New Year’s Eve Reflections: On the Guardian’s disproportionate focus on Israel

israel obsession imageWith 2012 coming to a close, I decided to look back at some the more popular CiF Watch posts.

First, here are the posts read most by our loyal readers – and more than a few of our opponents – over the last year.

While interest in these posts are not surprising, there was one popular post which caught my eye.  Here’s a CW post from Jan. 2, 2011, which still continues to get an awful lot of traffic.  

It was published nearly two years ago but is still garnering new viewers.

The post illustrates – via data illustrated at the site ‘Views of the World‘ – the Guardian’s egregiously disproportionate focus on the Jewish state in 2010, using the Guardian’s own compilation of of tags by country.  Specifically, stories about Israel came in 6th – behind only the UK, USA, Afghanistan, Iraq and China – in the Guardian for 2010 (1,008 stories about Israel in all).

Not surprisingly, Guardian data for 2011 showed almost identical results – despite the political turmoil and violence in the region due to the upheavals of the “Arab Spring”.

While I expect that the results for 2012 will be much the same as the prior two years, we’ll, of course, let you know when the new data is released by the Guardian.

Until then, we’d love to know your thoughts. 

While we’re continually documenting the Guardian’s institutional bias against Israel, what factors do you think contribute most to their editorial decision to devote so much space to covering – via both straight news stories and in ‘CiF’ commentary – the Jewish state?

To all of our (virtual) friends and respectful foes, here’s wishing you a Happy New Year from all of us at CiF Watch. 

Arab media more accurate than the Guardian in story on Gaza building material

hamasIn a post on Dec. 28 we noted an erroneous claim by Harriet Sherwood regarding restrictions on construction material entering Gaza, in a story published by the Guardian on Dec. 27.

Here’s the passage in question:

“…Israel is to allow construction materials to enter Gaza from next week for the first time since 2007. Despite easing its blockade of the enclave two and a half years ago, it has continued to ban the import of almost all construction materials, such as cement and steel, saying they could be used for military purposes.”

First, note that the two sentences oddly contradict each other. The first sentence claims that Israel is going to allow construction materials for the first time since 2007. The second sentence (modifying the first) suggests that some “construction material” has indeed been allowed to pass through – at least since 2010.

As we demonstrated in our post, while even the second sentence is extraordinarily misleading  – ignoring information on the thousands of tons of construction material which has passed into Gaza, and the hundreds of building projects completed in conjunction with international sponsors in the two-year period Sherwood is referring to – the first sentence is simply false.

However, it now seems likely that Sherwood’s first sentence – about construction materials now being allowed in to Gaza for the first time since 2007 – was at least based on recent announcements on an easing of Israel’s blockade under the terms of the Egyptian brokered truce deal with Hamas.

Ynet reported the following:

Israel is to begin allowing materials for private construction into Gaza, easing its blockade under the terms of a truce deal, Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Wednesday.

The decision will allow private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel’s blockade.”

The report then quotes a Palestinian official, thus:

“This is the first time Israel will allow the import of gravel for the private sector since the blockade began in mid-2007.”

So, the change in Israeli policy will now allow, for the first time since Hamas took over Gaza in a violent coup in 2007,  private companies and individuals to import construction materials into the territory.

Moreover, what’s especially interesting about the inaccurate Guardian report on Israel’s change in policy is the fact other Arab media outlets got the story right. 

The Saudi Gazette, on Dec. 27, published a story titled ‘Israel to ease Gaza ban on construction materials‘, which included the following:

“Israel is to begin allowing materials for private construction into Gaza, easing its blockade under the terms of a truce deal, Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Wednesday.

The decision will allow private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel’s blockade.

“This is the first time Israel will allow the import of gravel for the private sector since the blockade began in mid-2007”, [said Palestinian customs official Raed Fattouh].”

The Egypt Independent, on Dec. 27, in a piece titled ‘Israel eases Gaza blockade following truce deal‘, wrote the following:

“Israel is easing its blockade of Gaza to allow construction materials and other goods into the enclave under the terms of a truce deal mediated by Egypt.

The decision allows [for the first time since 2007] private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel’s blockade, AFP reported.

Here’s AlJazeera on Dec. 27, in a piece titledIsrael eases ban on Gaza building material‘:

“Israel has allowed a shipment of gravel for private construction into the Gaza Strip, easing the blockade it imposed after Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007, a Palestinian official said.”

Even the Palestine News Network (PNN) reported the story accurately.  In a PNN story on Dec. 27, titled ‘Israel to Allow Imports to Ease Gaza Blockade‘, the following was reported:

“Israel will allow 20 trucks a day loaded with construction material to enter the Gaza Strip starting next week, in an attempt to ease its blockade under the terms of a truce deal signed with an Egyptian-mediation between Hamas and Israel after the eight days escalation last month.

The new construction material will be for the Palestinian sector, and this decision will allow private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted and only embarked for internationally funded building projects.”

In fact, I was unable to find another news source, other than the Guardian, which reported Israel’s easing of restrictions on building materials, that didn’t accurately distinguish between construction materials for internationally sponsored Gaza building projects, which was already allowed, and the importing of such materials for the private sector.

While any reporter can, of course, make a mistake, the frequency of inaccurate or highly misleading claims about Israel (by reporters and commentators) at the Guardian does make you wonder if their editors engage in even the most rudimentary fact-checking before publishing such stories.  

Guardian Teacher Network site promotes distorted history of Israel’s birth

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The Guardian Teacher Network (GTN) is a site dedicated to helping UK teachers find jobs, focus on a career path and “gain resources and ideas” to assist in their professional development. They even have suggested lesson plans, sample tests and other classroom aids to help teaching professionals with day-to-day challenges.

A CiF Watch post (Guardian publishes false information about IDF attack on Ahmed al-Jabari) in November noted that a blog entry at GTN – which provided a summary of the recent Gaza war for educators to use in class – falsely claimed that the Israeli air strike on the Hamas military chief on Nov. 14 also killed a 6 year-old girl and an 11-month old baby.

As we noted, the strike killed only al-Jabari and his bodyguard.

Following our post, the Guardian corrected the mistake.

More recently, upon perusing the page to learn what additional information about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was available to British educators, I found this history lesson plan for students ages 14-16.

Conflict between Israel and the Arab states, 1949-1979

After doing this lesson, you should understand why Israel was involved in three wars between 1949 and 1979, why Israel was able to win these three wars, why and with what consequences other countries became involved in conflict in the Middle East, why the problems of the Middle East were not solved by 1979, identify the main motives of each of the countries involved in the disputes in the Middle East, explain why countries outside of the Middle East became involved, and discuss what the consequences were for both the Middle East and the world at large of the failure to solve the Arab/Israeli problem.

Here’s the first section, on how Israel was founded.

In order to understand why there were wars between Israel and the Arab states in 1956, 1967 and 1973, you need to fully understand what had been happening in the area between 1945 and 1949.

Column 1 contains the beginning of some sentences and column 2 gives you [the] endings. 

Here is the Guardian graphic – which I edited according to the “correct” answers to the questions they provided – representing the sum total of what their education editors deem necessary for students to know about the events between 1945 and 1949 to help them understand the wars between Israel and the Arabs in ’56, ’67, and ’73.

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The selective history lesson is truly a work of art.

  • Students learn about the White Paper (see #2), but not the Balfour Declaration. (Additionally, there is nothing about the Mandate for Palestine, the the history of Zionism, or 4,000 years of Jewish history in the land).
  • There is an implicit suggestion (see #3) that the justification for Israel’s existence is significantly based on the “terrible treatment of Jews in concentration camps during the Second World War”.
  • Two of the eight questions (see #4 and #5) focus on terrorist acts committed by the Irgun and Stern Gang, yet there is absolutely nothing about Arab pograms, riots, terrorism, and brutality committed against Jews.
  • There is nothing (see #7) indicating which side accepted, and which side rejected, the UN recommended division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

Note also that there is no indication that Arabs refused to recognize Israel even after the war, nor the subsequent Arab terror attacks, the Arab League economic boycott and other forms of belligerence – all of which are vital to understanding the subsequent conflict.

Moreover, note that Arabs are barely even mentioned in the Q&A table.  Arabs – those living in historic Palestine, as well as those in the greater Middle East – are not moral actors in the GTN history of the region between 1945-49.

The Guardian Teacher Network recommended history lesson about the Israeli-Palestinian/Israeli-Arab/Israeli-Islamist Conflict is, however, accurate in one respect. It represents an entirely accurate snapshot of the Guardian’s skewed, myopic, Israeli-obsessed and egregiously distorted reporting on the region. 

Guardian’s media blogger, Roy Greenslade, ignores Hamas restrictions on journalists

A guest post by AKUS

This was the Guardian’s list of top Media stories on December 28th:

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Oddly enough, the December 27th story by Harriett Sherwood about Hamas banning Palestinian journalists reporting in Gaza for Israeli media did not make it the Guardian’s list of top media stories. Instead, it was quietly pushed to News/World News/Hamas:

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Nor did it come to the attention of Roy Greenslade, who seems to keep an eagle-eyed focus on news relating to the media and press freedom in Israel.

How strange that Greenslade should have overlooked this story while being so on top of other stories about media in the region, especially those which show Israel in a negative light – despite the fact that, by any standard, Israel lays claim to the only truly free press in the region.  

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Perhaps a Hamas ban on Palestinian journalists who report for the Israeli media is not a significant media issue – unlike, for example, an Israeli reporter leaking security documents, which led to this lengthy re-write, by Greenslade, of an article from Ha’aretz on September 4th, 2012,  Israeli judge to reporter – state security matters more than press freedom:

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And in July 2011 there was this report by Greenslade, rehashing the NYT, darkly warning of the end of a free speech in Israel– still alive and kicking more than a year later, by the way:

pic 4How very odd to see the difference in emphasis about media restrictions when the antagonists in the tale are Palestinians.

Could it be that Greenslade and the Guardian expect such behavior from Hamas, and therefore don’t consider it newsworthy enough to report it at a blog about the media and press freedom?

Guardian’s capital lie included in CAMERA’s Top 10 MidEast Media Mangles

Our friends at CAMERA published a 2012 end-of-year top-ten list of the most egregious false accusations about Israel in the media.  Coming in at number 5 was the Guardian’s ever-changing Israeli capital.

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CAMERA wrote the following:

Originally, The Guardian correctly stated in the caption of a photograph that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Days later, they issued a “correction” saying they had “wrongly referred to the city as the Israeli capital. The Guardian style guide states: ‘Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is.’”

Nearly four months after that, following many complaints, The Guardian re-corrected, sort of, writing:

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Got it?

 

Postcard from Israel -Tel Lachish

As is the case with many of the other Tels in Israel, Tel Lachish shows evidence of habitation spanning many different historic periods over thousands of years. It is perhaps most well-known, however, due to the archaeological evidence of two events in which it fell to invaders. 

In 701 BCE the Assyrian king Sennacherib conquered Lachish in a campaign to put down the revolt by Hezekiah, king of Judea. The story is of course told in the Torah and also recorded in the Lachish reliefs which decorated Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh and can now be seen in the British Museum. At Tel Lachish itself, it is possible to see the Assyrian-built siege ramp and the double city wall through which the conquerors must have entered the city.

In 586 BCE the city fell again – this time to Nebuchadnezzar – as mentioned in Jeremiah:

“When the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they alone remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah.”  (Jermiah 34:7)

The Lachish Letters, some of which can also be found in the British Museum, were written to Ya’osh, the military governor of Lachish, by Hosha’yahu – an officer in charge of a nearby outpost – during the invasion by the Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar and the room in which the letters were found can also be seen today at the Tel, together with the Israelite palace, the gateway and the 120 foot deep well which provided the city with water during the First Temple period.  

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Guardian falsely claims that “almost no” construction materials have entered Gaza

Harriet Sherwood’s latest report, ‘Hamas bans Palestinian journalists from Israeli media cooperation‘ Dec. 27, took a detour from the issue indicated in the title in the penultimate paragraph.

Sherwood writes:

“Meanwhile, Israel is to allow construction materials to enter Gaza from next week for the first time since 2007. Despite easing its blockade of the enclave two and a half years ago, it has continued to ban the import of almost all construction materials, such as cement and steel, saying they could be used for military purposes.”

The first sentence is completely untrue.

The passage highlighted in the second sentence is, at best, extraordinarily misleading.

At the Kerem Shalom Crossing, every day, around 250-350 trucks bring goods into Gaza – food, electrical products, clothing, and construction materials.

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Here’s a photo I took while on tour of Kerem Shalom in September, 2012.

In order to ensure that dual-use items (construction materials which could be used by Hamas and other terror groups to build fortified bunkers, military installations, etc.) COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) coordinates such shipments with international sponsors (US Aid, the World Bank, the UN, etc.) who can guarantee that the materials are used for their original civilian intent.

Since 2010 (the period Sherwood is referring to), out of 268 submitted construction proposals by the PA (in conjunction with international sponsors) 235 were approved.

Such projects include housing, schools, clinics, roads, agricultural installations and other civilian infrastructure.

According to COGAT, the only ones not implemented on the ground have been those in which the sponsor didn’t have the funds.

Here’s a breakdown of the material. (The numbers cited below represent the amount of construction materials, in tons.)

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Here is a further breakdown of what has been built, or is in the process of being built, in Gaza with construction materials sent since 2010, quantified above.

  • 1900 housing units completed or underway
  • 14 health clinics completed or underway
  • 42 schools (new or renovated) completed or underway
  • 22 water and sewage projects
  • 10 new roads 

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And, lets not forget the five-star hotel, the al-Mashtal, which opened in 2012 in Gaza – which Sherwood herself reported on.

guardianYou don’t need to be a building contractor to conclude that an awful lot of construction material was required for these luxury accommodations.

You can see a full list of construction projects in Gaza underway or already completed, here.

Such facts and figures regarding construction materials entering Gaza completely contradict Harriet Sherwood’s claim that all, or “almost all”, construction materials have been banned from entering Gaza over the last two years.

Please consider sending a respectful email to the Guardian’s readers editor requesting a correction to Sherwood’s story.

reader@guardian.co.uk

Will the Guardian report on war crimes committed by Hamas?

Here’s how the Guardian’s Gaza page looks today, Dec. 27.

gaza

As you can see, there’s very little about Gaza, save ‘Snapshot amid blockades and gunfire from June, which highlights Palestinian suffering in the territory due, it is claimed, to Israeli restrictions, and a piece (circled) from Dec. 20 about an accusation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Israel violated the laws of war by attacking the offices of al-Aqsa TV and al-Quds TV during ‘Pillar of Defense’

Currently missing from the page, however, is a report issued by HRW – reported elsewhere in the media – that Gaza terrorists violated the laws of war during the November conflict by launching over a thousand rockets toward population centers in Israel.  HRW highlighted statements by the groups firing the weapons admitting that they were targeting civilians.

The report also noted that Hamas and other armed groups “repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire.”

No, it’s not significant that HRW occasionally takes a detour from it’s egregiously disproportionate criticism of Israel to acknowledge the painfully obvious about the contempt for human life routinely displayed by the Palestinian extremists who currently rule Gaza.

The only question is whether the Guardian’s Israel correspondent will deem the Palestinians’ violation of Israeli human rights newsworthy.

What the Guardian won’t report: Israel wins at the UN. Israeli culture wins in the Middle East

On Dec. 21, 2012, a UN resolution on “Entrepreneurship for Development” was proposed by Israel, along with 97 co-sponsors.

The resolution encourages private and public sector entrepreneurship, “developing new technologies and innovative business models, and enabling high, sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth while protecting the rights of workers as the best way to deal with the challenges of poverty and job creation.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said the following:

“The Israeli spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity prevailed at the UN today.  As a state that was founded in difficult circumstances, we have been able to create opportunities for talented people and have become an enterprising superpower. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship can work miracles and drive economies forward. Investing in human resources is a real message that Israel conveys to the developing world.”

The UN adopted it by a vote of 141 in favor to 31 against, with 11 abstentions.

The Guardian – which continually informs their readers when the UN censures the Jewish state – hasn’t reported the Israeli sponsored resolution.

Why does it matter?

If you recall, there was a huge row over comments during the US Presidential campaign suggesting that Israeli culture is a major factor in the state’s economic and social prowess in the region.  

Many commentators on the far left (including ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Rachel Shabi) scolded those who would suggest a connection between culture and success – imputing racism to such arguments.

Shabi characterized the broader narrative that Israeli culture may be more conducive to success than Palestinian culture as “standard-issue superiority complex racism”.

To those so easily manipulated by au courant post-colonial causation, the stubborn reality of Israeli success (as with Western success more broadly) must be explained by Western hegemony or other global injustices.

To the far-left crowd which occupies the Guardian, the word “racism” – typically understood as a belief in the inherent, immutable, biological or genetic inferiority of a group, race, or ethnicity – has been defined so expansively as to even impute such bigotry to those observing intuitively that some cultural habits are necessarily inimical to economic achievement and social development.

Now, take a look at the countries who voted against the Israeli resolution advocating “entrepreneurship for development”.

Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Yemen.

Do you see a pattern?

A strong majority of these states are plagued by poverty, under-development and despotism – and would greatly benefit from the ‘development through entrepreneurship’ growth strategy recommended by Israel.

Unfortunately, the majority of these states are opposed to Israel’s very existence, and some have a shameful history of having ethnically cleansed their Jewish citizens in the twenty years following 1948.

The resolution, based on the most intuitive reasoning, was opposed because it was the Jewish state which proposed it.

By obsessing over Israel, refusing to concentrate on the real problems plaguing their societies, and failing to instill the liberal cultural habits necessary to alleviate poverty and throw off the yoke of tyranny – as well as ignoring the lessons on how a small, innovative, Jewish country accomplished so much in just six and a half decades – they ensure that little progress will likely be achieved.

Those in the West who continue  to indulge such nations in the fantasy that their anti-Zionist delusions are justified, even righteous, are complicit in condemning millions to poverty, tyranny and hopelessness.

US Guardian and the UK Guardian – 2 blogs separated by a ‘unit-ary’ language

A guest post by AKUS

Do you notice slight differences in the header concerning Israel between the US version and the UK version below (see arrow)?

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Yes – the US version suggests that Israel will build one thousand two hundred new settlements (on the West Bank).

A more rational editor in the UK, apparently realizing that even the Netanyahu’s government would be hard put to cram 1,200 new settlements into the West Bank, chose instead to use an almost equally misleading term of “settlement units” (aka – “apartments”).

In the body of the articles, the text is the same – initially referring to “settlement units” and then the more accurate term, “apartments”:

aptsThe error in the US header and the ambiguity in the text of the article indicate Guardian group-think about Israel’s so-called “settlement building” – a narrative which ignores the fact that there has not been a new settlement of any significance in the last four  years, other than a couple of swiftly removed caravan or tent efforts.

The idea of 1,200 new settlements (that is, 1200 entirely new communities/towns across the green line) seems quite feasible to such writers and editors, indicating also that they don’t know too much about the size or geography of the West bank.  Thus, their decision to characterize any home built for Israelis in the West Bank not as “apartments” but, rather, by using a new term in alignment with their broader view – a “settlement unit”.

Also, note the subtle difference in the description of the same issue by Harriet Sherwood in her Christmas Day article ‘Bethlehem celebrates first Christmas since UN recognition of Palestine (in which she manages, by the way,  to totally overlook the large presence of Palestinian Authority police in Bethlehem, as reported here yesterday by Judy Lash-Balint):

unit

It’s possible that Sherwood, who seems to be gradually gaining insight into what makes Israel tick – an understanding, it seems, that accelerated markedly after a couple of rockets landed near Jerusalem, where she is based – actually acknowledges that potential occupants of these “settlement units” are just people for whom homes are being built, not cartoon characters drawn by the Guardian’s Steve Bell who live in “settlement units”.

If Palestinian leaders refuse to sit down and work with the Israelis in good faith to reach an agreed set of borders between Israel and a putative Palestinian State, Israel is giving notice that it will not sit and wait for the phone to ring.

Calling apartments Israel builds (while the PA refuses to negotiate any borders) “settlement units” will not make the apartments any less home to more and more Israelis, as Sherwood, at least and possibly alone among Guardian staff, may now understand.  

But when will the Palestinian Authority get the message?

CiF contributor asks: Does Israel depend on the support of right-wing antisemites?

The cognitive gymnastics necessary for a Guardian journalist or ‘Comment is Free’ contributor to claim being ‘shocked’ by antisemitism are quite impressive.

Those engaging in such faux outrage must somehow ignore the fact that ‘Comment is Free’ has arguably published more commentary by Islamist extremists with explicitly (and often violent) antisemitic ideologies than perhaps any other mainstream, widely distributed, Anglo news site.

They’d also have to reconcile their claim to championing anti-racist values with the Guardian’s continuing sanctioning of largely secular, Western extreme left commentators who advance or defend Judeophobic tropes and narratives about Jewish control, dual loyalty and even Jewish supremacy.

It was only after recently re-reading Michael Wolff’s CiF commentary from Nov. 19, Rupert Murdoch and the Jews, in which he lashed out at Murdoch’s critique of Jews in the media, that one line in particular caught my attention.

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Wolff, who’s a Murdoch biographer, was commenting on a widely reported story about a Tweet by the News Corp CEO which asked: “Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”.  

While the offensive nature of the Tweet itself is not in doubt – though it’s quite interesting that the theme explored by Murdoch is typically posed, inversely, in a manner complaining of the Jewish-owned media being too pro-Israel – Wolff’s contextualization of the Tweet is enlightening.

He writes:

“From the biographer’s point of view, this continues to be a curious and open-ended question: what does Murdoch really think about the Jews?

Murdoch’s inopportune phrasing also goes to the larger question of the right’s odd relationship to Israel, and its own feelings, more generally, about the Jews. Does being pro-Israel absolve you of your suspicion about Jews? Can you be an antisemite and still support Israel? (More provocatively: does Israel, in some sense, depend on the support of rightwing American antisemites?)”

Wolff’s “provocative” query – which represents a meme actually advanced previously by CiF contributor Slavoj Žižek is nearly unintelligible and certainly intellectually unserious.  

Where are these rightwing antisemitic Zionists that are Wolff is referring to? 

An understanding of the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the interplay between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ in America would suggest that Wolff is possibly alluding to the enormous support for Israel among US evangelical Christians – a dynamic which is often cited by leftist anti-Zionists to discredit Israel’s American friends.

However, while many of these Christian Zionists may indeed be motivated by eschatology rather than ideology, the fact is that polls by ADL demonstrate that rates of antisemitism among Evangelical Christians are merely on par with the national average – which, at 15%, represents one of the lowest national rates of Judeophobia in the world. (Hispanics/Latinos and African-Americans have the highest rate of antisemitism in the U.S.)

Unsurprisingly, research indicates that there is a close correlation between anti-Israeli views and anti-Semitic views in the West.

Specifically, the study by Edward Kaplan and Charles Small linked to in the previous passage suggests that those who espouse hateful views about Jews are also dramatically more likely to hold explicitly antisemitic views.  

Most interestingly, Kaplan and Small conclude that negative views about Israel don’t represent a “cause” of antisemitism but, rather, “predict” pre-existing (a priori) Jew hatred.

While there may be an extremely marginal number of Zionists who are also antisemitic, one 140 character complaint by one well-known American conservative – regardless of what he actually feels about Jews – doesn’t change the fact that Wolff’s query represents the inverse of reality.

Those opposed to Zionism rely on the passion of avowed antisemites, while the Jewish state continues to depend on the overwhelmingly passionate support it receives from its unabashedly philosemitic friends.

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O Little Near-By Town of Bethlehem: Christmas 2012

The following was published on Dec. 24 at Times of Israel by Judy Lash-Balint

Every Christmas I make the 15-minute drive from my Jerusalem home to Bethlehem for a reality check on the beleaguered town five miles away.

This year, contrary to the customary gloomy reports from the international media, things were bustling in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Bright blue skies and comfortable temperatures help make things more pleasant than in previous years when a cold, grey drizzle dampened spirits.

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Driving up to the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint in my car with Israeli plates, a quick check of my press credentials is all that’s needed to get waved through. Tour buses and private cars get the same summary but courteous treatment by the Israeli soldiers stationed at the checkpoint.

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In Bethlehem on the other side of the security barrier, the most striking thing this year is the massive presence of Palestinian police and other security personnel. Two uniformed men are stationed on every corner, at every intersection, and every 50 yards along the narrow streets leading from the checkpoint to Manger Square. Dozens of police cars, army vehicles, jeeps and assorted other cars with flashing lights are dotted all over town.

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

The European and Asian-funded restoration projects in Bethlehem’s old city have mostly now been completed, and Star Street that leads into Manger Square is a lovely pedestrian walkway lined with Ottoman-era buildings.  Flower-lined alleyways; interesting courtyards and steep, winding stairways lead off the street.

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Inside the Church of the Nativity, scene of the 39-day siege by Arab terrorists in April 2002, lines form to get into the crypt. As sunlight pours in through the windows just below the ornate ceiling, tour guides lead their groups around the marble pillars and under the brass lamps adorned with Christmas baubles, while those selling candles do a brisk business among the predominantly Asian pilgrims.

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This year, the center of Manger Square is packed with media and tourists, averting the scene I witnessed back in 2004 when hundreds of Moslems poured out of the mosque at the edge of the square and took over the area directly in front of the Church of the Nativity for midday prayers.

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Another thing missing from previous years—the pictures of Yasser Arafat.  One or two small pictures of Yasser are still to be found on official buildings, but images of current Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are nowhere to be seen, apart from on the window of one cop car.

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And the ubiquitous martyr pictures of recent years?  A few hang forlornly on some shuttered shopfronts, but there are far more posters for upcoming concerts.

We get to Paul VI Street just in time to catch the traditional Palestinian bagpipe parade, where some fifty smartly uniformed musicians march through town squeezing their bagpipes to the accompaniment of several oversize booming drums.

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Mid-afternoon, the local faithful are to be found at prayer in the Santa Caterina church in the grounds of the Church of the Nativity. Several thousand worshipers wait reverently to take part in the ritual as the voices of the choir resonate from the tall arched walls. Apart from a large presence of nuns, almost everyone in the church is Christian Arab. It’s clear from their dress and their bearing that they’re from the dwindling upper strata of Bethlehem society.

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 In the Bethlehem Peace Center that houses the tourist information office in Manger Square, the standard Palestinian propaganda is on display.

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On the way out of town, the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint has closed for some reason and we’re re-routed via picturesque Beit Jalla, a once-friendly village of ancient Christian origin that became the launchpad forArafat’s attacks on Israeli civilians in neighboring Gilo during the second intifada.  Today, Beit Jalla, like Bethlehem, is under Palestine Authority control and the streets are lined with PA security forces.

The road winding down from Beit Jalla to the Ein Yael checkpoint near Jerusalem’s Malcha train station boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the area and provides time to adjust to re-entry to western Jerusalem, where it’s just another Monday in December.

[All photos © Judy Lash Balint.  All rights reserved]