Courtesy of J Street
For the Jews who attended this year’s J Street Conference, the event was an expression of community, idealism and ideology. In a way, it was about how Israel was all about us, the Jews. It was about our values and our identity, which have been so inextricably intertwined with the state of Israel since 1967. And about how the re-election of Netanyahu, for a fourth term in office, was a turning point for liberal American Jews.
Even the panels that included Palestinians, whether they were citizens of Israel or from the occupied territories, were less about Palestinian rights and more about how realizing their rights would affect the Jews’ status in Israel.
This was understandable, since J Street is a mostly Jewish NGO that calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” and which has a mandate to work for a two-state solution — one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians. But it also made the conversation a bit stale. We have been over and over the questions of whether or not liberal Zionism is still relevant, or whether or not external diplomatic pressure on Israel will be effective in ending the occupation. It doesn’t feel as though there is anything new or insightful to say on that subject.
For me, the most insightful observations came from non-Palestinian Arabs who attended the conference, and from the responses they received to their questions, which illustrated a genuine curiosity about what Israelis thought of them and of Israel’s place in the Middle East.
Activists from Center for Jewish Nonviolence replant trees on the Nassar family farm / Courtesy
Nothing has more depressed American Jewish progressives than the recent revelation that Israel will be facing four more years of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s renewed reign spells continued rancor between the two countries American Jewish progressives care about. It means more troubling conversations about Zionism for campus Hillels. Most conspicuously, it means four more years of occupation, oppression and denial of rights carried out in the name of the Jews. The question for progressive Jews is, now what?
Peter Beinart sat on a J Street conference panel on Sunday and gave some recommendations. In particular, he rang a bell for American Jewish solidarity activism. In his words: “We need to think very hard and very creatively about how we amplify Palestinian nonviolent protest in the West Bank…the best way we could do that is to be there ourselves.”
Yes, Beinart was suggesting that American Jews who oppose the occupation fly to Israel to stand in nonviolent solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories. What Beinart didn’t mention is that there is a new organization doing just that. It’s called the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. (Full disclosure: I have worked very closely with the Center and hold a position in its organizational structure.)
In the United States, Jews who seek an end to the occupation have tended towards various types of activism. At J Street, the discourse is political. At Jewish Voice for Peace, it’s international. This has left the grassroots nonviolent direct action model relatively unexplored by North American Jews. Until now.
Eric Fingerhut speaks at Jerusalem U film screening / Dorri Olds
Trying to get an unbiased education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a never-ending conundrum. It’s like the parable of the blind men and the elephant — one blind man grabs the tail and says, “An elephant is like a rope,” another feels the trunk and says, “An elephant is like a snake.” Depending on where you go for information, you may get the tail or the trunk, but never the whole elephant.
On the evening of February 25, Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y hosted a screening of Jerusalem U’s documentary, “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus.” After the movie there was a panel discussion featuring Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International, and three student activists, Justin Hayet from Binghamton University, Chloe Valdary from the University of New Orleans and Daniel Mael from Brandeis University. The moderator was Andy Borans, executive director of AEPi International.
For those who don’t know, Jerusalem U is a far-right, pro-Israel online organization. Don’t be fooled by the name: they aren’t a real university. But if you Google “Jerusalem University,” you get to their website.
I asked Jerusalem U founder and CEO Rabbi Raphael Shore to explain the U in the organization’s name. “Have you ever looked at iTunes U? Hello?” he said. “It’s a very common thing these days. If we had said ‘University’ people would say, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ but when we say ‘Jerusalem U’ it indicates we are an Internet place of learning.”
Three student activists speak at Jerusalem U film screening / Dorri Olds
When I asked if Jerusalem U offers a balanced education on Israel, Shore said, “We don’t feel we have to have 50% of Palestinian voices, just as the Palestinians don’t present 50% of Israeli voices.” When I asked if he felt that Jerusalem U offers a non-biased view of Israel, he said, “There is no such thing as a non-biased view on anything. That’s life.” When asked if educators about Israel should give equal time to Palestinian voices, he contradicted his earlier statement by saying, “We give 50% to Palestinian voices. That’s balanced.”
(JTA) — Inhale your arms up into warrior one. Exhale and extend your arms into warrior two.
I followed the instructor’s soft but firm voice as she led me and five other women through the yoga poses, and the deep breathing helped to calm my nerves. The large tiled room was gently lit through white curtains that masked the busy city life outside Farashe Yoga.
Farashe is Arabic for butterfly, and the busy city outside the studio’s walls is Ramallah.
Exhale into your reverse warrior, the instructor guided us. I complied, letting out a long-held breath.
Ramallah is just six miles north of Jerusalem. But to get there from Jerusalem requires passing through the Kalandia checkpoint, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. A red sign outside the checkpoint reads “This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority/ The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law.”
Area A is under Palestinian jurisdiction. Cars like the one I was in, rented in Israel, are not insured there. But my American passport pacified the Israeli soldier manning the checkpoint and we were waved through without delay.
Farashe is near the center of Ramallah, through a lively marketplace, where fruit and vegetable vendors shout out the prices of persimmons, dates and the largest cabbages I have ever seen. Past the famous stone lions of the Al Manara Square and across the street from the Stars & Bucks Cafe (its motto, according to a server, is “Let Starbucks come to Ramallah and sue us”) sits the stone building that is home to the studio. Behind a green door, up a stairway littered with cigarette butts and fast food wrappers, is the yoga studio. The class cost 20 shekels, or about $5.
When I initially reached out to Farashe, I was told by a man named Ibrahim that I would be “more than welcome to attend.” But when I told them I was a journalist from a Jewish publication, Ibrahim responded, “Farashe has a very strict policy about which media channels to talk (sic), as we are an organization that abides by BDS regulations,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which attempts to place political pressure on and economically isolate Israel.
My request for an interview, he told me, had been denied.
Israeli soldiers arrest a young Palestinian boy following clashes in Hebron / Getty Images
I am part of a group of 30 young Zionist leaders from the British Jewish community. As people who love Israel, we want to see it thrive as a sanctuary for the Jewish people, one that stays true to the democratic, tolerant and peaceful ideals it was founded on.
That’s why we launched the Kids Court In Conflict Campaign. Our goal is to raise £26,000 to fund a lawyer to represent Palestinian youths in the IDF military court system in the West Bank. We believe that all people, guilty or not, deserve access to due legal process. So far, our campaign — only a little over two weeks old — has raised just over £11,000.
This might just be the world’s worst hashtag — ever.
Hours after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 12 people on board a Tel Aviv bus, extremists took to social media to praise his actions with #JeSuisCouteau, which is French for “I am the knife.”
The hashtag, a clear play on the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag used around the world to express support for the people of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has the opposite effect: Instead of supporting the victims of violence, it supports the perpetrator.
“Palestine more damaged than Charlie,” one image states, linking together two separate issues and drawing a comparison that trivializes the deadly assault on Paris’s satirical newspaper. This profoundly misguided response is perhaps not surprising when we consider the cues given by people like Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Risheq, who praised today’s attack, saying, “The heroic stabbing incident against the Zionist in Tel Aviv is a daring and heroic act. It comes as a natural response to the terrorist occupation crimes against our people.”
Some tweets even seem to draw a visual connection between the Charlie Hebdo killing and the Tel Aviv attack. This cartoon, for example, says “10 stabs for those who don’t pray for the prophet.” Notice the bus in the background bearing the Star of David and that #40 — the bus line targeted by the terrorist, identified as 23-year-old Hamza Mohammed Hasan Matrouk, earlier today.
Still other tweets try to highlight a discrepancy between Western reactions to Israeli violence against Palestinians (see the cavalier response in panel #1) and Palestinian violence against Israelis (see the outraged response in panel #2).
The #JeSuisCouteau hashtag has been shared on social media almost 4000 times in the past few hours alone, according to the social media measuring site Topsy.
Probably lost on most of those social media users is the hashtag’s (unwitting?) allusion to French author Charles Baudelaire, who used the phrase “I am the knife” in his famous work, Fleurs du Mal: “Je suis la plaie,” he wrote, “et le couteau!”
BBC journalist Tim Willcox / Screenshot
Tim Willcox’s question was heinous in and of itself. In the midst of a BBC interview with an Israeli resident of Paris and daughter of Holocaust survivors, who had been talking about Jewish suffering in Europe, the journalist ventured: “But many critics of Israel’s policy would say that the Palestinians have suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” This, before the bodies of the four innocents killed in the terror attacks on a kosher market in Paris had even been buried.
Why did Willcox feel the need to ask this question, to bring Israel into the discussion and at the same time invoke the canard of Jewish collective responsibility for actions of the Israeli state? Political commentators and Israeli watchdog organizations have pointed out that Willcox has a record of missteps when it comes the Jewish question. Discussing a story on the BBC News channel on Jewish donors to the Labour Party, while guests talked about “the Jewish lobby,” Willcox suggested unprompted that “a lot of these prominent Jewish faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”
More convincingly, in a widely shared article in The Spectator, Nick Cohen deems the notion that “Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined” to be “the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice.”
Ignorance is certainly a contributing factor — people seem to have short memories (actually, no memory at all) when it comes to Jewish history — but it’s not the predominant one. What Willcox seemed to be trying to do was provide, in a crass, idiotic, and insensitive way, balance in a situation where none was required. In doing so, and in particular by mentioning Israel, he unintentionally highlighted what can be a problem with the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Young Jews argue with pro-Palestinian supporters beside a banner calling for a Palestinian state
The prospect of a U.N. Security Council vote on parameters and a timeline for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, coming as it does in the lead-up to Israeli elections, is eliciting this tricky argument: “We can’t pressure Israel when Israelis are going to the polls, because it will only help the Right.”
That argument fits neatly into the list of memes that time and time again have been used to justify U.S. inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Memes like: “We can’t press for peace with the region in upheaval.” “We can’t ask any Israeli prime minister to take action that could destabilize his government.” “This is a losing issue that will cost any president and his party dearly.”
All of these memes are grounded in two self-congratulatory, self-serving premises: that we really, truly are committed to achieving peace and a two-state solution; and that we really, truly would take consequential action to achieve these goals, but circumstances beyond our control prevent it.
These memes have the quality of “truthiness,” making intuitive sense to Americans who are sick of Middle East wars and foreign interventions. But truthiness is not the same as truth.
Participants in the Open Hillel Conference at Harvard University / Gili Getz
For my entire life, I have been deeply connected to the institutional American Jewish community. From day school to summer camp, youth group to a gap year in Israel, the Jewish community has been my home. As a result, I have a strong connection to Israel.
Since coming to college, I have made it my goal to understand as many narratives as possible around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I spent my entire junior year abroad: a semester in Amman, a semester in Haifa, and this past summer teaching English at two different Arab schools in the north of Israel.
When I returned to the United States, I had a lot of conflicting feelings and information to process. I went to the synagogue in which I had been actively involved since birth, hoping to discuss the conflict in Gaza with my home community. Yet, I was disappointed to encounter a one-sided echo chamber that had little interest in hearing other opinions.
I quickly realized I needed a different Jewish community, one where I didn’t feel a need to justify my complex, conflicting and ever-changing views. A Jewish community that understood the importance of intellectually rigorous debate and that would explore the most difficult and even taboo Israel issues with me.
So I joined the Open Hillel campaign, a movement of students and young alumni, working to promote inclusivity, diversity and open conversations in Jewish spaces on college campuses. To be honest, it’s one of the most splintered Jewish groups I’ve ever worked with. We are left-wingers, centrists and right-wingers, united around one principle: the Jewish tent must be “open.” That’s where our consensus ends — there is no agreement on exactly what that term means.
On December 10, UAW 2865, the union representing 13,000 University of California graduate student workers, announced that a resolution to align with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel had passed a membership vote. This is the first American union to join the BDS movement, and the outcome is deeply upsetting to many Jews, Israelis, and non-partisan opponents of one-sided boycott and divestment tactics.
For some, it might be tempting to argue that UC students, especially the Berkeley and UCLA students that made up the majority of the vote, are instinctively anti-Israel and that this fight was hopeless. I would advise against that defensive line of reasoning, convenient as it may be. I believe that there are three primary — and remediable — reasons we lost.
First, this was hardly a fair vote. The same union leadership first staked out its clearly partisan position in a one sided pro-BDS statement and then oversaw the voting process to support it. Nearly all materials sent out to membership strongly advocated a yes vote, and little space was given to the opposition. If you were not already a member, to vote, you had to join a union that had already made clear its vision of Israel as a “settler-colonialist” state. BDS supporters were also able to use an already mobilized base of union members and leaders to swing the vote their way. BDS opponents were fighting an uphill battle to both mobilize a new base and to convince ambivalent or uninformed union members.
As the photographer of the photo discussed in a December 12 article, “Iconic Mideast Photo Is a Fake — and a Heartbreaking One at That,” I am angered by the charge that the photo is “faked.” The article reveals a lack of understanding of the difference between a faked photo, which misrepresents reality, and a photo illustration, which uses models and props to convey a concept.
My photo is not fake, because it doesn’t pretend to document an actual time, place or personality. Rather it is a symbolic illustration of peace and coexistence, which is why it has been reproduced countless times — not just in the Middle East context, but also by Buddhists and pop musicians. It was the magazine photo editor’s choice, not mine, to create this cover illustration of generic rather than specific peace partners. It is no different from the symbolic photos illustrating all kinds of issues, which are published regularly in the media.
An example of a truly fake photo is the infamous image of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad, supposedly a spontaneous protest by Iraqis but in fact stage-managed by American troops.
I am especially offended by the way the Forward has cast aspersions on my credibility as a photojournalist. At the time I shot this photo, I had been working for years as a contract photographer for Time magazine. The vast majority of my work over 30 years is documentary, not illustrative, and it has been published in Time, The New York Times Magazine and every other major international publication.
The most outrageous error is the insinuation that I had racist intentions in “faking” this photo. The article suggests that there is a racist aspect in dressing Zemer, the boy wearing the kefiyeh, in an outfit Palestinians might consider “degrading — akin to blackface.” The reference is totally irrelevant to this image in which the boys were photographed anonymously from the back and not engaged in any activity degrading to either Palestinians or Jews.
The fakery here seems to be the Forward’s, by inventing a supposedly racist background for a simple photo illustration.
Palestinians mark the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba or ‘Day of Catastrophe’ / Getty Images
Is Israeli society ready to reckon with 1948? On Wednesday, Zochrot, an Israeli organization devoted to raising awareness about the Nakba — when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Jewish forces during Israel’s founding war — held its first public “truth commission” featuring the testimonies of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian Bedouins who lived through the events of 1948 and beyond.
The commission, held in a hotel in Beersheba, focused on the Negev from 1948 to 1960. Zochrot was specifically looking at the David Ben Gurion-ordered conquest of the area to oust Egyptian forces in 1948 and the subsequent Israeli army deportation of Negev Bedouin through the 1950s. While Zochrot has taken hours of testimony on the topic in the past, yesterday’s event was the first of its kind open to the public, and a rare opportunity to hear from what the organization described as “witnesses.”
Photographer Kitra Cahana on the hills overlooking Ramallah / Ed Ou
Editor’s Note: The Forward’s story “Iconic Mideast Photo Is a Fake — and Heartbreaking One at That” generated a lot of debate about the ethics of staging photographs. For added insight, we put a few questions to Kitra Cahana, a documentary photojournalist whose work appears frequently in National Geographic, The New York Times and other publications.
Tell us about your own experience as a photographer in the Israeli-Palestinian context.
For the past two years I’ve been working on a project about Palestinians married or in relationships with Israelis. Along with my colleague, Ed Ou, I’ve traveled across the West Bank and Israel, finding subjects who manage their relationships despite many hurdles on both sides. To prepare for this story we spent a month researching until we found subjects who were willing to let us photograph. It took time and journalistic prowess to find these genuine relationships. We could easily have hired two actors and told them to pretend to be in love, crossing back and forth between Israel and the West Bank illegally, but our audience would have learned nothing from those images. Once we had access, we spent weeks and even months with our subjects waiting for moments, natural moments, that would reveal deeper truths about the larger reality that our subjects and ultimately all Israelis and Palestinians are living in.
Have you ever been dismayed by people misappropriating your images online?
It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I don’t know a photographer who isn’t holding her breath, fearful of that day. The internet age has intensified those fears so much more — it heightens all of the potential dramas that can unfold. It makes me more cautious in my practice and in the images that I put into the world and online. There are images that I’ve taken that I don’t want published. Years ago I went to the Congo to do a story about rape as a weapon of war, but upon leaving, didn’t feel that as a journalist I understood enough about the context of the images when I took them. I have no intention of publishing those images.
So, is it unethical to stage photographs?
Each publication has its own line of ethics to follow, but by and large the industry standard in photojournalism is to document reality as you find it. There’s no doubt that our presence as journalists has an impact on the way subjects behave in front of the pen, recorder or camera, but our role is to minimize that impact. Reality, unposed, is beautiful — so rich, so full of nuance and psychological complexities, that to try to stage it ruins all the mystery of capturing something truthful.
With regards to the photograph in question, if, as the Forward reported, Ricki Rosen gave her archive to Corbis and the image was catalogued as “news” without an accompanying caption clearly indicating that it was a photo illustration, then that is an egregious error. It’s the caption that dictates how we’re supposed to read the photograph.
Debbi Cooper’s 1988 photo of an Israeli and a Palestinian actually features an Israeli and a Palestinian.
When I interviewed Ricki Rosen about her iconic — and completely staged — 1993 photo depicting a Palestinian boy and an Israeli boy, she reminded me of a similar picture taken by another Jerusalem photojournalist.
Debbi Cooper’s 1988 black and white picture is also of an Israeli and a Palestinian, but hers is real. In it, two young boys, one in a yarmulke and the other with a keffiyeh wrapped around his neck, smile shyly for the camera. Like Rosen’s photo, the picture has taken on a life of its own, and has been reproduced countless times, both with and without Cooper’s knowledge and permission. Today, the picture is an emotional topic for the 60-year-old photojournalist, who teared up when talking about it. “It makes me sad,” she said. “I just wish it could have brought peace.”
“We are in such dark times,” she added. “People come to me and tell me it gives them hope. But what do you do with hope?”
According to Cooper, the photograph was originally commissioned by the New Israel Fund for a full-page New York Times advertisement as the First Intifada was gaining steam. It was meant to illustrate the possibility of Jewish and Palestinian coexistence in wartime and was labeled with the caption “What’s Right With This Picture?”
Cooper had previously photographed dialogue groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, so it wasn’t a stretch for her to find two families who would be willing to appear in the photograph. She contacted Diane Greenberg, a longtime friend in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood who, with her husband, was active in the peace movement. Greenberg, an immigrant to Israel from Wales, arranged a meeting with a Palestinian family that they knew in Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood. Cooper said that she spent about an hour with the families before she photographed their two sons, who had met for the first time that day.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrator argues with pro-Israeli demonstrator at UC Berkeley / Getty Images
On Thursday, my union as a graduate student at Berkeley, UAW 2865, is going to vote on a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) resolution against Israel. I’m going to vote “no,” although I oppose the occupation and support selective, non-BDS branded boycotts targeting the occupation.
I vote this way ambivalently. The Israeli occupation is more than 45 years long and involves deep injustice, and it ought to be resisted. One may not oppose BDS without offering an alternative vision for ending the occupation — my vision involves selective boycotts, investment in progressive elements in Israeli society and politics, political lobbying in DC. But I cannot sign onto the BDS proposal, and I hope that other union members will also vote “no.”
Here’s why I don’t think BDS is a good path. First, I worry the boycott will be counterproductive. An academic boycott, in particular, is likely to hit hardest precisely the sector of Jewish Israeli society from which the most trenchant criticism of the occupation comes — and I find it hard to believe an effective institutional boycott will not have reverberations for individual academics, especially given the examples of cultural boycotts of Israel we’ve seen so far. Especially in the sciences, individual careers, collaborations and institutions are deeply entangled — but even in the humanities, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) boycott guidelines hit study abroad relationships, joint conference funding and so-called “normalization projects” (i.e., dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that does not presuppose conformity to the BDS position).
On a larger level, perceived world hostility to Israel drives the Israeli right; when National Home right-wing politician Naftali Bennett posts a video of him hectoring foreign journalists, it plays very well. BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists. And knowing that people like Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman are reaching out to partners like Putin and to the Hindu nationalist government in India, we in the United States and Europe need to think strategically about how to pressure the Israeli government without pushing it into worse configurations.
Journalists and Palestinian protesters take cover from Israeli fire at a demonstration / Getty Images
(JTA) — Whatever the circumstances surrounding Matti Friedman’s departure from The Associated Press in 2011, it’s safe to say he’s not returning anytime soon.
The former reporter and editor with the international wire service’s Jerusalem bureau made waves in August with a remarkably popular Tablet essay in which he argued that the Western media had a “hostile obsession with Jews.” In a second essay, published Sunday in The Atlantic, Friedman insisted that Western journalists depict the Jews of Israel “more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure,” and accused AP staffers of a number of questionable journalistic practices.
While the first essay prompted a slew of raves and rebuttals, including a response from former AP Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steve Gutkin, the second was apparently too much for the media giant. The AP shot back at its former employee Monday with an online statement one day after his piece went live on The Atlantic’s website.
“Over the past three months, in one media forum after another, Matti Friedman … has eagerly offered himself as an authority on international coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories, repeatedly referencing the AP. His arguments have been filled with distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies, both about the recent Gaza war and more distant events,” the statement began.
A new proposed bill, supported by senators on both sides of the aisle, will finally define and determine the United States of America as the land of the Protestant People, the largest religious constituency in the U.S. and the group out of which America’s founding fathers and ruling leadership emerged.
The new law aims to anchor Protestant values in the laws of the land, inspired by the spirit of the American Constitution. Furthermore, the bill proceeds to state that the U.S. will continue to uphold a fundamentally democratic character. According to the new law, the United States will be fully committed to the foundations of Freedom, Justice, and Peace, in light of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the same time, the bill suggests, the right to implement a national self-definition will be exclusively reserved for the Protestant People. According to the new bill, Protestant values will serve as inspiration to lawmakers and judges at the different levels of the United States’ legislative and judicial branches. In cases where a court of justice encounters difficulties in ruling over issues that have no readily available answers in the Law, in the Christian Canon, or in logical reasoning, it will then rule according to the principles of freedom, justice, integrity and peace stemming from the Protestant heritage.
In addition, the national emblems of the United States, such as its flag and national anthem, will be drawn directly from the tradition of the Protestant Church, and the official calendar of the U.S. will follow the Protestant liturgical year. Finally, the United States will further act to preserve and entrench the Protestant historical and cultural tradition and to cultivate it in the U.S. and abroad.
Any reader who has gotten this far would probably note that such a law could not be passed or even seriously proposed by the United States legislature. In Israel, however, it could become a fundamental law, on a level equivalent to a constitutional amendment in the United States.
One of the most dynamic aspects of modern print journalism is the presence of a “public editor,” a designated staff member who engages with readers around issues of the newspaper’s integrity. In her latest revealing column, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan responds to readers’ critiques of the recent reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And in so doing, she reminds us of the perils to democracy of bringing ethnic partisanship to bear when engaging in media critique.
Sullivan rightly points to the tendency by each “side” to want to see its own interests promoted via the media. Referring to the complaint the Times often receives that a given news article lacks “context,” there is a revealing line by Sullivan. Paraphrasing a senior news editor, Sullivan writes: “The Times does not hear this complaint…from readers who are merely trying to understand the situation.”
When I hear this incisive observation, I’m reminded of groups like Honest Reporting, whose website tagline squarely reveals that it is less devoted to making sure the media is “honest” overall than it is about “defending Israel from media bias.”(Ditto for the Palestinian side, whose advocacy arms — such as The Electronic Intifada — are at least more straightforward about their mission.)
The question which flows from this is what determines which Jews and which Palestinians (and their respective Diasporas) become “partisans,” as Sullivan puts it, and which members of these respective communities seek to position themselves above the fray, and in pursuit of objective analysis (however elusive) and perhaps of overall justice?
Israeli emergency services cleans the sidewalk at the scene of the Jerusalem attack / Getty Images
Four ultra-Orthodox Jews at prayer and one Druze policeman, murdered by two Palestinian young men armed with knives, axes and a gun. The heart grieves for the families of the victims and the suffering of the injured.
This past week’s slaughter was the latest development in an escalation of violence in Jerusalem that dates back to the summer, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israel youth in the West Bank, followed by the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen in East Jerusalem. Most of the world ignored the fires burning in East Jerusalem until the flames spread across the Green Line. Two terrorist attacks on the city’s light rail, one attempted assassination of a right-wing activist, several attacks outside Jerusalem, and a horrific synagogue massacre later, the world has woken up to what is turning into a conflagration that threatens to engulf the entire city and beyond.
Following July’s gruesome murder of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem, Israel caught the Israeli culprits and launched legal action against them. This is rule of law. Following this week’s attack, Israel quickly began meting out collective punishment against the families and communities of the Palestinian culprits, including demolishing homes, threatening action against family members, and blocking off neighborhoods. This is not rule of law; this is occupation law, imposed by means that are patently immoral and illegal under international law and under U.S. law (and that should be illegal under Israeli law), and that have proven ineffective and even counter-productive in fighting terrorism.
Some are suggesting that since this week’s heinous attack targeted a synagogue, the crisis in Jerusalem is now transmuting into a religious war. That framing is simplistic. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, unlike their West Bank and Gaza brethren, have always had means and opportunity to attack Israelis; they have done so rarely, and to the extent that such attacks have been rationalized, it has not been in religious terms. Notably, this most recent attack was committed by Palestinians who appear to be associated, at least loosely, not with Hamas but with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an avowedly secular terrorist organization.
What do American students hate more: ISIS or Israel?
Media personality Ami Horowitz took to the University of California, Berkeley campus to find out — by way of a strange experiment.
Hint: It involves flags.
The students’ vitriolic reaction to the Israeli flag, as compared to the ISIS flag, is striking. A few caveats, though:
First, it seems likely that many of the students just don’t know an ISIS flag when they see one — it’s much newer and much less recognizable than the Israeli flag.
Second, the video is clearly edited — probably selectively.
Third, some students may have avoided confronting Horowitz when he was waving the ISIS flag simply because he seems totally loony — they think ISIS is beyond the pale of what any reasonable person might support, so it’s just not worth engaging. The fact that they don’t stop to argue or yell expletives at him doesn’t mean they view ISIS more kindly.
All that said, this video is still pretty eye-popping.