Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/31/12: New York Times Advertorial For J-Street

From DG:
1) J-Street without the makeup

The New York Times, featured an advertorial for J-Street, Lobbying Group Builds on Moderate Take on Israel. At the end of the article was a correction:
Each mention of the word "moderate" should be replaced with "left wing fringe."
There really was a correction; that wasn't it.

However, I'd like to rewrite selected paragraphs to show how a newspaper - as opposed to an advertising agency - would cover J-Street. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to compare with the actual newspaper copy.

Second paragraph:
No longer. While America remains a strongly pro-Israel country, others, aware of this — led by J Street, a Washington lobbying group — take a more confrontational approach focusing their activism on criticisms of Israel while cynically using the "pro-Israel" label to pretend that they have mainstream support.
Fourth paragraph:
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, said in an interview that “the assumption has always been that to be pro-Israel, you have to run to be supportive of Israel in the Middle East. We've changed that and adopted the ‘Israel mostly wrong’ position.” 
Seventh paragraph:
In the past, some Congressional candidates were reluctant to take J Street’s money because of charges from some American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials that the group’s extreme positions — it supports less accountability for the Palestinian Authority, increased risk taking by Israel and continued aid to the Palestinian Authority regardless of its commitment to peace — made it “anti-Israel.” 
Ninth paragraph:
Josh Block, another former Aipac official, accurately called J Street “a gnat” in the Israel debate and “a fringe organization with no credibility.”
Tenth and eleventh paragraph:
Capitol Hill critics say J Street has been unnecessarily divisive, more interested in demanding ideological purity than in building a working coalition leading to friction with onetime supporters like Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, who broke with the group last year over its support for a United Nations resolution criticizing Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal. 
For J Street defenders in denial, such as this newspaper, the vitriol is a sign that the group is beginning to have an impact.
Seventeenth paragraph:
So far this year, J Street is endorsing and raising money for more than 60 candidates — all Democrats — including such well known anti-Israel candidates Representatives John D. Dingell of Michigan, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Last September, Representative Ellison wrote an op-ed in this newspaper advocating the unilateral declaration of independence of the Palestinian state - a position even more extreme than the stated editorial position of this newspaper.
Nineteenth paragraph:
J Street's conference drew a record number of attendees — 2,500 — but was limited to having the keynote speech given by Ehud Olmert, the disgraced former Israeli prime minister who is universally despised in Israel, and other irrelevancies. But it could not compete for global news coverage or firepower with AIPAC’s conference, which featured policy-defining and inspirational speeches defending Israel’s security by Mitt Romney and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as well as by J-Street's one time advocate President Obama. 
Twenty third paragraph:
While the anti-Israel philanthropist George Soros gives J Street about $500,000 a year - without which the group could not survive - it has not managed to cultivate the same loyal following among donors.
 Twenty fourth paragraph:
Still, leaders of J Street and politicians aligned with the group say they believe they have helped obfuscate the debate in Washington, as they have taken an uncritical stance supporting the Palestinian Authority and misleadingly passed it off as both “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace.”
Final two paragraphs:
J. J. Goldberg, who has been responsible for changing The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, into a pro J-Street advocacy newsletter and author of “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment,” said he was impressed by the inroads that J Street had made politically and financially.
“I’m stunned that there are so many members of Congress willing to take their money,” Mr. Goldberg said. “The fact that they’ve got 60 candidates who aren’t afraid to accept their ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ argument is a real breakthrough in deceit. I'm proud to have done my part, along with the New York Times, of giving prominence to this group of anti-Israel activists out of proportion to their actual numbers or influence.”
2) An Islamist and a general in the runoff

In this week's elections for president in Egypt, the top two vote getters were Muhammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmad Shafiq an ex-general who served under Mubarak.

Barry Rubin writes in Egypt’s Presidential Election is a Defeat (Perhaps Only Temporary) For the Islamists:
Note well that the three non-Islamist candidates had a majority. This means that if voters stay within these two camps, Shafiq will be elected president. 
The main irony is that their leading candidate shows support for the kind of rule being delivered by the army junta now and even by the (supposedly) despised Mubarak regime. A lot of Egyptians want quiet and order. And Shafiq outpaced the alternative “establishment” candidate Amr Moussa because he is even more bland and moderate. 
Again, though, note that Shafiq could be a president with few powers facing a parliament that is handcrafting a constitution intended to bring Islamism. Moreover he has no political organization. 
Or does he? Perhaps he has one that can be called the Egyptian army. A key point: If the Brotherhood doesn’t make the army very happy (financially), there might be some serious confrontations. In the longer run, there could even be a coup and that would return Egypt back to where it was politically before the whole “Arab Spring” business began!
In Reports of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated, Eric Trager describes the Muslim Brotherhood's organizational:
It is not merely that the Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s “best organized” group, as many commentators frequently note. It is the only organized group, with a nationwide hierarchy that can quickly transmit commands from its Cairo-based Guidance Office (maktab al-irshad) to its 600,000 members scattered throughout Egypt. The hierarchy works as follows: The twenty-member Guidance Office sends its marching orders to deputies in each governorate (muhafaza), who communicate with their deputies in each “sector” (quita), who communicate with their deputies in each “area” (muhafaza), who communicate with their deputies in each “populace” (shoaba), who finally communicate with the leaders of each Brotherhood “family” (usra), which is comprised of five Muslim Brothers and represents the organization’s most basic unit. This chain of command is used for executing all Guidance Office decisions, including commanding Muslim Brothers to participate in protests, organize social services, and—during the most recent elections—campaign and vote for Mohamed Morsi. 
There are two additional elements of the Muslim Brotherhood’s internal structure that ensure that the Brotherhood leadership’s commands are followed. First, the social lives of members are deeply embedded within the organization. Muslim Brothers meet with their five-person Brotherhood “families” at least weekly, where they study religious texts, discuss politics, organize local Brotherhood activities, and share their private lives with one another. Muslim Brothers’ deepest personal relationships thus emerge within the organization, and there is a great disincentive to buck the Brotherhood leadership’s commands, since doing so risks alienation from their closest friends and mentors. 
Second, the very process of becoming a Muslim Brother ensures that only those who are deeply committed to the organization and its principles become full-fledged members. Indeed, becoming a Muslim Brother is an intricate five-to-eight-year process, during which each member is gradually promoted through four tiers of memberships before finally becoming a “working Brother” (ach amal). (In order to attain the third level, a rising Muslim Brother’s supervisors must affirm that he has studied the works of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna; memorized specific chapters of the Qur’an; and shown himself to be “a good follower of the Muslim Brotherhood organization’s decisions,” as one young Muslim Brother engaged in this process told me last March.) Those who become Muslim Brothers are highly unlikely to turn their backs on an organization in which they have invested so much time and energy in joining.
The editors of the Washington Post hail Egypt's firm step toward democracy:
If confirmed, the choice between Mr. Morsi and Mr. Shafiq will not be a happy one. A victory by either one would pose the risk of accentuating the conflict and chaos that has plagued Egypt in the last 15 months. But the unfortunate result should not lessen the significance of what occurred last week: the freest and fairest vote for president in Egyptian history. Though three leading presidential candidates were disqualified, a dozen others openly campaigned for the job; despite complaints by the losers no evidence of significant fraud has surfaced. In what has been a seesaw battle over the future of the most populous Arab nation, the election represents another step toward democracy. 
The results showed that Egypt is hardly polarized between Islamists and the former military-backed regime. According to the preliminary results Mr. Morsi and Mr. Shafiq received, together, less than half the vote; Mr. Morsi’s total of about 25 percent was far below the more than 40 percent won by the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections just five months ago. Secular candidates received considerably more than half the vote. Mr. Sabahi, who espouses the Arab nationalism of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, was reported to have placed first in Cairo. 
A victory by Mr. Morsi in the second round would give Islamists control of both the presidency and parliament. The Brotherhood has vowed to respect democratic norms and women’s rights, to pursue free-market economic policies, and to maintain peace with Israel. But Mr. Morsi, 60, is a conservative who has vowed to steer the country toward Islamic law. Mr. Shafiq is even more worrisome: He could seek to restore the former autocracy, backed by the military and its intelligence services. Egyptians are already talking about the possibility that the second round could provoke more turmoil in the streets or a military coup.
I would be more skeptical of Morsi than Shafiq, because if both the executive and legislative branches of government are controlled by the Brotherhood, the chances of another free and fair election would be less likely.
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