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News :: International
American media's new pro-Israel bias: the same party line at the wrong time
01 Aug 2014
Evolving conversations on the ground demand probing questions on-air. So why does TV news look like a Netanyahu ad?
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Here are a few questions you won’t hear asked of the parade of Israeli officials crossing US television screens during the current crisis in Gaza:

What would you do if a foreign country was occupying your land?

What does it mean that Israeli cabinet ministers deny Palestine’s right to exist?

What should we make of a prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who as opposition leader in the 1990s addressed a rally under a banner reading “Death to Arafat” a year after the Palestinian leader signed a peace accord with Israel?

These are contentious questions, to be sure, and with complicated answers. But they are relevant to understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. They also parallel the issues routinely raised by American journalists with Palestinian officials, pressing to consider how the US would react if it were under rocket fire from Mexico, to explain why Hamas won’t recognise Israel and to repudiate Palestinian anti-Semitism.

But it’s a feature of much mainstream journalism in the US, not just an issue of coverage during the last three weeks of the Gaza crisis, that while one set of questions gets asked all the time, the other is heard hardly at all.

In years of reporting from and about Israel, I’ve followed the frequently robust debate in its press about whether Netanyahu really wants a peace deal, about the growing power of right-wing members inside the Israeli cabinet opposed to a Palestinian state, about the creeping air of permanence to the occupation.

So it has been all the more striking to discover a far narrower discourse in Washington and the notoriously pro-Israel mainstream media in the US at a time when difficult questions are more important than ever. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and a crop of foreign leaders have ratcheted up warnings that the door for the two-state solution is closing, in no small part because of Israel’s actions. But still the difficult questions go unasked.

Take Netanyahu’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. The host, Bob Schieffer, permitted the Israeli leader to make a lengthy case for the his military’s ground attack, guiding him along with one sympathetic question after another. Finally, after describing Netanyahu’s position as “very understandable”, Schieffer asked about dead Palestinian civilians – but only to wonder if they presented a public relations problem in “the battle for world opinion”.
As if Schieffer’s position wasn’t already blindingly clear, he went on to quote former prime minister Golda Meir’s line that Israelis can never forgive Arabs “for forcing us to kill their children”.

As way of balance, CBS followed with a short clip of an interview by Charlie Rose with the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, who was pressed on his willingness to recognise Israel.

There has been fine reporting from on the ground in Gaza by courageous American journalists who have laid bare the price being paid by ordinary Palestinians. That, in turn, has prompted some stiff questioning in American TV studios of Israeli officials about the scale of civilian deaths and shelling of schools and hospitals. Some pro-Israel American pundits admit to have becoming “less pro-Israel”.

But the broader framework of how the conflict is presented in the US is more troubling.
Former MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal drew widespread attention to the media divide when she condemned NBC News on air, on MSNBC, for pulling its only Arab-American correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, out of Gaza, only to reinstate him because of the backlash. “We are disgustingly biased on this issue,” she said.

She has a point.

An analysis by Punditfact of CNN coverage during the first two weeks of the latest Gaza crisis showed that appearances by Israeli officials outnumbered Palestinian officials by more than four-to-one. There were substantially more interviews with what Punditfact called Palestinian “laymen”, but they included the relatives of a Palestinian-American beaten by Israeli soldiers that offered little insight into the bigger picture.

All appearances by Palestinian officials were outnumbered by interviews with a single man: Israel’s former ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, whom CNN hired as a Middle East analyst earlier this year. The network presents Oren as a kind of neutral interpreter, when just a few months ago he was vigorously defending Israel on behalf of Netanyahu’s government. His limited value as an analyst was swiftly exposed by his assertion that Hamas was trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinian children as possible as part of a media strategy.

The number of guests booked or sources quoted has never been balanced on this issue in the mainstream American press, but more important
is the nature of interviews and the broader coverage when Israel and Palestine are not thrust into the news by a fresh surge in violence.

At one extreme is Fox News, where last week Sean Hannity shouted down a Palestinian guest, Yousef Munayyer, because he would not condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation, then proceeded to terminate the interview.

Munayyer, director of the Jerusalem Fund in Washington, has appeared repeatedly on CNN where he is treated more respectfully. But he told me he is frequently brought on to answer accusations from the Israeli side,
rather than explain the Palestinian perspective in the way that Israeli officials and commentators are allowed to lay out their case.

“Most of the time I go on it is to be put on the defensive, in response to a conversation that’s framed around Israel’s security concerns first and foremost,” Munayyer said.

Palestinians should face difficult questions about recognition of Israel, about Hamas’s policies and actions, about how peace would work in practice.

But on the other side, I’ve rarely seen a major channel match that kind of routine close questioning of Israeli officials about the position of a government packed with ministers hostile to a Palestinian state, who advocate annexation of much of the occupied territories and who propose second-class citizenship for Arabs.

Israel’s preferred representatives in the US media – Oren, plus the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, and Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev – all project the country as a liberal democracy, an unwilling occupier that is thirsting for peace.

But that does not fit with the views of leading politicians back in Israel. Naftali Bennett, the economy minister and leader of the most powerful political party on the right, has said: “I will do everything in my power to make sure [the Palestinians] never get a state.”

Danny Danon, the increasingly powerful chairman of the central committee of Netanyahu’s Likud party, openly opposes a Palestinian state and has said the prime minister doesn’t believe in it either. “I want the majority of the land with the minimum amount of Palestinians,” Danon, whom Netanyahu just fired as deputy defense minister for being critical of opposition to a ceasefire, told me last year.

And Israel’s ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wants a good chunk of Israel’s Arab population stripped of citizenship.

Perhaps none of these men will get what they want. But they hold important levers of power, and good journalism would seem to demand that probing questions get asked about where Israel is headed under such leadership.

That kind of piercing American journalism can be found, mostly in foreign-policy journals and long magazine articles, such as David Remnick’s insightful report in the New Yorker last year on the rising political power of Jewish settlers. But much of the press demonstrates a frightening lack of inquiry, and if the mainstream media won’t do it, others are increasingly willing to do it for them.

It’s no secret that younger Americans do not rely on the nightly news, cable networks or printed newspapers for information in the way many older people do. The internet has opened access to foreign news media, which often has a different take in Israel, and has opened up a stream of links to to first-hand accounts as well as writing by analysts and activists who offer insights and information wilfully ignored by the Bob Schieffers and Sean Hannitys of the world.

There is evidence of a shift in public opinion, mostly generational: a Pew poll this month showed falling support for Israel among younger Americans. Over 65s backed the Jewish state by 60% to just 9% support for the Palestinians. Among young adults, aged 18-29, just 44% were behind Israel with backing for the Palestinians rising to 22%.

As opinion shifts, it will be harder to go on presenting just one side of the story.

• This article was amended on 1 August 2014. An earlier version said Netanyahu had addressed rallies in the 1990s under a banner reading “Death to Arabs”. That has been corrected to say that Netanyahu addressed a rally under a banner reading “Death to Arafat” a year after the Palestinian leader signed a peace accord with Israel.

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Charges of anti-Semitism used to intimidate and criminalise opponents of war in Germany
01 Aug 2014
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1 August 2014

While millions of people are deeply shocked by the brutal bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli army, politicians and media commentators in Germany have attacked opponents of the war. Isolated anti-Jewish slogans have been highlighted in order to brand demonstrations as anti-Semitic and condemn them.

After thousands demonstrated around the world against the war last weekend, the Israeli army intensified its attacks on Gaza on Monday night. Press reports were of a night of terror, with non-stop bombardments and artillery fire.

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu warned the population on television the previous evening to prepare for a lengthy military operation, which would not be halted until Hamas had been fully disarmed.

The brutal air, sea and land war against Gaza is an outrageous war crime. For three weeks, the Israeli army has been bombarding densely populated Palestinian residential areas with highly modern technology. On Tuesday, the number of Palestinian deaths rose to 1,110, with many children included among the victims. This is the official figure, and no one knows how many dead lie buried under the rubble. The number of those injured was given as 6,000, including many seriously injured.

The German government fears that the Israeli government’s horrific crimes could provoke an anti-war movement not limited to criticising the Netanyahu government, but also directed against Berlin’s support for Israel and the return of German militarism. Therefore, they are building up the threat of anti-Semitism to suppress all opposition to war.

Midway through last week, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote, “After days of anti-Semitic propaganda at demonstrations against Israel’s military offensive, German President Joachim Gauck sent a strong signal.” Gauck had called upon all Germans to demonstrate against anti-Semitism and not the Israeli government.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (Christian Democrats) said that Israel had the right to defend itself, which should not be called into question “under any circumstances.” State prosecutors, the police and the authorities had to take strong action against all forms of open or concealed anti-Semitism.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas (Social Democrats, SPD) declared that “anti-Jewish hate speech” was absolutely unacceptable and could not be justified by anything. Anti-Semitism could never be tolerated again in Germany. Freedom of speech did not justify any hatred of peoples and certainly no violence. The justice minister commented that anti-Jewish slogans had to result in criminal charges. Anyone taking on Judaism in this way was also taking on Germany’s constitutional order.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) also warned jointly with his colleagues from France and Italy against anti-Jewish slogans in Europe. Nothing, including the Gaza conflict, justified the demonisation of Jews.

A glance at Ukraine shows how dishonest this campaign is. There, the German government is cooperating closely with anti-Semitic and fascist organisations. Svoboda, a party that praises Hitler and the Nazi regime, was the most significant political force in the Maidan protests, which assisted in toppling Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovitch early this year.

Last year, the World Jewish Congress demanded the banning of Svoboda. But this did not prevent Steinmeier or representatives of the European Union (EU) and US from cooperating closely with the party’s founder, Oleh Tyahnybok. On several occasions, Tyahnybok has noted his determination to destroy the “Russian-Jewish Mafia which controls Ukraine.” When he took over the chairmanship of Svoboda 10 years ago, he said in a speech to supporters, “Grab your guns, fight the Russian swines, the Germans, the Jewish swines and other sub-humans.”

Tyahnybok called John Demjanjuk, who was convicted for the murder of more than 30,000 mainly Jewish prisoners in the Sobibor concentration camp, a hero. His deputy, Yuri Michaltshisin, founded a think tank called the Josef Goebbels Political Research Centre.

Although all of these facts are known, important ministerial posts were reserved for Svoboda in exchange for it providing the shock troops for the coup in Ukraine. They are now playing a central role in the terrorisation of the population in eastern Ukraine.

When it serves German interests, the government does not have the slightest qualms about cooperating with anti-Semites and fascists. They are also doing so in Hungary, where the neo-fascist party Jobbik won 20 percent of the vote in April. Throughout Europe, right-wing parties are emerging as a direct response to the anti-social policies of the German government and EU.

The current campaign over anti-Semitism thus has absolutely nothing to do with genuine concerns about the potential threat to Jewish citizens. Rather, it is aimed at criminalising protests against war and imperialist crimes, restricting the right to assembly and intensifying police state measures.

In the same cynical manner in which the call “never again Auschwitz!” was used in the 1990s to justify the intervention of the German army outside NATO territory, the supposed struggle against anti-Semitism is a pretext for the abolition of democratic rights and the build-up of the state.

At some of the demonstrations in recent days, thousands of police in uniform and in civilian clothes were on duty. In Berlin last weekend, the ratio of police to demonstrators was one to one. Prior to the start of the demonstration, the police assumed the right to review the banners and placards and then to decide if slogans were permissible or not.

According to a report in the Stuttgarter Zeitung, a state prosecutor and a translator were at the latest demonstration in Stuttgart, along with a large police presence, in order to be able to intervene immediately and take judicial measures.

If the dishonest campaign over anti-Semitism is put to one side, it is obvious that the attacks by politicians and the media are directed against the anti-war nature of the demonstrations. At the beginning of the year, Gauck, Steinmeier and Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen stated that the period of German military restraint was over, and that in the future Germany would once again intervene militarily in the world’s crisis regions independently and with self-confidence.

The support for the governments in Kiev and Jerusalem shows what this means. The German government is preparing comparable war crimes and intends to suppress all opposition from the outset.

The return of German militarism is not only directed against targets abroad but also at home—i.e., it is linked to the abolition of democratic rights. Already a century ago, prior to the First World War, opponents of war were imprisoned. In preparation for the Second World War, democratic structures were completely destroyed and a fascist dictatorship was established.

A key role in the campaign of lies over anti-Semitism and attacks on demonstrators is being played by the Left Party.

Immediately after the beginning of the bombardment of Gaza, the Left Party’s leading trio of Gregor Gysy, Katja Kipping and Berndt Riexinger warned of a one-sided critique. “The international community would be well advised not to falsely encourage either side with one-sided declarations of blame,” they stated. This was “nothing other than encouraging a refusal to make peace. No one is conducting a just war in this war.”

This call to abstain in a conflict between a heavily armed military and a virtually defenceless population, which has been starved, cut off from electricity and water, and bombarded continuously, signifies the toleration and support for war crimes.

The leader of the Left Party in Berlin, Klaus Lederer, went a step further last Friday. He demonstratively took part in a pro-Israel rally in Berlin. He claimed to decisively oppose the one-sided condemnation of Israel in the current conflict. The fact that calls to demonstrate against the current war made a one-sided condemnation of Israel resulted in all sorts of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic organisations being drawn in, he declared. Regardless of what was said by the organisers, they were right-wing protests.

The support of the Left Party’s leader in Berlin for Israel’s war policy and reign of terror makes clear how right wing the Left Party is.

On Monday, the party’s organ Neues Deutschland published an interview about the demonstrations with the Israeli political scientist Rafael Seligmann. It had the headline, “This is pure hatred and scurrilous.”

The Left Party is using the current situation to signal its unconditional support for the government.
Some of MSNBC’s Most Prominent Journalists Are Ignoring Gaza — Why?
02 Aug 2014
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As Israel continues to inflict mass death and trauma on Gaza, influential liberal media figures are mostly staying silent.

MSNBC reporter Adam Serwer has said conspicuously little since the offensive began over three weeks ago. Because the causes of this conflict are so deeply bound up with US political conditions — American taxpayers supply the Israeli government $3.1 billion in annual military aid, and the Obama administration has just authorized shipping over an additional round of munitions — Serwer’s near-total avoidance of the topic seems curious. Having first rose to prominence as a “civil liberties blogger” at the now-defunct American Prospect magazine, there are a multitude of angles from which Serwer might cover Gaza that would accord with his longstanding beat.

Asked to explain this confounding editorial judgement — in the past two weeks he has written at least four pieces on Obamacare — Serwer told me the following:

I’m proud to say msnbc has featured plenty of in-depth coverage of this issue, but I haven’t written about it except on weekend duty ( because I typically don’t cover foreign affairs. I haven’t written about important developments in West Africa, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq or Syria at all.

This doesn’t square with a review of Serwer’s record. Since arriving at MSNBC from Mother Jones in 2013, Serwer has written on issues pertaining to the Afghanistan war, the aborted US military intervention in Syria, Barack Obama’s drone strike program, the international fallout from Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures, the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, and more — all subjects with clear “foreign affairs” dimensions.

And anyway, the premise that one need have some special expertise to comment on the political implications of Israel’s current attack is manifestly absurd; no one suggested such during the Iraq War or Libyan intervention. Both were stories with obvious import relative to domestic U.S. discourse.

Accordingly, a political reporter like Serwer could explicate the Gaza crisis for MSNBC’s audience in all manner of ways. Democratic Party stars like Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi, Cory Booker, and many others have declared their unflinching support for Israel – certainly a major political story. Why do putatively “progressive” politicians so fervently back a foreign government’s bombardment of its besieged, blockaded neighboring territory? Maybe that’s worth exploring.

Similarly, Serwer’s fellow MSNBC journalist Irin Carmon has been quiet on the topic, limiting her Twitter analysis thus far to musings about her Israeli family’s “bomb shelter selfies,” as well as this bit of incisive commentary: “Basically the solution is for Israelis and Palestinians to leave nice reviews of each other’s beachfront properties.”

A third MSNBC colleague, Benjy Sarlin, has also virtually ignored Gaza — except to tweet out the odd defense of Israel’s conduct. (In the first weeks of the assault, Sarlin approvingly referred his Twitter followers to analyses by neoconservative pundits Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic — a former Israel Defense Forces prison guard — and Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner.)

On the other hand, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes isn’t generally regarded as a foreign affairs specialist; his professional work focuses largely on domestic and economic policy. Nevertheless, Hayes has produced far-and-away the network’s best coverage of the Gaza conflict, exclusively interviewing an American teen beaten by Israeli police, allowing former contributor Rula Jebreal to voice on-air criticisms regarding MSNBC’s alleged lack of Palestinian perspectives, and so forth.

Worst of all, perhaps, has been Rachel Maddow, who’s ignored Gaza to the point of absurdity, engendering widespread scorn on Twitter and elsewhere.

Despite her reputation as an astute analyst of U.S. foreign policy (she wrote an entire book on it) Maddow has allocated substantial airtime over the past 25 days to such topics as “Impeachment threat electrifies Dem base,” but almost none to Gaza. Between July 26 and July 31 — the period of Israel’s most intense escalation yet — she covered the conflict not even once, according to her MSNBC show page. Wondering if Maddow could ever be impelled to scrutinize Israel, Twitter user Jonathan Cohn sardonically asked, “What if the siege on Gaza were really just a major traffic jam caused by Chris Christie?”

A plausible theory as to why Maddow has so studiously avoided mentioning Israel’s assault is because the story doesn’t quite “electrify Democrats” — in fact, it amplifies huge, glaring divisions among Democrats. Countless self-described “progressives” are fervently committed to backing Israel’s every action, no matter how many hundreds of children it kills, because they have a pre-existing devotion to the Jewish state.

Broaching the subject would likely create fissures among Maddow’s viewership, so rather than delve into bothersome complexities, or emulate the approach of British television anchors — who sometimes actually challenge the Israeli government’s spurious talking points — she instead opts to continue dishing out the standard “look over there at how crazy the GOP is” red