Tag Archives: anti-Israel

The silence of (and about) Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar

"Suspected collaborator" dragged through streets of Gaza behind motercycle.

Hamas Justice System at Work

I was in the UK recently and spoke for Jewish students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Within days of me being there, a charity ball they had planned was forced into hiding by threats to the hotel that was hosting it. The “crime” of the students? Raising money for the JNF and the UK branch of Friends of the IDF.

In the controversy that followed, I posted a comment that described the protestors against Israeli charities as “anti-Israel”. Someone else asserted that such groups are not “anti-Israel” but “pro-Palestinian”.

Are they? Is there a difference between these concepts, or are they the same thing? And does it matter?

Positive vs. negative

As a student activist in the UK more than three decades ago, I (like all my peers) was up against a group called BAZO (the British Anti-Zionist Organization). This fringe group would be worthy of no more than a nasty little footnote in history[1] except for one amusing recollection; the group had such a negative image that its acronym briefly became a synonym for being unhinged. (“What’s wrong with him? He’s acting all BAZO!”)

BAZO exemplified an era in which enemies of Israel were at least frank about what they wanted: the denial of the national rights of the Jewish people that had been championed by the Zionist political movement and concretized in the rebirth of the Jewish State of Israel.

The very name of this group proclaimed the negativity that it embodied. It was extreme, antisemitic and not for anything. It stood in favor of obliterating the Jewish state, and it was unpopular.

Times change and people learn from their mistakes.

By 1981 BAZO had changed its name to BAZO-PS (British Anti-Zionist Organization – Palestine Solidarity). It was too late for that particular fringe group to change its image and salvage any relevance. Perhaps it was the unfortunate choice of the initials “PS” that conveyed the reality that their purported solidarity with Palestinian Arabs was only an afterthought. Nonetheless, you would be hard pressed to find any organization in the Western world today that is so naive as to title itself “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel”. It’s bad PR, and it’s bad for your image to be viewed as negative.

Today, in the UK, a much more dangerous (because it is more persuasive) group is active. They are called the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and proclaims that they campaign “for peace & justice for Palestinians, in support of international law and human rights & against all racism”. Naturally, they support the international BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel, which calls for punitive measures against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights”.

Around the world you will find groups that operate under similar titles. PSC has Irish and Scottish incarnations. The Canadian group Canada Palestine Support Network seems to have taken over from Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a university-based group that once shut down the Concordia campus in Montreal because Binyamin Netanyahu was about to speak there. Australians for Palestine is obviously the antipodal manifestation. In the US the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER) operates as a lobby on Capitol Hill while ubiquitous Students for Justice in Palestine groups operate on campuses around America.

All these organizations have learned the lesson that presenting oneself as a merely anti-Israel group limits one’s appeal to the hard core of Israel haters.

Better to be for something than against something.

Hiding the truth?

But is the description of the protestors being “pro-Palestinian” justified? I think there’s a simple litmus test to apply: Does the organization in question express sympathy for Palestinian Arabs who face difficulties that can’t be attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Israel?

One that does fit that description is the Independent Commission for Human Rights. Although harshly (and often unjustifiably) critical of Israel, it doesn’t stint in reporting on the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs by the Palestinian Authority, in either its Hamas or Fatah versions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access their reports directly via their own website, but here is some media coverage of their latest report on PA abuse of power:

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Report-Palestinian-lost-speech-ability-after-PA-torture-313660

http://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinian-group-abuses-by-ruling-groups-increasing/

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Eleven-Palestinians-have-died-under-PA-Hamas-detention-313905

A search on the name of the organization via Google News threw up only five citations, four of which were from Israeli news media. The exception was Palestine News Network, which caries a number of stories on PA abuse of power.

The first article cited above carries the shocking account of Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar of Hebron. He was detained and tortured by the PA’s Preventive Security Service to the point where he lost the power of speech. If you do a Google search on his name, however, the total number of results is unlikely to crash your computer. I found only the original Jerusalem Post report and a quotation of it in a conservative web magazine.

Check out the websites of the “pro-Palestinian” groups I listed above. Not one of them carries any information about Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar, nor the eleven Palestinian Arabs who died under PA detention. Haroun Abu Arrah and Omar Arqoub, two Palestinian Arab journalists who have been repeatedly harassed by the PA, won’t be found on any of them either.

We understand why Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar is silent; he was beaten into it by the torturers of the PA. But why are all the organizations that claim to be on his side also silent?

It’s nothing new. During the Battle of Gaza, when Fatah and Hamas forces were killing each other as well as uninvolved civilians, the whole panoply of “pro-Palestinian” organizations couldn’t even muster a Rodney King style, “Can we all just get along?”

Why does it matter?

Let’s return to my original question: Is there a difference between being “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israel, and if so, does it matter?

As we have seen, there is a disadvantage in being perceived as anti-Israel if you are trying to appeal to an uncommitted audience. If someone seeks an advantage, it’s fair to check that they are entitled to it. If you want to buy liquor you need to be prepared to be carded, if you want a senior discount you have to be willing to reveal your age. Obtaining a privilege that you are not entitled to is cheating. The vast majority of “pro-Palestinian” groups are cheats, plain and simple.

This deception also matters because of the overall conceptual frame of the discourse. Is it between two partisans of competing sides, each seeking their own rights (pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian)? Or is it a dispute between those seeking legitimate rights (pro-Israel) and those seeking to deny those rights (anti-Israel)?

Add to that the fact that those who seek peace between Jews and Arabs are arguably the most “pro-Palestinian” groups that can exist, and we reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the State of Israel is likely the most pro-Palestinian entity in the Middle East.

As is so often the case, presenting Israel’s position effectively starts with telling the truth. Those who oppose the Jewish state are seldom honest.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_the_Palestinian_territories

BAZO has (thankfully) almost completely vanished. For a flavor of what it was like, see this article about one of its founders: http://www.paulbogdanor.com/antisemitism/greenstein/questions.html


1 Some high points of their activities included: photographing Jewish students with threats that the pictures would be sent to the PLO in Beirut, forging links with the National Union of Iraqi Students while it was persecuting pro-democracy Iraqis in the UK, and succeeding in having BAZO’s literature distributed by the neo-Nazi British Movement.

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The Media and Israel: Biased or just dumb?

Is it newsworthy?If you are a supporter of Israel, you don’t need convincing that most of the mainstream media is (at best) suspicious of and (at worst) openly hostile to the Jewish state.

If you are not a supporter of Israel, it is very likely that you would dismiss such assertions as paranoia. Most media consumers suppose that the information they are given, though it may lean slightly to the right or the left, is more or less balanced.

There is a clear discrepancy between the way Israel’s supporters view the media and the way everyone else does. What is the reason for this? Part of the explanation is that much of what we supporters of Israel perceive as bias is only discernible if you know quite a lot about the Middle East.

A generally well-informed reader, viewer, or listener might find nothing problematic in, for example, the following extract from an overview of the history of the Middle East in the newspaper USA Tody. Describing the events of November 29, 1947, the journalist writes:

The United Nations votes to Partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem an International zone. The Palestinians reject the plan.[1]

One would have to be fairly well-informed to spot that although the Jewish residents did accept the UN partition plan, it was rejected not only by local Arabs, but all of the regional Arab powers (the term “Palestinians”  for Arabs wouldn’t emerge for another decade). The blanket rejection of Israel’s right to exist by the whole Arab world would be central to all further developments ― but it is absent from this account.[2]  With no obvious falsehoods, the description would pass muster as fair, unless you know that it is leaving out significant facts. Drawing attention to this sort of thing can look like nitpicking if you don’t understand the significance of the missing information, and you can only understand that if you are reasonably well informed.

This begs the question why the media consuming public are so ignorant of the background to the Arab-Israel conflict that they can’t spot this sort of thing. One of the answers is that the media doesn’t keep them better informed! (Someone once said that one of the advantages of circular arguments is that they are, at least, consistent!)

Some supporters of Israel will sniff a conspiracy here, and it’s easy to get the impression that the media people must hold a conference call every morning to decide what they can do to upset the Jews today.

However, the real causes of Israel’s problems with the media are both more, and less, sinister than an antisemitic plot.

Don’t Worry, Make Money

In a free-market, democratic society (like the United States) the production of news media is, overwhelmingly, a commercial activity. Whether print, broadcast, or Internet, almost everyone producing news for mainstream audiences is doing it to make money. They may have other objectives as well, including the well-worn journalistic ideals of informing and educating the public, but if they don’t make money, they will not stay in business long enough to fulfill their other aims.

Western reporting tends to be superficial, especially when it comes to the very influential electronic media, particularly TV. The reason it is superficial is that viewers, on the whole, don’t want much depth. There are instances of anti-Israel animus in the media, but most of the problems the Jewish state faces in reportage are due to superficiality not malice.

One can perhaps forgive the media for missing the founding of al Qaeda, in 1988. It was, then, only one of many obscure splinter groups, whose unique significance would only become apparent years later. Even its “re-launch” in 1998, as the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, might have reasonably gone unnoticed. Yet today, more than two decades after it began, and a decade after the September 11 attacks, how much have we learned from the media about Osama bin Laden’s organization? How many people can describe the Salafist ideology that animates it, or distinguish it from the Salafi ideology that preceded it? Who knows what influence it bears on mainstream Islam? Surely these are the key questions that would help form a public policy toward the Islamist threat to the West, so why doesn’t the media cover them?

The answer is as frightening as it is simple: people aren’t interested. If faced with a choice between a one-hour-long “talking heads” show about the first three generations of Islam and their significance on the world today, and a “reality” show, most normal people opt for news from the “Big Brother House.” The media is superficial because that is what most of its consumers want.

The pro-Israel media watcher who notices superficial and sloppy reports should bear in mind that this is also probably true of almost any other story that the media is covering. It’s just that we tend to notice it when the issue is Israel. Talk to some of your friends who are sensitive to other issues (feminists, members of racial minorities, believers in other religions) and you will often find that their concerns about media bias mirror ours. It leaves you wondering if the media can be wrong about everything?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, with the possible exception of sports reports and the closing prices, they can indeed.

(Don’t think that that means that I view the situation as hopeless. In a future blog I’ll write about possible strategies for dealing with this problem.)


[1] The Mideast Conflict: A look at the region’s history, http://www.usatoday.com/graphics/news/gra/gisrael2/flash.htm as of August, 2004


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