AP does better job on Israeli politics than the conflict

Here is this week’s commentary on the print media from Barry Rubin. 

How Does AP Cover Israeli Politics?
By Barry Rubin

How does AP cover Israeli politics?  Generally speaking, much better than it covers issues relating to the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian politics. One reason for this is that the reporters tend to be people living in Israel who have more knowledge and fewer political preconceptions, at least when covering these stories. Perhaps, too, there is less pressure from editors to push the approved line on the conflict.

On September 17, AP issues, “Next steps after Kadima primary election,” a factual summary of the situation (AP “factual summaries” on conflict issues are often remarkably biased). This one is reasonable:

Israel’s ruling Kadima Party held a primary election Wednesday to pick a successor to the party leader, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But the winner will not automatically succeed Olmert. A look at the process:

The winner of the primary election must get 40 percent or more of the vote to become party leader. If not, the party holds runoff between two top vote-getters the following week.

Once the party has a leader, Olmert formally submits his resignation to ceremonial President Shimon Peres. The Cabinet resigns with him.

After consulting with party leaders, Peres picks a member of parliament, likely the Kadima leader, to form new coalition government.

The prime minister-designate has 42 days to form a new coalition and bring it to parliament for approval. If no new government is formed, a general election is held within 90 days. The process of forming a government begins all over again. Olmert remains in office as caretaker prime minister until the new government is approved by parliament.”

Fair enough, no gratuitous swipes.

The more substantive article is from September 17, 2008 by Steve Weizman, “Israeli party rivals face off in power bid.”

Israel’s popular foreign minister faced off against a grizzled former military chief on Wednesday in the leadership race for the ruling Kadima party , an election that could determine the country’s next prime minister.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become Israel’s first female prime minister in more than three decades, held a strong lead over Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, in opinion polls ahead of the vote….

Kadima convened the primary to choose a successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is being forced from office by a corruption scandal. Whoever wins has a good chance of becoming the next prime minister, overseeing peace talks with the Palestinians and dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Livni, a former lawyer and one-time agent in the Mossad spy agency, is a soft-spoken diplomat who has played a central role in peace talks with the Palestinians and prefers negotiation to confrontation.

Mofaz takes a tougher line, demanding the Palestinians fulfill a series of conditions before a final deal can be hammered out. He also is more willing to order military action in times of crisis.”

It is a bit funny that it is worth noting when one of a country’s leaders actually asks that the other side in a negotiation fulfill its commitments!” But it is rare enough that this idea is heard in an AP dispatch.

Male rivals have called Livni “weak” and “that woman.” And there is talk about ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers being uncomfortable with the idea of a female leader….Mofaz, meanwhile, hopes to become the first Israeli of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, descent to lead the country. Sephardic Jews have long complained of discrimination at the hands of Ashkenazi, or European Jews.

OK, fair enough remarks on Israeli society though I would bet that Israel’s two “firsts” don’t stir many voters to oppose them solely on that basis.

It is refreshing to see a paragraph stating:

The country’s next leader will inherit a peace process begun by Olmert last year aimed at reaching a final agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by January 2009. Despite months of talks, both sides have acknowledged they are unlikely to reach that target.

That’s two good points: Israel pressed for the peace process and it isn’t going to work.

Immediately after came Dion Nissenbaum, September 18, “Livni is apparent winner in tight Israeli race,” for the McClatchy newspaper chain which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer. It calls Livni “a popular, diplomacy-first advocate” and Mofaz, “a more uncompromising former defense minister.” Actually, the funny thing is that it is precisely Mofaz who wants to compromise–that is, both sides to make concessions, another insight into how the media views Israel.

The article continues, “By choosing Livni over Mofaz, Kadima voters implicitly endorsed the foreign minister’s diplomacy-before-warfare approach to tackling Israel’s biggest concerns: making peace with the Palestinians and neutering Iran’s nuclear program.”

This reminds me of the Atlantic magazine article whose cover headline tells voters–hint, hint, nudge, nudge–that Republican nominee Senator John McCain wants war. Livni won mainly because she is seen as an honest new face while Mofaz is amazingly uncharismatic and has committed huge political mistakes in the past, notably his indecisiveness about joining Kadima in the first place, his silly blustering about how his victory was inevitable. (That, too, is a sign about media coverage: Israeli politics can only be considered to deal with “peace process” and international issues, domestic considerations apparently don’t exist.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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