A very ugly map: Examining Saeb Erekat’s claim to Obama regarding settlements

According to a report in the Guardian on March 18th, Mahmoud Abbas showed President Obama a “very ugly map” during their meeting on Monday.

maps

Here are the first few passages of the story by Paul Lewis:

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas showed Barack Obama what his negotiator called “a very ugly map” of recently constructed Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, amid concern peace talks may be about to fall apart.

His chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who was present at the meeting between Abbas and Obama at the White House, said on Tuesday that the encounter had been “candid” and “difficult”.

Erekat said the Palestinian delegation showed the US president a map showing 10,589 housing settlement units he said were built on Palestinian-claimed territory since negotiations began less than eight months ago.

We put a map to president Obama – showed him the extent of what happened since we began in July,” Erekat said, showing the same map to an audience at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington.

It is a very ugly map.

Though we haven’t seen Erekat’s map, the numbers he presented to the American President were, at best, extraordinarily misleading.

First, it’s unclear whether Erekat was referring to completed homes or merely construction starts. Either way, based on numbers available at the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, it appears as if Erekat was not telling the truth.

If ’10,589′ was meant to represent the number of completed homes in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and east Jerusalem, then, as the chart below showing completed homes by region in all of 2013 (a longer period than the 8 months Erekat is referencing) shows, this is simply not true.  

graph 1

As you can see, the chart shows that the number of construction starts for all of 2013 in the West Bank was 2,534, and the number of construction starts in ALL of Jerusalem (not merely east Jerusalem) was 4,625.  So, even taking into consideration the fact that the these stats include west Jerusalem as well – a part of the city not claimed as “Palestinian land” – the total number of construction starts in the West Bank and ALL of Jerusalem was only 7,159, far lower than the 10,589 claimed. 

If, on the other hand, Erekat’s number of 10,589 was meant to represent completed homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, then the degree of inaccuracy was even greater, as this chart from the CBS demonstrates:

chart 2 again

Arrow on the right points to Jerusalem. Arrow on the left points to the West Bank.

This chart shows that the number of completed homes in 2013 in the West Bank was 1,365, while the number of completed homes in ALL of Jerusalem – again, not merely east Jerusalem – was 3,652.  This brings the total number of completed homes in the territory to 5,017 – less than half of Erekat’s number.

Either way – whether Erekat’s claim refers to completed homes or construction starts – the numbers just don’t add up.

Moreover, contrary to broader claim by Erekat (and the U.S. administration) that Netanyahu is engaging in ‘aggressive settlement expansion’, we can see that the number of completed homes in the West Bank and ALL of Jerusalem in 2013 was slightly higher than in 2012, but decidedly lower than the figures recorded for 2011 and 2010.  Even the number of construction starts in the territories – which spiked in 2013 after artificially low numbers were recorded in the three previous years, due in part to Israel’s construction freeze – have been lower during Netanyahu’s years than under his predecessors.

Add to this mix the fact that the overwhelming majority of new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have been built within existing settlement boundaries – most of which would remain under Israeli control, even based on maps representing Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 – and you can see that the settlement issue is a red herring which has little relevance in the context of the more serious issues the parties must address for a final status agreement to be reached. 

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Following CiF Watch post, Guardian removes reference to ‘powerful Jewish lobby’

Though our complaint to the Guardian this morning has thus far gone unanswered, we’re pleased they removed an extremely gratuitous (and pejorative) reference to Jews in a column by Ian Black and Martin Chulov (Israeli forces seize rockets ‘destined for Gaza’ in raid on Iranian ship in Red Sea, March 6).

Here’s the original passage which we highlighted in our post:

The seizure follows a visit this week by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to Washington, where he used a meeting with Barack Obama and a stump speech to the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC to underscore his reservations about a nuclear deal with Iran.

Here’s the passage now:

The seizure follows a visit this week by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to Washington, where he used a meeting with Barack Obama and a stump speech to the powerful pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC to underscore his reservations about a nuclear deal with Iran.

As we argued earlier, AIPAC is not a Jewish organization, and the decision by Black and Chulov to use the term “powerful Jewish lobby” is inconsistent with the warnings of the Guardian Readers’ editor Chris Elliott (in a column in 2011) to their journalists and commentators to avoid “language long associated with antisemitic tropes such as Jews having too much power and control”.

Whilst, unfortunately, there’s no editor’s note below the article explaining the new wording, we’re of course glad they saw fit to make the revision. 

UPDATE: Guardian editors did respond to our email, and noted that the article includes the following addendum:

update

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Guardian report on IDF rocket seizure includes gratuitous reference to ‘powerful Jewish lobby’

We’ve commented previously on the Guardian’s tendency to see the nefarious machinations of AIPAC (and the broader pro-Israel lobby) in a myriad of US foreign policy decisions which run afoul of their far-left ideology.  Usually, their contributors don’t go as far as blaming Jews as such – instead, merely characterizing this political force, which evidently wreaks havoc on the US and the world, as merely AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, or the Israel lobby. 

However, they typically aren’t shy about imputing the worst motives to the organized pro-Israel community, often suggesting their members have a thirst for war.  At times, there’s even the thinly veiled charge that Americans who associate with such lobbies are more loyal to Israel than their own country.

Here are a few examples:

elements of the lobby vilify Jewish critics of Israel and intimidate the media – ‘Comment is Free’, Antony Lerman, Nov. 20, 2009 (Affirming comments made by Peter Oborne, presenter of Channel 4′s Dispatches documentary Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby)

“Just as important is the pressure that pro-Israel campaigners put on the mainstream US media. They warn people off the very word Zionist as though only antisemites use it and demand Israel be treated as a special country whose politics deserve more sympathy than others….In fact US publishers, editors, and reporters carry the biggest responsibility for the rotten state of US policy in the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobbies are powerful and Obama weak mainly because Americans rarely get an alternative view.” - Guardian, Jonathan Steele, Aug. 10, 2010

What do Nebraska and Iran have in common? Not much – but enough to cause big trouble for former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, whose possible nomination to be secretary of defense is being challenged by the powerful bomb-Iran-yesterday lobby.”…Militarists in Washington, taking their cue from pro-Israel lobbyistsare trying to derail the appointment because Hagel doubts the wisdom of starting another war in the Middle East.” - Comment is Free, Stephen Kinzer, Dec. 31, 2012

The Israel lobby has a “stranglehold” over the American debate about Israel – Glenn Greenwald, Dec. 22, 2012 (You can see Greenwald’s history of scaremongering about ‘the lobby’ here)

Obama…established a position his critics may find hard to assail. He forced those many members of Congress and beyond who have conflated America’s interests with Israel’s on to the back foot by saying that on Iran there are differences – and he will serve US interests first. – Guardian, Chris McGreal, March 9, 2012

“President Obama must show America’s pro-Israel lobby that he is tough somewhere in the Middle East - Guardian, Simon Jenkins, Jan. 3 2012 (On why Obama imposed economic sanctions on Iran)

But the failure of an Aipac-supported effort to pass legislation blocking Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran has led to a reassessment of the fabled ability of its lobbyists to wield a veto over US policy when it comes to matters of Israeli security. - Guardian, Harriet Sherwood and Dan Roberts, March 2, 2014

Interestingly, not only did the Guardian manage to slip in a negative reference to ‘the lobby’ in a March 5 story, by Ian Black and Martin Chulov, on the IDF’s interception yesterday of an Iranian shipment of rockets destined for Gaza, but let the veil of respectability slip in neglecting to use the familiar euphemism:

The high seas interception is the fourth of its kind by Israel in the past 12 years and the first since the start of the Syrian civil war three years ago. It comes after a spate of air attacks on weapons warehouses and arms convoys in the past 18 months that officials in Tel Aviv had hinted were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The seizure follows a visit this week by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to Washington, where he used a meeting with Barack Obama and a stump speech to the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC to underscore his reservations about a nuclear deal with Iran.

Of course, AIPAC is not a Jewish organization, as anyone familiar with their racially, ethnically and religiously diverse membership - which includes African-Americans, Latinos, and evangelical Christians - would understand. Moreover, it’s telling that even the most prolific promoters of ‘AIPAC root cause theory, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, use the term ‘Israel lobby’ (and not ‘Jewish lobby’) when speaking of AIPAC and other assorted groups they claim are distorting US foreign policy.

More broadly, writers who chronicle the evolution of political thought may one day look back at our era and marvel over the popularity, among presumably “enlightened” voices, of narratives which impute to organized Jewry both immense power and disloyalty – those characterized by Leon Wieseltier as “the herd of fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington”.  

Perhaps such intellectual historians will explain how Judeophobic tropes typically associated with the far-right became politically fashionable at a paper which – no matter how risibly – continues to claim the mantle of the ‘world’s leading liberal voice‘. 

Finally, it’s worth recalling an article titled ‘Averting accusations of antisemitism‘, published in 2011 by Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott, which in many ways vindicated the work of this blog, and included explicit warnings to their reporters and commentators to stay clear of “language long associated with antisemitic tropes such as Jews having too much power and control”.

Evidently, Black and Chulov didn’t get the memo.

(UPDATE: The Guardian revised the article early this afternoon, and deleted the original reference to “powerful Jewish lobby”.)

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The Guardian reveals a ‘racist’ song somewhere in the Middle East

Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, published a story on Feb. 11th titled ‘Barack Obama cruel for preparing to sell out Jerusalem says Israeli singer’focusing on a song by Israeli songwriter Amir Benayoun which “accuses a ‘cruel’ Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu of preparing to sell out [Jerusalem] as part of a peace agreement”.  

Black contextualizes the story by arguing that Benayoun “represent[s] an increasingly important demographic in Israel, and one that is unlikely to support any division of Jerusalem”.

However, save one gratuitous and arguably bigoted reference to the American President’s middle name, the lyrics of the Sephardi performer’s song are pretty tame, and the editorial decision to devote an entire article on it is especially curious given the paper’s failure to devote any coverage to official Palestinian incitement which sometimes includes explicit calls to murder “evil” Jews.

Here are a few examples which Black or any of his “anti-racist” colleagues could have easily found merely by perusing the website of Palestinian Media Watch.

This Palestinian Authority (PA) TV music video promotes violence and martyrdom for children:

This song demands violence and jihad, and aired on a PA TV cultural show:

This kids’ music video which appeared on PA TV demands that they fight Jews for their mother’s honor:

This PA TV kids’ music video demands that kids fight the evil Jews:

As we’ve noted previously, the Guardian’s almost complete silence in the face of hundreds upon hundreds of examples of state sanctioned anti-Jewish racism – and the glorification of terror – by the PA ensures that their readers will never truly understand the dynamics representing the biggest impediments to peace in the region.

Additionally, Black’s decision to focus on one marginal example of an Israeli musical figure expressing skepticism about peace, while ignoring antisemitic cultural expressions which represent the norm within Palestinian society, provides further evidence of the media group’s inability to hold Palestinians and Israelis accountable to the same moral standards.  

Such ‘bigotry of low expectations’ continues to define the ideology of the Guardian Left. 

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The Economist: We do not believe Jews control Congress

Last week we posted about the following cartoon by Peter Schrank published at The Economist – used to illustrate an article about negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 – which evoked the antisemitic narrative on the supposed injurious influence of Jewish power on U.S. foreign policy.

cartoonOur blog post included the following headline:

headline

Later in the day we learned that The Economist had removed the cartoon from the online edition of the article, and issued the following addendum:

Today, we noticed that they revised their editor’s note and addressed the specific question posed by this blog and several other commentators:

update econ

While it’s unclear what Peter Schrank believes about the criticism directed towards his cartoon, we’re of course glad that editors at The Economist distanced themselves from such racist (and increasingly prevalent) beliefs about the ‘corrupting influence’ of Jewish power.

h/t Gidon 

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Do ‘sophisticated’ Brits at the Economist believe Jews control Washington?

The Economist’s goal is to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” (Economist mission statement)

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the czarist forgery purporting to reveal a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, may not, argued Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee, “be acceptable dinner conversation any more”.  However, he added, “repackage the sentiment as criticism of Israel, and say that the Jewish lobby controls U.S. foreign policy against ‘true’ American interests, and voilà, you are no longer dabbling in nasty old tropes about sinister Jewish power, but in bold political analysis.” 

As we’ve documented previously at this blog, the argument that the power, money and influence of Jewish or pro-Israel groups undermine peace in the Middle East (or even erodes US democracy) is something akin to conventional wisdom within a segment of the British and European Left.

Political cartoons represent an efficient way to transmit such prejudices, and often have a more immediate impact in reinforcing negative stereotypes about Jews than lengthy essays.  And, though the largest output of antisemitic cartoons nowadays come from the Arab and Muslim world, antisemitic motifs advancing canards about Jewish power also appear in Western, putatively liberal, publications.

Interestingly, the Economist article in question (A big gap to close, Jan 18), which provides analysis on the “joint plan of action” negotiated recently between Iran and six world powers “to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear programme” doesn’t use the words “Jew”, “lobby”, or “AIPAC”, and the only allusion to the Peter Schrank cartoon editors chose to use in the article can be found in the text we highlighted in the opening passages:

AFTER several weeks of unexpectedly hard and often tetchy bargaining, six world powers and Iran reached an agreement on January 12th that sets out the details of a “joint plan of action” (JPA) to freeze Iran’s nuclear programme for six months. The implementation of the JPA, originally negotiated in November, will begin on January 20th…

However, the clock is now ticking on efforts to achieve a comprehensive long-term pact. Even supporters of the interim deal rate the chances of success as low.

Though hailed as an historic breakthrough by some and a terrible blunder by others (notably Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister), the November deal may be best seen as a six-month truce to buy time. Gary Samore, who was Barack Obama’s adviser on arms control until last year and is now at Harvard’s Belfer Centre, points out that neither side has given away any of its big bargaining chips. Most actions being taken are reversible; the trickiest issues have been kicked down the road.

Their reference to the Israeli prime minister takes on relevance further in the piece:

A series of extensions will happen only if those hostile to the interim deal on both sides hold their fire. Yet support has grown in Congress for legislation to bring in new sanctions against Iran. With support in the Senate getting close to the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto (which would otherwise be exercised), they remain distinctly possible, though the White House doubts that Democratic senators would go so far while an accord was still in place. Mr Samore reckons that Congress, having a version of the “Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act” ready as a threat, might put useful extra pressure on Iran. But were the sanctions now to become law, “it would just kill the interim agreement”. 

Schrank’s cartoon then is arguably designed to illustrate the forces – on both the US and Iranian sides – who are conspiring to “kill the interim agreement’.

cartoon

Schrank, a cartoonist with The Independent and Economist, by use of the Star of David on the left, is suggesting that Israel, the pro-Israel lobby, or Jews are controlling Congress and working against a peace agreement between the U.S. and Iran – echoing a disturbing, if familiar, tradition of antisemitic imagery

Cartoonist, Zapiro, (South African) Mail & Guardian, Nov. 2012

Cartoonist: Zapiro. (South African) Mail & Guardian, Nov. 2012

Muslim Observer, Oct. 27

Cartoonist: Muslim Observer. 

jewlobby_carsale

Cartoonist: Bendib. Posted at website of David Duke

Cartoonist: Carlos Latuff.

salami20121222174716670

Used to illustrate article at PressTV: Dec. 23, 2012

Ad-Dustur, January 30, 2012  Headline: "Obama emphasizes  ironclad commitment to Israel's  security". Written on the iron  ball: "Zionist Lobby in America".

Ad-Dustur (Jordan), January 30, 2012
Headline: “Obama emphasizes
ironclad commitment to Israel’s
security”. Written on the iron
ball: “Zionist Lobby in America”.

Ar-Rai, January 14, 2012  The American is holding a  document titled: “Israeli terror."  On the iron ball: "The Zionist  Lobby."

Ar-Rai (Jordan), January 14, 2012
The American is holding a
document titled: “Israeli terror.”
On the iron ball: “The Zionist
Lobby.”

arab cartoon 3

Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 7, 2012
Headline: “Netanyahu in the
US.”

Whilst Schrank’s imagery may not be as explicit as the other examples we’ve cited, all (to varying degrees) convey to readers the unmistakable message that Jewish elements are dictating and shaping American foreign policy for their own malevolent ends.  Such a world view echoes well-established Judeophobic calumnies, and we would hope that evoking such crude stereotypes would be considered a liability by any serious mainstream media outlet – especially one which fancies itself a sophisticated, enlightened force battling the “timid ignorance” which “obstructs our progress”.

Regardless of the Economist’s intent, it’s difficult not to be dispirited by the fact that less than 70 years after the Holocaust, with Jews representing less than 2% of the U.S. population, tropes and graphic representations warning that Jewish ‘pressure groups’ are too powerful are once again becoming fashionable amongst the opinion elite – the herd of ‘independent minds’ who carelessly reinforce the idea, without being haunted by its lethal history, that Jews control Washington. 

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Springtime for Rouhani: Jack Straw complains that pro-Israel cash stymies US-Iran peace

jack+straw

Jack Straw

In an op-ed on Friday at The Independent, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw revisited a narrative he advanced late last year regarding the alleged injurious impact of funds from Jewish and pro-Israeli groups in the U.S.

During a Parliamentary debate on diplomacy in the Mid-East in late October, Straw reportedly complained that the greatest obstacle to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is the “unlimited” funds available to Jewish groups and AIPAC which are used to control American policy – comments which Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub complained represented familiar tropes about “sinister Jewish power”.

Straw’s Jan. 17 Indy op-ed (In Hasan Rouhani’s Iran, you can feel the winds of change‘), addresses the broader issue of U.S. – Iran relations, and is giddy with excitement over the peace and harmony that could be achieved if we place our trust in the beneficence of Iran’s putatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani.  

You can sense the thrill going up his leg as he waxes eloquently on the “courageous” Rouhani who has evidently imbued Tehran with the progressive spirit more akin to “Madrid or Athens” than “Mumbai or Cairo” – all of which would be news to the country’s oppressed Bahai, imprisoned democracy activists and opposition leaders, and families of the 33 Iranians executed in the last week alone. 

The antagonist in Straw’s Iranian Spring tale is clear by the third paragraph, where he recalls his encounters with leaders of the Islamic Republic in 2001:

My first visit to Iran was in late September 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The moderate Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, had courageously reached out to the United States with moral, and much practical, support in the struggle to counter al-Qa’ida.

Then, I went straight from Tehran to Israel. The Israelis concocted a diplomatic row over my using the noun “Palestine” rather than the adjective “Palestinian” in an article for the Iranian press. A banquet for me was cancelled and my meeting with the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was delayed until the small hours. Behind this grammatical nonsense there was a much bigger issue – as there still is – about whether Israel wanted an end to the isolation of Iran, or whether it suited them for  Iran to be damned as a “pariah state” for all time.

Since Israeli and American politics are so intertwined, this was a major question for the US government, too. There are more American PhDs in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet than there are in US President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. Yet the US quickly squandered all the potential of Mr Khatami’s bid for rapprochement with the West, with the ill-judged inclusion of Iran in President George W Bush’s “axis of evil”. Indeed, US policy  so undermined the Khatami administration that the reformists lost ground, to be replaced by the populist hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Pivoting to the Rouhani era and the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the P5+1, Straw writes:

President Rouhani’s election last summer was as overwhelming as it was surprising. “He only had 5 per cent in the polls when we started”, one proud supporter told us. The consequences of Mr Rouhani’s victory cannot be overstated. There’s a lightness in the air…

Sustained economic recovery depends in part on internal reform, but also on an end to the nuclear-related sanctions…Sanctions can have eccentric effects. Five hundred Porsches were imported last year, it is claimed. Coca-Cola is freely available; but banking sanctions mean that cancer patients cannot access life-saving imported drugs, even though formally these have been exempt from control.

November’s interim deal agreed in Geneva between Iran and the “P5 + 1” (the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, plus Germany) will come into force on Monday. There’s an obvious prize for Iran in ending all sanctions. There is for the UK too. Above and beyond big trade opportunities, a normalisation of relations will have profound benefits, not least in those troubled countries – Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine – where Iran has such influence.

Finally, Straw cites the greatest obstacle to the normalisation of relations and peace in the region:

Whether a comprehensive deal on Iran can be reached will crucially depend on how far Mr Obama is able to resist the intense lobbying (and financial support) Mr Netanyahu is able to muster in the US Congress.

Beyond Straw’s repugnant suggestion that pro-Israel elements in the US Congress take their marching orders from Jerusalem, and his failure to acknowledge that pro-Israel (and anti-Iran) sentiment is embraced by the overwhelming majority of Americans, it’s important to recall that his recent charges leveled at Jewish groups and Israel seem to reflect a broader narrative of Zionist root causes.  

A few weeks after 9/11, Straw led a Western delegation to Tehran, and delivered the following message in the context of the deadly attacks by al-Qaeda which killed nearly 3,000 Americans: “I understand that one of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.”

Of course, one of the factors which undeniably leads to violence and instability in the Middle East is Iran’s role, according to the U.S. State Department, as the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

However, when you wake up in the morning genuinely convinced that Israel and the state’s Jewish supporters represent the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, then even a reactionary, Islamist regime which exports terror abroad, while repressing religious minorities, women, gays and political dissidents at home, can evoke your ‘liberal’ sympathy.

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Guardian editor struggles with Jewish Geography, but puts ‘Israeli hawks’ back in Jerusalem

On Nov. 18 we reminded readers that until the summer of 2012 the Guardian’s Style Guide stated that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel - a shamefully false claim which was only officially retracted by their editors after a complaint was filed with the PCC.  We noted this quintessentially Guardianesque misinformation in response to a recent report by their Middle East editor, Ian Black, titled ‘Hawks squawk even before Iran nuclear deal is sealed‘, Nov. 8.  

Black’s report included this sentence:

Hardliners in Tehran, hawks in Tel Aviv and Washington, nervous Saudis and their Gulf allies are all alarmed at the prospect of a nuclear deal between Iran, the US and the international community [in Geneva].

As we noted, the context made it clear Black was referring to the putatively “hard-line” and “hawkish” political leaders within the governments of Iran, Israel and the United States.  Yet, while the capitals (where the ‘seats of government’ is located) in Iran and the United States were of course correct, the paper’s Middle East “expert” bestowed this status to the wrong Israeli city.

Though no change was prompted to Black’s misleading Nov. 8 report after our complaints, the following sentence in Black’s latest report (a ‘Middle East Year in Review’ published on Dec. 19) included an update on the nuclear deal which, at the very least, is quite curious.

It is an interim [nuclear] agreement and faces opposition from hardliners in Tehran who mistrust the emollient Rouhani, Republicans in Washington and hawks in Jerusalem, where Israel – anxious to maintain its monopoly of (undeclared) nuclear weapons – was ignored by Barack Obama

Yes, those ‘squawking Zionist hawks’ are safely back in their nation’s capital.  

We of course can’t formally claim credit for Black’s ‘evolving’ expertise in the subject of Jewish Geography which likely inspired his implicit acknowledgement that it is wrong to suggest that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.  But, in the event that one of their contributors attempts similar rhetorical slights of hand in the future, you may want to ‘gently’ remind them of the following:

corex

‘Comment is Free’ claim on Bibi’s ‘opposition’ to Syria peace begins to unravel

Yesterday we critiqued an essay at ‘Comment is Free’ (‘In the Middle East, the prize of peace is now there for the taking‘, Oct. 17which somehow managed to assign at least partial blame for the continuing wars and violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere in the region to Israel and its supporters.

cifWhilst we spent most of our response refuting the broad narrative of the ‘CiF’ commentary – jointly written by three former UN officials, including the Ahmadinejad-supporting Marxist who served as Daniel Ortega’s foreign minister – there was a specific claim about Netanyahu’s alleged opposition to peace in Syria which appears to be totally erroneous.

Here are the relevant passages:

There are signs that the situation is changing. First, the British and then the American people and their representatives rejected a new war in Syria. Russia, the US and Syria reached an agreement over Syria’s chemical weapons. US president Barack Obama is making moves towards honest negotiations with Iran, and the EU’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s foreign minister judged talks just concluded in Geneva as “substantive and forward-looking”.
All these developments should be pursued with the utmost energy. The planned second Geneva conference on Syria must include all internal and external parties to the conflict if it is to constitute an important step towards finding a solution to the tragedy of that war-torn country.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his supporters are staunchly opposed to these moves towards peace.

So, there are two issues raised by the authors regarding Syria: the chemical weapons deal, and the upcoming peace conference in Geneva.

First, Bibi’s response to the Syrian chemical weapons deal was certainly cautious, but there is nothing to suggest he ever opposed it. Indeed, most media outlets reported that the prime minister gave his cautious support to the deal.  Even the Guardian reported at the time that Netanyahu said that the “deal between the US and Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons must be judged on whether it achieves ‘complete destruction’ of the arsenal.”  

So, while it would be accurate to characterize Bibi’s response as cautious or guarded – or even as representing ‘qualified’ support – it is erroneous to suggest, per the ‘CiF’ contributors, that he “opposed” the deal.

Second, regarding the proposed Geneva Peace Conference (tentatively scheduled for late Nov.), upon searching for a source to back of the authors’ claim we were unable to find any report suggesting that Netanyahu is “staunchly opposed” to the proposed Syria peace conference, or that he’s taken a clear position on it either way.  

In light of the dearth of information online regarding his position on the Geneva conference, we contacted the Prime Minister’s office directly to inquire about their official position, and were informed by a spokesperson that they have not taken an official position on the matter.

It appears as if the strong suggestion at ‘Comment is Free’ that Bibi opposes Syria peace talks is completely without merit.

Finally, the apparent inaccuracy of these two particular claims likely don’t represent merely an honest mistake by Messrs. DEscoto Brockmann, Halliday, and Von Sponeck but, more likely, an intentional obfuscation which serves to advance the desired narrative of a war-mongering Israeli state and it’s equally belligerent Zionist supporters in the diaspora.

As we’ve demonstrated previously when critiquing the paper’s Middle East “analyses”, when facts clash with the desired Guardian narrative on Israel, the latter wins out over the former nearly every time.

CiF Watch prompts Indy correction to false claim by Robert Fisk about Netanyahu

On Oct. 3 we posted about a Robert Fisk commentary focusing on Israel and Iran in The Independent which was full of hyperbolic rhetoric and apparent fabrications. (’US cowardice will let Israel’s isolated right off the hook‘). 

robert-fisk_60394t

Arguably the most egregious example of Fisk’s sloppiness was the claim made in the following passage regarding Binyamin Netanyahu’s response to the “charm offensive” of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani:

What we do know is that when Mr Rouhani started saying all the things we had been demanding that Iran should say for years, Israel went bananas. Mr Netanyahu condemned him before he had even said a word. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.” “An anti-Semite.” 

As we noted in our post, the suggestion by Fisk that Netanyahu called Rouhani an “anti-Semite” appears to be a complete fabrication, as we were unable to find any examples of anything even resembling such an accusation by the Israeli prime minister.

Evidently, The Independent agreed. After contacting the paper’s editors, the passage has been amended and the claim that Netanyahu called Rouhani an “anti-Semite” was completely removed.

We commend Indy editors for their prompt revision to Fisk’s false claim.

The Guardian tries out a new narrative: Islamist “dove” vs the Zionist “hawk”.

Here’s the Guardian headline used in Joel Greenberg’s report on Sept. 29: bibi Whilst we addressed the fictitious narrative that Hassan Rouhani is a “moderate” in a previous post, note that this latest story not only imputes such liberal politics to the president of a country which leads the world in exporting terror abroad, while terrorizing women, gays and religious minorities at home, but contrasts the “dovish” Islamist with the “hawkish” Zionist. Of course there is one serious problem with the claim made in the headline: It isn’t at all supported in the subsequent text.  

Here’s the entire story:

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, vowed to “tell the truth” about Iran‘s nuclear programme as he flew to the US on Sunday to meet Barack Obama and address the United Nations.

diplomatic offensive at the UN last week by Iran’s new president,Hassan Rouhani, who had a historic 15-minute phone conversation with Obama on Friday, has raised concerns in Israel, which fears improving relations between the US, one of its closest allies, and Iran, one of its worst enemies.

There is concern that if the US eases economic sanctions and removes any military threat, Tehran would be freer to create a nuclear bomb.

Officials say Netanyahu will present evidence of continued Iranian efforts to attain a nuclear weapon, and will urge the US and others not to be taken in by Rouhani’s charm offensive.”I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and offensive of smiles,” Netanyahu said on Saturday night before boarding his plane to New York. “One must talk facts and tell the truth. Telling the truth today is vital for the security and peace of the world and, of course, it is vital for the security of our country.”

As Netanyahu travelled to the US, Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency announced it had arrested an Iranian with Belgian nationality who was suspected of spying for Tehran. The agency said Ali Mansouri, 58, carried photos of the US embassy in Tel Aviv and had been promised $1m (£620,000) to set up companies in Israel on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services “to harm Israeli and western interests”.

Israeli commentators said Netanyahu would have to work hard to offset the impression left by Rouhani in his UN speech and media appearances, where he presented himself as a peace-seeking moderate. “The Iranian president was very successful in convincing many in the US who want to be convinced that there is a new spirit in Tehran and a great willingness now for compromise. It will be an enormous challenge for Netanyahu to reverse that trend,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya.

In the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, prominent columnist Nahum Barnea wrote that, in his phone conversation with Rouhani, Obama had “folded the flag which Netanyahu had waved to Israelis and the world, the basis of his diplomatic existence”.

Barnea added: “The threat of a military attack by the US has been removed, at least in the coming months, and it is doubtful if there ever was an Israeli military threat.”

Netanyahu has argued for increased sanctions on Iran, backed by a “credible military threat” that he said proved itself in the case of Syria, which under threat of a US strike agreed to international control of its chemical weapons.

The Israeli leader has urged that Iran be pressed to halt all uranium enrichment, remove enriched uranium from the country, dismantle the Fordo nuclear plant and stop “the plutonium track” to a nuclear weapon.

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli strategic analyst, said that Netanyahu’s “strident tone”, which included ordering the Israeli UN delegation to walk out of Rouhani’s speech, meant that “he’s coming across as a kind of spoiler”.

“I don’t think he will be able to persuasively argue that Rouhani is not worth talking to,” Alpher said. “We lose a degree of credibility when we allow ourselves to be totally out of synch with our allies on this issue.”

As you can see, if there has been any strident “anti-Iran” rhetoric by the Israeli prime minister, such quotes certainly weren’t included in Greenberg’s report. 

Moreover, the Guardian continues to all but ignore reports which contradict their desired narrative of a new “peaceful” Iranian president.  These include vitriolic rhetoric by Rouhani claiming that Israel is “an occupier and usurper” that has brought instability to the region with its “warmongering policies” and “institutionalized aggression”, and even comments by the new president which seem to liken the Holocaust to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Such obfuscations are par for the course at the Guardian.  Indeed, as the paper’s associate editor, and chief “anti-imperialist”, Seamus Milne even expressed sympathy for the ‘tragically misunderstood’ former Holocaust denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we shouldn’t be surprised by continued selective reporting – and what will almost certainly be a chorus of pro-Rouhani propaganda – in the weeks, months and years to come.

Robert Fisk finds Zionist smoking gun in likely U.S. attack against Syria

Although an Aug. 30 op-ed by the ethically and morally challenged Robert Fisk at The Independent didn’t reach level of lunacy seen in George Galloway’s claim that Israel supplied Assad with the chemical weapons used to kill over 1400 civilians, it was absurd enough to again prove that anti-Zionist polemicists can find Israeli fingerprints on almost any political phenomena in the Middle East.

Fisk’s essay, Iran, not Syria, is the West’s real target, began thusly:

Before the stupidest Western war in the history of the modern world begins – I am, of course, referring to the attack on Syria that we all yet have to swallow – it might be as well to say that the cruise missiles which we confidently expect to sweep onto one of mankind’s oldest cities have absolutely nothing to do with Syria. 

They are intended to harm Iran. They are intended to strike at the Islamic republic now that it has a new and vibrant president – as opposed to the crackpot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and when it just might be a little more stable.

Iran is Israel’s enemy. Iran is therefore, naturally, America’s enemy. So fire the missiles at Iran’s only Arab ally.

I would have included additional passages used by Fisk to defend his suggestion of Israeli root causes, except that the accusation abruptly ends there. Fisk’s polemical hit-and-run then quickly pivots to another theme in his broad attempt to impute the darkest motives to likely US military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In addition to the obvious point that Iran, since the 1979 revolution, has been America’s enemy as well as Israel’s, even by the low standards of anti-Zionist agitprop, Fisk’s thesis rests on a comically thin argument.  He would have Indy readers believe that the U.S. decision to engage in what will almost certainly be a very limited use of force against a few military targets in Syria, in retaliation for crossing President Obama’s red line over chemical weapons, actually represents a stealth plan to aid Israel.

It’s unclear of course how a few cruise missiles launched against Syrian chemical weapons sites would change the balance of power in the civil war, or even minimally disrupt Iran’s continuing military support for the regime in Damascus, or how any of this would affect Israel’s efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.  However, to those preaching to the anti-Zionist choir – and engaging in the facile “who benefits?” causation – such pesky questions regarding empirical evidence are obviously never relevant.

Indeed, here’s what appears beneath the essay, where Indy readers are allowed to express their opinion of Fisk’s allegations:

chart

Fisk clearly understands the simple truth (proven by the continuing popularity of even the most comical Middle East conspiracy theories) that the mere absence of facts or logic is rarely a barrier for those determined to reach a preconceived anti-Zionist conclusion.

Guardian distorts Obama’s remarks on settlements at Ramallah news conference

A March 22 edition of the Guardian’s ongoing Middle East Live Blog, edited by , included the following dispatch on President Obama’s March 21 news conference with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Palestinians had hoped for a gesture of friendship from Obama on his four-hour visit to Ramallah, instead, the president berated their leader Mahmoud Abbas for insisting on a freeze on new settlements as a precondition to re-starting peace talks, calling them merely “an irritant”. 

The text in the highlighted sentence contains a hyperlink which takes you to a March 21 Guardian report by Matthew Kalman reporting from Ramallah, titled ‘Obama wins few friends on flying stop to West Bank‘, which contained the same characterization of Obama’s remarks at the news conference:

Obama berated Abbas for insisting on a freeze on new settlements as a precondition to re-starting peace talks, calling them merely “an irritant”.

So, is that really what Obama said about the settlements at the Ramallah news conference with Abbas?

Hardly.

Here’s the relevant passage, (from a full transcript of the news conference) from Obama’s response to a journalist’s question about the issue of settlements:

Now, one of the challenges I know has been continued settlement activity in the West Bank area.  And I’ve been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leadership that it has been the United States’ policy, not just for my administration but for all proceeding administrations, that we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace.  So I don’t think there’s any confusion in terms of what our position is.

I will say, with respect to Israel, that the politics there are complex and I recognize that that’s not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately.  It’s not going to be solved overnight.

On the other hand, what I shared with President Abbas and I will share with the Palestinian people is that if the expectation is, is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations.

So I think it’s important for us to work through this process, even if there are irritants on both sides.  The Israelis have concerns about rockets flying into their cities last night. And it would be easy for them to say, you see, this is why we can’t have peace because we can’t afford to have our kids in beds sleeping and suddenly a rocket comes through the roof.  But my argument is even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, may be engaging in activities that the other side considers to be a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get to an agreement…

The President’s clear point was that “settlements” are indeed an impediment to peace, but that they represents an issue (as with others) which can only be worked out through negotiations – not as a precondition before talks could proceed.

Further, if you want to argue that Obama was calling settlements a mere “irritant”, then, based on his full reply, you could similarly argue that he also characterized rocket attacks as a “mere irritant”.

The lead of the Guardian Middle East Live blog could just as easily have been the following: 

The President referred to thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately at Israeli men, women and children merely as an “irritant”

But, of course, that would be a selective and completely dishonest characterization of what the President said, wouldn’t it? 

Guardian Mid-East editor legitimizes the political pornography of Ali Abunimah

The Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Ian Black, provided an analysis of President Obama’s March 21 speech in Jerusalem (titled ‘Obama shows emotional and political intelligence with Jerusalem speech‘) which represents a good example the Guardian Left tendency to impute ‘authenticity’ to the most radical and uncompromising activists.  

This journalistic tick can be seen, for instance, in Harriet Sherwood’s decision to award ‘progressive’ Hechsher labels to both Joseph Dana and slain terror-abetting anti-Israel campaigner, Vittorio Arrigoni

Such political posturing also colored their coverage of the so-called ‘Palestine Papers’ in 2011, where Mahmoud Abbas’s putative flexibility during negotiations with Israel over the refugee issue was characterized as “craven” – as “selling out” Palestinian rights – in a series of reports which seemed to reflect the media group’s attempt to ‘out-Palestinian’ the Palestinians themselves. 

Their institutional tendency to promote a radical chic (and even terrorist-chic) brand is also evident in their frequent decisions to publish Islamist extremists, and the dearth of space they provide to peaceful and truly moderate two-state proponents.

In his March 21 report Black praised Obama’s speech at the Jerusalem Convention Center as “appealing to ordinary Israelis over the heads of their political leaders”, and as representing “a smart combination of emotional and political intelligence in pressing the buttons that matter to mainstream Jewish opinion in Israel.”

Palestinians, however, observed Black, were not impressed.  He noted that some Palestinians complained that Obama’s speech lacked depth or substance, before citing a critique by Ali Abunimah, the American born, Ivy League educated son of a Jordanian diplomat who founded ‘Electronic Intifada’ (EI) – and who, from his home in Chicago, engages in hate-filled “commentary” about the Jewish state with abandon.

ali

Indeed, the Tweets by Abunimah (a former ‘Comment is Free’ contributor) cited in the following passage by Black are a fair representation of the activist’s social media style.

Black writes the following: 

Ali Abunimah, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and a supporter of the one-state solution, tweeted in anger: “Palestinians yearning for peace live in a tough neighborhood, surrounded by racist settlers and a murderous US-backed sectarian ‘army.’ Obama’s ‘history’ of Israel is as delusional as his US history which still praises slave-owning, slave-raping founding fathers. This speech will drive liberal Zionists wild because it legitimizes their segregationist desires & dresses them up as ‘peace’ & ‘democracy.’”

The text cited, however, represents several separate Abunimah Tweets.  So, for clarity, here are the three (140 character or so) ‘meditations’ by Abunimah which the Guardian Middle East editor evidently found elucidating. 

Here are a few additional Tweets that day by Abunimah not cited by Black:

Zionist psychopaths: 

Israel slaughters children:

Israel is a “supremacist” state:

Though Abunimah blocks many pro-Israel activists from following him, it still isn’t difficult to locate his Twitter paper trail – which includes a tweet concerning the murder of Israelis by Hezbollah terrorists in Bulgaria in 2012, which clearly suggested a Mossad conspiracy,  and another one calling for Palestinians to start a 3rd Intifada.

However, Abunimah is no mere American pro-Palestinian activist.  He’s defended Hamas and has flirted with insidious Israel-Nazi analogies – once even Tweeting the following: 

nazi

The fact that the Guardian’s Middle East editor – who undoubtedly could have found a more moderate, lucid and truly peace-seeking pro-Palestinian critic to cite – decided to hitch his wagon to Abunimah’s hateful political brand is an apt commentary on the Guardian’s continuing  fealty to the most belligerent voices in the region.

Harriet Sherwood on today’s Palestinian rocket attack: An error & an improvement

Earlier today Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired four Kassam rockets at Israel, triggering red alert sirens throughout the south.  One rocket landed in a residential courtyard in Sderot, seen here:

rocketAt 10:26 GMT, the Guardian’s Live Blog on President Obama’s visit to Israel included the following dispatch by Harriet Sherwood.

Two rockets fired from Gaza landed in Sderot, an Israeli city in southern Israel, this morning. It was the first time that militants in Gaza have fired rockets since a truce ended the eight-day mini-war, Operation Pillar of Defence, in November.

According to Israel’s Army Radio, one of the rockets exploded in the yard of the Haziza family. The mother of the family, Sara, said: “Let Obama come and see how people live, we build houses and villas but we live inside a cage, in a protected room. Nothing is worth it for us. Let Obama come and see how an eight-year old girl has to run to a protected room that is completely open, and how I can’t close the door of the protected room.”

Obama referred to the southern Israel city, which he visited before becoming president, in his short speech on arrival in Israel, saying: “I’ve stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear.”

There were no casualties, and no immediate claim of responsibility. [emphasis added]

First, it is important to note that Sherwood’s brief post represents an improvement in comparison to how the Guardian typically covers news of such terrorist attacks. She personalized the Israeli victims, noting the name of the family whose home was nearly hit, and even included a quote by the mother of the family.  (For additional posts on Sherwood’s improvement in covering the region, see here and here.)

However, Sherwood made an error. Today’s rocket attacks were not the first since the end of ‘Pillar of Defense’.

On Dec. 23, 2012, Palestinians in Gaza fired a rocket aimed at Israel (but which didn’t reach the Israeli side of the border).  

Additionally, on Feb. 26, 2013, Palestinians fired an M-75 rocket at the city of Ashkelon.  (The rocket fell on a road south of the city.) Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the terrorist group associated with the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, claimed responsibility for the attack.  The group reportedly stated that the attack was a response to the death of Al Aqsa Brigades member Arafat Jaradat while in Israeli custody. 

Of further interest in the context of Sherwood’s omission, the the Guardian’s  actually reported the Feb 26 rocket attack on Ashkelon, on that day’s edition of their ongoing Middle East ‘Live Blog’.