Thursday, July 30, 2009

Iran? Israel? Palestinians? Don't Understand the Middle East? Blame the Media

Even in the smallest news items frequently reflect the media bias against both Israel and accurate explanations of Middle East realities. For example, consider this one-paragraph AP item of July 25:

“U.S. gives $200M to Palestinians: The United States has transferred $200 million to the Palestinian government to help ease a growing budget deficit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been struggling in recent months to keep his government afloat, borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from commercial banks just to cover the public payroll.  The reasons for the shortfall include Israel's restrictions on the Palestinian economy, the border blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and the failure of some donor countries to make good on their aid pledges, Fayyad said during a video news conference with Clinton. – AP”

Three reasons are given for the Palestinian economy doing poorly. None—repeat none—of them related to the Palestinians themselves, and two of the three are blamed on Israel.

So what’s left out? Things that everyone knows about on the scene:

--The administrative incompetence of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
--The PA’s rejection of peace with Israel in the past and present.
--The waste of money on ridiculously high numbers of people in security forces. That is why the "public payroll" is so expensive, a fact that has nothing to do with Israel. Moreover, the PA does not tax its people, getting all its money from foreign handouts. Such actions might build its popularity but also ensure a deficit.
--Past waves of violence by the PA’s Fatah ruling group and current talk of returning to armed struggle in the future.
--The extremist policies of Hamas—including maintaining a state of war with Israel--which could easily behave in a way that would make a blockade unnecessary.
--High levels of corruption in both regimes.
--The overall international economic downturn.

The reader is being directed to conclude: If only those mean Israelis and unreliable donors were nicer to the poor Palestinians everything would be fine. And indeed this seems almost like an unwritten rule for the Inquirer, AP, Reuters, and large sectors of the media: The Palestinians can never be blamed for anything.

But if all those points aren't made, how can anything ever be fixed? Even assuming there was no sanctions against a regime in Gaza which is terrorist, radical Islamist, openly antisemitic, and genocidal-intended--yes these are very strong words but they are completely accurate ones--the Gaza economy wouldn't be doing well.

As for the West Bank, the current Israeli government has explicitly made helping the economy there prosper and recent reports is that it is doing relatively well.

But here is the only choice much of the media allows us: It’s all Israel’s fault. Hamas and the PA aren’t to blame for anything, merely being eternal victims of Israel and the West. Therefore, the PA doesn't have to change any of its policies, does it?

If you want another example of how this basic concept works, consider an article of July 28, "Israel refuses limits on halting Iran nukes," by Anne Gearan, Associated Press. You see those Israelis are just trouble for the United States, as the headline to put it, “Top U.S. officials urge restraint as they seek to conduct broader peace talks in the Mideast.”

Like many articles on the Middle East, this is so biased and misleading as to be almost comical. The lead signals to the reader who is the bad guy here:

“Israel hardened its insistence yesterday that it would do anything it felt necessary to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, just the ultimatum the United States hoped not to hear as it tried to nudge Iran to the bargaining table.”

Israel's hardline messing up U.S. efforts for peace, the article tells readers. Actually,  however, Israeli press reports on the same meeting said that Israel’s leaders told the United States they would cooperate with U.S. efforts, precisely the opposite of this article.  Indeed, the article itself presents no evidence for its thesis.

What is the proof offered of such a “hardening” position? Here it, allegedly, is.

“Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak used a brief news conference with Gates to insist three times that Israel would not rule out any response, an implied warning that it would consider a preemptive strike to thwart Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"`We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table,'" Barak said. "`This is our policy. We mean it.'"

Obviously what Barak said is not some “hardening” but the traditional Israeli position. And by the way, even President Obama has said that he isn’t taking any option off the table. Clearly, the Israeli position is: we will give you every chance to try the engagement and sanctions' route.

So the entire thesis of the article is simply wrong, ridiculously wrong. This is what is presented as serious coverage of Israel in American newspapers.

But that’s not all. The article continues:

“Iran says it is merely trying to develop nuclear reactors for domestic power generation. Israeli leaders fear that the U.S. prizes its outreach to Iran over its historic ties to Israel and that the United States appears resigned to the idea that Iran will soon be able to build a nuclear weapon.”

What’s missing here, though it is implied, is that the United States agrees with Israel. Gearan, by the way, also misstates the U.S. position. (On this point, see here)

None of the rest of the article contains any evidence that Israel has either hardened its line or is causing problems for U.S. diplomacy on the Iran issue.

At the end of the article, in all contrast to supposed journalistic guidelines, the author interjects her opinions unsupported by facts:

“All this comes at a time when Washington's policy of dialogue with Iran itself has hit an impasse because of that country's election turmoil after the disputed vote June 12. A more cooperative Iran is important for the Mideast peace drive. With its links to Hamas and Hezbollah extremists, Iran is capable of heightening tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

First of all, is the only problem for dialogue due to “election turmoil” or rather the hardline—here’s a place where it’s appropriate—nature of Iran’s regime? Moreover, why do we have any reason to believe Iran would be more cooperative? The article presents the issue purely in terms of the United States having to be nice to Iran or else.

Iran isn’t just “capable” of heightening tensions, it works to do so every day. To show there are good articles also, see a much better piece on this point from the Washington Post.

And the author concludes with this bit of wisdom:

“At the same time, an Israeli strike on Iran would probably push Arab nations away from any peace gestures toward Israel, despite their own rivalries with Tehran.”

This is pure opinion and is quite debatable. But journalists sticking in their ideological-based opinions is now par for the course in the American media. It shouldn’t be.

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