November 28, 2014

Mideast Media Sampler, 11/29/12


1) Israel responds … officially

In his recent “Media Equation” column, David Carr of the New York Times wrote Using War as Cover to Target Journalists:

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.

Carr was taken to task by Adam Chandler of Tablet:

Now let’s say that being identified as a major Hamas military commander in a news story prior to the Gaza war isn’t enough evidence to warrant a second look. (Also suppose that you’re unconvinced by this martyr’s tribute to one of the other “journalists” on the website of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad.) Let’s zoom out and look at the media affiliation itself. Two of the men that Carr mourns worked for the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, which he acknowledges in his story–apparently in the belief that Hamas’ TV network plays by similar-enough rules, and serves as similar-enough social function, to be thought of as Gaza’s CNN.
But that’s simply not true, which is why Al-Aqsa TV, has been designated by the United States Treasury as a terrorist financing organization. “Al-Aqsa is a primary Hamas media outlet and airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood,” notes the 2010 press release. “‘Treasury will not distinguish between a business financed and controlled by a terrorist group, such as Al-Aqsa Television, and the terrorist group itself,’ [Treasury Secretary Stuart] Levey said.”

Now Col. Avital Leibovitch has a letter in the New York Times objecting to the column, Terrorist or journalist?

The real question raised by Mr. Carr’s column is whether a station that is ideologically motivated and subsidized by a terrorist organization deserves the same treatment as CNN or The New York Times. Moreover, should a Hamas commander who painted the words “TV” on his car be considered a journalist?
Mr. Carr is quick to incriminate the Israel Defense Forces for targeting journalists, but he does not mention that terrorists are actively exploiting journalists as shields.
Mr. Carr is worried about freedom of the press and rightly so. However, when terrorist organizations exploit reporters, either by posing as them or by hiding behind them, they are the immediate threat to freedom of the press.

Another media effort to whitewash Hamas was Photo of dead baby in Gaza holds part of the ‘truth’ by the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton:

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.
These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

Gaza, meanwhile, is almost entirely urban and densely populated; bombs there will kill civilians no matter how precisely targeted.

The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, responded to Pexton’s column (which is linked to but not explicitly named) in an op-ed today, Falling for Hamas’s media manipulation:

In reporting Palestinian deaths, media routinely failed to note that roughly half were terrorists and that such a ratio is exceedingly low by modern military standards — much lower, for example, than the NATO campaign in the Balkans. Media also emphasize the disparity between the number of Palestinian and Israeli deaths, as though Israel should be penalized for investing billions of dollars in civil-defense and early-warning systems and Hamas exonerated for investing in bombs rather than bomb shelters. As in Israel’s last campaign against Hamas in 2008-09, the word “disproportionality” has been frequently used to characterize Israeli military strikes. In fact, during Operation Pillar of Defense this year, Hamas fired more than 1,500 missiles at Israel and the Israeli Air Force responded with 1,500 sorties.
The imbalance is also of language. “Hamas health officials said 45 had been killed and 385 wounded,” the Times’ front page reported. “Three Israeli civilians have died and 63 have been injured.” The subtext is clear: Israel targets Palestinians, and Israelis merely die.
The media perpetuated Hamas propaganda that traced the fighting to Jabari’s elimination and described Gaza as the most densely populated area on earth. Widely forgotten were the 130 rockets fired at Israel in the weeks before Jabari’s demise. For the record, Tel Aviv’s population is twice as dense as Gaza’s.

2) The editors on the bid

The New York Times has an editorial, The U.N. bid from Palestinians. There is little to object to in the opening paragraphs of the editorial:

On Thursday, a week after the Gaza cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank, is scheduled to ask the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian status to nonmember observer state.
The 193-member body is expected to approve the application. That support has grown since the Gaza fighting, with France and other European nations declaring their backing for the Palestinian bid — in part as a way to bolster the more moderate Palestinian forces, which recognize Israel’s right to exist and seek a two-state solution.
But passage of the resolution — which would allow the Palestinians to try to join the International Criminal Court, where they might be able to bring cases against Israel — would not get the Palestinians any closer to statehood. A negotiated deal with Israel is the only way to ensure creation of a viable Palestinian state and guarantee Israel’s security.

There is a notable omission. A year and a half ago, Abbas wrote an op-ed in the New York Times advocating this lawfare strategy against Israel. That underscores the overall problem with the editorial.

The rest of the editorial portrays Abbas as a hapless participant in Middle East peace processing. But he’s one of the reasons there has been no progress since 2008. He refused to respond to an offer from then Prime Minister Olmert and once Netanyahu was elected, he waited for American pressure on Netanyahu to get what he wanted with no negotiation. (The truth is that Hamas is too powerful. Any agreement Israel achieved with Fatah – assuming one could be reached – would be worthless.)

The Washnington Post’s What will Palestinians do after the U.N. vote? is more sober, though imperfect:

The Palestinian leader has hinted at a couple of different and contradictory courses. One would involve immediately entering into direct peace negotiations with Israel — something Mr. Abbas has refused to do for almost all of the past four years. A spokesman said this month that after the U.N. vote “the way will be open to direct talks,” and Mr. Abbas himself made a conciliatory-sounding statement about the Palestinian claim of a “right of return” to Israel, though he later retreated from it. By engaging the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in unconditional talks, Mr. Abbas could force it to spell out its bottom line on terms for Palestinian statehood — something that, thanks to Mr. Abbas’s intransigence, this Israeli government has never had to do.
Mr. Abbas’s advisers, however, have also talked of another strategy: using the new U.N. status to bring cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court and possibly other international forums, while describing its continued occupation of parts of the West Bank as an act of international aggression. This would cheer many opponents of Israel, but it would also provoke a backlash from European governments as well as Israel and the United States, which would probably respond by cutting off funding to the cash-strapped authority once and for all. Meanwhile, any U.N. agency Palestine sought to join would probably find itself, like UNESCO, contemplating the loss of the one-fifth of its budget supplied by Congress.
At age 77, Mr. Abbas may well shrink from either course, instead claiming the U.N. vote as his legacy. For the umpteenth time, there are efforts underway to broker a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas; this could lead to long-overdue Palestinian elections, along with Mr. Abbas’s retirement. Though touted by the Obama administration as a peacemaker, the Palestinian leader appears unwilling to commit himself to the concessions that would be needed for a deal with any Israeli government. Meanwhile, with Israeli elections due in January, Mr. Netanyahu appears to be more dependent than ever on nationalist hard-liners in his Likud Party.

Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, of course, will end the peace process. (Ironically, the Post worries about Israeli hard-liners, but seems unbothered by the presence of the unreformed terrorist organization in the Palestinian government.) At least the Post, unlike the Times acknowledges that Abbas is part of the problem, not some innocent swept up in events out of his control.

3) Peace Diehl?

Jackson Diehl has written Lessons from Gaza. In it he concludes:

Rather than watch another sterile round of diplomatic maneuvering among Abbas, Netanyahu and Obama, Egypt seems bent on overseeing another attempt to broker a reconciliation between the Palestinian factions. In the short run this would prevent peace negotiations, to the satisfaction of hard-liners on both sides. But in the long run it might make a deal more possible. Palestinian elections — a likely part of any internal accord — could bring in new and stronger leaders. Meanwhile Morsi’s government will have to choose between pushing the Palestinians toward an accord with Israel or tolerating growing instability on Egypt’s border.
Even if no comprehensive peace is possible, the new regional alignment may allow Israel and Hamas to work out a modus vivendi that benefits both sides. In exchange for more open borders and an opportunity to develop economically with backing from its new Arab allies, Hamas could agree to a more thorough and reliable truce that leaves southern Israel in peace. That’s a long way from real peace — but it’s better for both sides than going to war every couple of years.

When I first read this, I thought he was hyping Hamas too much. It’s not as bad as my first impression, I still think he gives Hamas too much credit. The reliability of a truce with Hamas will depend on how well Israel is able to police the situation.

Khaled Abu Toameh offers some advice to those inclined to trust Hamas, How Hamas is trying to fool everyone:

Hamas is engaged in a subtle campaign to win the sympathy of the international community by appearing as if it is ready to abandon its dream of destroying Israel. Mashaal’s remarks should be seen in the context of a new Hamas tactic aimed at turning the radical Islamist movement into a legitimate and recognized player in the international and regional arenas.
Those who have been misled into believing Hamas’s lies should be referred to the movement’s charter, where it is clearly stated that “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it…the liberation of that land is an individual duty binding on all Muslims everywhere. When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad [holy war] becomes a duty binding on all Muslims.”
The next time CNN or any other Western media outlet interviews a Hamas leader, it would be advisable to ask him whether his movement was willing to change its charter. Unless Hamas does so, the talk about changes in its strategy only serves to spread the movement’s campaign of deception.

4) Diplomacy

Last week, Yaacov Lozowick made an excellent observation:

International relations: they played out well, don’t you think? If there was any light between the Israeli and American governments, I didn’t see it. William Hague, a British fellow not know for giving pro-Zionist speeches, was supportive. His German counterpart traveled over to say Israel has a right to defend itself and Hamas has no right to be shooting at Israeli civilains. The UN passed no resolutions – and now won’t set up any new version of the Goldstone Commission, either.
None of this happened by accident. Israel doesn’t get international support by default, and certainly not at time of war. Just as with the the military and media aspects, someone worked hard in advance to achieve the result. Syrian bestiality helped, as did blatant Hamas ciminality, but the diplomats have apparently been earning their upkeep by the sweat of their luggage.

Yesterday Jonathan Schanzer made a parallel observation in Why U.S. Israeli Ties just got warmer:

For Israel, Pillar of Defense was not about killing terrorist masterminds like Ahmed Jabari or blowing up Hamas headquarters. Those were ancillary targets. This round of hostilities was actually a hunting expedition for Fajr-5s.
As Israel’s air force methodically struck these rocket sites, one after the next, Hamas realized it was “use ‘em or lose ‘em.” They began — along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad – firing off their Iran-supplied weapons. But even then, the Fajrs hurtled some 50 miles out of Gaza only to be shot out of the skies over Tel Aviv by Iron Dome, an anti-missile system developed jointly by the U.S. and Israel.

In other words, Operation Pillar of Defense bears unmistakable signs of close coordination between Netanyahu and Obama. And while the White House may not admit it in public, Netanyahu appears to have done everything in his power to ensure that Israeli military operations did not get in the way of Obama’s bid for reelection.