Archive for June, 2010

NPR ignores its own watchdog

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

You may recall that I ripped NPR a new, er, antenna, a couple of weeks ago because of their over-the-top bias against Israel. I pointed out that their reporter

  • 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,
  • used the Selective Omission Technique to mislead without explicitly lying, and
  • quoted false statements without comment or challenge.

I sent a link to the local Public Radio station — which, by the way, was in the middle of one of its periodic schnorrs fund drives. I pointed out that NPR gets a great deal of funding from the local stations and that maybe they would clean up their act if the stations complained. I wasn’t surprised when I did not even get a “your opinion is important to us” in return, because I’m sure the local management is quite happy with NPR’s ideological slant.

I also sent it to NPR. They did send a response, and although it was boilerplate that did not relate to my specific concerns, it’s worth a further look. After saying that “there’s no room for bias in our organization” and drawing attention to their code of ethics, they add,

…in an effort to continually monitor the way we cover the Middle East, NPR has hired a freelance researcher to conduct quarterly reviews of our coverage. The reports are prepared by John Felton, a former foreign affairs reporter and NPR foreign editor who covered international affairs and U.S. policy for more than 30 years, and submitted to NPR’s ombudsman.

So I looked at some of Felton’s reports. While he claims that NPR coverage is fair overall, many of his specific reports are damning. For example, here is one about a story aired in March 2009 (emphasis is mine):

In a March 26 piece for Morning Edition [Eric] Westervelt reported on several allegations that the Israeli army used excessive force during the war. Westervelt’s piece centered around two reports in the Israeli news media: A March 21 report by Israel’s Channel 10 quoting an Israeli officer, in briefing his soldiers, as expressing little or no regard for the lives of Palestinian civilians; and reports in [left-wing papers — ed] Haaretz and Maariv on March 19-20 quoting Israeli soldiers as citing accounts of unprovoked killings of civilians.

Westervelt’s piece also quoted Yehuda Shaul, director of a leftist veterans group, Breaking the Silence, who said he had interviewed soldiers who told similar stories of abuses of civilians during the war. In addition, the piece dealt with allegations that the army’s chief rabbi and his aides had encouraged soldiers to show no quarter when dealing with Palestinians. Finally, the story cited Human Rights Watch allegations that the Israeli army improperly used white phosphorous as an illuminating device, injuring innocent civilians when the phosphorous descended to the ground…

Although I am glad that NPR brought this story to its listeners’ attention, I do have concerns about this particular piece:

– The piece relied heavily on Shaul’s accounts without telling listeners that he is an active, vocal campaigner against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Shaul is far from an unbiased source. While the information Shaul collected might well be true, he had an agenda in making this type of information public. Listeners should have been told more about him and his agenda.

– The central element of the Israeli atrocities allegations came from a February 13 meeting of Israeli veterans of the Gaza war held at the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Haaretz, and later Maariv, published stories on March 19-20 based on that transcript. Israeli soldiers told several stories, including accounts of the unprovoked shootings of an elderly Palestinian woman and of a woman and child. Westervelt cited both incidents but did not make clear (as additional Israeli media reporting had found prior to March 26) that the soldiers recounting these incidents had not witnessed the events and had only heard about them.

– In the days after Haaretz first broke the story (on March 19) about Israeli soldiers accusing colleagues of committing atrocities, subsequent stories in the Israeli news media began to cast doubt on some allegations. The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, and other Israeli news organizations quoted soldiers as disputing both the specific atrocity accounts and the general idea that soldiers had disregarded Palestinian lives. Westervelt’s piece, however, did not mention any of these subsequent reports, which emerged before the piece was aired.

Westervelt’s piece did quote an Israeli army spokesman, Major Avital Leibovich as saying the alleged atrocities were under investigation and suggesting that the soldier’s accounts were “hearsay” [the effect was to make the IDF appear evasive — ed].

Five days after the piece aired, the army’s judge-advocate general closed his investigation into misconduct allegations during the war, saying the newspaper reports were based on “hearsay” and had proven to be false. The soldiers who made the allegations had not actually witnessed or participated in the events they had described, the judge-advocate general said. Several human rights groups protested the ending of the investigation and suggested it was a whitewash.

Westervelt reported the closing of the investigation in a [short –ed] news spot that aired on March 30.

In short, the NPR reporter parroted accusations of murderous atrocities made by highly biased sources — sources which he should have known were biased — and then NPR aired the report after the horrific allegations had been shown to be false!

I well remember my fury when I woke to hear this dishonest story, and posted this: “NPR’s shocking lack of journalistic integrity“.

But apparently the NPR brass doesn’t pay attention to Felton, because they keep doing the same thing, again, and again, and again.

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US PR firm paid to demonize Israel

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Think about this: there is at least one American business that is paid to demonize Israel.

The employees, well-paid professionals, go to work every day and think up ways to make Israel look like a moral monster, a rogue state dangerous to world peace for which the only remedy — as in the case of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or apartheid South Africa — is more than just regime change, rather, a fundamental change in the nature of the polity which can only be effected by force.

They are creative people and they know their jobs. Their trade is building or wrecking the public images of politicians, products, organizations, companies and even nations.

Today their goal is to prevent the Jewish state from defending itself by creating a mass of public opinion that sees its self-defense as war crimes. To prevent the Jewish state from defending itself, so that its enemies can finally succeed in doing what they have been trying to do since Israel was born, destroy it.

They are Fenton Communications, and they are working on their current project as diligently as they did for, The Body Shop, Greenpeace, Ben and Jerry’s and numerous other clients:

Fenton Communications, which has offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco, signed two contracts last year with Qatar to develop “a communications action plan for an 18-month campaign” aimed at delegitimizing Israel and generating international support for the Hamas-run Gaza strip, documents filed with the Department of Justice show.

The campaign, known as the “Al Fakhoora Project,” has a very visible Web presence that boasts of rallying 10,000 activists “against the blockade on Gaza.”

Fenton signed the contracts, worth more than $390,000, with the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the Qatari ruler, and a separate foundation she chairs. The contracts are ongoing, according to Fenton’s Foreign Agent registration forms…

The cash from Qatar bought a sophisticated U.S. media campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion to generate support for the Hamas-led government and the people of the Gaza strip.

It also included a full-scale fundraising effort aimed at generating a war chest of up to $100 million in addition to the money the Qatari sheikha provided. — Ken Timmerman

You can see Fenton’s registration as a foreign agent here (h/t: The Israel Project). I’ve extracted the part which describes more work to be performed by Fenton this year:

Extract from Fenton contract for Al Fakhoora project

Extract from Fenton contract for Al Fakhoora project

Here is the top-notch website built for Her Highness by Fenton.

Fenton specializes in what they call “The Active Idea”: in this case the idea appears to be that Israel’s naval blockade and other restrictions on Hamas-controlled Gaza obstructs the ‘right to learn’ of Gaza’s children, thus denying them their human rights. In fact, the campaign has little to do with education per se, and everything to do with demonizing Israel.

A video statement made by Al Fakhoora’s director, Farooq Burney, describes his experiences as a passenger on one of the ships of the Free Gaza Flotilla (I presume that it was the Mavi Marmara, because he claims to have been next to a ‘peaceful activist’ who was shot to death). He claims that the passengers were attacked, etc. and asks that people ‘pressurize’ [sic] their governments to ‘punish’ Israel and to ‘bring them to justice’. He also asks that we sign a declaration demanding that all ships be allowed to land at Gaza without interference. So much for education.

Fenton also worked with The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2005 to “improve public understanding of the American Muslim community, promote pluralism, and inject the points of view of American Muslims into the national conversation.” Note that CAIR has been shown to have close connections with Hamas.

Of course, it’s entirely irrelevant to mention that Jeremy Ben Ami, director of the fake ‘pro-Israel’ group J Street, was a Senior Vice President at Fenton immediately before joining J Street.  Right.

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Friedman moves even farther to the dark side

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Thomas Friedman is judged by many to be both knowledgeable and fair-minded about the Israeli-Arab conflict. After all, he’s been to the region many times and has been writing on the subject for years. He served as a correspondent in Lebanon from 1979 to 1989, and his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, published in 1989, is considered a classic.

But his most recent piece in the NY Times shows that he’s prepared to pour blood guilt on Israel with the rest of the mob:

Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.

What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.

In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.

There is absolutely no similarity between Assad’s mass murder and Israel’s self-defense — not in the intentions of Assad and Israel, and not in the degree of civilian damage.

Assad deliberately killed as many people as he could in order to send a message that insurrection against his regime would not be tolerated — and to exact satisfactory revenge for attacks on his loyalists (including an assassination attempt) by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The IDF, especially in Gaza, made an effort to reduce harm to civilians as much as possible, and despite a journalistic and propaganda industry devoted to proving the contrary, succeeded quite well under the circumstances. The operations were all intended to stop terrorist activities, not to get revenge.

Friedman knows the difference. Why did he join Israel’s enemies in their demonization project? Maybe he’ll write a comment to this post explaining that.

There is something in common between the three wars that Friedman cites, though, although it’s not what he suggests. It’s this: In all three cases, the “international community” (primarily in the person of the US) stopped the fighting before Israel could finish off its enemies.

In 2002, Arafat was allowed to remain barricaded in his Muqata. In 2006, Hezbollah was allowed to rearm and rebuild. And in 2009, the planned third phase of Operation Cast Lead, which would have brought Israeli soldiers into Hamas’ headquarters in Gaza city, was aborted before Hamas’ capabilities were seriously damaged, and without rescuing Gilad Shalit — who has just suffered his fourth year in Hamas captivity.

So in addition to Friedman’s coinage “Hama rules,” referring to the vicious kind of example-making practiced by Hafez al-Assad and by the Russians in Chechnya, we need another phrase for the phenomenon of intervention to prevent Israel from bringing its conflicts to a winning conclusion. There are many possibilities drawn from almost every conflict that Israel has engaged in: 1956 rules, 1967 rules, 1973 rules, 1982 rules, 2002 rules, 2006 rules, 2009 rules, etc.

I prefer ‘Gaza rules’, because this conflict best exemplifies the combination of an imposed end to the conflict and the use of pseudo-evidence to indict Israel of every imaginable crime, and to punish her for defending herself.

Friedman continues his argument by saying that Israel’s ‘legitimacy’ is put at risk by these wars, and so Israel should stop fighting them — that is, stop defending herself — and instead protect herself by making concessions to the Palestinian Authority (PA):

But Abbas and Fayyad will not be able to sustain this timeout if Netanyahu resumes settlement-building in September, when the partial freeze expires, and if Israel doesn’t soon start gradually transferring control of major West Bank Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.

Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.

Somehow, the small matter of Hamas has been removed from the equation, as has the fact that the PA has found even overly generous terms insufficient in the recent past.

I offer the following challenge to Friedman:

  • Prove that Israel’s intention in three recent wars has been to harm civilians. You can’t.
  • Explain how concessions to the PA will bring peace, especially in the presence of Hamas. You can’t.
  • Explain why Israel is the only state in the world whose ‘legitimacy’ is in question. You don’t want to try.

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Winning the war you can win

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A poor idea whose time has come:

Ahead of a potential new conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the IDF has drawn up plans to evacuate entire Palestinian villages and refugee camps from areas of conflict in the event of an Israeli incursion, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

During Operation Cast Lead, in the winter of 2008/2009, the IDF dropped millions of flyers over areas it planned to invade and made over a quarter of a million phone calls to private homes and mobile phones warning people to leave…

According to the new operational doctrine for the Gaza Strip, ahead of an invasion of the Jabalya refugee camp in a large-scale operation, for example, the IDF would give prior notification to residents and designate an amount of time they would be given to leave. The IDF would also enter potential conflict zones more slowly to permit residents to evacuate the area. — Jerusalem Post

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Goldstone report contained hundreds of accusations that Israel deliberately harmed civilians, and indeed even falsely concluded that the object of the operation was to hurt and kill civilians. The accusations were based mostly on hearsay evidence collected from Gaza residents by biased NGOs (Human Rights Watch, etc.) often with the assistance of Hamas-provided guides and translators.

It seems to me that the new guidelines would not prevent a similar ‘Goldstoning’, which is by nature a disingenuous process, a diplomatic lynching.  Indeed, by increasing the degree of contact with civilians — if, for example a village had to be evacuated — they would increase the probability of incidents which could be spun as brutality.

It also seems that this would provide an opening to create Mavi Marmara-like events in which ‘civilians’ would ‘resist’ the IDF’s attempt at ‘ethnic cleansing’, bringing about violent clashes.

Finally, it would give Hamas fighters an opportunity to set their booby traps and ambushes and fade away.

This is reminiscent of the approach to war-fighting now taken by the US in Afghanistan, in which the use of firepower and air support is being strictly limited in order to try to eliminate collateral damage. Of course the problems faced by the US and Israel are different in important respects, but the idea that reducing harm to civilians is higher priority than killing the enemy is similar.

This approach tackles the challenge of asymmetric warfare in exactly the wrong way, a way which amplifies the advantage of the side that uses irregular troops, deliberately fights from among friendly civilians, and ‘wins’ by getting outside powers to clamp down on the other side.

Some have forgotten that the object of war is victory, to crush the enemy, whatever that takes. Things like building civilian infrastructure may be projects that can and should be undertaken, but not as part of war, and not by soldiers. In actual fighting, all reasonable efforts which do not stand in the way of victory should be made to prevent harm to civilians, but these cannot override considerations of winning the battle and the war.

Israel can’t win in the UN no matter what it does. But it can win the war on the ground, and it should not sacrifice the latter for the former.

Yes, it sounds cruel and irrational. But war is the ultimate cruel and irrational activity — humans ought to build, not to destroy. Sherman’s dictum that “war is hell” is correct, and nobody should want to create hell on earth:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. — Gen. W. T. Sherman, Sept. 1864

Hamas and the forces arrayed against Israel brought the last war and will bring the next one. They have tried, and to some extent succeeded, to turn the truth on its head and convince many that the Jews of Israel are the aggressors. But lying doesn’t make it so.

Those that make war on a nation that desires peace, as Sherman implied, are responsible for the consequences.

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Hi, I’m not dead yet!

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, has made a truly remarkable recovery. As you may remember, in December 1988 a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, causing the aircraft to break into several pieces in the air. 270 people in the plane and on the ground died of decompression, massive trauma and fire.

Megrahi, allegedly a Libyan intelligence officer, was indicted in 1991 but it required the UN to apply sanctions to Libya and protracted negotiations with Libyan dictator Qadaffi before he was finally handed over to Scottish authorities in 1999. In January 2001, Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing.

Now it gets interesting. An appeal was denied in 2002, and a second appeal was filed in 2007. During the trial of this appeal in 2009, Megrahi asked for release on ‘compassionate grounds’, which may be granted under Scottish law when a convict can be shown to have three months or less to live.  His lawyer claimed that he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and would not survive three months. On August 2009 he was released from prison and flew home to Libya where he received a hero’s welcome.

After his release, Megrahi was supposedly given chemotherapy, which appears to have been more effective than expected. In February  2010, the UK Telegraph reported that

Prof Sikora, one of the examining doctors who was paid a consultancy fee last July [2009] to examine Megrahi, told The Sunday Telegraph this weekend: “My information from Tripoli is that it’s not going to be long [before Megrahi dies].

“They stopped any active treatment in December and he has just been going downhill very slowly at home. He is on high doses of morphine [a painkiller] and it’s any day now.”

Prof Sikora said that he suspected that Megrahi was still alive because he had received a “psychological” boost from returning to his homeland and being reunited with his family…

Prof Sikora said it was just possible that Megrahi would be alive in several years time but added: “It’s highly unlikely. There is a 90 per cent chance he will die in the next few weeks.

Well, here it is June and he’s still hanging on.

Today there is an unexpected topical connection. When Megrahi was released there were claims that the British government pressured Scottish officials to approve the release because of considerations relating to trade — in particular, an oil deal. And guess what oil company was involved?

In his interview today [Sept. 4, 2009], [Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw admits that when he was considering in 2007 whether the bomber should be included in a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with Libya, Britain’s trade interests were a crucial factor.

Documents published this week showed Mr Straw originally promised that a PTA would only be reached with Libya if Megrahi was excluded. But he later caved in to Libyan demands to include Megrahi. It followed a warning from BP that a failure to include the bomber could hurt the oil giant’s business interests.

When asked in the interview if trade and BP were factors, Mr Straw admits: “Yes, [it was] a very big part of that. I’m unapologetic about that… Libya was a rogue state.

“We wanted to bring it back into the fold. And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it and subsequently there was the BP deal.” …

A spokesman for BP said the company had raised concerns with the Government about the slow progress in concluding the PTA, but denied mentioning Megrahi.

“Like many others, we were aware that a delay might have negative consequences for UK commercial interests, including ratification of BP’s exploration agreement,” he added.

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