Archive for the ‘Local interest’ Category

An open letter to Dan Yaseen

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

So, you are probably asking, who the hell is Dan Yaseen?

He’s the Vice President of our local “antiwar and social justice” organization, called ‘Peace Fresno‘. I’ve met him and he seems to be a nice guy.

Dear Dan,

Yesterday I listened to your program on KFCF, “Speaking Truth to Empire,” on which you interviewed Ali Abunimah. I tuned in late, unfortunately, so I didn’t hear the whole program. But the part I heard was all about Israel.

I heard you ask him friendly questions to elicit his opinion on this subject. And I heard him, in his polished way, spew a stream of lies. I heard him assassinate the character of a whole nation. I heard him implicitly advocate genocide — yes, you read me right, because this is what his support for Hamas means in practice.

I didn’t hear you disagree with a word of it.

Peace Fresno is supposedly against war. So how come you are on the side of those who have brought almost continuous war to the Middle East since Israel was founded (actually, since before that, because those same forces were killing Jews who wanted to live in the region since about 1920)?

Peace Fresno is supposedly against colonialism and imperialism. So how come you are against the people who actually kicked the British out of Palestine? How come you support Iran, the real imperialist in today’s Middle East?

Peace Fresno supposedly abhors war crimes. So how come you support Hizballah and Syria, who have tens of thousands of missiles — some with chemical warheads — aimed at Israel’s towns and cities? Or Hamas, which randomly shoots mortars and rockets at Israeli towns, deliberately launches rockets from locations near schools and stores them in mosques, and commits drive-by murders of pregnant women?

Peace Fresno supposedly hates racism and apartheid. So how come you are on the side of the racist, apartheid dictatorships of the Middle East?

Peace Fresno is supposedly opposed to ethnic cleansing. You are very concerned about Arab refugees. So how come you didn’t seem to notice that in 1948 the Jordanian Army forcibly removed every last Jew from Judea/Samaria and East Jerusalem? Or the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to leave the Arab world after 1948? How come you approve of the Arab demand today that a ‘peace’ agreement must include the evacuation of every last Jew east of the 1949 armistice line?

“Israel just has to evacuate the territories and there will be peace” you’ll say. Really? Read the Hamas Covenant or even the PLO/Fatah platform (an old version? — the latest one, accepted at the Fatah General Congress in 2009 explicitly incorporates it). Think about the meaning of ‘racism’ and ‘genocide’ when you read these documents. Pay attention, too, to what happened when Israel evacuated Gaza.

Frankly, the local ‘peace and justice’ movement, including Peace Fresno, WILPF, numerous other groups, coalitions, cooperatives, etc. — and absolutely not excluding the KFCF radio station, which adds its own poison to a schedule already dripping with venom from KPFA, Berkeley — has bought into an ideology of hate, an ideology exemplified by its pantheon, including the Nazi Mufti al-Husseini, the Original Terrorist Yasser Arafat, and minor deities like the child-killers Dalal Mughrabi and Samir Kuntar, or perhaps Amna Muna.

How wrong can you people be? Why do you believe without question propagandists like Abunimah; the mentally deranged, like Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein; or the corrupt, like Human Rights Watch?

Think about it, Dan. Is this what the antiwar and social justice movement should be about?

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Muslims use dual strategy to silence critics

Friday, September 10th, 2010

This morning I heard an interview with Fresno’s own Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, the director of the Islamic Cultural Center here, on a national NPR newscast. Abu Shamsieh discussed his mosque’s decision to not hold a carnival marking Eid al-Fitr on September 11.

We didn’t want any extremists out there to exploit the pain of our country by saying that Muslims are celebrating 9/11… locally a mosque was attacked. Out of fear for our, for the safety of our community, we decided not to have huge public gatherings.

The interviewer asked about the ‘attack’. Abu-Shamsieh responded,

The Madera mosque, which is about 25 minutes drive away from Fresno was vandalized three times in one week. At one time a brick was tossed through the window of the mosque, two signs were placed inside the compound, one was placed outside — that refers to the mosque in New York — and labeling the Muslim community as a terrorist community… Muslims are concerned [about their safety] every time we approach 9/11. That’s something that’s understandable. However, what we really don’t understand is the ongoing rhetoric that is being placed on [the] airwaves, especially during the month of Ramadan. We welcome the questions about our faith, but the comments that really put down our faith — that’s unwelcome.

A few things:

The ‘attack’ on the Madera mosque was not quite what Abu Shamsieh describes. The Fresno Bee reported that “a brick nearly smashed a window”. Several cardboard signs were placed on the property, but nothing was damaged — the ‘vandals’ didn’t even spray-paint graffiti on the property, as they often do to my back fence. Nothing is mentioned about anyone seeing the brick thrown, so it’s possible that a better description of the event is that “a brick was found near a window.”

Sheriff's deputy with Madera mosque signs. Courtesy Fresno Bee.

Sheriff's deputy with Madera mosque signs. Courtesy Fresno Bee.

Do I have to say that such acts are despicable? But its interesting that when worse vandalism has been perpetrated against Jewish institutions in the area, the reaction has been to play down, not exaggerate the threat. Why is this?

As I wrote recently,

There is a campaign underway to define all speech critical of programs, projects or activities of Muslims as anti-religious hate speech, which is out of bounds.

Abu-Shamsieh wants to make it appear that criticism of the Ground Zero mosque plan, for example, is hate speech, the verbal equivalent of the brick that was [in some alternate reality] thrown through the window in Madera. And he wants everyone who objects to the behavior of Muslims or even the political platform of radical Islamism, to shut up.

Etymologically, the word ‘Islamophobia’ should mean ‘fear of Muslims’, but Abu-Shamsieh and others use it to mean ‘hatred of Muslims’, analogous to racism or antisemitism. Muslim groups are presently making a big deal about the massive ‘threat’ posed by Islamophobia in the latter sense. But they are quite happy to create fear, because fear is an excellent tool to silence criticism.

So the Quran-burning affair — not that it constitutes legitimate criticism — is presented as a possible trigger for anti-American violence around the world, including against American troops in Afghanistan. The Iranian Foreign Minister says that if they had succeeded in murdering Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoonists, maybe the infidels wouldn’t be burning Qurans today. Of course they are trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan every day, not to mention burning our flags almost everywhere there are Muslims, but that’s to be expected.

In fact, Mr. Abu-Shamsieh himself participated in an attempt to intimidate critics by fear. In early 2009, the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno was the main sponsor of a huge pro-Hamas demonstration here in Fresno.  They brought in literally hundreds of Muslim students from out of town who occupied three of four corners of a major intersection.

A small portion of the pro-Hamas demonstrators in Fresno, January 2009

A small portion of the pro-Hamas demonstrators in Fresno, January 2009

One of their signs. Courtesy KMPH-TV.

One of their signs. Courtesy KMPH-TV.

A pro-Hamas demonstrator wrests Israeli flag from counter-demonstrator.  Courtesy Fresno Bee.

A pro-Hamas demonstrator wrests Israeli flag from counter-demonstrator. Courtesy Fresno Bee.

No more than 25 counter-demonstrators stood on the remaining corner, as waves of pro-Hamas students crossed the street, often threatening them verbally and sometimes physically. At one point when it appeared that verbal confrontations might escalate to violence, I called the police, to be told that ‘everything was under control’ (there were no officers visible). Apparently the Islamic Center had made an agreement with the police that they would prevent violence, and soon one of their marshals appeared on the scene and restrained the more aggressive students. But it was made clear to us that our safety was entirely in their hands.

What I see is a two-pronged strategy to make it impossible to criticize Muslims:

  • Define criticism of Muslims, their actions or politics as bigotry akin to burning crosses; and if that doesn’t work,
  • scare the hell out of the critics.

This is why they want everyone to think there is a large amount of bigoted Muslim-hatred out there (although FBI figures show that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes is less than one-tenth the number of anti-Jewish ones), while at the same time doing their best to create a healthy fear of the consequences of saying things that Muslims don’t like.

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Short takes: Hamas likes mosque, AP distorts, Harvard doesn’t divest

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Hamas supports Ground Zero mosque

One of the objections to the proposed Ground Zero mosque has been that radical Islamists around the world will understand it as a triumphalist symbol of America’s defeat at the hands of Islam. Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar didn’t exactly say that, but he came close:

Two days after President Obama came out in support of a plan to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, the controversial project has received yet another high-profile endorsement – this one from the chief of the terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places,” stated Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas who is regarded as the chief of the group in Gaza.

Zahar said that as Muslims, “We have to build everywhere.”

It can’t be helpful to Barack Obama to find himself on the same side as Hamas!

***

AP blames Israel for Palestinian intransigence

Here’s what I read this morning in the Fresno Bee:

By Karin Laub, Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel will not accept conditions for resuming direct negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Cabinet ministers affirmed in a meeting late Sunday, reflecting a hard line just as invitations to the talks appeared to be near.

“Hard line?” Are you nuts, Karin Laub? Netanyahu has been agreeing to direct talks without preconditions for months. What could be less hard line than that? Isn’t the function of negotiations to, er, negotiate?

The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, has refused to talk unless their demands are met in advance. In Laub’s words,

Abbas wants Israel to accept the principle of Palestinian statehood in the lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war with minor modifications, and wants all Jewish settlement building to stop during negotiations.

I’ll note yet again the deliberately misleading formulation “Jewish settlement building” to mean “any construction activity outside 1949 lines,” suggesting that Israel is building new settlements or even expanding the boundaries of existing ones, which has not happened for years.

The PA wants negotiations to pick up where they left off when various generous offers — the Clinton-Barak ideas of 2000-1, and Olmert’s 2008 proposal — were made. Of course, these were presented by Israel as absolute final offers, which were rejected by the PA as inadequate. It’s ludicrous for them to become starting points for new talks, in which the PA will demand even more — not to mention that the response to the Clinton-Barak offer was to start a war.

The AP’s original headline, “Israel: No conditions for talks with Palestinians” is not so  bad. My friends at the Bee changed it to this: “Israel refuses conditions on talks”, to make sure that everyone gets the message that it’s Israel’s fault.

What are my neighbors in Fresno likely to think when they read this propaganda disguised as news?

***

Harvard does not divest

Some blogs and even mainstream media sources have been saying that Harvard University’s endowment fund has ‘divested’ from Israel. Actually, what happened is that Israel’s economy is so good that its stocks have been shifted from an ’emerging country’ index to a ‘developed country’ one. Harvard rebalanced its portfolio by selling some stocks in Israeli companies and buying some from ’emerging’ countries.

And they probably had a nice capital gain, too.

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The Zionist League for Preemptive Self-Defense

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Recently, a fellow mentioned that he was putting together a new pro-Israel organization and that he was trying to decide what to name it.

He was considering something like “Peace and Justice for the Middle East.”

My first thought was that this sounds like an anti-Israel group. All he would need to add would be something about human rights and it would be perfect. Of course this is because the people who want to see an end to the Jewish state have co-opted the language of peace, justice and human rights. They own it now, despite the fact that this entails an Orwellian reversal of meaning.

For example, let’s take a local organization, Peace Fresno. They support the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’. Now I know a number of their members and they say they are against all war. I would like to ask them how the influx of several million violently hostile Arabs into tiny Israel would affect matters of war and peace. Would it make things more peaceful? We know that it would be the beginning of a bloody civil war, 1948 all over again except with ten times the number of combatants. We know this because the Palestinians themselves tell us.

But they would say that the Palestinian refugees deserve justice. Really? Is it just that the Palestinian Arabs, who started the 1948 war under the leadership of the Nazi Mufti al-Husseini and lost it, should have the result of that war reversed after 62 years?  Is it just that other refugees, like the 800,000 Jewish ones who fled Arab countries between 1948 and the 1960’s were absorbed by Israel and other countries, but the Arab nations refuse to absorb even one Palestinian?

More generally, is it just that there are 23 Arab nations with a combined population of 358 million and one Jewish state with about 5.5 million Jews, and this is intolerable to the Arabs?  Is it just that one unelected royal family rules all of Saudi Arabia, where they have institutionalized racism, misogyny and antisemitism? Is it just  that Arab terror organizations are rewarded for their murder campaigns?

Peace Fresno also calls for justice for the ‘victims’ among the ‘peaceful activists’ (Turkish IHH thugs) on board the Mavi Marmara. Justice must mean that you can beat somebody with an iron pipe until his brains start coming out and he is expected to do nothing. ‘Justice’ must mean something different for Israelis and Turks.

And Peace Fresno wants no restrictions on traffic of goods or people in and out of Gaza. Their Hamas friends in Gaza need more building materials, so they can rebuild after the recent war that they started and were losing, at least until the incoming Obama administration made Israel stop fighting. They have already started rebuilding — fortifications and tunnels and a big new prison (with a reinforced basement bunker, I’m sure), not homes. That’s how to promote peace.

Speaking of human rights, the ‘activists’ on the Gaza Flotilla, who belonged to multiple organizations with ‘peace’, ‘justice’ and ‘human rights’ in their names, were asked to deliver a message to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped four years ago (when he was 19 years old) and has been held incommunicado — in violation of international law — ever since. They refused, because apparently ‘human rights’ mean something different for Israelis and Arab residents of Gaza.

So who wants peace? Israel, which wants to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA), or the PA, which refuses to negotiate unless Israel agrees to all of its demands in advance? Hamas, which — still — fires rockets into Israel and continually probes the border, trying to kidnap more Israelis?

Who is more concerned with justice? Israel, whose Supreme Court often issues orders that Palestinian rights require changes in the route of the security fence, whose army command arrests and tries Israeli soldiers for improper behavior in wartime, and which allows security prisoners — even those convicted of multiple murders — access to television and university courses in prison? Or Hamas, which executes ‘collaborators’ and political opponents without trial, and will not let the Red Cross visit Gilad Shalit in his underground bunker?

But it’s no use. The language is corrupted. Better he should call his group “The Zionist  League for Preemptive Self-Defense,” in keeping with the adage that if you can’t be liked, you might as well  be respected.

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Why I have a problem with NPR

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The following is on its way to the program director of KVPR, my local Public Radio station.

Dear Jim,

As you might remember, I stopped supporting your station in 2006, after becoming outraged at NPR’s biased coverage of the war in Lebanon. But a couple of years ago I “rejoined” because, after all, I listen to it.

So here’s my latest complaint (you can read a few of my previous ones here, here, here, here, and especially here).

NPR provides arguably the best, most complete radio news coverage widely available in the US. But it consistently portrays events in the Mideast with a steep anti-Israel tilt. And since one of the most important sources of funding for NPR is the fees paid by local stations, those of us who have a problem with NPR also have a problem with the local stations.

For example, this morning’s newscasts carried a piece by Peter Kenyon, reporting from the Egyptian side of the border between Egypt and the Gaza strip.  Kenyon slanted his story in several ways:

  1. He used the Emotive Bias Technique to ensure that the Arab side of the story would stick with the listener while the Israeli side would be forgotten
  2. He used the Selective Omission Technique to mislead without explicitly lying
  3. He quoted false statements without comment or challenge

Let’s look at some of it.

DEBORAH AMOS (host): The Gaza Strip doesn’t get many high profile visitors since the Islamism group Hamas took over three years ago and Israel imposed a blockade. But the territory is now back in the spotlight. International pressure has been building on Israel to end, or at least ease, the blockade. The head of the Arab League Amr Moussa was in Gaza yesterday to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. NPR’s Peter Kenyon traveled to the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and sent this report.

PETER KENYON: Gazans were heartened by Amr Moussa’s visit and were glad to hear him repeat the Arab Leagues call for lifting the blockade.

Mr. AMR MOUSSA (Leader of Arab League): (Through translator) The position of the Arab League is clear: the siege must be ended. The Palestinian people deserve to be supported, not only by the Arab states, but by the whole world now.

KENYON: But on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border yesterday, international support wasn’t translating into much more than a trickle of Gazans making their way into Egypt. Those who did make it through, like Mohammed Awul Anane(ph), said the rest of the one-and-a-half-million Palestinians in Gaza were watching their economy and their society suffocate under the Israeli sanctions.

Kenyon and Amos have suggested that the “trickle” of traffic is due to the Israeli blockade. But this is the border with Egypt. What is omitted here is that Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza, because Hamas is aligned with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to subvert the Mubarak regime and install a radical Islamist one. These are the same folks that murdered Anwar Sadat for trying to make peace. This counts as selective omission.

The listener is also left with the assumption that Gazan society is ‘suffocating’, because  a Palestinian says so. But actually there is a huge amount of international aid reaching Gaza, plus a vibrant smuggling economy. Nobody is suffocating, but Kenyon doesn’t comment on this false implication.

Mr. MOHAMMED AWUL ANANE: (Through translator) How can I describe it? There’s no other word for it but tragedy, a tragedy. People are living as if they’re already in their graves.

KENYON: Israel defends the blockade, saying it has no intention of letting Gaza’s Hamas rulers acquire new weapons and military-style fortifications so they can resume firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Israeli officials have also defended their decision to send an elite naval commando unit to raid a Turkish-registered aid ship two weeks ago. The raid left eight Turks and a Turkish-American dead and sparked an outcry that has evolved into mounting international pressure to at least ease the blockade and perhaps allow in items such as cement and steel to help rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.

This is wonderful! First, notice how the Palestinian complaint is put in the mouth of a real person, who speaks with emotional intensity, while the Israeli position is presented in one dry sentence. It’s a paradigm case of the Emotive Bias Technique.

Now look at the statement about the interception of a Turkish ship attempting to break the legal blockade of Gaza. Kenyon omits the most important facts about the incident, which are that the Israeli boarding party was viciously attacked by a group of thugs who boarded the ship separately from the other passengers, who did not undergo security checks, who were well-organized and armed with pipes, knives, axes, slingshots and other weapons, wore gas masks and ceramic vests,  who took over the upper deck of the ship and attempted to tear the Israelis to pieces as they landed (you can read more about it here and here or watch the video here).

Saying that the raid “left eight … dead” obscures the fact that the Israelis acted in self-defense — the dead were killed while trying to commit murder. That’s one hell of a selective omission!

The piece continues:

KENYON: Twenty-five-year-old Mohammed Howaja(ph) has a slightly dazed look as he steps onto the Egyptian side of Rafah. It’s the first time in his life that he’s set foot out of Gaza, he says, and he’s off to Alexandria to study law. When asked how he got approval to leave, he said as with many of his fellow travelers, he paid someone off.

Mr. MOHAMMED HOWAJA: (Through translator) Five times this month I tried to get a permit, and each time I was turned down. Finally, I brought money. I paid in order to come out.

KENYON: When asked how many Gazans would leave if they had the chance, he immediately said all of them. And it was hard to tell if he was joking.

Keep in mind that this is the Egyptian border. He paid Egyptians, Hamas people, or both; not Israelis. And we are not sure that he wants to leave because of the blockade: maybe he’s secular, Christian, a Fatah supporter, gay, or any number of things that would make life under Hamas quite literally impossible.

It concludes:

At the moment, support for the Palestinians of Gaza seems to be on a rare upward trend, while analysts say Israel is looking increasingly isolated. Israel’s defense minister canceled a trip to Paris – in part, officials said, because of difficult questions he might face. But as far as 35-year-old Palestinian Essam Ellion(ph) is concerned, Gazans have a long and forlorn history of trying to live on kind words of solidarity, and it’s not working.

Mr. ESSAM ELLION: (Through translator) As far as I can tell, it’s just empty talk, just words piled on words. I’m without hope right now. There’s nothing real, nothing we can touch or see on the ground when it comes to ending the siege.

KENYON: These Palestinians who have just walked out of a tiny, overcrowded coastal strip where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, say that kind of pessimism may be one of the few things growing in Gaza these days.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, canceled his trip to Paris not because of  the possibility of “difficult questions,” but rather because anti-Israel activists were planning to embarrass him by filing trumped-up “war crimes” charges against him in French courts.

Regarding the long-suffering Gazans, keep in mind that all Hamas would have to do to end the blockade (it is not a ‘siege’, there is plenty of food, medicine, etc. getting in) is to stop the continuous attempts to infiltrate and tunnel into Israel in order to kill Israelis and take hostages, to stop firing rockets into Israel — yes, they are still doing that — and last but not least, release Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado in an underground bunker by Hamas for four long years.

Jim, I think this makes it clear why I have a problem with NPR. I am suggesting that you and the station take it up with the network, because they certainly don’t care what I think.

But I hope that you do.

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