp David and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is threatening to reconsider it. (AS noted above, Friedman doesn't think that Israeli deserves peace with Egypt.) What was Baker's big contribution to peace in the Middle East? The Madrid Conference. And that led to ...?
So how about all you U.S. politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own.
Americans support Israel. Thomas Friedman does not. Politicians support Israel because that is a popular position in America and the political class reflects American values. This isn't pandering. Support for Israel also isn't a "Jewish" issue, it's an American one. Given that Israel is no less hated now than it was nearly twenty years ago when it first started making concessions to make peace with the Palestinians, it is people who are paying attention to "the other side" who understand Israel's predicament. Ideologues like Friedman whose views of the Middle East are based on antagonism towards Israel pay no attention to "the other side" and demand continued unrequited commitments from Israel. Until the Palestinian political culture changes and Palestinian Media Watch has no more material to publicize, there will be no peace no matter how "creative" Israel gets.

It's hard to imagine a more toxic brew of cynicism, ignorance and venality regrading Israel in one place. It's like the editors of the New York Times commissioned an op-ed from the Washington Report and got one without the subtlety or humor that publication is usually known for.

Related thoughts from Israeli Matzav and Elder of Ziyon.

2) The nefarious Sheldon

A New York Times editorial, Mr. Romney stumps in Israel knows who to blame:
The real audience for Mr. Romney’s tough talk was American Jews and evangelical Christians, some of whom accompanied him on his trip. He is courting votes and making an aggressive pitch to donors, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate with the hard-line pro-Israel views who is spending more money than any other American — $100 million — to defeat Mr. Obama.
The editors of the New York Times may comfort themselves believing that Romney's playing for such small stakes; that only "American Jews and evangelical Christians" care about Israel and are concerned about what would happen to American ties with Israel in a sequel to the Obama administration. But Israel - in poll after poll - is clearly an American issue; not a narrow parochial one.

But what's most disturbing about the editorial, is that the editors of the New York Times have once again turned Sheldon Adelson into the bogeyman of the election. For the subtlety of the portrayal, they might as well have described him as a "rich, rapacious Jew seeking to buy the election by nefarious means," but even they might shrink from such an explicit declaration. Did it occur to them that Adelson's millions didn't buy Newt Gingrich the Republican nomination? The message, messenger and messaging are all probably more important than the millions. To be sure the millions enable the other three, but it doesn't ensure that the candidate will win.

Prior to Romney's Jerusalem speech, Fouad Ajami wrote Romney isn't out to make the world swoon:
Presidential campaigns are, of course, not about truth. And a candidate’s ambitious promises are generally cast aside once he assumes the burdens of office. As a presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, it should be recalled, promised to close the missile gap with the Soviet Union. But for the United States, there was no gap to close. It was the Soviets who were at a huge disadvantage, a paltry three scores of missiles for an American arsenal of more than 2,000. In the same vein, candidate Obama vowed to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, repair “brand America” abroad, drain anti-Americanism from the Islamic world and build trust between Pakistan and the United States.
But these promises have been largely forgotten in the exercise of power. Guantanamo is still open, and anti-Americanism in the Islamic world did not dissipate when Bush left the White House. In a supreme note of irony, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which was once held up as proof of Bush’s poor standing in foreign lands, recently bore bad tidings for Obama:
“In a number of strategically important Muslim nations,” the June report says, “America’s image has not improved during the Obama presidency. In fact, America’s already low 2008 ratings have slipped even further in Jordan and Pakistan.”
After noting some likely similarities between the Obama handles foreign affairs and a President Romney might, Ajami concludes:
The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington once sketched three visions of the United States’ place in the world: nationalist, cosmopolitan and imperial. In the nationalist view, America defends her interests in the world and marks ideological borders and differences with other nations. In the cosmopolitan view, the foreign world and globalization reshape America, erasing the differences that separate it from other countries. In the imperial vision, America remakes the world by remaking foreign lands.
An imperial push can’t be sustained; the United States lacks the resources and the drive for such grand ambitions. So we are down to a more realistic distinction. Obama embodies the cosmopolitan aspiration, and Romney the nationalist idea. We have already seen Obama’s worldview at work; it probably wouldn’t change in a second term. Romney’s stewardship would dawn without trumpets and drums. It would have the sobriety of Gerald Ford’s and George H.W. Bush’s leadership. But there would be an ideological edge, illustrated in Romney’s VFW address: “Like a watchman in the night, we must remain at our post — and keep guard of the freedom that defines and ennobles us and our friends.”
This is not only good prose. Compared with Obama’s ideas, it is a different view of America.
True Ajami wrote before Governor Romney's trip but his measured tone and reasoned analysis stands out in stark contrast to the hysterical tone of the editors of the "paper of record."


3) So was it a success?

As Prof Ajami wrote (and Charles Krauthammer wrote last week) Romney's was symbolically important as a way to demonstrate a contrast between the presumed challenger and the incumbent. But was his trip a success?

Not surprisingly according the Obama administration it was a disaster. (via memeorandum)
"It is clear that the opportunity to credential his beliefs with the American voters was nothing short for Mitt Romney of an embarrassing disaster on this trip," Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs told reporters on a conference call.
Earlier in the call, Gibbs said that the trip "Certainly didn’t prove to anyone that [Romney] passed the commander-in-chief test" and that "Particularly alongside the trip Senator Obama took in 2008, there's simply no comparison."
Gibbs also attacked Romney for not taking questions from the press; he only took three questions over the course of his trip, all at his first stop in London. Gibbs noted that Obama took over 25 questions during his trip.
PowerLine (via InstaPundit) and Hot Air (again via Instapundit) note that the American media deemed the trip a disaster too. But does that mean that Romney's trip was a disaster? Or that the media more closely resembles the Obama campaign than an independent, adversarial press?

Seth Mandel and James Taranto also both critique the press coverage, though more specifically about Israel.

In particular Romney was criticized for his use of the word "culture" in explaining the economic disparity between Israel and the Palestinians.The New York Times reported in Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop:
In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.
...
He added, “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”
The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.
It is apparently the reporters' judgment that Romney "vastly understated the disparities between the societies," as they explained later "Mr. Romney did not speak to the deleterious impact of deep Israeli trade restrictions on the Palestinian economy."

But as David Landes's son Richard writes:
I like that “sensitive part of the world.” Of course the Palestinians will take issue with what Romney said, but maybe they should be thinking about whether or not it was true. In typical Palestinian style, they prefer to blame “the occupation” no matter how hollow the argument (on the contrary, having Israel as their foe has brought significant economic opportunities, not to mention huge sums of foreign aid their way). Granted the barriers and restrictions hinder the Palestinians, but they surely should take some responsibility for that; after all, the Israelis never would have built the separation barrier were it not for Palestinian terrorism.
Barry Rubin adds:
Now here’s the problem: If Palestinians deny that there’s a problem they cannot resolve the problem. Failure to acknowledge that there is a real difference is disastrous for the Palestinians. Insisting on the very ideas responsible for that difference is catastrophic.
When Romney refers to “culture” he’s not referring to literature and music but to what is usually called “political culture.” And Romney uses the precise same criteria when he’s talking about America. Democracy, individual liberty, free enterprise, and the rule of law are among the ingredients necessary for success of any society.
Many of those who mistakenly claim that Romney was taking Obama's "You didn't built that" comment out of context are more than willing to misconstrue Romney's reference to culture here. They are less interested in advancing the cause of peace or, at least, coexistence than they are in shielding the Palestinians from their own failures.
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