Monthly Archives: January 2009

BBC thinks that some humanitarian aid is more biased than others: the exceptionalism of Israel, yet again.

The Guardian UK notes that the BBC has refused to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, “leaving aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.” (Jenny Percival, ‘Broadcasters refuse to air Gaza charity appeal,’ The Guardian, January 23, 2008;”

BBC claims that they didn’t want to show bias. They also weren’t sure about how the money would be spent. The appeal went out on three other UK stations and was from a consortium of 13 major aid organizations such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, and Save the Children. The BBC decision has spurred world wide condemnation, massive protest outside the BBC headquarters, and the censure of the British parliament. The refusal has even prompted noble prize winner Mohamed El Baradei, the director of the UN nuclear agency to cancel an interview with the BBC. He said the refusal “violates the rules of basic human decency which are there to help vulnerable people irrespective of who is right or wrong.”

If we step back a bit, we need to ask how this kind of situation might have come to pass. Surely, aid appeals for Darfur, the Congo, Rwanda, Kosovo, last years earthquake in China, etc, were not subject to the same level of scrutiny and concern, notwithstanding the “complex” problems which exist in each of these situations/conflicts.. Muzzlewatch issues are actually at the core of this newest outrage. Under the barrage of ostensibly “pro Israeli” efforts, most mainstream and corporate news agencies learn to be very cautious regarding all things Israel.  (see the recent post on Bill Moyers and Bob Simon) Thus, in the present Gaza crisis, Hamas fighters are called “Hamas militants” although the government of Gaza is run by Hamas. Could we say the same thing about Israeli militants instead of soldiers?

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Media Circus: Bill Moyers, 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon and the backlash

Bill Moyers My sister recently stumbled on a blog post by a far right pseudo-journalist that accused me, her peace-love-and-justice baby sister and the keeper of our family’s terrible Holocaust history archives, of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her reaction was a mix of horror at the viciousness of the post, and amusement at its unintentional camp hilarity. My response to her was, “Welcome to my world. This is what it’s like to work on Israel-Palestine issues. Every day.” (I am on staff with Jewish Voice for Peace, which works to end Israel’s 41-year occupation.)

Most journalists don’t cover Israel-Palestine every day, and so they are unaccustomed to the inevitable tsunami of hyperbolic nastiness sure to come their way should they dare to touch the topic.

Bill Moyers, however, one of America’s most respected journalists and moral voices, could not have been surprised by the response last week to his powerful video commentary in which he condemned Hamas and asserted Israel’s right to defend itself, but also said,

Brute force can turn self defense into state terrorism. It’s what the US did in Vietnam with B-52s and napalm, and again in Iraq with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately, the elderly, kids, entire families… Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.

He presciently went on to describe exactly the muzzled world in which we live here in the U.S.

Our political elites show neither independence nor courage by challenging the consensus that Israel can do no wrong.  Although one recent poll found Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24 point margin, Democratic party leaders in Congress nonetheless march in lockstep to the hardliners in Israel and the White House. Rarely does our mainstream media depart from the montonous monologue of the party line. Many American Jews know, as Aaron David Miller writes in the current edition of Newsweek, that the destruction in Gaza won’t do much to address Israel’s longer term needs. But those who raise questions are accused by a prominent reform rabbi of being “morally deficient“. One Jewish American activist told me this week, that never in 30 years has he seen such blind and binding conformity in his community. You’d never know, he says, that it is the Gazans who are doing most of the suffering.

Moyers’ analysis, it turned out, was prescient because the backlash of calls and letters calling him a rabid anti-Semite, and one would presume Nazi-sympathizer, was so strong–even good old Abe Foxman of the ADL got into the fight– forced him to take the rather unusual step of addressing the onslaught of criticism at the top of his next show. (Sorry Bill, welcome to my world.)

A satirical columnist for the SF Chronicle learned a similar lesson this week an off-hand reference about “recalcitrant Israelis,” part of a humorous litany.

I knew I’d hear from American supporters of Israel, because that’s what happens. Any journalist can tell you that – pro-Israeli journalists, Jewish journalists, any writer who says anything that might be taken by somebody as a criticism of Israel or its current policies is gonna get reamed out. Dead babies are frequently mentioned, and crazed Palestinian fanatics – these folks go right for the top of the rhetorical ladder.

Finally, we can only imagine what awaits 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon for this generally fantastic and in the U.S, downright courageous piece of journalism,  Time Running Out for a Two-State Solution? (I say generally, because at times it erroneously gives the impression that “reasonable” voices like Tzipi “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” Livni are drowned out by the extremist settlers. In fact, Likud, Labor and Kadima have all been deeply complicit in the settlement project and the violation of human rights of Palestinians.)

Send your support to Bob Simon by commenting here. Bill Moyers might like to hear from you as well. Comment here.

Dissent despite repressive silencing in Israel

Photo by Keren Manor/ against the killing of civilians in Gaza, Jaffa, Israel, 1/22/2009.Relevant items by the independent information service,  Jewish Peace News, will now be cross-posted at Muzzlewatch. Go here to subscribe to JPN’s news service.

1) Alert from the Alternative Information Center (AIC) on the detention of AIC worker Mohammed Abu Humus;
2) Interview in the Guardian with Sharon Shalev
3) Report on Gathering to Mourn and Protest in Jaffa

Up to and also after Israel announced its unilateral cease fire, just in time to make sure that U.S. inaugural celebrations could go ahead unmarred, people all over Israel were vehemently expressing their outrage at the government’s (equally unilateral) blanket destruction of Gaza. Despite repeated claims that a huge majority supported government and military actions, protests were a visible presence in the public sphere all over the country. In fact, the repressive measures taken by state authorities, clearly intended to stifle public opposition, seemed to belie the alleged wall-to-wall support described by media and identified in polls. Police resorted to arrests on an unprecedented scale to intimidate, stem and silence dissent. Among many others (most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel), the police arrested Nir Oren, co-chair of the Bereaved Families Forum and such (by her own account; see:
“wishy-washy … middle of the road” figures as Leah Shakdiel, an orthodox feminist pedagogue and Israel’s first female member of a local Religious Council.

An intensified version of Shakdiel’s comments on her own arrest is applicable to the overall treatment, by Israeli authorities and media, of acts and statements of opposition to the “war”: “The police these dark days are apparently instructed to play an active role in boosting public morale and national unity, [i.e.: forcefully stifling opposition, R.M.] so they jumped into our midst literally and grabbed six of us on Wednesday into their cars … Worrisome is the silence of the press on all this in a country where there is freedom of the press, i.e. it is self imposed censorship. Many journalists called, were there at the watch, took pictures and interviewed, telephoned later, promised to come to the court, and nada, not a word, no coverage published.”

Some of the milder intimidation tactics included strobe lights shown from low-flying police helicopters into a Saturday night protest I attended (January 17 2009), when many thousands marched from southern Tel-Aviv through the heart of Jaffa beating drums and chanting. On the ground, a power cut shut off Jaffa streetlights as police motorcycles bulldozed their way back and forth through the middle of the crowd.

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The silencing of dissent in Israel part II

Apart from the normal national propaganda barrage that accompanies any military campaign, the Israeli Gaza assault included the added wrinkle of strong governmental efforts to limit protest. In the Palestinian majority areas of Israel, governmental forces have attempted to suppress protest through direct threats and intimidation. This from the NY Times, in which the paper of record almost off-handedly talks about the mass detention of Israeli citizens.

“Local Arab leaders organized protests of the war in the northern towns of Sakhnin and Baka al-Gharbiya in coordination with the police. At the same time, hundreds of Israeli Arabs were detained; some were “preventative arrests” based on intelligence, a police spokesman said.”

Further, Israel was literally stewed in 24/7 pro-governmental/war coverage to the point, as Neve Gordon discusses below, polls reported that Israeli Jewish support increased to almost 100 percent near the end of the Gaza attack. The unanimity of opinion was easy to discern and in no substantial way different from what we might see, for example, in the US during the run-up and prosecution of a war.

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Israel lets journalists back in to Gaza

Associated Press reports today:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Thursday it is lifting restrictions on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip, a ban that had drawn strong criticism from news media.

The government said journalists would be free to enter and leave the war-ravaged territory starting Friday — two days before the Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to rule on a request by the Foreign Press Association to declare the restrictions illegal.

The court hearing will probably not take place if the government lifts the ban.

Israel imposed restrictions on entry to Gaza in early November as a cease-fire with Gaza’s Hamas rulers began to fray. It tightened the rules after launching a military offensive Dec. 27 and ignored a Supreme Court order six days later to allow limited access to international reporters. Only when a cease-fire was declared Sunday did Israel begin opening the border to a trickle of journalists.

Though the ban was instituted well before heavy fighting began, the government argued the security situation made it unsafe for journalists to visit. News groups charged that Israel wanted to manage coverage of the fighting and said the restrictions violated press freedom.

As we reported earlier,  major news outlets were really ticked off about being barred from Gaza. Said Simon McGregor-Wood, bureau chief for ABC News in Jerusalem and a Foreign Press Association board member:

“We never accepted the argument that it was about our security. We always thought it was a strategic :decision to restrict access to Gaza for whatever benefit they thought it would give them. I think it is pretty clear they didn’t want us going in,” he said.

“We want free, unfettered access as it was before the new restrictions started creeping in, and we hope that there won’t be any bogus restrictions imposed in the future.”

Gaza and the media, perhaps a silver lining

No matter the claims of the Israeli government, who, as you would expect, have trumpeted an overwhelming victory in Gaza, something else is perceived by the rest of the world. Even in the US, things are starting to break against the finely tuned Israeli propaganda machine. Perhaps the most startling media example of this was a recent press conference in Washington where Foreign Minister Livni was essentially confronted as a terrorist. Given her recent fatuous claims that there was no humanitarian disaster in Gaza and that Israel, alone and in disregard of UN resolutions will decide when the Gaza campaign is finished,  it seems as if there is some little ray of hope that Israel will start to feel the real effects of its frank crimes against humanity in Gaza. This will hopefully be leveraged by media outrage of the banning of reporters during the 3 week offensive, where even the NY Times expressed concern The Times also reported fairly accurately on the recent attacks against obvious UN buildings and they also prominently reported the awful story of the pacifist Palestinian doctor (devoted to reconciliation) who called Israeli TV to describe the death of his three daughters by IDF shelling. A threshold has been crossed where even the notoriously obtuse NY Times has found a “gagging point” in which it could not take it anymore. As the press, en mass, is finally let into Gaza we can only imagine, based on the reporting that did manage to occur, what will confront international reporters. Hopefully this massive war crime will spur all parties concerned to make a more concerted effort to develop a just peace for all peoples in the region. The following is the Haaretz article on the Livni press conference.

Journalist calls Livni ‘terrorist’ during press conference on Gaza operation By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press Tags: Gaza Strip, Israel News
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had a testy press conference Friday in Washington, D.C., moments after she signed an agreement with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meant to combat arms smuggling to Gaza.

From the starting moments of the press conference, Livni was beset by a less-than friendly barrage of questions, with a number of journalists asserting that Israel’s military operations in Gaza will only make Middle East peace more distant.

Some journalists went so far as to compare the Israeli government to that of dictat Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, due to Israel’s decision to bar journalists from Gaza. One of the more tense moments came when one journalist began to quote at length a Human Rights report on the situation in Gaza, before asking Livni to comment on “the murder of innocent civilians in the Strip.”

When the man was asked to finish his question, he yelled out that Livni had been speaking for an hour and that the journalists weren’t being allowed to ask questions. He then asked since when the U.S. has been hosting “terrorists”.

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Noted Israeli Peace activist and commentator banned from speaking

Jeff Halper has been one of the foremost voices against Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes, as well as being an astute commentator on the nuts and bolts of the US supported Israeli settler colonial project. While striving against terrible injustice committed against a mostly incarcerated people, he has acted with dignity and perseverance, not only on behalf of Palestinians but more generally on behalf of a just and stable peace in the region  -  a peace that would benefit people on both sides of the green line. His tireless efforts are a beacon of hope in very dark times. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that a mainstream Canadian Jewish group (similar to the JCRC) effectively censored a scheduled talk with no reason except the seeming fear of hearing an alternative viewpoint. We have seen such censoring myriad times before, whether it is Desmond Tutu our own Joel Beinin.  A primary focus of muzzlewatch is to report on just such incidents. Implicitly, it is our hope that such efforts will help to expand the discussion, to push the envelope of what is considered acceptable debate about the middle east. The following article details the recent cancellation of a scheduled speech Jeff Halper was to give in Canada.

Tuesday, January 13, 2008

Independent Jewish Voices Montreal condemns political
censorship of Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper: calls on Gelber
Centre to allow Halper to address the Jewish community in

Israeli peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff
Halper and Independent Jewish Voices Montreal (IJVM) will
hold a press conference at noon in front of the Gelber Centre,
to condemn the Federation Combined Jewish Appeal’s (FCJA)
last-minute cancellation of Halper’s public presentation to the
Jewish community at the Centre on January 15.   IJVM had
previously arranged and advertised Halper’s presentation,
“Peace in Israel? Peace with Gaza? Yes We Can.”  As
cause for the cancellation, the FCJA initially cited safety
concerns about hosting the Halper presentation at the same
time as an event of conservative group Amiti’s Quebec-Israel,
even though no threats were issued. Later, they said Amiti’s
Quebec-Israel simply objected to the presentation.

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