Harriet Sherwood yawns as Hamas orders closure of Gaza media outlets

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi 

Poor Harriet Sherwood, missing the big picture while obsessively reporting about the latest round of Middle East peace talks that promise to end the six-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a mere nine months.

While Sherwood, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, breathlessly relayed US President Barack Obama’s praising of the rebooted peace process, the Hamas-led government in Gaza – located a mere 50 miles away from Israel’s currently undivided capital city – was shutting down uncooperative media outlets in the territory.

Journalists in Ramallah protest against a previous clamp-down on press freedom by Hamas

Journalists in Ramallah protest against a previous clamp-down on press freedom by Hamas

In a July 29 post by the Guardian’s media blogger, Roy Greenslade, Gaza’s Attorney General Ismail Jaber was quoted as saying that the broadcaster Al-Arabiya and news agency Maan “fabricated news” that “threatened civil peace and damaged the Palestinian people and their resistance” to Israel.

Thankfully for freedom loving journalists such as Sherwood, this latest human rights violation by the demopathic Hamas movement is expected to be temporary – although when precisely the offices will actually be allowed to resume operations remains a question mark.

Sherwood’s unwillingness to shed a bright light on Hamas’ latest crackdown on ‘counter-revolutionary’ voices represents a glaring and dangerous ideologically driven moral blind-spot - denying her significant readership access to uncomfortable facts about the neighborhood bullies who share a volatile border with Israel.

According to the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, the media in Gaza are not free. Following its takeover of Gaza, Hamas replaced the PA Ministry of Information with a government Media Office and banned all journalists not accredited by it; authorities also closed down all media outlets not affiliated with Hamas, whose security forces have allegedly tortured detainees.  Furthermore, Hamas has significantly restricted freedoms of assembly and association, with security forces violently dispersing public gatherings of Fatah and other groups.

Now, none of this is meant to imply that Sherwood can’t find Gaza on a map. Bright, curious and well-read, the Guardian’s intrepid Jerusalem correspondent has indeed filed reports about the goings-on in Gaza. Yet, she seems impervious to any news item that may distract her readers from the Israel-as-Goliath fable – and often fails to adequately fact check claims made by her Palestinian protagonists.

Yet, the broader issue is Sherwood’s chronic myopia vis-à-vis alleged human rights violations by Hamas against its own people.

And when facts prove to be stubborn and persistent, Sherwood simply tortures the English language in an attempt to whitewash any pesky Palestinian human rights abuses. Indeed, it takes an imagination most fertile to conceive of a group a group recognized as a terrorist movement by the United States, the European Union, the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan as merely “conservative“.

Indeed, Sherwood’s selective reporting is taking place at a most inopportune time. Try as she may to turn a blind eye, human rights violations in Gaza – not to mention the Palestinian Authority – are reportedly increasing. According to the Palestinian Independent Commission For Human Rights (ICHR) report, 2012 saw a 10 percent increase in the number of complaints about human rights abuses by the PA and Hamas, compared with 2011.

According to, Randa Siniora, executive director of ICHR, many complaints were related to arbitrary and political detentions, as well as torture and mistreatment.  The organization recommends that the PA and Hamas stop violating freedom of expression by interrogating Palestinians who are simply expressing their political views.

Why hasn’t Ms Sherwood followed up on the findings and recommendations of this report? Are not the alleged human rights violations of Israel’s presumptive peace partners of any relevance to the final configuration of a Palestinian state? 

Whilst Sherwood relentlessly reports every slight endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israelis, she evidently sees nothing newsworthy about severe abuses perpetrated by Hamas against its civilian population.

Lying by omission is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception, and it appears that Sherwood has made a career out of overplaying news stories about every conceivable Israeli miscue, while leaving out information that would detract from the Palestinian victim narrative.

Her ho-hum reaction to the horrific treatment of her cherished Palestinians effectively perpetuates the racist assumption that Palestinians lack moral agency.

And now…back to the negotiating table!

(Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based writer who regularly contributes to Times of Israel and the Algemeiner.)

What the Guardian won’t report: Israel’s thriving, liberal democracy

Our friends at CAMERA wrote the following, in a post titled ‘Where’s the coverage? Israel the Only Free Country in the Middle East, Jan. 23, the day after yet another free and fair Israeli election.

Maybe they were too busy bemoaning the state of Israel’s democracy to do any actual reporting, but the mainstream news media [as well as the Guardian] completely ignored a report by Freedom House, an independent watchdog group dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, that rated Israel as the only free country in the Middle East.

As we noted in a post on Jan. 22, predictions by Guardian journalists, analysts and commentators that Israel’s democracy was in decline – and that the Jewish state was lurching towards an extreme right political abyss – were proven wildly inaccurate.

CAMERA continues:

In the 2013 edition of its annual report, “Freedom in the World,” the organization wrote: “Israel remains the region’s only Free country. In recent years, controversies have surrounded proposed laws that threatened freedom of expression and the rights of civil society organizations. In most cases, however, these measures have either been quashed by the government or parliament, or struck down by the Supreme Court.”

In other words, Israel’s democracy works. By contrast, both Gaza, under Hamas, and the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority were rated “Not Free,” as was Jordan. Lebanon and Egypt ranked as merely “Partly Free.”

To look at a map of world freedom, click on this link. You’ll have to enlarge it quite a bit to see the sliver of green freedom that is Israel in the sea of yellow (“partly free”) and purple (“not free”) that is the Middle East and North Africa.

Here’s a snapshot of the Freedom House political freedom map, with a red arrow pointing to the sliver of democracy in the Middle East.

freedom

CAMERA adds:

Given the hyper-focus on Israel by the press, one might expect news outlets to at least mention this positive evaluation of the Jewish State. However, although Israeli and Jewish outlets reported the Freedom House study, CAMERA could not locate any mainstream news media that covered it. More embarrassing still, even Egypt’s Daily News wrote: “Egypt is now one of six countries in the Middle East that is classified by Freedom House as “partly free”. Eleven are classed as “not free”, while Israel is the region’s only “free” country.

A newspaper in a country that has only recently been upgraded to “partly free” covered Israel’s “free” ranking but news outlets in “free” countries did not.

One has to ask, why the hesitancy to report something positive about Israel’s democracy? 

While there are many factors which explain why the Guardian ignores evidence of Israel’s clear democratic advantages in the region, one of the most central is the ideological orientation of the Guardian Left which typically reduces complicated political phenomena down to a binary David vs. Goliath paradigm.

Such framing nurtures coverage of the region which routinely characterizes Israeli leaders, even in the context of fair and free democratic elections, as extremely “right-wing”, while avoiding such pejorative depictions of even the most reactionary Palestinian leaders.  

Indeed, as Simon Plosker observed, such a political orientation inspired the Guardian to describe Mahmoud Abbas, in one editorial, as the “most moderate Palestinian leader”.  Abbas is similarly framed as a “moderate” by Guardian journalists and CiF commentators despite the fact that the Palestinian President is currently serving the 8th year of a 4 year term, has engaged in Holocaust denial, and leads a government which promotes martyrdom and antisemitic incitement, and severely oppresses women, gays, religious minorities, critical Palestinian journalists and political opponents.  

Further, it simply strains credulity to imagine that a new independent Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank would be truly democratic, any more liberal, or nominally respect the human rights of its citizens. 

However, as long as Israeli politics are myopically viewed through the ideologically skewed filter of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, even the most intuitive evidence regarding the extreme right political center of gravity within Palestinian society on one hand, and the Jewish state’s liberal, democratic advantages on the other, will continue to be downplayed or ignored.

Free Palestine? What Harriet Sherwood won’t report about absence of democratic rights in PA

Freedom House Map (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

H/T Garry

As we approach the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to unilaterally declare statehood, the question you almost never hear asked is, precisely what kind of state will “Palestine” be?

Will it be democratic, respect the rights of minorities, the LGBT community, and the rights of citizens to peacefully dissent and criticize the government?

Well, per Freedom House, the case is pretty clear that the human rights record of “Palestine” is abysmal and currently mirrors the similar dearth of political freedom in the Arab world.

“The Palestinian Authority–administered territories’ political rights rating declined from 5 to 6 [the lowest possible rating] due to the expiration of President Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term in January 2009, the ongoing lack of a functioning elected legislature, and an edict allowing the removal of elected municipal governments in the West Bank.”

Further, notes Freedom House:

“The judicial system is not independent.”

And:

“Personal status law, derived in part from Sharia, puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape, domestic abuse, and “honor killings,” in which women are murdered by relatives for perceived sexual or moral transgressions, are not uncommon. These murders often go unpunished.”

Finally:

“The media are not free in the West Bank and Gaza. Under a 1995 press law, journalists may be fined and jailed…Journalists who criticize the PA or the dominant factions face arbitrary arrests, threats, and physical abuse.”

This last report certainly puts today’s story in the Jerusalem Post, PA arrests professor who criticized Nablus University, in perspective, and should give those pause who live on the borders of this future Palestinian state.

A prominent Palestinian professor who wrote an article criticizing the universityadministration where he works was arrested on Thursday by Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank.

Palestinian sources said that Abdel Sattar Qassem, who works at An-Najah Universityin Nablus, was ordered to be held in custody for 48 hours following a complaint from theuniversity president, Rami Hamdallah.

Because of his public criticism of the PA, Qassem was targeted in the past by PA security forces. At one point he was shot and wounded shortly after launching a scathing verbal attack on PA chairman Yasser Arafat.

Qassem said that the problem was not only with this case…“but with the people who see the corruption and don’t do anything. Many officials see themselves as being above the law and justice. Perhaps they want to appoint themselves as gods or emperors, as they see that the educated are keeping silent and the youth movement is largely absent.”

Recently in Israel, a left-wing columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner, penned an essay in his personal blog (which he’s since removed) explicitly justifying Palestinian terrorist attacks against his fellow citizens.  While there has been, of course, much justifiable criticism of Derfner, and his employer is currently looking into the matter, Derfner wasn’t beaten up by a mob for his apostasy nor arrested by Israeli security personnel.  

The fact that the PA, who clearly has a lot to learn from their bitter Zionist enemies, doesn’t even meagerly respect the value of free expression and basic democratic norms should provide an entirely new meaning to the chant, “FREE PALESTINE”!

A continuing obsession: Guardian implies that Israel & her supporters are to blame for civilian atrocities in Sri Lanka

The latest Guardian editorial (“Sri Lanka: No-inquiry zone, April 27) is ostensibly about war crimes committed by the Sri Lanka regime against the Tamil Tigers but, in another example of their editors’ inability to hide their single obsession with the Jewish state, also implies that the attacks on the credibility of the UN Human Rights Commission – and the Goldstone Report which the UNHRC commissioned – has had an injurious effect on the way civilians are treated in other countries.  Specifically, the editorial notes:

“A UN panel has just produced [a report] about the carnage of civilians which took place two years ago when government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers…but will likely be shelved…as hard-hitting as anything Goldstone produced, and therefore is just as likely to be shelved”

The editorial continues:

“One country’s ability to bury the evidence of war crimes endangers how civilians are treated in all other conflicts.” 

The malicious implication is clear: Efforts by Israel and her defenders to refute and undermine the credibility of The Goldstone Report has emboldened other nations who are inclined to commit acts of violence against its civilians.  The editorial then notes:

That there is credible evidence that government soldiers targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked aid workers in the final months of the war against the Tamil Tigers is indisputable. That the Tigers used civilians as human shields and shot those attempting to flee the carnage at point-blank range is equally true. Tens of thousands died as a result of these twin brutalities. 

Even by Guardian standards this is an especially vicious narrative – as if Sri Lankan troops, and rebel Tamil Tigers, would have behaved more morally if the Goldstone Report hadn’t been refuted.  Further, the implication that there is any parallel at all between the conflict in Sri Lanka, which has claimed a total of more than 100,000 lives according to Freedom House, and Israel’s war in Gaza is simply ahistorical. 

As with the Guardian’s equally bizarre contention, regarding the uprisings in the Arab world against despotic regimes, last month that, whatever the issues in each particular Arab country, Palestine was the “cockpit of the crisis, the paper again shows itself singularly obsessed with the actions of the democratic Israeli state and her supporters.

Paraphrasing, and slightly tweaking, an old adage: there are some ideas so crazy, and so implausible, that only Guardian editors could believe them.

The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker: Brutal Arab Dictator Whisperer

The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker, unlike us mere mortals – preoccupied as we are with such banal concerns as human rights abuses and totalitarianism – “gets” Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Whitaker, in today’s CiF, acknowledges that the Libyan dictator’s actions may seem a bit eccentric before insisting that there is, indeed, a method to his madness.

Though falling considerably short, on the political lunacy scale, of colleague Simon Tisdall’s passionate apologia for Sudan’s Omar al-Bashar, Whitaker’s sympathetic take on Gaddafi (who has ruled Libya since 1969) represents a classic example of the moral inversion which informs so much of the Guardian Left.

The following passage is typical:

“…mad as [Gaddafi] may seem, his actions usually have some kind of logic, even if it’s a logic that others, not attuned to the Gaddafi way of thinking, fail to recognise.”

Yes, clearly those of us who aren’t blessed with Whitaker’s sophistication, and penetrating empathy, tend to be distracted by such mundane concerns as (per Freedom House) Libya’s notoriety for possessing one of the worst human rights records in the Middle East – a very crowded field of competition.

In Libya:

  • Political parties are banned and membership in such entities is punishable by death.
  • Anyone trying to engage in political or civic activity is liable to severe penalties including arrest, detention, and possible torture.
  • Abortion is illegal and punishable under the penal code. Anyone who procures an abortion is liable to imprisonment.
  • Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion are restricted. Independent human rights organizations are prohibited.

Gaddafi, whose official title is “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution”, has but one sin, according to Whitaker:

“he has lost touch with his people.”

Yes, Gaddafi has become so alienated from his national brethren that he ordered his Air Force to bomb, and direct artillery fire on, citizens peacefully protesting his 42 year rule.

In a 882 word meditation on the Libyan strongman, Whitaker didn’t even once mention Gaddafi’s brutality, nor was there even a cursory mention of “human rights”.

Yet, in fairness, Whitaker did acknowledge that Brother Muammar may not be perfect, and allowed that reasonable people may certainly view his sense of fashion as “bizarre”.

Whitaker’s empathy for brutal Arab dictators isn’t limited to the aesthetically challenged Gaddafi, as he’s also penned a sympathetic portrayal of Syrian despot, Bashar al-Assad – and, naturally, he’s nurtured by a visceral dislike of Israel.

In short, Whitaker’s fanciful musings represents another Guardian tale fit for a king or, at the very least, a Colonel.

A map of political freedom in the Middle East for dummies: A primer for Guardian readers

Freedom House recently released its 2010 survey of freedom in the world, and the results are relatively intuitive, unless of course, you’re someone who actually takes the Guardian’s coverage of the Middle East seriously.

Here’s Freedom House’s categories:

A Free country, according to Freedom House, is one where there is broad scope for open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media. (Green: That tiny patch of land next to Egypt, which you can hardly see)

Partly Free countries are characterized by some restrictions on political rights and civil liberties, often in a context of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic strife, or civil war. (Yellow: Lebanon, Morocco, and Kuwait)

A Not Free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied. (Lavender: Every other country)

Click to Enlarge

 

Just one more thing:

As we noted previously, out of 198 nations listed by the Guardian in their “Top Countries by Tags” post, Israel, the only free country in the Middle East, came in as the sixth most frequently covered country in the region.

For some reason, the appalling dearth of political freedom in Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Oman, U.A.E., Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, and Gaza didn’t interest Guardian editors as much as the imperfections of the only country which is truly free in the Middle East.

Any questions?

Israel, Uzbekistan, and the Guardian’s continuing obsession

Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. The organization was founded by Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.

It publishes an annual report assessing the degree of perceived democratic freedoms in each country, which is used in political science research.

The major themes they explore and use to evaluate such countries are:

  1. ELECTORAL PROCESS
  2. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION
  3. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT
  4. ADDITIONAL DISCRETIONARY POLITICAL RIGHTS QUESTIONS:
  5. CIVIL LIBERTIES CHECKLIST
  6. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS
  7. RULE OF LAW
  8. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS

The final score is based on the following scale:

On Freedom House’s summary table, among those listed as “Free”, with a score of 1.5 (the second highest score), is Israel, who shares this same numerical ranking with nations such as Italy, Japan, and Greece.

According to Freedom House:

“Press freedom is respected in Israel, and the media are vibrant and independent. All Israeli newspapers are privately owned and freely criticize government policy.”

“While Israel’s founding documents define it as a “Jewish and democratic state,” freedom of religion is respected. Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.”

“Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Israel hosts an active civil society, and demonstrations are widely permitted.”

“Workers may join unions of their choice and have the right to strike and bargain collectively.”

“The judiciary is independent and regularly rules against the government. The Supreme Court hears direct petitions from citizens and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

“Women have achieved substantial parity at almost all levels of Israeli society.”

“Sexual minorities have made significant strides in recent years. A 2005 Supreme Court decision granted guardianship rights to nonbiological parents in same-sex partnerships, and two lesbians were granted permission to legally adopt each other’s biological children in 2006. Openly gay Israelis are permitted to serve in the armed forces.”

Among those listed as “Not Free” – most of which are Muslim states – are: the Palestinian Authorities, Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Libya, and Sudan.  Trailing them all are North Korea and Uzbekistan, who are among the very worst human rights violators.

Though you would never know it by opening the Palestinian Authorities page at CiF, Freedom House lists them as “Not Free”, with a very bad score of 5.5.  Freedom House reports:

“The Palestinian Authority–administered territories received a downward trend arrow due to crackdowns by Hamas on Fatah in Gaza, as well as crackdowns by Fatah on Hamas in the West Bank, with the use of violence and torture during arrests and interrogations by both sides.”

“Journalists who criticize the PA or the dominant factions face arbitrary arrests, threats, and physical abuse.”

“Palestinian schools teach hatred of Israel.”

“There are reportedly hundreds of administrative detainees currently in Palestinian jails and detention centers. The same courts are also used to try those suspected of collaborating with Israel or accused of drug trafficking. Defendants are not granted the right to appeal sentences and are often summarily tried and sentenced to death. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, alleged collaborators are routinely tortured in Palestinian jails and denied the right to defend themselves in court. These practices are not prohibited under Palestinian law.”

“Personal status law, derived in part from Sharia, puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape, domestic abuse, and “honor killings,” in which women who are raped or engage in extramarital sex are murdered by a relative, are not uncommon. These murders often go unpunished. HRW reported in November 2006 that women’s treatment in instances of rape or abuse is increasingly determined by tribal leaders or PA-appointed governors, and not by the courts, a situation that HRW said leads to arbitrary decisions. In 2007, the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs found that legal options for victims of domestic abuse were extremely limited.”

Such violations of basic human rights norms are apparently of no particular concern to the editors at the Guardian, as you can see by a snapshot of CiF’s page on the “Palestinian Territories“. Upon viewing it, one would be forgiven for assuming that it was the “Israel” page:

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