July 23, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for February 15, 2012


1) New NYT Jerusalem Bureau chief

Ethan Bronner in an e-mail to Politico explains why he's leaving his post as the New York Times bureau chief in Israel:

My son, who is 22, not 21, left the Israeli army a year ago. And I have not been reassigned. I asked to return. It has been 4 years, my parents are in their 90s and I originally promised to stay only three years, both my sons are there, my wife wants to return to her psychoanalytic practice. So we are coming home. I told the paper I wanted to keep writing. The national legal beat was suggested. I happily agreed.

The reason Bronner had to write the e-mail is because this is how the reporter, Dylan Byers originally framed the change:

Bronner's 22-year-old son was* a member of the Israeli Defense Forces, a conflict of interest first raised by the website Electronic Intifada. Shortly thereafter, former public editor Clark Hoyt looked into the matter and found that, despite the 'unerring sense of fairness' mentioned above, Bronner's son's assignment put the bureau chief in a problematic position.

"Bronner is a superb reporter… But, stepping back, this is what I see: The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side," he wrote last February. "Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out."

"I have enormous respect for Bronner and his work, and he has done nothing wrong," he continued. "But this is not about punishment; it is simply a difficult reality. I would find a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the I.D.F."

Despite Hoyt's recommendation, the paper did not reassign Bronner.

Byers strongly implied – with no proof – that Bronner was being re-assigned on account of his son. By doing so he kept alive the calumny that Bronner was biased on account of his son.

Clark Hoyt, then the public editor of the New York Times was fully complicit in taking the charge of an anti-Israel activist and giving it legitimacy. Byers quoted from the column, Too close to home, Hoyt wrote two years ago.

Was there any objective evidence to support Ali Abunimah's charge? No. For example in an article Israeli Soldiers Convicted of Using Boy as Shield, Bronner reported:

But human rights groups say that the military’s criminal proceedings are insufficient and that Israeli troops carried out a number of atrocities that require outside investigation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council commissioned a South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, to lead an inquiry into the war’s conduct. His report, issued a year ago, said there was compelling evidence of war crimes by both sides. It said that Israel had waged war on Gaza’s civilians and civilian infrastructure in an act of inexcusable collective punishment.

The Goldstone report cited four episodes in which Israeli soldiers were said to have used Palestinians as shields, but those were all adults in other parts of Gaza.

The implication here is that despite the convictions, the IDF could or

should have done more to investigate reported wrongdoings of its

soldiers. Could this, in any way, be construed as favored treatment on account of his son? Absolutely not. Rather than defending the reporter (as opposed to then executive editor Bill Keller who, to his credit, defended Bronner ) Hoyt gave credence to the complaint of an anti-Israel activist, with no evidence to back it up. Hoyt's disgraceful performance showed the anti-Israel crowd that they could effectively challenge the credibility of any reporter.

So with this in mind, when Ali Abuminah tweeted:

As new @nytimes bureau chief, Jodi @Rudoren will get to move into this lovely property stolen from Palestinians in 1948 http://electronicintifada.net/content/ny-times-jerusalem-property-makes-it-protagonist-palestine-conflict/8705

Jodi Rudoren (nee Wilgoren), Bronner's soon to be successor, responded with:

@AliAbunimah Hey there. Would love to chat sometime. About things other than the house. My friend Kareem Fahim says good things

While Rudoren pushes back on the subject of the house, the rest of her response seems like she's ingratiating herself to Abunimah. In general Rudoren's tweets so far show a preference for critics of Israel.

It's also worthwhile noting that the deference given Abunimah, contrasts with an observation made by Neil Lewis:

At The Times, a mention of CAMERA frequently induces eye-rolling or shrugs. Editors have clearly lost patience with the group.

This would demonstrate that undocumented charges of anti-Israel activists (who are usually much less civil than CAMERA) carry greater weight with the management of the New York Times than careful critiques of pro-Israel groups.

When I first heard that Ethan Bronner would be the new Israel correspondent for the New York Times four years ago, I had misgivings. Barry Rubin e-mailed me that Bronner would be a huge improvement over the incumbent, Steven Erlanger. Still Prof. Rubin predicted that Bronner would sometimes "bend over backwards" to show that he wasn't too pro-Israel. That would be a pretty good description of Bronner's tenure in Israel. He has been better than most American correspondents in recent years, however he has often reported Israel's critics and enemies much too uncritically.

Bronner was an improvement over Erlanger. Given the intimidation by the anti-Israel crowd and Rudoren's apparent leanings, I have no confidence that she will be an improvement over Bronner.

2) Other than that Beinart was right

Jodi Rudoren recently tweeted an uncritical promotion of yesterday's Roger Cohen column.

The problem with Cohen's column is that it is based on Peter Beinart's recent book and that, as Shmuel Rosner shows, Beinart's central premise is mistaken.

There are a lot of details in this new study, and a lot to chew on, but the bottom line is what most readers care about, and it is quite clear: “In all four pairs of surveys under analysis, the overall level of emotional attachment to Israel increased between Time 1 (a survey conducted in the 1990s) and Time 2 (a survey conducted in the 2000s)”. It didn’t decrease – that’s what one would expect if there’s “distancing” – but rather increased. The authors state it plainly: “there is no evidence of declining attachment across the generations” as “the available evidence suggests increased attachment between the early 1990s and mid-2000s for the American Jewish population as a whole and increased attachment over the lifecycle for individual American Jews (in particular as they aged into mid-life). The evidence does not show decline from the older to the younger generations during the period 1990-2005”.

While I don't agree with everything he writes, Rabbi David Wolpe takes issue with Beinart's self-importance:

Beinart’s email represents what is wrong with the debate: It is smug in its dismissal of Israel’s leadership and grandiose in presenting one view as the sole salvation of that beleaguered nation’s honor. Peter Beinart raises crucial, abiding issues. Then he compares those who take a different view to racist destroyers of democracy. This is not debate. This is not dialogue. This is demagoguery. He is better than this and we must be too. In Pirke Avoth, Avtalion warns sages to be careful with their words. The warning applies to those who are not sages, as well.

3) How to bash Bashar

Recently Barry Rubin wrote in What to do about Syria:

But to return to the question of what the West or world should do: Listen to the democratic opposition. It wants two things, obviously taken from the Iraqi case: a no-fly zone for Syrian military aircraft and the creation of a safe zone — presumably near the Turkish border — for refugees, fugitives, and the Free Syrian Army.

When I mention the “no-fly” zone to people they ask, “But the Syrian air force isn’t bombing the rebels, right? So what good is this?” The answer is that we’re not talking about fighters or bombers but about helicopter gunships and transport planes. With Syria rushing troops around the country to counter the uprisings, the point is to make it harder for them to do so.

If any plan is going to be considered for intervention this one seems to be the best starting point. Its virtues and shortcomings should be thoroughly discussed so as to decide whether this is a good thing to do. This would be preferable to the current debate that lurches between total passivity and adventurous intervention.

(Soner Cagaptay made a similar argument, but based on Bosnia.)

In the new online publication Times of Israel (h/t Avraham F), edited by former Jerusalem Post editor, David Horovitz, Ehud Ya'ari makes some suggestions for Israel, Taking Sides:

  • Israel should — and it is definitely not impossible — establish quiet channels to some different factions and personae amongst the fragmented opposition groupings. Having maintained for years contacts with quite a few of them, I have reached the conclusion that unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Syria is not necessarily destined to fall under a Moslem Brotherhood regime, although Islamists are certainly key players in the current uprising.
  • Using its long-standing contacts to the Druze community, Israel could try to encourage the inhabitants of Suweida Province (The Druze Mountain) in Southern Syria to throw their lot against Assad. So far the Druze have been hesitant to pick sides, but once they do, it will have an enormous impact on the attitude of other important minorities — Christians, Kurds, Ismailis, Circassians.

  • Israeli intelligence agencies possess huge amounts of detailed quality data on the Assad killing machine — they know who gives orders to whom and how; they know what the instructions are and how are they carried out. This is information that is highly incriminating and embarrassing to Assad. Some of these treasures can be leaked without risking valuable intelligence assets. Remember the famous telephone conversation between President Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan which was made public by the IDF during the 1967 war? There are many buyers for good stuff — let us start unclassifying a few samples and passing them to the proper non-Israeli media outlets!

In Like Father, Like Son, Thomas Friedman writes:

I don’t know what is sufficient to persuade Assad to cede power to a national unity government, but I know what is necessary: He has to lose the two most important props holding up his regime. One is the support of China, Iran and Russia. There, the U.N., the European Union and Arab and Muslim countries need to keep calling out Moscow, Beijing and Iran for supporting Assad’s mass killing of unarmed civilians. China, Iran and Russia don’t care about U.S. condemnation, but they might care about the rest of the world’s.

The other prop, though, can only be removed by Syrians. The still-fractious Syrian opposition has to find a way to unify itself and also reach out to the Alawites, as well as Syria’s Christian and Sunni merchants, and guarantee that their interests will be secure in a new Syria so they give up on Assad. Without that, nothing good will come of any of this. The more the Syrian opposition demonstrates to itself, to all Syrians and to the world that it is about creating a pluralistic Syria — where everyone is treated as an equal citizen — the weaker Assad will be and the more likely that a post-Assad Syria will have chance at stability and decency. The more the Syrian opposition remains fractured, the stronger Assad will be, the more some Syrians will cling to him out of fear of chaos and the more he will get away with Hama Rules.

Compared to the other suggestions, Friedman's seems generic rather than informed. Friedman also ignores any military intervention placing his full faith in diplomacy.

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.