March 28, 2015

Letting the Iranian Ayatollahs Slide

“When the Supreme Leader of Iran is continuing, in the middle of these negotiations…to make statements like 'death to America,' how is that not problematic for you? …why are you just willing to let that, let it slide, basically, and you are holding the prime minister of Israel to comments that he made and has since changed?”

In her non-direct answer to Matt Lee’s question, State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki seemed to enact the very problem the AP reporter had just identified:

“…our relationship with Israel is abiding; it’s strong; it’s a security relationship; it’s one that we’re committed to. Do we have disagreements on some issues, like how we should proceed with preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? Yes. Have we – can we – do we believe that it isn’t possible to just forget what the prime minister says when it’s conflicting with past precedent and past policy for some time? Yes…”

Lee tried to get Psaki to talk about the contrast between reaction to the words of an ally talking, during a heated, democratic election, about his country’s situation vs non-reaction to words like “death to America” spoken by leaders of the country currently negotiating--with the US--for nuclear weapons. But Psaki continued in the same vein:

“…even if there is a deal, it doesn’t mean we let slide or forget, whether it’s the comments or more important the actions – state sponsor of terrorism, their human rights record…But we also feel that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is not only in our interests, it’s in the interests of the international community…”

The implication here seems to be that negotiating with Iran about their nuclear weapons program is disconnected from considering or responding to their leaders’ words and actions. This seems to leave us simply ignoring the plain meaning of their words.  

By contrast, although Netanyahu clarified, or changed, his last minute campaign statement, the Israeli leader’s words apparently are always relevant.  Except when they are not, as in: we don’t accept his clarification.
A day after the election, Netanyahu reiterated that he continues to hold the same views as those he has expressed since his speech at Bar Ilan University in 2009.  There, he voiced his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state next door to the Jewish state, whereas in the last moments of the campaign, in what seems to have been a ploy to get votes away from some of the smaller parties, he contradicted this position. 

Politicians’ electioneering aside, journalist Matt Lee raises an important question. 

How is it that even while they are directly calling for the destruction of the US, Iranian leaders are not to be criticized or taken at their word, yet any statement by the freely elected prime minster of Israel, a close American ally, is under continual, negative scrutiny?

At the same time, Netanyahu’s consistent and persistent warnings about Iran’s nuclear program may be in the process of being ignored.  The upcoming “deal” has been described by an Israeli official as an “incomprehensibly” bad agreement that leaves thousands of centrifuges in place and puts no restraints on Iranian backed terrorism.

March 08, 2015

Terror Attack in Israel? CNN Can't Find the Words

                                                                                                                                                                     photo: Thomas Coex, AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, a Palestinian man rammed his car into five Israeli border policewomen and then ran over an Israeli riding a bicycle on Shimon HaTzadik Street near a light rail station in Jerusalem. The attacker got out of his car assaulting the pedestrians with a knife before police stopped him by shooting at him. The victims were taken to the hospital with moderate to light injuries and the attacker was also taken to the hospital. One other person was treated for shock.

CNN’s headline:

"Driver hits Israeli border police, authorities call it terror attack"

According to CNN, itself, Israelis aren’t the only ones who call it an attack.  The short article includes this:

"Hamas applauded the attack.
'Hamas movement blesses this heroic act and considers it a natural response to the Occupations (sic) crimes,' Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman posted on Facebook."

Of course, even more difficult for CNN is the term, terror.

During this November’s spate of terror attacks in Jerusalem, CNN reported in an outlandish manner on the brutal killings at a synagogue in the Har Nof  neighborhood. Their first headline read “Deadly attack on Jerusalem mosque” and their follow up story changed the headline to “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem,” simply counting the killers who had hacked the rabbis to death among victims.

For news from Israel it’s usually most reliable to go directly to Israeli news sources, for instance to Times of Israel or Ynet News.  In their stories, you not only get the actual details about the attack but other connected information such as the fact that this street was “also the site of a November 5 hit and run terror attack that killed one border police officer and injured 13 others. The area has seen no less than five terror attacks this past year.”

By contrast, the only other information included in the CNN article is a seemingly gratuitous reference to the number of Palestinians killed during this summer’s conflict.

CNN used to call itself “the most trusted name in news” and it’s good to know that this slogan has been retired.

Now they call themselves “America’s best news team” but many American outlets did a better job than CNN reporting from Jerusalem this week.

February 10, 2015

What Universities Can Learn From Israel's Status on Campus

                                                                                                                  published at Honest Reporting                                                                      
In the post-modern university where, at least in the social sciences and humanities, facts are no longer, well, factual, the country of Israel fares badly.  Rather than information about the actual country, an abstract idea of Israel has emerged on college campuses over the past dozen years. The Jewish state appears as the single nation of the world deserving boycott of its (actual) products and academic institutions. A Palestinian narrative prevails, but it is a particular, monolithic, Palestinian narrative that leaves out, for instance, the opposition of Palestinians to Israel boycotts.

This abstract notion of Israel also shows up in countless campus forums, classroom lectures, protest demonstrations, associated students’ election campaigns and, on many campuses for two weeks of every year, as performance activism confronting students with staged “checkpoints,” photos of bloody victims and towering, cardboard, “apartheid” walls. 

Writing in an important recent collection, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, 32 scholars consider gaps between Israel’s campus status and its real life. Among other topics, they address the assault on academic freedom that occurs if academics are boycotted because of their nationality (R. Berman; G. Brahm and A. Romirowsky; D. Hirsh; M. Nussbaum) and the absurdity of maligning Israeli institutions that not only exemplify multicultural learning and teaching but that are themselves bastions of academic freedom; the founder of the boycott Israel movement was getting an advanced degree at Tel Aviv University while advocating for its boycott (S. Wolosky; I. Troen). The book also offers a valuable, concise history of Israel (C. Nelson, R. Harris, and K. Stein), much needed because boycott movements and agitation against Israel on campus exhibit a startling lack of interest in verifiable evidence, dialogue, and the usual expectations of academic argument.

A number of writers in The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel attest to one-sided presentation of proposals and procedural moves to minimize dissenting voices (S. Musher; J.Robbins). Further, the objections of students and faculty to singling out the Jewish state for approbation alone among the countries of the world and the extreme discourse with which this is promoted are often disregarded (D. Divine; M.Kotzin). While speech codes and sensitivity to even micro-aggressions are mainstream at universities, several of the authors note that Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism are dismissed or, worse, are considered merely ways of shutting down debate (R. Fine; K. Marcus).

By paying attention to Israel’s status on campus we learn that debate on this topic is not really is possible. The veracity of claims about Israel in boycott proposals is off limits for discussion. The only questions addressed are whether or not to boycott and whether or not academic freedom or the professional organization proposing the boycott will be harmed.  Labels like “apartheid” and “colonialist” applied to Israel are not considered controversial in most academic settings. What is missing from discussion of Israel on campus is Israel: its history, people, current situation, daily life, and place in the Middle East.

Anti-Zionism at universities, notes co-editor Cary Nelson, is treated as if it is essential to progressive politics -- regardless of Israel’s genuine progressivism, its real-life democracy, its vibrant freedoms of speech, of the press, of religion, and its commitment to the rights of women, gays, minorities, and all its citizens.

This refusal to acknowledge the realities of Israel and to insist on singling out the one democracy in the Middle East for boycott may say more about universities than it says about the topic of Israel.

The American Studies Association called their Israel boycott a “litmus test” of the organization’s “stance on Palestine.” For, the current campus status of Israel is possible only in an academic environment of litmus tests, where one’s progressive credentials rest on adhering to a party line, where facts are not merely malleable but acceptable only to the degree that they fit prevailing ideologies.

Israel on campus stands out precisely because there is pushback among students and some professors to university anti-Israelism.  In fact, it may be the only major challenge to mainstream campus politics. As such, the status of Israel on campus serves as a warning of encroaching dogmatism and lack of room for diversity of thought in what we used to refer to as the marketplace of ideas.
                                                                                                  comments welcome at Honest Reporting

January 29, 2015

Acceptable Anti-Semitism?

The UN held its first forum on anti-Semitism last week, except that it was an “informal” gathering where only about half the UN countries showed up, making any resolutions impossible.

And the event only took place at all when the Western countries proposing it agreed that the forum would link anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The ambassador from Saudi Arabia (a country that doesn’t allow Israelis, or anyone with Israeli stamps on a passport, to enter) explained that the actions of Israel “are very closely linked to the rise in hate crimes, extremism, violence, and anti-Semitism." That is, anti-Semitism is the Jews’ fault.

But that’s the UN, with its 26 condemnation resolutions passed in 2012, for example, one each for Syria, Burma, North Korea, and Iran, and 22 against Israel.

How’s the rest of the world doing?

The murder of four Jewish men, Yoav Hataab, Yohan Cohen, Phillipe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada who were shopping in a kosher market in Paris, linked as it was to the Charlie Hebdo murders, got worldwide attention.

Perhaps less known is that the murderers were staking out Jewish schools in Paris, as well. Or that attacks against French Jews, including murders, rapes, and beatings have gone on for years.  This week, for the first time, the French government has sent in army protection for all the Jewish schools in France (the families have paid for guards until now).

In Malmo, Sweden, a reporter tried an experiment of wearing a kipa and taking a walk. He was called “dirty Jew” and other names, had eggs thrown at him, and was threatened with shouts of “we will kill you.” He learned that many of the Jews still living in Malmo are afraid to go out of their homes. Threats against Jews in Sweden have escalated since the Paris attacks.

England? This summer London experienced the highest number of hate crimes ever recorded, 95% of them against Jews.

It is impossible to keep track of all the anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, but here is a blog that attempts it.

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwizt and the New York City Council acknowledged it, or attempted to, but was interrupted by a shouting, pro-Arab group.  Councilman David Greenfield, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, spoke out about the clear-cut anti-Semitism.

And here in Israel last week, a Palestinian got on a Tel Aviv bus and began stabbing people at random. 12 people in all were injured and several are still in critical condition. The terrorist said an influence on him was the promise of paradise for those who kill Jews.

Seemingly isolated incidents occurring with such frequency have way of becoming normalized, as if a high level of anti-Semitism is to be expected (as it seems to be in parts of Europe) and if expected, then even acceptable.

January 10, 2015

Je Suis Charlie; Je Suis Juif

Yesterday, I started a post that began: "We are all Charlie, not just in solidarity and sadness, but because we are targets -- even if we pretend, just to get through the day, that we're not. And nothing we do is making us targets -- not what we draw or write or say or even what we believe. We are targeted by Islamic terrorists because of who we are: non-Islamists. And when the next Islamic terrorist attack occurs, we need to stand with those innocent victims of terror, too."

Then I hurried in the rain to the train station in Tel Aviv ahead of the last trains that run on Fridays, while in Paris the next terror attack was already underway.

Today we know that four Jews shopping in a Kosher market (their names are still not published) were murdered before the police were able to stop the killers. We know that another 30 people saved themselves by huddling together in a freezer for hours during the attack. We know that French government leaders are in emergency meetings.

But we have known and the French officials have known that the Jews of France have been under siege for years. We knew that the offices of Charlie Hebdo had been fire-bombed in 2011. We knew about the twin towers bombing in 1993.

Last night the Grand Synagogue of Paris was closed on shabbat because the police did not believe they could provide protection from terror. The last time the Grand Synagogue was closed was during World War II.

We've had plenty of warnings. Now, what will the free world do?

December 27, 2014

Wait, Who's Opposed to UN Palestinian State Resolution?

Seems like someone should have checked to see if the Arab states’ resolution, presented by Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas, actually has Palestinian support.

The resolution demands that Israel shrink to the 1949 armistice lines, referred to as “withdrawing to the pre-67 borders and from east Jerusalem.”  This would be followed by the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian government of Gaza (Hamas) and a number of Palestinian factions including the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) are fully against it. This is because the resolution allows for Israel’s existence, something that these organizations oppose.

And recent polls indicate that Gazans themselves support Hamas over Abbas’ Fatah.

But it’s not clear that that the Palestinian Authority wants two states either.  Even when a Hamas-Fatah partnership looked like it was about to happen – as it did several months ago – Hamas was in no way asked to change its foundational agenda of removing Jewish Israel.

Naturally, the Israeli government opposes a resolution imposed on it by the UN – not only, or even primarily, because of the UN’s constant outpouring of resolutions against Israel far out of proportion to that of any other country, but because all the issues involved in creating a state of Palestine – something that the Israeli government supports – impact the entire existing state of Israel and the lives millions of people.

The US is expected to veto the resolution, in any case.

Meanwhile, a majority of the member states of the UN have already symbolically recognized a state of Palestine.

And Europe is rapidly following suit, reiterating after every vote that the support of their parliaments are merely “symbolic gestures.”

Even with a real UN resolution, demands are only symbolic without the work of negotiation between the two countries and the work of building the political structure for the state of Palestine. These resolutions have a way of ignoring the people actually involved, both Jews and Arabs.

Repeated polls have found that in predominately Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, more residents want to be part of Israel than of Palestine.  In a recent survey, 40% of Arabs said they would move into Israel if their neighborhood became Palestinian and 27% said they wanted to be part of a Palestinian state.

Mahmoud Abbas has said that when the state of Palestine is formed, not one Jew should be allowed to live there.

November 26, 2014

Distorting the News of Jerusalem Terror

                                                                                                                  published at Honest Reporting

Inaccurate and distorting one-liners easily can be corrected. After complaints, CNN edited and apologized for both the completely false headline, “Deadly attack on Jerusalem mosque” and the disturbingly misleading, “4 Israelis, Two Palestinians dead in Jerusalem.” 

But, the systemic distortions through which media view Israel are much harder to change.

In a moment of impatience and candor, a BBC reporter interrupted Knesset Member Naftali Bennett’s short interview about the horrific slaughter that morning of Rabbis Moshe Twersky, Avrahm Goldberg, Arye Kopinsky, and Kalman Levine while they were praying in their Jerusalem synagogue: “We don’t want to actually see that picture, if you could take that down.”

BBC preferred not to “actually see” nor show its viewers a terror victim wrapped in tallit and tefillin lying on a blood splattered floor after two Palestinians had stormed the synagogue, shot people point blank, and hacked at them with axes and knives.

We can’t know what was in the reporter’s mind; we do know from analysis of how Israel is often framed in mainstream American and British media that the reporter most likely was trying to get on with the story.

That is, she did not want or need to see Bennett’s photo since the framework for her story was already in place. The story of the Har Nof terror would be about “tensions boiling” in Jerusalem and “revenge.” 

When terrorists murder Israelis, prestigious news outlets often package the terrorism into familiar and fallacious storylines. Readers’ attention is directed away from the actual violence and toward the features of predictable news frames: in this case into the false analogy of a “cycle” of violence and the image of Israel as the region’s “neighborhood bully.” 

In fact, BBC spells out its guiding misinterpretations in a “background” summary: “Synagogue attack: Months of tension and revenge attacks” that among other errors, simply leaves out Hamas’s rocket firing on Israeli civilians as a catalyst for this summer’s war.

In its gallery of photos of the synagogue massacre, Associated Press does not include a single picture of the devastation itself, though many such photographs were available from Israeli news outlets and across social media. By contrast, BBC and AP did not shy away from graphic imagery during the Gaza war. Indeed, they seemed to seek out casualties, replaying scenes from Gaza endlessly.

These storylines are built from distortions. No matter how much support terrorists receive from Palestinian leaders, other countries, and from the specific groups that sponsor the killing, the perpetrators appear as isolated individuals up against the powerful State of Israel.

And bizarrely, the murder of Jews praying in a synagogue or Israelis waiting at a bus stop is equalized with the resulting deaths of terrorists themselves. The CNN headline, 4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead…” alludes to this pattern.

Here is the New York Times:  It brought to 11 the number of Israelis — including a baby, a soldier and a border police officer — killed in the past month.

“In the same period, Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian citizen of Israel who had approached their car with a knife, setting off days of rioting; shot dead two drivers who plowed their cars into pedestrians in Jerusalem; and killed a suspect in an attempted assassination… “

The phrase, “in the same time period” suggests that there have been killings on both sides. But the deaths of terrorists – here called “drivers,” -- occurred because they were in the act of murdering people at random. The other altercations are included to bolster the cycle storyline.

Like the BBC, the New York Times makes clear their perspective in their own news analysis that includes this unsupported (and unsupportable) claim: “extremists on both sides seem to be acting increasingly beyond the control of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.” 

The fifth Israeli killed at Har Nof was Police Master Sargent Zidan Saif, a member of the Druze community. He died in a shootout with the terrorists while heroically protecting fellow Israelis. Thousands of Druze and Jewish Israelis attended his funeral.  An interfaith gathering was held outside the Har Nof synagogue complex in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics denounced terror in Jerusalem.

There are many other stories in Israel than the ones we have become used to seeing in the press.

                                                                                                comments welcomed at Honest Reporting

November 17, 2014

The Terrorist is being Treated in the Hospital

                                                                                              photo  by Sebastian Schiener
                                                                                                                   published at Times of Israel

There is something jarring about this sentence in the news. “The terrorist is being treated in [the] hospital.”
Wounded by security personnel too late, the terrorist had already murdered 26-year-old, Dahlia Lemkus, whose neighbors knew her as “the kind, giving, loving young woman” who was studying to be an occupational therapist. He had already stabbed two other people and sent a third into shock.

Islamic Jihad has taken responsibility for this attack. By responsibility it is meant that Islamic Jihad has congratulated itself for supporting and accomplishing the bizarrely un-brave act of jumping out of a car and stabbing random people with a knife.

Meanwhile, Israel mourns Dahlia, and the others killed by Palestinian terrorists this month: on the same day as Dahlia, 20 year-old Almog Shiloni from Modi’in who died after being stabbed in Tel Aviv as he was on his way back to his base; Chief Inspector Jadan Assad, the Druze border patrol officer who was killed by a terrorist ramming his vehicle into people in Jerusalem, and teenager, Shalom Baadani, who had been riding his bicycle and was killed by the same terrorist at another location nearby. The week before, American-Israeli 3-month-old baby, Haya Zissel Braun and 22 year-old Karen Yemima Mosquera from Ecuador were killed by another “car terrorist” at a Jerusalem light rail stop. While all these funerals have been going on and over a hundred Israelis this month have been dealing with injuries from terrorism, “the terrorist is being treated in the hospital.”

And, rightfully so. Because, as in America, perpetrators in Israel who survive their own acts of terror get quality medical treatment and the benefit of Western law.

Fatah and Hamas leaders have stated that stabbing people with knives or running into them with cars is a “natural response.” If this is the case then treating, in an Israeli hospital, someone who has set out to murder any Israelis he happens to see must be an unnatural response.

But both are learned responses.

It does not come naturally to decide to stab passersby with knives or to intentionally run over a baby with a car. Nor is it simply natural to try to treat humanely even those who commit such actions. These are learned behaviors.
At Dahlia’s funeral, her sister, Michal, implored Israelis to go on, emphatically, with every day life.

Treating the terrorist in the hospital; going on with life in Israel; not letting hate take over: some things to stand one’s ground for.

                                                                                                      comments welcomed at Times of Israel

UPDATE:  And now there are four more murders.  Four people killed and others injured while praying in their Jerusalem synagogue