Sunday, October 19, 2014

I endorse Jerako Biaje for Toronto School Board Trustee in Ward 5, York Centre

Jerako Biaje
As I noted in an earlier post (here), the Toronto District School Board has a well-deserved reputation as the most dysfunctional school board in Canada. We need to vote out the incumbents who have made such a mess of things.

In School Board Ward 5 (York Centre), I endorse Jerako Biaje. Of all the candidates running to replace our current incompetent Trustee, she looks like far the best.

Here’s where Jerako stands on the issues:

Hi Brian,

Re. Consolidating Half Empty Schools and Closing the Emptiest Schools:
I am willing to consolidate half-empty schools and close the emptiest ones. I would hope that the parents and residents in Ward 5 share that view. However, my job will be to represent you/Ward 5. As a side note: I hold a strong position against selling TDSB owned property.

Re. Curriculum:
Yes, I have already turned a skeptical eye on social justice classes as well as working to get the politics out of schools. I have grave concerns regarding the curriculum. Prior to leaving the Board's Parent Involvement Advisory Committee, we were gaining momentum on our Curriculum Committee on this issue. Working to get politics out of our schools is a must!

Re. Budget:
I am going to be the Board’s nightmare regarding the budget. The budget will be held up like a mirror – I am a vigilante. I know who the main perpetrators are regarding the people who have completely disregarded and disrespected their fiscal responsibility. Hold me accountable, too.

My job will be to represent you and the rest of Ward 5. I will bring the items from the Board back to parents and residents for their vote (by way of Ward council meeting/email/newsletter). If for some reason we do not share the same position I will represent your position, that is my job.

I hope these answers have been helpful.

Thank you,

Visit her Jerako’s Facebook page here and her Twitter page here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I support Richard Klagsbrun for school trustee in Ward 10, Trinity-spadina

Richard Klagsbrun
The Toronto School Board has a well-deserved reputation as the most dysfunctional school board in Canada.

The Board faces a huge crisis of declining enrollment and empty schools – which it does nothing about.

While unable to provide decent facilities for our kids, the Board wastes huge sums of money. For a glimpse of how awful financial controls are at the Board, start here.

And while it’s utterly incompetent when it comes to the basics, the Board spends time promoting far left politics and sees no problem with indoctrinating our kids. {For more on this, see here, here, here … for starters.}

With elections for School Board Trustees coming up in a couple weeks, we have a chance to do something about this dismal state of affairs. In Ward 10, Richard Klagsbrun is running for school trustee on a campaign of better financial management and less political indoctrination.

Moreover, as the man behind the well-known blog, Eye on a Crazy Planet, Richard has the track record to prove his long-standing interest in the issues. He has my support. Check out Richard's campaign website here.

Ausma Malik speaking at antisemitic al-Quds Day Rally in Toronto,
with yellow flag of Hezbollah terrorist group in background
What’s more, Richard’s main opponent in the election is Ausma Malik a woman best known for her sympathy for terrorists. No I’m not kidding. Read more here.

Unfortunately, Malik is a strong contender. The unions believe they’ll always have her vote so they’re supporting her (see here) and she’s received endorsements from the downtown NDP establishment, including mayoral candidate Olivia Chow. I trust Chow simply didn’t bother to check Ausuma’s background before endorsing her, but now that it’s come out, I can’t help noticing that Chow is sticking by her support for this terrorist sympathizer.

Ah well, after starting as the front runner, Chow is now in third place, well behind Doug Ford in the polls and so far behind John Tory that media should start classifying her as one of the many fringe candidates. Indeed, now that she's supporting Malik, maybe Chow will actually end up with a vote count that has to be tallied with negative numbers.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Olivia Chow and other candidates for Toronto City Council and for the Toronto School Board are fully owned by unions

John Tory ~ in favour of saving another $11 million per year for Toronto citizens, even if it upsets the unions

The problem with Olivia Chow is that she’s against hiring out garbage collection to the private sector. More exactly the problem is the reason she’s against it.

As it stands, a private company collects the garbage on the west side of the city, while on the east side, city workers still collect the garbage. Giving the work to a private company on the west side is saving the city $11 million dollars a year. What’s more, service isn’t merely as good; it’s better.

Naturally (almost) everyone running for mayor wants to extend private garbage collection to the east side, too. John Tory and Doug Ford both consider the question a no-brainer. As far as I can tell so does every other mayoral candidate – except Olivia Chow.

Chow says she wants to encourage diversity in our garbage collection (whatever that means). Everyone knows it’s really because the city garbage collectors are unionized. And when it comes down to it, Chow sides with the unions – even if it’s against the interests of the people of Toronto.

I have nothing against unions. I’m a union member myself. But I want my mayor, my city councillors and my school board representatives to be on my side. I want them looking out for my tax dollars and making sure the city gets the best deal possible.

Unfortunately, Olivia Chow is not on my side. And I understand why. She believes in unions, and in return, the unions believe in her. What’s more, the unions show their support with money and manpower – and lots of it.

The unions have helped Chow immensely in every political battle she’s ever fought.

Chow isn’t the only would-be member of city council who sides with the unions more than with the people of Toronto. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has provided a convenient list of would-be Toronto councillors and would-be school board representatives who they can rely on to always vote in favour of union positions and, if necessary, to vote against the interests of the people of Toronto.

If you want the city and the school board to pay millions more than necessary for worse work, then vote for the following candidates…

Union endorsed candidates for City Councillor:

Ward 1 (Etobicoke North): Idil Burale

Ward 2 (Etobicoke North):Andray Domise

Ward 6 (Etobicoke Lakeshore): Russ Ford

Ward 7 (York West): Keegan Henry-Mathieu

Ward 8 (York West): Anthony Perruzza

Ward 9 (York West): Maria Augimeri

Ward 12 (York South Weston): Lekan Olawoye

Ward 13 (Parkdale High Park): Sarah Doucette

Ward 14 (Parkdale High Park): Gord Perks

Ward 17 (Davenport): Alejandra Bravo

Ward 18 (Davenport): Ana Bail√£o

Ward 19 (Trinity Spadina):  Mike Layton

Ward 20 (Trinity Spadina): Joe Cressy

Ward 21 (St. Paul’s): Joe Mihevc

Ward 24 (Willowdale): Dan Fox

Ward 26 (Don Valley West): David Sparrow

Ward 27 (Toronto Centre Rosedale):  Kristyn Wong-Tam

Ward 28 (Toronto Centre Rosedale): Pam McConnell

Ward 29 (Toronto Daforth): Mary Fragedakis

Union endorsed candidates for the Toronto District School Board:

Ward 5 – York Centre: Howard Kaplan

Ward 7 – Parkdale High Park: Robin Pilkey

Ward 8 – Eglinton Lawrence: Jennifer Arp

Ward 10 Trinity Spadina: Ausma Malik

Ward 14 Toronto Centre Rosedale: Chris Moise

Ward 17 Don Valley East: Robert Cerjanec

Ward 18 Scarborough Southwest: Parthi Kandavel

Ward 20 Scarborough Agincourt: Manna Wong

Ward 21 Scarborough Rouge River: Shaun Chen

Ward 4 North York: Marina Laccona

Ward 5 North York: Maria Rizzo

Ward 12 Scarborough: Paulina Corpuz

Town of Georgina Ward 3: Dave Neeson

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review of Fields of Exile by Nora Gold

Nora Gold
Dundurn Press (2014), 424 pages, E-book $9.99, Trade Paperback $24.99, available here.

Fields of Exile is a portrait of love and hate. The heroine, Judith, loves Israel. And the book’s finest writing details that love in beautiful, sensual prose. But after ten sweet years in the arms of her beloved land, Judith returns to Canada and enrolls in a Master’s of Social Work program. And there she encounters hatred.

It’s a hatred that Jews with leftist friends or who have had the misfortune to be on campus since the launch of the Palestinian terror war against Israel in September 2000 will recognize: it’s the 21st Century manifestation of Jew-hatred.

Personally, I’ve been called a Nazi while wearing a kippa when I was at a party with leftist friends. To be precise, because I was visibly Jewish that day, I was asked if I was a Zionist.

I thought it a weird question, like asking someone if they’re a suffragette, if they believe women should have the vote. Doesn’t everybody? Wasn’t that question already decided?

Am I a Zionist? Do I think Jews should have their own country? Again, wasn’t that question already decided? Israel exists, right? So, yeah, I said, of course I’m a Zionist. Well then, I was told, you’re a Nazi.

According to a remarkable number of self-described “progressives,” Israel is the epitome of earthly evil and should cease to exist. Such progressive aren’t particular about what should happen to the Jews who live there, either – or to Jews who have the nerve to call themselves Zionists.

This is the re-born hatred that Judith walks into when she enrolls in a Master’s program at a fictional university near Toronto. As a reader, I found her achingly naive. Judith finds it normal for an academic department to have a declared political agenda. Her university was already like that ten years earlier when she took her BSW.

She does feel uneasy when one student dares to dissent from the ruling ideology of “anti-oppression.” The pack turns on this hapless student who declares an opposition to abortion. She’s ridiculed, humiliated, torn to shreds by her enlightened comrades.

Not that Judith agrees with this anti-abortion student. Judith is herself a child of the left. In Israel, she did good work building bridges between Israeli and Palestinian youths, and she is among a handful of Israelis who still believes in the peace movement. This, after Israel’s supposed peace partner responded to two comprehensive peace proposals with a campaign of suicide bombings.

While Palestinian terrorists blow up seniors at aPassover seder and murder teenagers at an all-ages disco, Judith and her friends stand in front of the Israeli prime minister’s office to protest against their own government.

But they are not so deluded as to admire the terrorists – unlike the students Judith finds in Canada, who do idolize terrorists and figure Israelis are getting what they deserve.

For me, the great strength of this novel is Nora Gold’s spot on portrayal of the shock of encountering antisemitism, the dizzying dismay of finding that howling hateful horde even here in Canada.

On the other side of the ledger, though, I think the novel wastes too many words on Judith’s ruminations about Jews in exile versus Jews in Israel. I don’t see this as much of an issue in the Jewish community and it’s of even less interest to the wider public.

Pr0-Palestinian thug assaults Israel supporter at protest
Also, Gold invents a new Palestinian terror group, which massacres a group of children in a bombing attack. I have a queasy feeling that Gold isn't sure she can trust readers to be outraged by Hamas or the other terrorist groups operating in Israel and so felt she had to invent a group that’s even worse.

In a similar vein, Gold’s anti-Israel activists tend to slide into outright antisemitism in obvious ways. But this is a substantial novel. With close to 130,000 words to work with, Gold could have exposed more subtle varieties of hatred.

Still, her book couldn’t be more timely. During the recent Hamas–Israel war, we saw the president of York University’s student federation idolizing one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists, posting photos and quotes on his Facebook page. Meanwhile, on its Facebook page, York’s anti-Israel apartheid group posted an interview with a Gaza-based terrorist. This, unfortunately, was no surprise as the apartheid group regularly features terrorists and their supporters at its anti-Israel events.

Even worse, we’ve seen Jews physically assaulted, with Jews punched and kicked and one Calgary man dragged across the street by an Israeli flag tied around his neck.

To be sure, the haters are few in number, but they can’t be ignored. Nora Gold is affiliated with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), which like the fictional university in her novel, is committed to an "anti-oppression" ideology and is one of the centres of the new antisemitism. So her novel is something of an insider’s view of the hatred that infects our campuses. For anyone interested in what's happening on our campuses and in what the leaders and teachers of tomorrow are being taught, it's a must read.

A slightly shorter version of this review was published in the Jewish Tribune.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Palestinian Authority president says Hamas executed 120 Palestinians

Hamas operative in Gaza
The Palestinian factions continue their usual cordial relations. From the Washington Free Beacon, by Abraham Rabinovich
JERUSALEM—In a scathing criticism of Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ridiculed the organization’s claims of victory in the recent confrontation with Israel and accused it over the weekend of executing 120 Gaza residents for breaching a curfew during the war, an allegation heretofore not heard publicly. 
Referring to Hamas’ boast at the end of the 50-day war that it was “allowing Israelis to return to their homes,” he noted that 400,000 Gazans had been left homeless by the war. “Who will return Gaza’s residents to their homes,” he asked sarcastically. Although 4,000 rockets had been fired into Israel, he noted, only three persons had been killed. 
He asked how Hamas could have been surprised by Israel’s military response after having abducted and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then firing rockets into Israel. 
Abbas has previously condemned Hamas for publicly executing alleged informers for Israel during the war (the numbers given range from 27 to 38 executions) without trial. In a meeting with journalists in Cairo Saturday night, he said “Hamas also conducted atrocities at the war’s end when it executed 120 people without trial because they breached the curfew.” 
The Palestinian Authority signed an agreement with Hamas several months ago to form a national unity “technocratic” government that would end seven years of rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza. 

This isn’t the first time Fatah members have blasted Hamas since the end of Hamas’s recent war against Israel.

On August 30, the Fatah Central Committee accused Hamas of targeting Fatah members in Gaza during the war and of stealing humanitarian aid. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The statement said Hamas placed more than 300 Fatah members under house arrest, exposing them to Israeli air strikes. 
Other Fatah members were kept in Hamas prisons during the war, which also endangered their lives, the statement said.
Fatah said it preferred to remain silent toward the Hamas “crimes” during the war out of keenness to preserve Palestinian unity. 
Fatah also accused Hamas of confiscating food and medicine sent to the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and other countries. It said Hamas distributed the aid among its men in mosques and sold some of it in the black market.

But Abbas’s big problem with Hamas is that the Shin Bet recently uncovered a Hamas plot to overthrow him in the West Bank – repeating their 2007 coup against Fatah in Gaza.

According to the Jerusalem Post:
A large-scale Hamas terrorist formation in the West Bank and Jerusalem planned to destabilize the region through a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel and then topple the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Monday. 
The Shin Bet announcement was a follow to The Jerusalem Postfirst exclusively breaking the story regarding the busting and indicting of Hamas's West Bank leader, dozens of his operatives and a massive plot to recreate Hamas's West Bank infrastructure on August 7.

The plot was orchestrated by overseas Hamas operatives headquartered in Turkey and centered on a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet added.

The end goal was to destabilize the Palestinian territories and use the instability to carry out a military coup, overthrowing the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The plot was orchestrated by overseas Hamas operatives headquartered in Turkey and centered on a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet added. 
The end goal was to destabilize the Palestinian territories and use the instability to carry out a military coup, overthrowing the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. 
The plot was orchestrated by overseas Hamas operatives headquartered in Turkey and centered on a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet added. 
The end goal was to destabilize the Palestinian territories and use the instability to carry out a military coup, overthrowing the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Understandably, Abbas has been pretty pissed off at Hamas ever since the Shin Bet shared its evidence of this plot. But really, no serious observer of Palestinian politics ever placed much faith in the supposed Fatah-Hamas unity deal to start with.  

For starters, there’s no realistic hope for stability when each Palestinian political party has its own army. Indeed, the last “unity government” with Fatah and Hamas ended with Hamas’s bloody 2007 coup in Gaza. As Time magazine reported, back on June 12, 2007:

Hamas and Fatah may have passed the point of no return: The unprecedented viciousness of the renewed fighting between the rival Palestinian factions in Gaza makes any new cease-fire difficult to envisage; this time, it may be a fight to the death. 
Since the new clashes erupted on Sunday, gangs have tossed their enemies alive off 15-story buildings, shot down one another's children, and burst into hospitals to finish off wounded foes lying helplessly in bed. The revenge motive alone could now be enough to sustain the civil war. 
The fighters of Hamas are better organized and motivated than those of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization, and by the second day of fighting they had seized the advantage, flushing Fatah militants out of security posts and installations throughout the Gaza Strip. Doctors reported that in the last 24 hours, 21 Palestinians have been killed and another 120 wounded in the fighting. 
Both Hamas and Fatah have vowed to kill each other's political and military leaders, and have tried to do so with a vengance. Twice in the past 48 hours, Fatah members shelled the home of Hamas leader and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh. He and his family were unhurt. 
It did not help the morale of Fatah gunmen that their senior commander, Mohammed Dahlan — a sharp-suited favorite of the Israelis and the U.S. — slipped out of Gaza as soon as the fighting started. Soon afterwards, Hamas members cornered a top Dahlan commander, Jamal Abud a-Jediyan, near his home and pumped 45 bullets into him. One Fatah officer, Colonel Nasser Khaldi, contacted by a news agency, complained: "There is a weakness of our leaders. Hamas is just taking over our positions. There are no orders." 
Meanwhile, President Abbas, who remains a safe distance away from the fury of Gaza at his fortress home in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has accused Hamas — his partner in a short-lived unity government — of trying to stage a coup. 
And within a couple days of this report, it became clear Hamas was not just trying; it succeeded in overthrowing Fatah in Gaza. And everyone who knows anything about Palestinian politics, knows that, given the chance, Hamas will take over the West Bank the same way.

Monday, September 1, 2014

An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

This is a long article and I don't agree with all of it, but it's the best piece about the reporting of the Israeli-Arab conflict that I've read in years

A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so wrong, and why it matters
The Israel Story
Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed g√©nocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.
When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.
The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.
While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. The key to understanding the strange nature of the response is thus to be found in the practice of journalism, and specifically in a severe malfunction that is occurring in that profession—my profession—here in Israel.
In this essay I will try to provide a few tools to make sense of the news from Israel. I acquired these tools as an insider: Between 2006 and the end of 2011 I was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s two biggest news providers. I have lived in Israel since 1995 and have been reporting on it since 1997.
This essay is not an exhaustive survey of the sins of the international media, a conservative polemic, or a defense of Israeli policies. (I am a believer in the importance of the “mainstream” media, a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.) It necessarily involves some generalizations. I will first outline the central tropes of the international media’s Israel story—a story on which there is surprisingly little variation among mainstream outlets, and one which is, as the word “story” suggests, a narrative construct that is largely fiction. I will then note the broader historical context of the way Israel has come to be discussed and explain why I believe it to be a matter of concern not only for people preoccupied with Jewish affairs. I will try to keep it brief.
How Important Is the Israel Story?
Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.
To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.
The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.
News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.
What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.
Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)
Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society—proposed legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation, and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.
The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel’s destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP, though Hamas won a Palestinian national election and had become one of the region’s most important players. To draw the link with this summer’s events: An observer might think Hamas’ decision in recent years to construct a military infrastructure beneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure would be deemed newsworthy, if only because of what it meant about the way the next conflict would be fought and the cost to innocent people. But that is not the case. The Hamas emplacements were not important in themselves, and were therefore ignored. What was important was the Israeli decision to attack them.
There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)
But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there: under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources. Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.
The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk, and many don’t speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don’t need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the simple story they have been sent to tell.
It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy, peripheral, and newly arrived players—a Finn, an Indian crew, a few others. These poor souls didn’t get the memo.
What Else Isn’t Important?
The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.
Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.
This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.
How Is the Israel Story Framed?
The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps “Israel-Muslim” would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term “Palestinian” was in use.
The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.
A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in Israel, just as Hezbollah is the dominant representative of radical Islam in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth.
Hamas is not, as it freely admits, party to the effort to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has different goals about which it is quite open and that are similar to those of the groups listed above. Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise. That’s one accurate way to frame the story.
An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.
There are, in other words, many different ways to see what is happening here. Jerusalem is less than a day’s drive from Aleppo or Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to anything else. Instead of describing Israel as one of the villages abutting the volcano, they describe Israel as the volcano.
The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the “Israel” of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.
The Old Blank Screen
For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was their role in Christian tradition—the only reason European society knew or cared about them in the first place.
Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned—and I’m not alone this summer—is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.
When the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, journalists, cover the Jews’ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers—whether they intend to or not—is that Jews are the worst people on earth. The Jews are a symbol of the evils that civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor. International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.
Some readers might remember that Britain participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fallout from which has now killed more than three times the number of people ever killed in the Israel-Arab conflict; yet in Britain, protesters furiously condemn Jewish militarism. White people in London and Paris whose parents not long ago had themselves fanned by dark people in the sitting rooms of Rangoon or Algiers condemn Jewish “colonialism.” Americans who live in places called “Manhattan” or “Seattle” condemn Jews for displacing the native people of Palestine. Russian reporters condemn Israel’s brutal military tactics. Belgian reporters condemn Israel’s treatment of Africans. When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news consumers could read about Israel “segregating buses.” And there are a lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing the Jews accused of genocide.
You don’t need to be a history professor, or a psychiatrist, to understand what’s going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle East have become what their grandparents were—the pool into which the world spits. The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country. The tool through which this psychological projection is executed is the international press.
Who Cares If the World Gets the Israel Story Wrong?
Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.
Whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain
And there was the Spanish civil war: “Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. … I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’ ” That was George Orwell, writing in 1942.
Orwell did not step off an airplane in Catalonia, stand next to a Republican cannon, and have himself filmed while confidently repeating what everyone else was saying or describing what any fool could see: weaponry, rubble, bodies. He looked beyond the ideological fantasies of his peers and knew that what was important was not necessarily visible. Spain, he understood, was not really about Spain at all—it was about a clash of totalitarian systems, German and Russian. He knew he was witnessing a threat to European civilization, and he wrote that, and he was right.
Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer means understanding Hezbollah in Lebanon, the rise of the Sunni jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and the long tentacles of Iran. It requires figuring out why countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see themselves as closer to Israel than to Hamas. Above all, it requires us to understand what is clear to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.
Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier. It should be reported as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion. Israel is not one of the most important stories in the world, or even in the Middle East; whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain. Israel is a speck on the map—a sideshow that happens to carry an unusual emotional charge.
Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality. They may convince themselves that all of this is the Jews’ problem, and indeed the Jews’ fault. But journalists engage in these fantasies at the cost of their credibility and that of their profession. And, as Orwell would tell us, the world entertains fantasies at its peril.