December 20, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for June 22, 2012


1) The anatomy of coverage of Israel

There were recently two articles in the New York Times. One was in an opinion section called "Latitudes." The other was in the news section. Despite the different editorial locations, comparing the two articles can serve as an exercise to see how a newspaper's reporting can distort perceptions.

The article appearing in the Latitudes section, Bangladesh’s Right of Refusal by Dan Morrison, tells of the plight of the Rohingyas, an ethnic group fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Morrison writes:

Bangladesh’s refusal to help these desperate families is, despite its claims to the contrary, a likely violation of its international obligations.

It’s also entirely reasonable.

Bangladeshi officials might serve their case better by condemning the violence while pointing out that Bangladesh is among the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, that in 1978 and 1991 it sheltered Rohingyas fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and that as it struggles to meet the aspirations of its 160 million citizens, it cannot consider another “temporary” influx of refugees.

Note Morrison's judgment, that Bangladesh's decision to turn away refugees is "reasonable."

The article in the news section, Crackdown on Migrants Tugs at Soul of Israelis was reported by Isabel Kershner. In the middle of the article Kershner notes:

For now, most of the immigrants and asylum seekers — about 50,000 — cannot be deported, in line with international conventions. They come from Sudan and Eritrea, countries considered too dangerous for their repatriation, and so they are afforded temporary collective protection in Israel. That protection was recently lifted for immigrants from South Sudan. On June 7, a Jerusalem court ruled that it was safe enough to repatriate them to South Sudan, a newly independent nation that has diplomatic ties with Israel.

This is saying that, unlike Bangladesh, Israel does conform to its international obligations regarding refugees, yet here are the fourth and fifth paragraphs:

But the government clampdown is also ripping at Israel’s soul. For some, the connotations of roundups and the prospect of mass detentions cut too close to the bone.

“I feel I am in a movie in Germany, circa 1933 or 1936,” said Orly Feldheim, 46, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, as she doled out food last week to a long line of immigrants in the neighborhood’s Levinsky Park.

This is how Kershner sets the tone for the article. (The headline writer, no doubt, understood how compelling this could be and included "soul," making sure that no one would ignore these paragraphs.) She's not writing that Israel has higher standards and is, perhaps, not meeting those standards. She's writing that Israel's failure to meet her standards, makes it comparable to Nazi Germany. Of course, Kershner would say that it's not her view but the view of the woman she quoted.

The problem is that Ms.Feldheim isn't just a random resident, a Google search reveals that she runs a soup kitchen for African refugees. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact it's admirable. But it also means that she isn't exactly a detached observer. Activists often exaggerate crises. Kershner, I'm sure, knew more about Feldheim than she reported and probably knew what kind of quote she would get.

Kershner cites two more criticisms. First she writes:

People can apply for refugee status, but priority is given to those not covered by collective protection, said Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority. The approval rate is negligible. Since 2009, out of 7,000 applications, 16 people were granted refugee status or asylum.

Critics say that Israel, a nation largely founded by refugees, lacks a proper immigration policy.

“We say: ‘Be fair, we are Jews. Decide who is or isn’t a refugee,’ ” said Iftah Cohen, a lawyer working for We Are Refugees, an Israeli organization that provides free legal aid to asylum seekers threatened with deportation.

Towards the end she also mentions:

Some Israelis invoke the biblical injunction to “love the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Others say they now feel like strangers in their own country.

Even if someone rejects the noxious comparison to Nazi Germany, the reference to Israel's being a haven for Jews escaping persecution and the Bible suggest that Israel's failure to deal with the refugees adequately is nothing less than a violation of its founding principles.

In fact refugees are a problem all over. Little in the article suggests that Israel's handling of them is unusuallly bad or inhumane, except that activists involved in helping refugees claim that it is. And that is the impression the reporter leaves us with. No doubt in the future she can write about the refugees again and refer to Israel's "highly criticized" or "controversial" policies now that she's laid the groundwork.

2) The Palace coup and the aftermath

Earlier this week, Daniel Pipes wrote (h/t Daled Amos)

Some of us, of course, have been saying precisely this for almost 1½ years, from even before Husni Mubarak's resignation. Mubarak had displeased the generals, especially his efforts to found a dynasty, and they took advantage of the Tahrir Square demonstrations to bounce him. Simple, no?

…The starry-eyed quality of press reporting on the Middle East upheavals, symbolized by the silly term "Arab spring," meant that most Westerners have been clueless about developments in the region.

Now that Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has disqualified a significant portion of the legislature, what's next.

Michael Rubin, in In Egypt, a rare second chance for US to support democracy, writes first of the electoral miscalculations made by the Muslim Brotherhood:

Egyptians had voted for Islamists initially not because they uniformly shared the groups' agenda, but rather because the Islamist parties—with financial support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey—ran swank, well-organized campaigns which cashed in on decades of populism.

While in opposition, the Brotherhood could promise Egyptians the world: If empowered, the Brotherhood would end corruption and nepotism, implement effective government services, raise salaries, guarantee housing and provide jobs, and restore social justice. Putting a chicken in every pot, however, takes not only money but also chickens and pots. The Brotherhood not only could not deliver but, increasingly, it looked like it did not care even to try. It dispensed with the moderate, English-speaking interlocutors who had charmed Western journalists in Tahrir Square, and cast its lot with intolerant, backroom religious conservatives.

Later, Rubin concludes:

With the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrating disdain for democratic values, and Shafik little more than a throwback to a moribund dictatorship, President Obama has an opportunity to implement a true freedom agenda. Speaking in Cairo three years ago this month, Obama warned, "Elections alone do not make true democracy," and called on governments to maintain consent and eschew coercion, respect minorities, embrace tolerance and compromise, and put the public's interests first.

Egypt is at a crossroads. One path leads to civil chaos and another leads to dictatorship. As both sides delegitimize themselves, however, Obama has a rare opportunity to pick up where Bush left off, and support the growth of new movements which embrace the values of Tahrir Square's original protestors.

This is, of course, ideal. But is it possible? Do the "new movements" have the critical mass necessary to effect change in Egypt? Or might it be necessary embrace the less bad choice for now and bide time until the real reformers can compete? Barry Rubin has observed that Shafiq actually sounded rather moderate during the campaign.

Dore Gold cites another reason to be wary of the Muslim Brotherhood (h/t Elder of Ziyon)

Without relating to the Muslim Brotherhood, spokesmen for the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon decided to press the Egyptian Army to relinquish the governing role it is seeking to carve out for itself. But what if Morsi is declared the victor? Wouldn't it make more sense to allow the balance of powers between these institutions to evolve by themselves, with no external involvement? For decades, the Turkish Armed Forces were the guardians of Ataturk's legacy in Turkey, until the rise of Erdogan.

Nevertheless, according to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. officials said on Monday that they were "deeply concerned by an Egyptian military decree giving the generals sweeping powers to pass laws and decide whether to go to war." This was a stunning statement, considering that the Muslim Brotherhood might still emerge as the winner. Right now, given the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ties to its Palestinian branch, Hamas, leaving Egypt's war-making powers with the Egyptian military is far safer for the world than transferring them to a Muslim Brotherhood government.

For now Egypt's military establishment has flexed its muscle twice. First they forced Mubarak out. Now they are limiting the political change that has occurred since Mubarak's downfall. Though this may not be the best result of the foment, it's possible that this isn't the worst possible outcome either.

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.