Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/8/2012: Media Already Covering Up For Egypt's Morsi

From DG:
1) Making excuses for the Brotherhood

In its editorial about the recent terrorist infiltration into Israel, Egypt's Sinai Test, the New York Times writes:
The attackers have not been definitively identified. Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Party, which has often voiced hostility toward Israel but was not speaking for the president, used its Web site to suggest that Israeli intelligence could be to blame. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, used Twitter to finger Iran but his government, and many others, see the work of Al Qaeda-inspired militants with ties to Palestinians in Gaza. Egypt’s military, which still holds many levers of power, called the attackers “infidels.” Mr. Morsi also ignored the anti-Israel line. He said, “There’s no room to appease this treachery, this aggression and this criminality,” and promised that security forces would extend “full control” over the Sinai.
There is a conscious effort to make Morsi into a responsible leader and distance him from his movement's libel. On the other hand Eric Trager and Robert Satloff write:
So far, Morsi has sought to cover his bets. On the one hand, he issued a strong declaration condemning the attack, vowed to catch and punish the culprits, and traveled to al-Arish with Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi to assess the situation himself.On the other hand, he also permitted his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues to issue a venomous statement blaming Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, for the attack and warning Egyptians to beware of those trying to sabotage the revolution. 
This is the moment for private but firm communication to Morsi that a responsible leader, one who wants international support to bolster his flagging economy, cannot play childish games that pander to the worst instincts of Egyptian public opinion. Indeed, any serious effort to prevent terrorist infiltration in Sinai requires coordination with Israel, which -- even if kept in the shadows -- cannot proceed in an environment of public vilification.
Similarly Barry Rubin writes:
The Brotherhood immediately blamed Israel for engineering the attack. This means something quite different when the Brotherhood was just an opposition group in Egypt. It is now the government. Consider what this means: the organization governing Egypt has accused Israel of launching an attack on Egyptian soil and killing a lot of Egyptian soldiers. Isn’t that a just cause for war? That’s not going to happen but situations like this will arise repeatedly in future and one day can lead to war.
The difference between the New York Times and the other commentaries presented here is that the first is wishful thinking, the latter two are analyses.

2) When "important" means "out of touch"

The former head of the American Reform Movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America in Ha'aretz. (h/t Jewish Ideas Daily) Yoffie's doesn't think that Americans share Israel's concern about Iran:
For an important group of public intellectuals, the occupation of the West Bank is becoming more rather than less important. And we are not talking here about the usual cast of anti-Israel characters, but of mainstream journalists, scholars, and opinion makers – those who write in middle-of-the-road, general publications with a broad readership. 
Something is happening—a turning point, I suspect. No matter how much Israel’s leaders want to change the subject, it’s not working. 
Exhibit A, of course, is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose already-famous column of August 1 ripped into Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel and, in the process, castigated Israel for its building of settlements and its less-than-aggressive advocacy for a two-state solution. Friedman has made these arguments before, although rarely with such vehemence. In the last week, efforts have been made yet again to dismiss Friedman as an Israel hater, and yet again, they have failed; Friedman is a centrist, a moderate, and, by the way, the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.
First of all, when he limits his focus to an "important group of public intellectuals" he is not talking about Americans generally. As Jewtastic tweeted in response:
Every poll on the planet says the exact opposite, Israel near record highs w/ US public opinion
He is, of course, correct.

The second mistake Yoffie makes is to portray Thomas Friedman as a "moderate." Friedman may indeed be an "important" columnist. He is widely read and people who want to pretend to be sophisticated will pay to hear him or quote him. Friedman has one great skill. He knows how to sell himself. He has the ability to come up with pithy aphorisms that purport to explain a phenomenon but is often meaningless and pass it off as sophisticated analysis.

Friedman's column of last week, might be famous. The problem is that there was no paragraph in it that didn't contain a distortion or falsehood. "Famous" is not the same as "accurate" or "well argued." Yoffie's inability to discern the problems with the essay says more about his own limitations than about the essay's virtues.

Yoffie assertion that Friedman is the "important foreign policy columnist" is dubious. For example take Friedman's column from last month, What does Morsi mean for Israel? There are two main points to the article: despite its misgivings Israel should be sympathetic to Egypt's democratic aspirations and that Israeli should demonstrate that sympathy by doing whatever's necessary to make peace with the Palestinians.

Note that there's little substance to these beliefs. Friedman doesn't take into account that it's been Abbas who has refused to negotiate with Netanyahu, insisting on concessions even before deigning to meet with Netanyahu. Nor does he consider Egypt's failure to secure the Sinai or protect the Israeli embassy or the Muslim Brotherhood's expressed hatred of Israel. To Friedman, though, peace and stability are something Israel has control over and its failure to achieve them is, therefore, its own fault.

Friedman is not a serious columnist. He is not a moderate. He is an anti-Israel extremist.

More generally though it was a month ago, there was no mention of increased threats to Israel. Friedman's analysis was simply about politics, as Friedman imagined they work. In contrast, here's a line from a Barry Rubin analysis from December of last year.
In the Sinai Peninsula, Hamas is building support bases and arms-manufacturing facilities including those for building rockets. Over time, these rockets will no doubt be upgraded. In other words, Egypt is becoming a safe haven for anti-Israel terrorism. We know that these attacks will come from the Gaza Strip. The only question is whether at some point they will come directly across the Egypt-Israel border. 
I realize that to some degree it's easier to predict long term trends than discrete events. But the last sentence anticipated what happened a few days ago.

An truly "important" columnist would be interested in the way the world works. Friedman's so caught up in his own world, he ignores what has happened and has no capacity to anticipate what will happen.

Yoffie throws around words like "famous" and "important" he is blissfully unaware that the modifier he should be using is "out of touch."

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