The New York Times gets lost in a minefield

On Friday 14 May, The New York Times‘ Public Editor Clark Hoyt published a piece called ‘Semantic Minefields’. The focus of Hoyt’s article was, in his own words, the questions Times‘ journalists “juggle” on a daily basis, “as they try to present the news in clear and evenhanded language”.

The last example given by Hoyt related to “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. Here’s the background:

When Cooper wrote this month about a lunch that Obama had with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, she said the president was trying to mend fences with American Jews upset at the administration’s stance against construction of “Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.”

Nathan Dodell of Rockville, Md., said it was “tendentious and arrogant” to use the word “settlements” four times in the article when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has explicitly rejected it in relation to East Jerusalem. Obama has used the term himself to refer to construction in East Jerusalem, and Cooper told me, “I called them settlements because that’s the heart of the dispute between the Israelis and the United States: settlement construction in Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an eventual Palestinian state.”

But to Dodell, she was taking sides. He asked why she didn’t use a neutral term like “housing construction.”

Incredibly, there is not one mention of international law, where the illegitimacy of settlements in the Occupied West Bank – including East Jerusalem – has been repeatedly affirmed by the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the European Union, and the International Court of Justice judges in their 2004 advisory opinion.

Perhaps Cooper cited international law to Hoyt – but he doesn’t say so. The closest the Public Editor gets himself is when he writes that Israel’s claim to a ‘united’ Jerusalem is “not recognized by the United States and most of the world”.

But apparently, settlement is “a charged word” and so “articles by Times reporters in Jerusalem do generally use words like ‘housing’ instead of ‘settlement’.”

We also learn about the Times’ Ethan Bronner’s opinion: basic principles of international law are discarded in favour of Bronner’s personal impressions of some of Occupied East Jerusalem having “the feeling” of settlements that other areas do not.

The Public Editor’s conclusion? The journalist in question “should have found a more neutral term”.

No wonder that Hoyt feels the need to finish with the reassurance that newspapers are about “nuance and real understanding”. Because one would be forgiven for thinking that the Times‘ approach to Palestine/Israel is about confusion and misinformation.

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Margaret Atwood Cashes In

By Jennifer Matsui

Children in Gaza sit next to the empty desks of fellow students whose lives were snuffed out by Israeli terror.

Novelist Margaret Atwood’s decision to travel to Tel Aviv to share a literary prize worth a million dollars has ignited a controversy in which the septuagenarian author and vice-president of the literary human rights organization PEN International has come under fire by Palestinian rights activists. Ms Atwood’s acceptance of the Dan David Prize, whose previous laureates include Al Gore and Tony Blair, is viewed by Ms Atwood’s critics as a betrayal to the ideals she supposedly represents, and an unwitting endorsement of Israel’s race exclusive policies.

The Canadian author’s insistence that refusing the blood-spattered trophy would be tantamount to “censorship” rings as false as her commitments to justice as an anti-apartheid activist, and as a writer who has made tyranny and oppression recurring themes in her novels, elevating her from fiction writer to public intellectual. “False” because “justice for some” is hardly an ethical stance with any merit, and certainly not one that will maintain her status as an “oppositional intellectual”. Sadly, this “intellectual” has made no effort to research the subject of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its unyielding, systematic oppression of the Palestinian people (as many Jewish and Israeli scholars and activists themselves have bravely condemned). Otherwise, she would use the occasion of the invitation to denounce an increasingly murderous regime and call upon its people to support sanctions, boycotts and divestments until their government accepted the rule of International law and reversed its policy of displacement and expulsion of Arab people from their ancestral lands. Instead the once outspoken author has chosen to put monetary interests ahead of the principled moral stances she has taken in the past, in order to lay claim to a tainted prize given each year to fame-hungry “artists” looking to boost sagging sales of their product while making all the appropriate noises to the press about free speech.

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Nakba day – يوم النكبة Yawm al-Nakba 2010

By Mazin Qumsiyeh

Today is the day we actually commemorate Nakba Day, 14 May 1948, the date the state of Israel was declared.  However, it is not the beginning of our Nakba (catastrophe) nor its end.  Over 200 villages were ethnically cleansed in the six months before 14 May 1948.  This simple fact illustrate that it is not the founding of the militarized state of Israel that began the Nakba but that it was a pivotal moment in it.  After that date, the wave of ethnic cleansing was being done in a name of a nation-state established by and for Jews from Europe and not just the terrorist underground Jewish militias. The ethnic cleansing accompanying the foundation of this apartheid Jewish state and its maintenance meant the destruction of 530 villages and towns and meant that in the past 9 years alone over 10,000 homes were destroyed in the West Bank (including occupied Jerusalem), Gaza, and the Negev.

Today 7 million of the 11 million Palestinians around the world are refugees or displaced people.  The Israeli population according to the Israeli central bureau of statistics is 7,510,000 of which 5,984,500 are “Jews and others” (presumably the others are Druze, Russian non-Jews, and similar categories) and 1,525,500 Palestinian Arabs (1).  The population of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is 4 million allowed to live on areas A & B, small parts of the 22% of Palestine occupied since 1967 (2).  The total area allowed for Palestinian use is 2.5% of the area of pre-1967 Israel (3) plus areas A & B of the West Bank .  In total this comes to 2.5% of 78% and 29% of the 22% that is the West Bank and Gaza (4). The total geographic access to all remaining Palestinians (5.525 million) is thus 1.95%+6.38%=8.33% while the Jewish and other population (Zionist preferred) consists of 5.5 million with access to the remaining lands comprising 91.67% of historic Palestine.

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Pressured from all sides in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

by Kathy Kelly and Joshua Brollier

May 14th, 2010

Hindu Kush foothills on the road to the Swat Valley. (Photo: G. Simon Harak)

In May of 2009, under tremendous pressure from the United States, the Pakistani military began a large-scale military operation in the Swat District of Pakistan to confront militants in the region. The UNHCR said the operation led to one of the largest and fastest displacements it had ever seen. Within ten days, more than two million people fled their homes.

Now, a year later, our small delegation visited the Swat District. After a breathtaking ride through the Hindu Kush mountains, traveling in a pick-up truck from Shah Mansour in the Swabi district, we arrived in Swat’s capital, Saidu Sharif.

Saidu Sharif is a small town, ringed by mountains. The Swat River, a few hundred yards in width, runs through it. It’s easy to imagine a former time when tourists would flock to visit this scenic treasure. While we were there, the town seemed tranquil. Stores were open and the streets were bustling. Merchants, children, shoppers, bicyclists, goats, cars, donkey carts, rickshaws, and tractors jostled for space in the narrow roadways. But, we also saw dozens of uniformed men, carrying weapons, suggesting that tensions still prevail in Swat.

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Myth and Memoricide: Shlomo Sand’s “Invention of the Jewish People”

Denise Buonanno's "Le Juif Errant"

This review essay was published at The Drouth.

A nation is “a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbours.” Karl Deutsch.

“I don’t think books can change the world, but when the world begins to change, it searches for different books.” Shlomo Sand.

Our Assumptions About Israel

Here is what we in the West, to a varying extent, whether we are religious or not, assume about the Jews and Israel:

The Jews of the world, white, black and brown, are the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses, after leading the Jews out of Egyptian enslavement, gave them laws. Emerging from the desert, the Jews conquered the promised land of Canaan, which became Judea and Israel, later the mighty kingdom of David and Solomon. In 70CE the Romans destroyed the temple at Jerusalem and drove the Jews from their land. A surviving Jewish remnant was expelled when Muslim-Arab conquerors colonised the country in the 7th Century. And so the Jews wandered the earth, the very embodiment of homelessness. But throughout their long exile, against all odds, the Jews kept themselves a pure, unmixed race. Finally they returned, after the Holocaust, to Palestine, “a land without a people for a people without a land.”

This story has been told again and again in our culture. Today we find bits of it in Mark Twain and Leon Uris, in Hollywood’s output and in church pulpits, and of course in the mainstream news media. American Christian Zionists – devotees of the Scofield Bible – swear by it, and swear to support Israel with all the power of their voting block until the Risen Christ declares the apocalypse.

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Israel’s Lobby and Nuclear Diversions

Lyndon Johnson and Abraham Feinberg

Scott Horton interviews Grant F. Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington, D.C., about the newly declassified 1978 GAO report released by IRmep on May 10, 2010. They cover the diversion of US nuclear material to Israel, marginal investigations and possible cover-ups by the FBI and CIA, prosecutorial immunity for high-profile Americans who commit crimes for Israel’s benefit, and billionaire Haim Saban’s considerable influence on the Democratic Party.  They review new information about why LBJ’s political debt to fundraiser Abraham Feinberg (designated by David Ben Gurion as the US funding coordinator for Israel’s nuclear weapons program in 1958) probably explains his disdain for the NUMEC investigation and applying nuclear nonproliferation to Israel.

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Elena Kagan and the Supreme Court: A Barnyard Smell in Chicago, Harvard and Washington

By James Petras

President Obama has nominated Elena Kagan for Justice of the United States Supreme Court on the basis of an academic publication record which might give her a fighting chance for tenure at a first rate correspondence law school in the Texas Panhandle.

A review of her published scholarship after almost two decades in and out of academia turns up four law review articles, two brief pieces and several book reviews and in memoriam. There is nothing even remotely resembling a major legal text or research publication.

Her lack-luster academic publication record is only surpassed by her total lack of any practical experience as a judge: zero years in adjudication, unless one accepts the line of her exuberant advocates, who point to Kagan’s superb ability in adjudicating among the squabbling faculty at Harvard Law School when she served as Dean. No doubt Kagan had been very busy as the greatest fundraising Law School Dean in Harvard’s history ($400 million), which may account for the fact that she never found time to write a single academic article during her nine year tenure (2001-2009).

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Stephen Zunes and the Zionist Tinderbox

By Michael Barker

“[A]nti Zionism may be a ‘fool’s anti-imperialism,’ where Jewish nationalism itself is erroneously seen as the problem rather than the alliance its leaders have made with exploitative Western interests.”
Stephen Zunes, 2006.1

Who is Stephen Zunes? Well according to his web-site, he is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, who in 2002 won recognition from the Peace and Justice Studies Association as Peace Scholar of the Year. Although Zunes describes himself as a committed peace loving, anti-imperialist activist, by reviewing just one of his books this article will demonstrate that in actual fact his scholarly actions belie such intent. The book in question is Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Zed Books, 2003), a popular text that received glowing accolades  from Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, and Saul Landau (amongst others). This essay will illustrate how Zunes’ proclivity for defending Zionism ultimately leads hims to promote a “fool’s anti-imperialism.”

That is not to say that Zunes is uncritical of U.S. foreign policy, far from it, just that his work serves as a smokescreen for understanding the real drivers of U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East.

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Ghoshwood’s Mendacity

"Keeping Doors Open" (Photo: Jon Elmer)

by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Claire Chambers

Novelists Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood have accepted the Dan David prize at Tel Aviv University, an institution at the heart of Israel’s military-industrial complex. By doing so they have spurned Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on the Zionist state. Atwood has specifically ignored this wonderful open letter from the students of Gaza. The shared prize money amounts to a million dollars, of which 10 percent will be handed back to support Tel Aviv’s graduate students.

Of course it would be a mistake to expect writers to attain to higher moral standards or to to display more political intelligence than anyone else. Two things stick in the craw in this case, however. The first is that both Ghosh and Atwood have made names as ‘progressive’ and ‘postcolonial’ writers. We aren’t surprised when an openly-declared Zionist like Martin Amis visits Israel, but when writers who sell books on the basis of their opposition to oppression visit, the resultant hypocrisy is quite nauseating.

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