Forward Thinking

Does Brian Williams Punishment Fit 'Crime'?

By Uriel Heilman


(JTA) — By now, anyone interested enough to have read about the issue knows the basic facts: Longtime NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about having been on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003. In truth, he was on a different helicopter that landed unimpeded about a half hour after the other chopper was forced down by hostile fire.

The apology Williams offered last week when the truth of the matter became impossible to ignore (thanks to a reporter from Stars and Stripes) was deemed insufficient by the commentariat and, eventually, by NBC. Williams essentially said it was an honest mistake – “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” was how he put it. But critics said it was an outright lie and that his failure to own up compounded the original lie with a dishonest apology.

Now NBC has suspended Williams without pay for six months and is undertaking its own internal investigation to determine what else Williams has said doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

There are a couple of things that are confounding to me about this whole turn of events.

The first is the most obvious: that a man this likable, this good-looking, this … tall could have peddled this untruth for so long. Who could ever have imagined he was lying through those picture-perfect white teeth? (Except for the ignored military veterans who have been grumbling about Williams’ dishonesty for years, of course.) Shame on you, Williams, for ruining what had been up till now a happy relationship.

Not that I watch “NBC Nightly News,” of course. Though I grew up on Tom Brokaw and still find his South Dakota lilt and peculiar staccato the ultimate authoritative voice in news, as an adult I don’t think I ever sat down to watch the early evening TV news, and now I don’t even own a TV. But I did like Williams’ cameos on “30 Rock,” stints on “Saturday Night Live” and guest appearances on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart (whose just-announced retirement from the show is a real tragedy, if we’re already bemoaning the loss of a news anchor).

What really confounds me about the Williams affair is this ill-conceived punishment.

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The Real Problem With Miss Israel's Lebanese Selfie

By Sigal Samuel

Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan / Doron Matalon Instagram

Life sure is hard when you’re a contestant at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to wowing the judges with your swimsuit, your evening gown and your talent, you also have to be constantly on the lookout for quick-footed, iPhone-toting Israeli beauty queens who are dead-set on squeezing themselves into a selfie with you.

Or at least that’s what Miss Lebanon Saly Greige would have us believe.

The Lebanese contestant is accusing Miss Israel Doron Matalon of photobombing her, after a picture of the two beauty queens smiling side-by-side circulated on social media, causing an uproar in Lebanon. Because Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, some Lebanese saw the selfie as evidence that Greige was consorting with the enemy, and called for her to be stripped of her title. Here’s how Greige defended herself on Instagram:

“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.”

Did Miss Israel really photobomb Miss Lebanon, or is that just Greige’s excuse?

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New Israeli Defense Chief: Tough-talking Hardliner

By J.J. Goldberg

Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.

Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG

Political Hawk and Loose Tongue

Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.

By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13

In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.

Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.

The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.

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Hitchens Has a Few Questions for the Flotilla

By J.J. Goldberg

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, has a few questions about the Free Gaza flotilla that he wishes the journalists on the scene would find time to ask.

Most of the speculation so far has been to do with methods and intentions, allowing for many avowals about peaceful tactics and so forth, but this is soft-centered coverage. I would like to know a little more about the political ambitions and implications of the enterprise.

For starters, “It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas, which constitutes the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood” and would likely be the main beneficiary of any success the flotilla meets. The movement’s military wing is based in Damascus, “where the regime of Bashar Assad is currently at war with increasingly large sections of the long-oppressed Syrian population.” Where do they stand on the uprising against the Baath regime? Do they have a position on the policies of Iran, the main backer of Hamas? How about its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah? Any of those freedom activists have a comment on the murder of Rafik Hariri?

Also:

Only a few weeks ago, the Hamas regime in Gaza became the only governing authority in the world — by my count — to express outrage and sympathy at the death of Osama Bin Laden. As the wavelets lap in the Greek harbors, and the sunshine beats down, doesn’t any journalist want to know whether the “activists” have discussed this element in their partners’ world outlook? Does Alice Walker seriously have no comment?

And what about …

the official programmatic adoption, by Hamas, of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This disgusting fabrication is a key foundational document of 20th-century racism and totalitarianism, indelibly linked to the Hitler regime in theory and practice. It seems extraordinary to me that any “activist” claiming allegiance to human rights could cooperate at any level with the propagation of such evil material. But I have never seen any of them invited to comment on this matter, either.

The little boats cannot make much difference to the welfare of Gaza either way, since the materials being shipped are in such negligible quantity. The chief significance of the enterprise is therefore symbolic. And the symbolism, when examined even cursorily, doesn’t seem too adorable. The intended beneficiary of the stunt is a ruling group with close ties to two of the most retrograde dictatorships in the Middle East, each of which has recently been up to its elbows in the blood of its own civilians. The same group also manages to maintain warm relations with, or at the very least to make cordial remarks about, both Hezbollah and al-Qaida. Meanwhile, a document that was once accurately described as a “warrant for genocide” forms part of the declared political platform of the aforesaid group. There is something about this that fails to pass a smell test. I wonder whether any reporter on the scene will now take me up on this.

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