October 24, 2014

MIddle East Media Sampler for August 6, 2012


1) The "culture" war against Mitt Romney cont.

Here are the first four references to Gov. Romney's "culture" statement in the New York Times, in order according a search of the paper's website:
Romney's charm offensive at the Taking Notes blog of editor Andrew Rosenthal.

Another non-surprise: Just like in London, he held a fundraiser, attended by high-profile donors including Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s hard-hitting attack on Mr. Romney before he started bankrolling Mr. Romney’s hard-hitting attack on Mr. Obama. And at this fundraiser he suggested that Israelis are more economically successful than Palestinians because of cultural differences. (A senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas had a different explanation: “this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”)

Romney's comments on Palestinians draw criticism at the Caucus blog.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

“As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he said.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks “racist.”

Mitt Romney stumps in Israel is an unsigned editorial.

The message — on Iran, Jerusalem, the Palestinians — was all anti-Obama: Mr. Romney would be a much better friend to Israel than Mr. Obama ever could be. He would be much tougher on Iran. He would recognize Jerusalem as the capital. For good measure, he insulted the Palestinians by declaring that cultural differences — not decades under Israeli occupation — are the reason Israelis are more successful economically. It’s hard to say how this could affect policy if he were president, but it is not encouraging.

Romney angers Palestinians with comments in Israel is the news story.

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.

The Caucus blog item appears to be the earliest coverage of Romney's remarks and it was rewritten to become the news story. There is important background to Erekat's remarks.

John Nolte at Big Journalism noted an aspect of Erekat's response that Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast uncovered:

Hunt made no attempt to seek comment from Romney press aides, either on the ground or during a subsequent 4 1/2-hour flight to Poland, where Stevens sat near reporters for part of the trip. Buzbee’s explanation? Hunt “didn’t know whether it was going to cause a big flurry or not.”

When they landed, Hunt saw on her BlackBerry that another AP reporter had gotten a sharp reaction from Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Erekat accused Romney of having made “a racist statement.” The controversy exploded at that point.

This is the nub of the dispute. The AP “could not have given Erekat a correct quote to respond to because they didn’t have it” with its reporter in the air and unreachable, Stevens told me. “The greatest sin here is that this was not a breaking news story. They could have waited three or four hours and gotten the story right.”

(Daled Amos has more.)

The Erekat quote was a response to an incomplete recounting of Romney's remarks. Since Erekat's statement was a great soundbite no news organization dug any deeper.

In addition to this early flurry of activity, the New York Times has run an ongoing campaign against Romney over the past week. For example, the Times published an op-ed by Jared Diamond, one of the authors cited by Romney, Romney hasn't done his homework, arguing that the candidate had misrepresented his thesis and that of David Landes. (The Times did not publish an op-ed by Landes's son arguing that Romney got his father's ideas correct. The Wall Street Journal did.) A column by Thomas Friedman argued that the Palestinians are doing well economically despite the occupation, echoing Erekat.

The other day, the New York Times added the oddest critique to its campaign, Munib Masri's op-ed Occupation not culture, Is holding Palestinians back:

As one of the most successful businessmen and industrialists in Palestine today (there are many of us), I can tell Mr. Romney without doubt or hesitation that our economy has two arms and one foot tied behind us not by culture but by occupation.

It’s hard to succeed, Mr. Romney, when roadblocks, checkpoints and draconian restrictions on the movement of goods and people suffocate our business environment. It is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of our Palestinian culture that we have managed to do so well despite such onerous constraints.

But as Barry Rubin pointed out four years ago in a column about Masri called None Dare Call in News Coverage (reprinted here in The Lid):

“Critics say some of the profits were made possible by a lucrative telecommunications monopoly the company held for several years.”

We are not told from whence this monopoly came—from the PA. The word corruption is never mentioned. Such a lack of curiosity about the sources of his wealth does not accord with journalistic practices in covering other stories.

Indeed, the story of the telecommunications monopoly is one of the best-known stories of corruption among Palestinians. How PA and Fatah factions competed over the loot, how Arafat intervened directly into the issue.

In other words if there was an exhibit of the problems Palestinian culture presented to the development of a functioning economy, Munib Masri would be a prime candidate. No doubt the editors of the New York Times don't expect its readers to know Masri's background; maybe they don't either.

In one week's time, the New York Times reported that a serious critique offered by a presidential candidate was a politically influenced gaffe, published a number of disputes to that critique and topped it off by publishing a rebuttal to the critique by a man who personified the critique.


2) If Burg's correct he will be arrested this week

The New York Times is very concerned with Israeli democracy. Not only does the paper treat us to regular laments of the "demographic threat" Israel faces. (The arguments take the form of "soon there will be more Palestinians than Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River and Israel will face a choice between being a Jewish and a democratic state." These arguments ignore that demographic projections are notoriously unreliable and that as of 1995, 90% of the Palestinians lived under the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Last year there was an editorial, Not befitting a democracy. That was followed a few months later by an op-ed In Israel, Press Freedom under attack, which was a dishonest reading of the Anat Kamm case. Last month there was an overwrought editorial, Israel's embattled democracy. Now Avraham Burg weighs in with Israel's fading democracy.

The winds of isolation and narrowness are blowing through Israel. Rude and arrogant power brokers, some of whom hold senior positions in government, exclude non-Jews from Israeli public spaces. Graffiti in the streets demonstrates their hidden dreams: a pure Israel with “no Arabs” and “no gentiles.” They do not notice what their exclusionary ideas are doing to Israel, to Judaism and to Jews in the diaspora. In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression.

If this trend continues, all vestiges of democracy will one day disappear, and Israel will become just another Middle Eastern theocracy. It will not be possible to define Israel as a democracy when a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — controlling millions of people without political rights or basic legal standing.

Jonathan Tobin characterized this tendency of the Times brilliantly:

You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them.

Just a few months ago the New York Times reported over the controversy of an Arab judge who refuses to the sing Israel's national anthem. It would seem contrary to Burg's blanket statement, non-Jews are not excluded from Israel's public spaces. So the Times doesn't even require that an op-ed columnist base his arguments on facts; even facts that are reported by the paper itself.

Given how rare it is for anyone at the Times to lament the lack of democracy of the PA, where elections are years overdue, President Abbas is fighting against free speech and the Hamas government is oppressing Christians, its phony concern for the state of Israel's democracy is beyond absurd.

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.