Economist curiously omits key reason for MK Zoabi’s Knesset suspension

Claims regarding the putative ‘erosion of Israel’s democracy‘ have long been a favorite among the anti-Israel UK media elite, and the mere absence of any evidence attesting to this descent into political darkness hasn’t weakened their appetite for this narrative.

To boot, an Economist article titled ‘Us and Them‘, Aug. 2, included a few factually-challenged claims on alleged attacks on the civil rights of Israel’s minorities. 

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has warned the country’s civil-rights groups that they could be branded as delegitimisers if they insist on promoting rights for Israel’s Arab minority and oppose the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews. 

First, addressing the first part of the passage, the Knesset did not warn the country’s civil-rights groups that they could be branded as delegitimisers for merely “promoting rights for Israel’s Arab minority”. In fact it’s hard to know where precisely where the Economist even found such an absurd claim.  Further, the second part of the passage, regarding the alleged consequences for ‘opposing the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews’, again is not accurate.

They may be alluding to a proposed change in the Basic Law that would formally recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jews’, but the rights of non-Jews would not be affected, and there’s certainly nothing in the proposal which would, as the Economist claims, brand civil rights groups as ‘delegitimizers for doing so.

The Economist then adds the following:

This week the Knesset banned an Arab member, Haneen Zoabi, for six months for “aggressive behaviour” in anti-war demonstrations.

However, this also is an inaccurate statement as it omits key information about the suspension.

MK Zoabi, according to multiple news reports (and the official press release from the Knesset regarding the suspension), was suspended for six months from the Knesset (while still maintaining her voting rights in the Israeli legislative body) for two reasons – one of which the Economist completely omitted. 

While Zoabi’s suspension was in part due to an incident with a police officer at a protest rally (as they noted), the main reason was related to her assertion, in mid June, that the kidnappers of three Jewish teens in the West Bank were not terrorists. 

“They’re people who don’t see any way to change their reality and they are forced to use these means until Israel will wake up a little, until Israeli citizens and society will wake up and feel the suffering of the other,” Zoabi said in an interview on Radio Tel Aviv, adding that the kidnappers live under occupation.

Of course, two weeks after Zoabi’s statements, the teens – Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach – were found dead, having been murdered by the kidnappers she had earlier defended. 

The Knesset statement on the suspension noted that Zoabi’s offense centered on these comments, which many believed represented incitement, as it showed support for terrorist organizations and encouraged “acts of terror against the state and its citizens”.

To recap: both examples cited by the Economist – presumably to demonstrate an erosion of civil rights in Israel for its non-Jewish minority – are erroneous or, at best, extremely misleading. 

Finally, it’s interesting to note that a site called The Angry Arab News Service cited the Economist’s claim about the cause of Zoabi’s suspension under the heading: This Does Not Get Reported In The US Media.

Of course, it’s likely that such “news” hasn’t been reported in the US media because, as few Google clicks would have indicated, it’s not accurate.

CiF Watch prompts Indy correction to false claim by Mira Bar-Hillel

We recently posted about an op-ed by Mira Bar-Hillel (a Jewish commentator who has acknowledged being antisemitic) which erroneously suggested that the Israeli media demanded the IDF bomb Gaza “back to the Stone Age” (see here), and accused Israelis of believing that “Palestinians aren’t quite human”.  

As we pointed out, she also made a patently false claim concerning the 2012 Gaza War.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Over the past decade we have had “Operation Cast Lead” (2008/9) in which illegal white phosphorus was employed, 1,400 Gazan civilians were killed including one family whose children bled to death on the roof because Israeli aircraft prevented their evacuation. The Israelis lost 11 soldiers. In “Operation Pillar of Smoke”, (2012) hundreds more died, all Palestinian.

Of course, her claim that ALL of those who died during the war (Operation Pillar of Defense) were Palestinian is not true. Four Israeli civilians and two soldiers were killed in that war.

After contacting Indy editors, they agreed to revise the passage accordingly.

It now reads:

Over the past decade we have had “Operation Cast Lead” (2008/9) in which illegal white phosphorus was employed, 1,400 Gazan civilians were killed including one family whose children bled to death on the roof because Israeli aircraft prevented their evacuation. The Israelis lost 11 soldiers. In “Operation Pillar of Smoke”, (2012) hundreds more Palestinians died.

We commend Indy editors for promptly correcting Bar-Hillel’s false claim.

Did the Guardian double the actual number of Bedouins facing relocation?

harrietOn Dec. 1 we posted about Harriet Sherwood’s story at the Guardian titled ‘Israel’s plan to forcibly resettle Negev Bedouins prompts global protests‘. 

The legislation Sherwood reported on is known as Prawer-Begin (which passed its first Knesset reading) and concerns Israeli-Bedouin settlement in the Negev – a plan formulated to address economic development issues for the Bedouin and to resolve their long-standing land claims.

According to the commission studying the issues, there are some 210,000 Israeli-Bedouin in the Negev. Of this number, 120,000 already live in planned, legal communities (and won’t be effected by the new plan), while another 60,000 live in unauthorized communities which will now be legalized and developed by Israeli authorities.  Plans for the remaining 30,000, who live in non-regulated, illegal communities and encampments, will include relocation of only a few kilometers, and the offer of agricultural, communal, suburban or urban homes, all with full property rights.

We were able to confirm the accuracy of these numbers this morning with a spokesperson at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Interestingly, most blogs and news sites – even some which are extremely hostile to Israel – have accurately reported the number (30,000) of Israeli-Bedouin facing relocation.

Despite the characteristically one-sided nature of Sherwood’s report, we focused our original post on her inaccurate use of the term “Jewish settlements” to refer to future Israeli cities in the Negev which are envisioned under the plan. However, her Dec. 1 report also included another claim – in the following sentence – which seemed highly suspect.

Under the Prawer Plan, which is expected to pass into Israeli law by the end of the year, 35 “unrecognised” Bedouin villages will be demolished and between 40,000 and 70,000 people removed to government designated towns

Additionally, the title of her Nov. 29 story on the same issue also included this 70,000 figure:  ‘Britons protest over Israel plan to remove 70,000 Bedouins‘.  The story contained this passage:

More than 50 public figures in Britain, including high-profile artists, musicians and writers, have put their names to a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land…

This passage linked to the original Guardian letter, signed by the usual gang of anti-Zionist activists, and included this:

Earlier this year, the Israeli Knesset approved the Prawer-Begin plan. If implemented, this plan will result in the destruction of more than 35 Palestinian towns and villages in Al-Naqab (Negev) in the south of Israel and the expulsion and confinement of up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins.

So, how did the Guardian and their “high profile artists, musicians and writers” arrive at the 70,000 figure?

Here are the top Google hits when you type a few of the key search terms:

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In the first link, Russia Todaycites the Guardian figure.

The second hit is the Guardian.

The third hit is Socialist Worker Online and links to the fourth hit, the site of the radical NGOAdalah.

The fifth hit, JewsNews, also cites the Guardian letter.

The sixth and seventh hits also go to the Guardian.

So, as Adalah seems to be one of the few ‘sources’ citing the 70,000 figure, we checked their claim and saw it in this passage from one of their many pages on the Bedouin/Prawer-Begin issue:

If fully implemented, the Prawer-Begin Plan will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognized” Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel…

However, even Adalah’s official legal argument – Adalah and ACRI Objection to the Prawer Plan – notes only that there are roughly 70,000 Bedouin (in total) currently living in unauthorized villages, and makes no claim that all of these 70,000 are facing relocation.

In other words, those suggesting that 70,000 are “under threat of displacement” are not taking into consideration the actual (Prawer-Begin) plan which – if implemented – will result in less than half of these 70,000 Bedouin (who are currently living in unauthorized communities) being displaced.

If the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent decided to spend some more time researching the issue, she would have concluded that there is no evidence to support the 70,000 number.

Guardian travel tip – a 2-for-1 opportunity for the “Guardian Community”

A guest post by AKUS

This little travel tip popped up alongside an article on the Guardian’s website.

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Yes – if Auschwitz if not enough for one day – visit the fabulous salt-mines nearby for extra value! Make sure to send this great travel tip to all your friends:

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After overcoming my uneasy feeling at the casual juxtaposition of these two tours, and the advertising pitch urging you to save by enjoying both in one package, a quick search on Google turned up numerous similar offers. There is apparently a thriving tourist business in and around Krakow (with several companies like Krakow Discovery competing for the tourist Euro) offering tours with experienced drivers to make sure no-one gets left at Auschwitz and, it seems, a low-cost way to overcome the impact of the concentration camp experience by viewing the famous salt mine, a UNESCO Heritage site in one day at one low price.

This is a strange example of “the banality of evil” – who in Auschwitz could have imagined that their death camp would one day be coupled with a money-saving offer to visit a famous underground World Heritage Site? What is next – a money-saving day trip to a Rwandan massacre site coupled with a safari, with experienced drivers?

But perhaps the Guardian should be a little more selective in allowing its readers to offer such ‘exciting’ and ‘valuable’ opportunities to its “community”?

The Guardian’s Bibi will scare your children

In May we posted about unflattering photos of Bibi Netanyahu which the Guardian used to illustrate stories about Israel.

Well, “unflattering” is not a fair characterization.  To be more accurate, I’d say that he looks downright dangerous, indeed a menace.

As one of the photos highlighted in our post, taken by EPA’s Jim Hollander, was used again recently in a story by Harriet Sherwood, I decided to see how frequently the Guardian used it by doing a simple Google search using the photo’s URL. Here are my results.

That’s seven times in less than two and a half years.

However, the Guardian occasionally deviates from their routine and uses this photo by Hollander instead.

However, upon viewing additional photos of Netanyahu taken by Hollander I guess we should feel lucky the Guardian hasn’t published this one, used by a Swedish paper to illustrate a story in 2009 about the Aftonbladet organ harvesting libel.

Finally, while we’re on the topic of organ harvesting charges against Israel, here’s a Guardian story featuring that tireless defender of liberal values who, in his spare time, advances the medieval blood libel by accusing Jews (in poetry and in prose!) of using the blood of children to bake their “holy bread”.

Raed Salah looks like a lovely man.

A challenge to Facebook: Treat Holocaust Denial as hate speech

This was written by Dr. Andre Oboler, and originally was published by the Jerusalem Post. Oboler is co-chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism. 

It’s been over three years since the issue of Holocaust denial on Facebook was first raised. The truly amazing thing is that after countless protests, petitions, letters and meetings with experts, Facebook continues to refuse to recognise Holocaust denial as a form of hate. The social media platform continues to make a special exception and would rather spin and stonewall than fix a bad policy. 

The danger today comes more from Facebook’s own position than from the content itself. The $70 billion dollar company’s refusal to recognise that Holocaust denial is a form of hate has continued despite advice and research from numerous experts. Facebook’s various justifications and efforts to redefine the issue seem to be the only thing that changes.

When the leading international experts on online antisemitism gathered in Jerusalem last month, the issue of Facebook’s policy on Holocaust Denial was one of many issues on the agenda. The Online Antisemitism Working Group meeting covered a comprehensive review of conferences and research reports on online hate from around the world. The experts examined new challenges that result from technological innovation, discussed recent incidents, and reviewed past challenges that were enumerated when the working group last met at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in 2009. 

The increased concern on the Facebook Holocaust denial situation resulted from a lack of progress over the past two years and growing frustration in the expert community. In 2010 it had seemed Facebook had changed their policy without publically announcing it, but in 2011 more Holocaust denial groups appeared to be making a comeback and Facebook reasserted it’s position that Holocaust denial in and of itself was not considered by the company to be hateful. In truth, many groups and pages were only removed when the media specifically named them or published photographs of them.  Experts who had met with Facebook on behalf of their own organizations had begun to feel they were going in circles. There was not much more to be said, all the arguments had been laid out before Facebook, the logical conclusion was obvious, and yet no progress was being made.

A video conference with a senior manager from Facebook was productive on a number of other issues, particularly the question of the responsibility users with special privileges should have. In the meeting Facebook requested a policy paper discussing this proposal in more depth. The Holocaust denial issue however remained an irrational sticking point that was embedded in an unwritten corporate policy. Following further discussion, the working group co-chairs, David Matas and myself, wrote to Mark Zuckerberg to explain that Holocaust denial was in and of itself hate speech and that Facebook’s exception for “historical events” led to an inconsistency in its policies. All hate speech should be treated the same, to do otherwise is to condones certain forms of hate. Not only was no reply forthcoming, even the policy paper that was sent to Facebook at their request received no acknowledgement. 

Of all the issue of online hate the working group discussed, Facebook’s Holocaust Denial policy appeared to be the only one where a company was clearly saying “won’t” rather than “can’t”. Technical problems have technical solutions; the experts on the Global Forum Working Group discussed such solutions, shared knowledge and brainstormed on new approaches. When people refuse to recognise the danger of Holocaust denial, that is a human problem, and a danger to much of the fabric of human rights in modern society. It was in response to the Holocaust and the global desire to avoid a repetition of history that much of the modern human rights framework was created. 

Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever, and once they are gone it will become increasingly difficult to convince people the Holocaust really happened. Denial will become more popular and more acceptable. The Nazi’s told their victims no one would believe them even if they did survive because the reality was just so implausible. If we struggle to understand the danger when the survivors themselves write to us, as they recently wrote to Facebook, then how are we as a society going to fair once they are gone?

To see Facebook ignoring the danger and denying the hateful nature of Holocaust denial is deeply concerning. To see the ethnicity of Jewish staff brought up in official statements to support the company’s assertion that it must know what it is doing, even while ignoring the warning of so many experts, is troubling. Technology however continues to change, and with the rise of Google+, Facebook may soon have real competition. Having a choice of platform will restore power to the public and may see the start of a race to retain users. When this happens it will be up to society to assert loudly and strongly that hate has no place in our online communities, and that Holocaust denial is no exception. I wonder if we are ready for that challenge?

The comprehensive report of the Online Antisemitism Working Group, including many recommendations for different sectors of society, will be published later this year. I hope by then we will be able to report that Facebook has had a change of heart.