October 30, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for April 19, 2012


1) Not a prayer

In the Times of Israel, Lyn Julius wrote an article, Why It Pays to Restore Synagogues in the Arab World, about cynical attempts of Arab countries to demonstrate their benevolence towards Jews. (h/t Daily Alert)

In particular she writes about an article in the Christian Science Monitor about efforts to rebuild the Magen Avraham synagogue in Beirut:

The CSM report is typical of a trend in Middle Eastern reporting hailing the restoration of Jewish buildings in countries with no more than a handful of Jews as somehow indicative of pluralism and tolerance in the Arab world. Even Jews fall for the fantasy, grateful for the slightest acknowledgement that members of the Tribe once lived there.

“Look, we even have Jews here!” a restored Jewish site proclaims.

Picking up the Christian Science Monitor report, Stewart Winer in the Times of Israel recalled that last year, before his regime was shaken to its foundations by the “Arab Spring,” Bashar al-Assad announced plans to restore 11 Syrian synagogues. This is in a country incapable of assembling a minyan (quorum) of 10 able-bodied Jewish men.

Last month, Foreign Policy featured a photo essay of synagogues in the Arab world, with a description: "The uncertain revolutions of the past year may present the best

chance for long-exiled Jewish communities across the Middle East to

return home." The very first picture in the series is of David Gerbi standing in the ruins of the Dar Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, Libya. But as Jonathan Tobin noted:

In the first picture in the essay, the magazine notes the example of David Gerbi who returned to Libya after the fall of Qaddafi hoping to begin the reclaim a lost synagogue. But they fail to note that he was arrested and threaten with violence for doing so. In the next photo, they put forward the claim that Jews live freely in Iran and are not put out by the anti-Semitic invective that flows from its government. Here again, the caption fails to note that Iranian Jews are the subject of frequent persecution and are virtual hostages living under threat of punishment for speaking freely about their situation. The magazine’s portrayal is reminiscent of Roger Cohen’s infamous whitewash of Iran on this subject.

There are some bright spots Foreign Policy can actually point to. One is Iraq where Hebrew studies have been encouraged. But this is more the work of the long American presence in the country than any popular sentiment to welcome home those who were victimized by pogroms in the 1940s. In Iraqi Kurdistan, there is the chance for good relations with Israel and the Jews but that only demonstrates the Kurds’ determination to reject the Islamism that dominates Iran and some parties in Iraq.

However, the magazine altogether misses the one example of a successful Jewish community in the Arab world that predates the Arab spring: Tunisia where the Jews of Djerba have never left. Unfortunately, the rise of Islamist parties in post-authoritarian Tunisia makes their stay a bit more precarious.

2) Sticks and stones

In "The Rocks in Tom Friedman's head," Michael Widlanski recalled an incident in which the columnist was stoned (h/t My Right Word, In Context):

Friedman knows very well that rocks are not a peaceful means to a peaceful end. He was attacked by Palestinian Arab rock throwers who stoned his car on Jerusalem’s Salahadin Street in 1988, just before leaving his job as the Jerusalem-based bureau chief of the Times. Friedman did not think of rocks then as peaceful protest.

“If I had a gun I would have blasted the faces of all those sons of bitches,” Friedman reportedly yelled, returning from the Arab side of town to the Times office, then at Rivlin Street in the mostly Jewish downtown center. Apparently, he never mentioned the incident—or his strong reaction to it—in his many books or columns.

The attitude of outrage, recalls another famous Jewish reporter and his response to being targeted in different circumstances. Recalling his captivity in Iraq during the first Gulf War, Bob Simon recalled:

But hardly well, for Simon and crew were soon shifted to an intelligence center in downtown Baghdad. "Here the guards were animals—all they did was shout and beat," he says. One day an officer "grabbed me by the face, forced my mouth open and said, 'Yehudi, Yehudi,' which means 'Jew.' Then he spit at me and slapped me. I feared for my life, but I would have killed him if I could, with no more remorse than killing a cockroach."

I remember once watching a CBS report in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Israel and watching Simon smugly reporting on Israeli who were outraged by the violence, as if there was something extreme about their reaction. Fortunately, when other people are attacked, Friedman and Simon are both able to maintain their professional detachment.

This Ongoing War reminds us that rocks can kill, and did so recently:

The alleged killers of Asher Palmer and his son Yonatan [see 25-Sep-11: "Only" rock throwers - but now a father and his infant son are dead] were in front of a military court again this morning. [We went there to give some badly-needed moral support to the Palmers. The process of getting into the courtroom was challenging and after an hour of standing around frustrated and hot, we left. When we hear how today's proceedings, now underway, went, we will report.] Even if you're not a New York Times reporter, sometimes you actually need to see and meet and speak with the family of the victims of Thomas Friedman's rocks.

3) In the dark


Andrew Exum writes in Abu Muqawama: U.S. Intel in the Dark Over Israel's Iran Plans:

I have no idea whether or not Israel will attack Iran. Nor do I know whether Ehud Barak and others believe Israel has the capability to do serious damage to Iran’s nuclear program and how they view the likely fallout from an attack.

My sense, though, based on conversations with Israeli leaders and Israel-watchers as well as years spent studying Israeli military operations and strategic thinking — or what passes for strategic thinking in a country where domestic politics seems to determine everything — is that Israel might be willing to roll the dice on an attack on Iran and, in effect, see what happens.

That gamble could have grave consequences for regional stability and U.S. interests. In the meantime, both the Obama administration and the U.S. military will struggle to determine whether or not Israel will strike — and how they should respond if it does.

The article is one of those "ungrateful ally" arguments. First of all his line about strategic thinking is false. If domestic politics were the sole or main driver behind Israeli strategic decision, Israel would have delivered more decisive blows to the PLO (Defensive Shield), Hezbollah (2006 Lebanon War) and Hamas (Cast Lead). However international pressure and American concerns played a role in Israel's decisions to limit those wars.

No doubt that if sanctions aren't effective, Israel will consider its options. American concerns will, no doubt, be one factor of many that Israel will take into account.

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.