July 22, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for January 20, 2012


1) Sinking Lewis

The Columbia Journalism Review features an article by Neil Lewis, The Times and the Jews. The subhead tells us: "A vocal segment of American Jewry has long believed that the paper has been unfair to Israel. Here’s why—and why they’re wrong." (h/t James Taranto) The article is long (and a longer version is promised at the bottom) but I will focus on only one incident that Lewis analyzes.

Sontag’s most controversial piece was an unusually long (nearly five thousand words) analysis of why the July 2000 Camp David peace talks between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, midwifed by President Bill Clinton, did not yield a settlement. Published on the one-year anniversary of the talks’ failure, the article testily disputed the conventional wisdom that the Palestinian side was mostly at fault, that Arafat could not bring himself to cut a deal—perhaps because he was not made for negotiating peace after all his years of running a war operation or because he thought he would be discredited by hardliners.

Sontag’s article shifted a significant portion of the blame onto the Israelis and the Americans, and was a surprising departure from what most people believed at the time. It paralleled a minority view espoused in The New York Review of Books by Robert Malley, an adviser to President Clinton.

She wrote that, “A potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down.” While that was a caricature of the general view, and thus a bit of a straw man, she went on to argue that the Israelis and the Americans bore far more of the blame than had generally been believed.

Sontag's analysis has been critiqued by Robert Satloff, Daniel Pipes and Saul Singer. However there is a section of her narrative that has escaped scrutiny. In describing how violence followed the failure at Camp David, Sontag wrote:

All this behind-the-scenes movement was reflected in the atmosphere at that dinner party at Mr. Barak's home. The prime minister, who had refused to talk directly to the Palestinian leader at Camp David, now courted him. Mr. Ben-Ami, then foreign minister, said he left the dinner and told his wife that Mr. Barak — whom he describes as ''deaf to cultural nuance'' — was so intent on forging a peace agreement that he was willing to change ''not only his policies but his personality.''

But Palestinians drove away from that dinner with something else on their minds — Mr. Sharon's coming visit to what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews know as the Temple Mount. Mr. Arafat said in an interview that he huddled on the balcony with Mr. Barak and implored him to block Mr. Sharon's plans. But Mr. Barak's government perceived the planned visit by Mr. Sharon, then the opposition leader, as solely an internal Israeli political matter, specifically as an attempt to divert attention from the expected return to political life by a right-wing rival — Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister.

(Emphasis mine.)

Why is this important? Because when she originally reported on this meeting at Ehud Barak's house, Arafat's Visit to Barak's Place Broke the Ice, Both Sides Say, there was no sign of any such tension.

It was just a little suburban dinner party, nothing fancy. The host and his guest of honor cracked jokes. They strolled in the garden for an intimate chat. And then the host kissed his guest goodbye, walked him to a waiting Israeli military helicopter and waved as the guest, wearing his trademark kaffiyeh, flew back to Gaza City.

A senior adviser to Yasir Arafat said the late-night supper, at Prime Minister Ehud Barak's private home in Kochav Yair on Monday, was the single best meeting ever between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The adviser, Nabil Shaath, said today that it had been ''very cordial,'' even congenial. He noted that the two men had walked together to the balcony twice — ''and both came back.''

The name Sharon does not appear in the news story. And there was no indication of Arafat imploring Barak about anything. If the item about Arafat begging Barak not to allow Sharon's walk along the Temple Mount were true, it would have been a discordant note during that pleasant dinner meeting and worthy of reporting. If Barak had refused a serious request from Arafat, Nabil Shaath wouldn't have called the meeting the "best … ever" between Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Since Sontag wrote both articles, she had to know she was committing the journalistic equivalent of suborning perjury.

In those two paragraphs, Sontag allowed Arafat to escape responsibility for instigating the "Aqsa intifada." Since Sontag was covering for Arafat's use of violence against Israel, in violation of his 1993 letter to Yitzchak Rabin, this reporting was clearly anti-Israel. But it was worse than that from a journalistic perspective, it was dishonest.

And that's the problem of Lewis's article. He is less interested in whether the New York Times' reporting on Israel is accurate than how many people incorrectly thought that David Shipler was Jewish. He dismisses CAMERA's work, though they back up their complaints. (He also sloppily spells the organization's name in lower case.) He ignores Honest Reporting that started in response to one of the worst gaffes to appear in the New York Times.

Lewis seems more interested in explaining why Jews who find the New York Times anti-Israel are wrong on his own authority, rather than by methodically analyzing the reporting in the Times. This is an extremely unsatisfying essay and Lewis must have thought he was writing for the Columbia Sociology Review, as there is precious little journalism that makes it into his article.

2) The split in Hamas

Avi Issacharoff reports, Report: Meshal notified Hamas leadership he will not seek reelection:

The controversy between Hamas' leaders in Gaza and abroad focuses on the approach to Israel, the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, establishing a Palestinian state and, above all, the relations with Syria and Iran.

Hamas' Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and his men decided to prove to the organization's leaders who recently fled Damascus they could no longer impose their decisions on Gaza.

The Gaza leadership's position was bolstered by the realization that Meshal was trying to change Hamas' struggle strategy and lead it to an historic reconciliation with Fatah, while concentrating its energies on an Arab Spring-type struggle. Haniyeh, meanwhile, is sticking to his former stance, demanding to close ranks with Islamic Jihad.

In Hamas seeks a new patron, Jonathan Spyer focuses on relations with Iran and Syria being the main point of controversy.

This has placed Hamas in a decidedly uncomfortable position from which it is now trying to extricate itself. Hamas is an outgrowth of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. Yet over the last decade, it had also become a card-carrying member of the Iran-led regional bloc. The movement’s leadership was domiciled in Syria, the long-term Arab ally of Iran. Iran provided money, weaponry, and training for Hamas’ sovereign Gaza enclave.

But in recent months, Hamas has faced a situation in which its fellow Sunni Muslim brothers in Syria are engaged in an uprising against a non-Sunni regime under whose patronage the Hamas leadership lives. The regime is seeking to suppress this revolt using methods of utmost viciousness and brutality. At the same time, as Sunni Islamism rises to power elsewhere, a number of attractive potential alternative patrons for Hamas seem to be emerging.

So Hamas is now trying to quietly exit the Iranian camp for pastures new. Leadership cadres in Damascus have in recent months moved themselves and their families out of Syria to a variety of regional destinations. Only a small staff remains in the Syrian capital. Hamas in Gaza has staunchly refused to hold demonstrations in support of the beleaguered Assad regime. The furious Iranians have threatened to cut vital funding from the Gaza enclave, to no avail.

Challah Hu Akhbar blogging at Israelly Cool, catches a possible manifestation of the split.

3) Jewish discomfort in Europe

Aaron Rubinger writes of the plight of European Jews in Deja Jew.

Over the course of 2 months, I visited Jewish communities in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium and the UK and interviewed dozens of Jewish leaders as well as “laymen” – both Jews and non-Jews. While attempting to determine the seriousness of contemporary European Anti-Semitism, I experienced what I would term “déjà Jew” – the peculiar sense that we, the members of Jewish people, are reliving an experience from the past; that we have somehow time-traveled and are now re-experiencing occurrences that are all too familiar.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.