October 31, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for February 7, 2012


1) Too much coverage?

Honest Reporting asks whether Disproportionate Coverage (of Israel) is a good thing or a bad thing. 

Brings to mind a conversation I once had with a kibbutznik during the early, heady days of Oslo. Ruben, a thin, middle-age European immigrant with pepper-gray hair and round glasses that somehow accentuated his bursting intellect, would sometimes vent about Big Media’s fixation with Israel.

But in a moment of candor, Ruben observed that it would be more painful to him if the world were indifferent to Israel. He broadly swept his hand to the right — overdramatically, I thought — as if to draw my attention to The Rest Of The World, as he emphatically told me:

 

“This tiny little country matters to the people out there.”

The problem isn't the disproportionate coverage of Israel; it's what constitutes that coverage. Israel has plenty of accomplishments that reporters could report on if they wanted to. The problem is that reporters and columnists see Israel as a "moral Disneyland" in Charles Krauthammer's formulation, from 24 years ago, at the beginning of the intidfada.

Israel's critics, so concerned about its soul, would have a little more credibility if they displayed equal concern for Israel's body. After all, it is that body – its right to mere existence – that has been the burning issue for 40 years now.

Israelis don't crave the tears of the West's moral vacationers. They crave life. Any Arab negotiating partner who, like Sadat, fully declares that life to be an absolute given, will soon find across the table the kind of Jewish soul for which the moral nostalgics so ostentatiously pine.

2) Joe Klein's about face?

Shortly after Binyamin Netanyahu's election for a second term as Prime Minister, Joe Klein commenting on an interview with the new Prime Minister wrote:

So, what’s going on here? A smokescreen, I suspect. Netanyahu–who is opposed to a Palestinian state–is trying to draw attention away from illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which continue to grow and threaten the possibility of a two-state solution. He is also playing to the minority of American Jews who support neoconservative positions, especially the notion that Iran having a bomb would be somehow different, and more threatening, than Pakistan having a bomb–the idea that Iran is run by mad mullahs, who behave irrationally.

Now he has seemingly found another threat to the two state solution. (h/t Martin Kramer):

I’ve been traveling to the Middle East as a journalist for the past 30 years. During that time, Israel has grown into an ethnically diverse, economically successful country with a strong (internal) tradition of democracy, free speech and the rule of law–a tradition not always extended toward its Palestinian neighbors, especially when Likud governments are in power. And during those same 30 years, governance on the Palestinian side has been an unrelenting disgrace–until recently, when Salam Fayyad, a U.S.-trained economist reformed the government on the West Bank and, with US help, created a tough security force that insisted on the rule of law in the Palestinian territories and was respected by the international community, including the Israelis.

But Fayyad was fired in the new accord between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas. This is terrible news. It changes everything.The success of Fayyad’s government was one reason why I was not entirely pessimistic about a two-state solution in the Middle East. Israel had always demanded, and deserved, a responsible negotiating partner. Fayyad had created conditions amenable to negotiation; the Israelis responded positively, in a limited way, shutting down checkpoints on the West Bank, but not nearly as positively as they should have–with a moratorium on new settlement construction. His firing has undermined those of us who had hoped for a more positive Israeli response to the Palestinian reforms.

Aside from his cheap shot about how Israel treats Palestinians, his praise of Israel as a society is welcome. But he overstates the importance of Fayyad. Fayyad never had a significant base of support. Over the past 30 years (actually more) Palestinian extremism has been praised and encouraged. Even Likud governments did more to promote peace with the Palestinians than "moderate" Fatah politicians – Fayyad included – did to encourage peace with Israel.

It would have been better had Klein not focused on Fayyad and noted that an agreement between Fatah and Hamas effectively rejects the Oslo Accords. Still it is something that he acknowledged the problem.

3) The Qaradawi surprise

The New York Times in an editorial, Killing in Syria asserts:

On Monday, government forces using tanks and machine guns shelled a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas in Homs, a major center of protests. Since Friday, an estimated 240 people have been killed in perhaps the bloodiest episode in the 11-month-old uprising. Moscow and Beijing now have the blood of Syria’s valiant people on their hands as well.

Both argued that the resolution, endorsing an Arab League initiative, would expand the conflict. That is nonsense. The real explanation is that these two authoritarian governments fear any popular movement and, after the ouster of Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, are determined to deny the West another perceived victory.

It would appear that Sheikh Qaradawi agrees with the New York Times:

Israel Television reports in its nightly news magazine that Qatari-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is considered one of the most important Sunni Sheikhs in the world, has issued a fatwa calling for a boycott of Russia and China over their vetoes of a UN Security Council resolution on Saturday that would have condemned Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Qaradawi called Russia and China the 'enemies of the Arab people.' 

 4) Room for debating Assad?

A regular feature of the New York Times is "Room for Debate," in which typing heads discuss the important issues of the day. Incredibly, there is room for Life After Assad Could Be Worse by Ed Husayn.

It is impossible to tell whether Assad’s time is running out. Educated and Westernized friends of mine in Syria who once opposed Assad on political grounds and sought reform now support him because they fear the prospect of an all-out civil war between tribes, cities, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Ismailis, Catholics, Protestants and assorted Orthodox Christians. Syria is a complex nation. Containing – not fanning – the current conflict is in everybody’s interests. 

 An op-ed in the Washington Post As Syria violence continues, world leaders do little, by Ammar Abdulhamid argues that Assad is fanning the current conflict:

But the slide into anarchy is more starkly observed in Homs City in central Syria, where for weeks loyalists have been pounding restive neighborhoods with mortars and heavy artillery. On the eve of the U.N. vote, indiscriminate bombardment killed more than 250 residents of the Khaldiyeh neighborhood. Loyalist gangs have committed cold-blooded massacres of entire families, including women and babies, in their effort to spread fear among the protesters and push them out of the city — a development that could usher in a larger-scale drive for ethnic cleansing in Homs City and a number of coastal communities, where sectarian tensions continue to rise. Despite the international outcry, Russia and China went ahead with their veto, which the regime has taken as a green light to continue its crackdown.

To the credit of the New York Times, not everyone debating is an apologist for the Assad regime, Andrew Tabler contributes A new resistance with new results:

Ultimate change is much more likely to come from below. In contrast to the situation in 1982, regime opponents aren’t cowed: their numbers are simply far too high and continue to swell. In the 10 years after the Hama massacre, Syrians stayed home out of fear, and a population boom began, making Syria among the 20 fastest-growing nations. Today it is one of the youngest populations in the Middle East. The Syrian Awakening, like so many uprisings and revolutions elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond, presents, perhaps, the best example of authoritarian regime karma.

But the question remains: Will the international community stand by and do nothing, as it did in 1982? And if not, what can it do to help Syrians end the 40-plus years of the Assad family’s brutal and incompetent rule and bring about a leadership capable of dealing with the needs of the next generation?

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.