September 20, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for February 22, 2012


1) The flying elephant in the room

Thomas Friedman writes in Egypt's step backward:

Amazing. What Abul Naga is saying to all those young Egyptians who marched, protested and died in Tahrir Square in order to gain a voice in their own future is: “You were just the instruments of the C.I.A., the U.S. Congress, Israel and the Jewish lobby. They are the real forces behind the Egyptian revolution — not brave Egyptians with a will of their own.”

Not surprisingly, some members of the U.S. Congress are talking about cutting off the $1.3 billion in aid the U.S. gives Egypt’s army if these Americans are actually thrown in prison. Hold off on that. We have to be patient and see this for what, one hopes, it really is: Fayza’s last dance. It is elements of the old regime playing the last cards they have to both undermine the true democratic forces in Egypt and to save themselves by posing as protectors of Egypt’s honor.

Egyptians deserve better than this crowd, which is squandering Egypt’s dwindling resources at a critical time and diverting attention from the real challenge facing the country: giving Egypt’s young people what they so clearly hunger for — a real voice in their own future and the educational tools they need to succeed in the modern world. That’s where lasting dignity comes from.

There's something missing in all this. One group has come to the defense of the old regime, threatening to reconsider the Camp David Accords, if the United States (justifiably) cuts its aid to Egypt. That is the Muslim Brotherhood, as David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reported last week:

The Islamist party that leads the new Egyptian Parliament is threatening to review the 1979 peace treaty with Israel if the United States cuts off aid to the country over a crackdown on American-backed nonprofit groups here.

The pact is considered a linchpin of regional stability, and the statements, from at least two senior leaders of the party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, represent the first time that Egyptians have explicitly raised it during an escalating standoff over the crackdown.

Why wouldn't Friedman mention that the Muslim Brotherhood is in cahoots with Mubarak's old cronies?

Nearly two months ago, Friedman wrote Watching elephants fly:

To not be worried about the theocratic, antipluralistic, anti-women’s-rights, xenophobic strands in these Islamist parties is to be recklessly naïve. But to assume that the Islamists will not be impacted, or moderated, by the responsibilities of power, by the contending new power centers here and by the priority of the public for jobs and clean government is to miss the dynamism of Egyptian politics today.

The blind optimism of the column was readily apparent at the time. Now, the Muslim Brotherhood shows its true colors and Friedman doesn't acknowledge his mistake; he just ignores it and assumes that no one will remember what he wrote just a few weeks ago.

2) Naqba denier

The Atlantic once was a highly thought of publication. Now seemingly anyone can write for it with no requirement of being truthful. Leila Hilal wrote Israeli Leader Wrongly Blames UN and Arab States for Palestinian Refugees and claims:

Ayalon is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently a Knesset member representing Yisrael Beitenieu, an ultra-nationalist party that advocates the transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel as part of a political settlement. An avid user of social media — recognized by Foreign Policy in their who's who of 100 Tweeters in 2011 — he maintains a personal website in Hebrew and English, including links to his widely viewed and frequently reposted Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. The refugee video alone garnered 37,000 hits within the first two weeks of its release, and currently has over 140,000 views. Ayalon reportedly plans to promote the clips, available in eight languages, globally for use in regular school curricula. The deputy foreign minister has particularly strong appeal among some Christian evangelicals and conservative members of U.S. Congress, with whom he and his party have long cultivated ties and to whom much of his communications appears geared. In short, his effort to influence the narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can have consequences.

To call Yisrael Beiteinu an ultra-nationalist party "that advocates transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel," is deceptive. In its own website, the party describes its policy like this:

The responsibility for primarily Arab areas such as Umm Al-Fahm and the “triangle” will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In parallel, Israel will officially annex Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria. Israel is our home; Palestine is theirs.

That is unclear, however the Jewish Virtual Library explains further:

Yisrael Beiteinu is in favor of a peace settlement with the Palestinians but advocates replacing the land-for-peace approach with a mutual exchange of territories and populations under the principle of peace for peace, land for land. The party's manifesto states that "The end result [of a peace settlement with the Palestinians] must not be a state and a half for Palestinians and half a state for the Jews… It would be unjustifiable to create a Palestinian state that would exclude Jews while Israel became a bi-national state with an Arab minority of more than 20 percent of its citizens." The party states that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.

In other words, both Jews and Arabs who find themselves on the wrong side of the border will be transferred. Only half of that equation is objectionable to Hilal. Of course as we saw at Yamit and Gaza, Israel has transferred Jews in the name of peace.

I suppose there's a little truth in this argument:

In criticizing UNRWA, Ayalon ignores the fact that the agency is not mandated to find solutions for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA's authority, given to it by the UN General Assembly, is limited to providing humanitarian and development assistance. It is true that UNRWA has delivered this assistance for multiple decades, but it is precisely because of UNRWA's role that the refugees have been able to achieve varied degrees of normalization pending a political resolution of their rights. It is for this reason that the Israeli government annually supports the renewal of the agency's mandate at the UN and has opposed the cutting of aid to its general fund.

In the video, Ayalon implicitly portrays UNRWA as a resource drain compared to UNHCR — again ignoring their differences. As a direct service provider for millions of beneficiaries, UNRWA needs staff and money to fulfill its internationally mandated role. UNHCR, on the other hand, typically contracts out service provision for refugees or negotiates socio-economic access with hosting governments. (Frequently unsuccessful in this endeavor, many refugees under UNHCR's authority face extremely dire circumstances, exacerbating protracted conflicts.)

No UNRWA is not mandated to find solutions for Palestinian refugees, it is, however, designed to perpetuate them. As Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer observed in 2007:

Instead, UNRWA finds a hundred and one ways to perpetuate Palestinian dependency. The interests of the refugees and UNRWA are fatally intertwined; UNRWA is staffed mainly by local Palestinians — more than 23,000 of them — with only about 100 international United Nations professionals. Tellingly, while the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) avoid employing locals who are also recipients of agency services, UNRWA does not make this distinction. Terrorism does not exclude one from being a part of UNRWA. In fact, quite the opposite is true: UNRWA-overseen hospitals and clinics routinely employ members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Employing Palestinians for decade after decade and providing them with subsistence-level food aid and rudimentary education are a far cry from giving them usable skills and a positive attitude about creating their own independent economy and viable civic institutions.

More recently, Daniel Pipes added:

These changes had dramatic results. In contrast to all other refugee populations, which diminish in number as people settle down or die, the Palestine refugee population has grown over time. UNRWA acknowledges this bizarre phenomenon: "When the Agency started working in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services." Further, according to James G. Lindsay, a former UNRWA general counsel, under UNRWA's definition, that 5 million figure represents only half of those potentially eligible for Palestine refugee status.

In other words, rather than diminish 5-fold over six decades, UNRWA has the population of refugees increase almost 7-fold. That number could grow faster yet due to the growing sentiment that female refugees should also pass on their refugee status. Even when, in about 40 years, the last actual refugee from mandatory Palestine dies, pseudo-refugees will continue to proliferate. Thus is the "Palestine refugee" status set to swell indefinitely. Put differently, as Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East Forum notes, "given UNRWA's standards, eventually all humans will be Palestine refugees."

Hilal also writes:

Ayalon's claim that Arab states deny refugees basic rights as demographic warfare against the Jewish state is also out of context. All Arab refugee-hosting countries endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in 2002 and again in 2007. The API contains an implicit compromise proposal to implement the right of return in a manner sensitive to Israel's demographic interests following Israeli recognition of international principles. As political landscapes shift in the Middle East, so may Arab foreign policies. Ayalon, however, relies on archaic public statements from former pan-Arabist Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser and long-passed UNRWA commissioners. Rather than quoting Arab leaders in 1969 or UN officials from the 1950s, Israeli officials should be honest about where the political conflict on the refugee question lies today.

Hilal apparently realizes the weakness of her argument when she writes that the Arab Peace Initiative contains "an implicit compromise" with Israel. There is nothing explicit about the API except for Israel's obligations. In short it is a recipe for the Arab League to keep changing its demands of Israel in return for ill defined promises. Furthermore, anyone who reads MEMRI knows that the official anti-Israel vitriol of the Arab world is not a thing of the past.

Finally we get to the most offensive part of Hilal's argument:

This leads to the other major assertion advanced in the clip equating Jewish and Palestinian refugees. In 2008, American historian Michael Fischbach published a ground-breaking study on Jewish Property Claims against Arab Governments. Fischbach mined American, Israeli, and British archives to understand the circumstances surrounding the movement of 800,000 Jews from Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa over a 20-year period following Israel's establishment. His research revealed that Jews left Arab countries for a variety of reasons, with many leaving behind valuable assets that in some cases were seized by Arab governments. Ayalon reminds us of these claims but wrongly suggests that they fit within the rubric of Palestinian-Israeli relations. Jewish property claims should be resolved as a matter of priority, but bi-laterally with responsible Arab governments and according to the same universal norms applicable to Palestinians.

Funny, earlier, when it suited her, Hilal acknowledged the "archaic public statements" of Arab leaders, but she ignores it in this case:

On May 16, 1948, a New York Times Headline read “Jews in Grave Danger in all Muslim Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia face wrath of their foes.“ The story reported of a law drafted by the Arab League Political Committee “which was intended to govern the legal status of Jewish residents of Arab League countries. Their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to 'Zionist ambitions in Palestine.' Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned and their assets confiscated.“ Pogroms and persecutions, and grave fears for their future, regularly preceded the mass expulsions and exoduses of the Jews, whose ancestors had inhabited these regions from time immemorial. Beginning in 1948, more than 650,000 Jews left their homes in the Arab world to become refugees, and were eventually integrated into Israel, even as the country was being threatened with annihilation by neighboring Arab League states. Since their belongings were confiscated as the price of leaving from their repressive homelands, they arrived in Israel penniless, but they were welcomed and quickly absorbed into Israeli society. Approximately 300,000 more Jews found refuge, and a new homeland, in Europe and the Americas.

In a sense, then, Hilal ignores the Nakba. The Jewish one.

If her misstatements and misdirections were not enough, she leaves us with one last one:

Ayalon argues in his video that the Palestinian refugees were encouraged to flee by Arab countries, who refused to accept the Jewish state. Though this view is still advanced by Israeli officials, it conflicts with mainstream Israeli understandings. According to a new study from Hebrew University profiled by Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, "virtually all newspaper articles and research studies from the end of the 1980s to 2004", as well as all history textbooks authorized by the Israel's Ministry of Education since 2000, acknowledge that Palestinian refugees were subject to forcible expulsion. As Eldar noted, "It's a rejection of the [...] narrative that 'there was no expulsion in 1948.'"

This is not a mainstream view. It is the fashionable view of the anti-Israel left.

In order to set the record straight, Efraim Karsh wrote Palestine Betrayed, reviewed here:

Karsh sets the record straight by drawing on Western, United Nations, Israeli, and Soviet documents declassified over the last decade, providing the correct context often missing in the selective focus of the "new historians" and altogether absent in the Palestinian narrative. His detailed examination of the historical records reveals that Israel's establishment was not the main cause of the Palestinian refugee problem and the hardships that the population has faced thereafter. Instead, it was the result of actions taken by the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders.

Anger instigated by Arab leaders is the foremost recurring theme in Palestine Betrayed, and Karsh holds the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Husseini, responsible for the deterioration of neighborly relations between the Arabs and Jews during the Mandate period, and for the eventual "collapse and dispersion of Palestinian Arab society."

Hajj Amin, known for his pan-Arab ambitions, "viewed the Palestinians not as a distinct people deserving statehood but as an integral part of a single Arab nation"—with himself as leader, and clean of Jews. To this end, Hajj Amin, an admirer and supporter of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, launched a campaign to demolish the Jewish national revival by enraging his constituents with all the anti-Jewish rhetoric he could find, from verses in the Quran to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Given the sloppiness of Hilal's article, one wonders what the standards of the Atlantic are now. Or if it has any.

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.