Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obama's Middle East Visit as a Case Study in Media Manipulation

By Barry Rubin

When President Barack Obama arrived in Israel, March 20, for his visit he said it was "no accident" that he went there as his second term's' first overseas trip.

Question: Who was the first foreign leader Obama called when his first term began? Answer: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. 

So is this juxtaposition also "no accident." I have written that this trip symbolizes Obama giving up the idea of pressuring Israel on the "peace process" issue and explained in detail why that is true. Everyone else seems to be predicting that Obama is being nice right now to lower the boom on Israel either during this trip or afterward. I haven't seen a single other article that agrees with my assessment. I stand by my assessment.

It is all the more amusing how one establishment writer portrayed my analysis. She made me into the spokesman for a large bloc and distorted the whole point. And that tells us a lot about how the Middle East and Obama's policies are distorted by the ruling establishment and misunderstood by the opposition.

Here's what Slate has to say about me:

"The anti-Obama peace-process skeptics can’t help but gloat. As Barry Rubin, a conservative, pro-Israel American pundit put it on his Facebook page: “I think we have just won a huge victory … Obama has admitted defeat on trying to bully, manipulate, or pressure Israel.'"

This is a very revealing sentence in several respects:

--First of all, the article was not on my Facebook page. On my Facebook page was a link to my article in PJMedia. Zacharia is not a friend on my Facebook page so she could not have seen the material quoted there. Consequently, she wrote it that way to avoid having to admit the existence of PJ Media and linking to that publication. By saying something was on my Facebook page--rather than on one of the biggest news/analysis sites on the Internet--I am to be made to sound like a basement-dwelling blogger.

--As I have said repeatedly and everyone knows me knows, I am not a "conservative." I have repeatedly said that I am a traditional liberal and explain this in detail in many articles as well as regularly in conversation. Zacharia's point here is to deny that anyone except conservatives can criticize Obama. This is to signal Slate readers that they should ignore what I say. It is ironic since one of my main points is the hijacking of liberalism by the left which then redefines liberalism in its own image. By the way, one reason it is necessary to appear in conservative publications is because the mass media has closed out--except in very limited ways--dissenting opinions about the Middle East.

--It is not true to say "skeptics can't help but gloat." I have seen about 15 articles written by real live conservatives that all took a totally different tack. They read what was important in the Obama statement as an anti-Israel theme, blaming Israel for the lack of peace. Others have predicted dire consequences for Israel from Obama's visit. As far as I know I'm the only person who has written up the event as a victory for Israel.

But you see the problem is stereotyped approaches. Zacharia and company are looking at things in terms of Obama always doing good. Conservatives tend to look at things as Obama always doing bad. What's rejected by Zacharia and her type is trying to figure out what's actually happening.

I think the typical analysis among both Obama's supporters and critics is to say what  Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the best writers on the region, told Haaretz: ""The Obama of the first term did not come to Israel and demanded a settlement freeze. The Obama of the second term is coming to Israel so he could be in the position to demand a settlement freeze in the future."

Some who say that like it; some who say that don't like it. But it seems to be what everyone but me is saying. Yet I believe Obama has learned something and I also believe that the Palestinian Authority and Arab states--many of which are now ruled by Islamists--will never give Obama an incentive to press Israel.

--The word "gloat" is intended to make the "liberal" readers of Slate angry and ignore what I said. Gloating is a nasty behavior, bragging, taking pleasure in others failures, etc. Change the words to read: gloating about the poor state of the U.S. economy, gloating about the mess in Egypt. The use of the word gloating cancels out the fact that someone was correct and that the writer was wrong. An attempt to understand an important issue has been turned into a ping-pong game. Rather than "gloating," I explained why Israel should talk about what a great president Obama is even though I retained freedom of action as an individual. I think that also accurately predicted what is happening on this trip.

--The word "American." Yes, I'm proud to be an America and to think the United States is a great and wonderful country, unlike many (most?) of those on the left. But I write largely from an Israeli perspective. By leaving that out the author then is saying: Not a perspective from Israel but just another domestic opponent of the president. Maybe she's a bit sensitive because she's in California, thousands of miles away from the scene and I am actually here. From what she writes I might as well be in California, too, getting my information from the New York Times or Los Angeles Times and not an hour away by car from the Gaza Strip (five minutes away by rocket, see below).

--By not mentioning my being Israeli, Zacharia redefines the "we" who has won a victory. I meant the "we" as Israeli interests. But by the way she wrote it (Zacharia teaches communications, remember) it would appear that the "we" are American conservative opponents of Obama! So suppose you like Israel but also like Obama. That turns my analysis from something you would regard as a good thing--good for Israel and Obama since he would avoid making a policy mistake--into a bad thing--some nasty, smirking person attacking your favorite political leader.

--And, of course, all the reasons I give for my analysis are left out. The statement must be made to seem like an argument of a bitter critic, not an analysis based on facts and long study.

--As for Zacharia, here's what I wrote about her here six months ago:

"The elite currently in power in the Western mass media will never comprehend the Middle East. There is a problem with bias, for sure, but the big issue is the impenetrable ignorance of the very people entrusted with explaining the region to others. They insist on imposing their own misconceptions on the situation while ignoring the evidence."

Yep, same thing as now.

"Consider Janine Zacharia. What a distinguished resume: Jerusalem bureau chief and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post (2009-2011), chief diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News (2005-2009), and before that five years working for the Jerusalem Post in Washington, D.C., and another five years working for Reuters and other publications from Jerusalem. Right now she’s a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in communications.

"Surely, such a person must understand the region’s issues, and if anyone isn’t going to have an anti-Israel bias in the mass media it would be her. And she isn’t anti-Israel in a conscious, political sense. Indeed, she obviously views herself as sympathetic. Rather, her assumptions make her type of views inevitably anti-Israel and, more broadly, inevitably destructive of U.S. interests on other issues."

I think I tried to characterize her fairly rather than using a stereotype. But here's the best part:
''Here’s her article in Slate. The title is “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed.” Not why this response is the best of a set of difficult options; not why the world should support Israel; not why Hamas should be removed from power with international support but why Israel is wrong and stupid to fight. “Doomed” is a strong word."

You see! Again, no sense of context or what's really going on, just two teams playing a game and she knows which team she is on.

"The subhead — adapted from Zacharia’s text — is “Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bomb Hamas militants will leave Israel more isolated, insecure, and alone.” Not the decision of Israel’s unanimous leadership including first and foremost its military and defense experts but that of a prime minister who now plays a role for the American media most closely approximated to that held by former President George W. Bush."

Now think about it. Six months ago she wrote an article saying that Israel was being defeated and was badly isolated. I wrote the opposite. I was right. Obama is in Israel saying nice things and not pressuring Israel. Nobody is pressuring Israel. And Israel isn't insecure, or at least to the extent that is true it is largely due to White House policies.

Oh, and this is rich. She concludes that the American media hate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as much as Bush. True, but that's through the work of people like her.

So I was right; Zacharia and Obama were wrong (you can see all the quotes about how he was going to solve the conflict) but this point must either be concealed from the American readers or explained away so as to make them more firmly believe all the wrong ideas they have believed up to now.
It's a great teachable moment but another example about how the left-wing media refuses to teach.

This article is published on PJMedia.

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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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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