Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

How the Media See the Middle East (with a Fixer’s Cameo)


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On March 1 a discussion under the title ‘Media Perceptions of the Middle East’ took place at the University of Toronto. It was organized by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC). As with everything related to the Middle East, not only did the event provide insights and varying views, but it also caused an eruption of stormy passion among the participants, which made it even more interesting.

The four panellists included Michael Coren (Sun TV), Carole MacNeil (CBC), Jonathan Kay (National Post), and Tarek Fatah (journalist and radio talk show host), with Avi Benlolo, Presisdent of FSWC acting as a moderator.

 

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Left to right: Michael Coren, Carole MacNeil, Avi Benlolo, Jonathan Kay, Tarek Fatah

 

The discussion revolved around several questions posed by the moderator, and the first one covered:

IS THERE A MEDIA BIAS IN THE COVERAGE OF THE MIDDLE EAST (AND SPECIFICALLY ISRAEL)?

According to Michael Coren, before 1973 the coverage of Israel was very favourable, Israel could do no bad. Starting with the Yom Kippur War things changed and during the last 20 years, especially in Europe, it became much worse. Carole MacNeil added that when journalists cover the Middle East, they often don’t want to touch a story, because the reactions could be unpredictable and they’ll be intimidated. She often did coverage of stories from that area for CBC, but was never censored – there is no bias in CBC. Her impression is that people in Canada usually are willing to stand with Israel.

In Jonathan Kay’s opinion, media bias against Israel is not such a problem anymore. There are several reasons for that: first, the wide spread of the Internet, which made it very difficult for the media to hide or distort facts. Second, a turning point were the Jenin events of 2002, where in a battle 13 Israelis and 55 Palestinians were killed, yet that was misrepresented in Europe as a massacre with thousands of victims, but in reality it was just Palestinian propaganda, which was revealed quickly. Third, the issue with the suicide bombers – that type of terrorism is so repulsive that nobody can applaud them, even the most fanatical leftists have no other choice but to distance themselves. Fourth, the Arab Spring – since those ground-breaking events unfolded, they became a much better story for the media than the tired Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tarek Fatah provided a wider perspective, stating that we often forget that the Middle East is not only Israel and Palestine – it’s appalling how other peoples are ignored (like the Kurds). The Arab Spring was misrepresented by journalist who knew nothing about the area. For example, they ignored the black people who were mistreated in Libya (he didn’t mean the black “mercenaries”, but the native population – 10% of the Libyan population is black). There are many other cases of ignorance. Saudi Arabia and Iran, which play significant role, are ignored as well – the Iranian missiles, which target Ormuz, are the real story, not Israel and the Palestinians.

Here Avi Benlolo noted that the Toronto Star has a certain bias – they provided a very positive coverage of the Gaza flotilla last year.

Jonathan Kay then remarked that the Toronto Star might be biased, but they had reporters in Libya. Besides, their columnist Haroon Siddiqui is a representative of the mainstream Muslim ideas.

That was enough to stir up Tarek Fatah’s emotions: “Mainstream” is a terrible word to use about Haroon – he defends Saudi Arabia, Ahmadinejad, and sharia law. The Toronto Star is very biased, some people even call it “Toronto Crescent”. Just like The Globe and Mail, which employs two hijab columnists, they look to hire strange-looking and hostile Muslims in order not to be accused in racism.

(I was really shocked by Kay’s remark – reading the Toronto Star almost every day, I see absolutely no reason to call Siddiqui “mainstream”. On every issue he writes about, he finds a subtle or blatant way to attack Israel or the West and to show how much better Islam is. In his recent article against the defunding of Palestine House, he defended their “logo” showing the whole territory of Israel as Palestinian land:

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He even defended their celebration of the released terrorists in exchange for Corporal Shalit. And that’s just one article. Haroon is criticized overwhelmingly even by the Star’s lefty readership – often the paper turns off the comments under his articles.)

The second question discussed was:

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY NEWS ABOUT ISRAEL?

Carole agreed that the country receives a disproportionally high coverage compared to the size of its population. Among the many reasons are the constant threats against it, especially from Iran.

Michael Coren found a particular aspect that’s very important: Israel has a much more democratic way of treating journalists – they are allowed everywhere, except in areas with military secrets. Hezbollah, on the other hand, takes journalists to specific locations and tells them what to write. Many lefty college kids from the Western countries go to the West Bank to play heroes, because that is a safe area, where they don’t risk their lives (they would never go to Syria, where they can get killed).

Tarek Fatah pointed out at a very specific perspective – we often forget that Israel is attacked as a Jewish state; it is not even recognized by most Muslim countries as an independent state. Its situation is unique – for example, Iran wants to destroy it, no other country is in such position. Imagine if two European countries are in a similar situation – that would cause immediate outrage. That strange situation is reflected in Toronto Star’s anti-Israeli stand. The editorial content of the newspaper is appalling – they even romanticized the flotilla. (At this point Jonathan Kay whispered “Haroon!” to Tarek, apparently thinking it was a good joke.)

The next question covered

THE ISRAEL AND MIDDLE EAST SITUATION ON CAMPUS

Avi Benlolo started by noting that Israel is attacked in the universities as an apartheid state, which it is not, the comparison is absurd.

As a possible reason, Tarek Fatah stated that the supporters of Israel failed to affirm convincingly their point. There are many countries in the area, which are truly apartheid states. For example, in Saudi Arabia only Arabs can become citizens, while Pakistanis and blacks cannot and they are even mistreated. In Egypt, a Christian is not allowed to run for President. It’s wrong to single out Israel, while the countries with real apartheid problems are ignored.

Jonathan Kay added that this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will be the most unremarkable in memory – when people are dying in Syria, it doesn’t make sense to have that week. However, it will be bad to ban the IAW, because we live in a free country. Most of the participants in IAW are not anti-Semites; they are actually veteran anti-racists from the 1970’s. They want to recapture their lost moral purpose, so they go to Gaza.

(Again, I have to disagree with Jonathan. Downplaying the vitriolic hatred, which is displayed during IAW both by speakers and participants, as a misguided hippy moral quest, is not correct. Portraying IDF as a bunch of vicious killers in a poster they sold at the University of Toronto last year, is simply poorly veiled anti-Semitism:

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They even sold it at a premium price, because it was supposedly banned.)

Carole MacNeil then said that we should let the marketplace of ideas to decide what will happen. Michael Coren shot back right away – CBC doesn’t believe in marketplace of free ideas – in many of its programs the religious people are ridiculed. In his opinion, IAW is profoundly anti-intellectual. It doesn’t go into discussing the reality – the Israeli Arabs are part of Israel, it is absurd to compare Israel to South Africa. In the Haifa University about 30-35% of the students are Arabs, many with anti-Israeli sentiments. The real purpose of IAW is to create a climate of hostility and discomfort.

Then came the fourth question:

ARE THE JEWS THE GROUP THAT IS MOST TARGETED FOR HATE?

The participants went immediately into discussing hate speech. According to Tarek Fatah, when discussing hate and hate crime, we must have an open debate and not charge people with hate speech. Those people should be challenged openly in public.

Jonathan stated that the hate crimes against Jews are exaggerated – every little thing is reported and presented as a hate crime. In reality, Jews play a very important role in the universities – they have a good representation.

Michael Coren expressed his discomfort with the hate speech idea. For example the Mormons baptized Anne Frank – this is not strictly anti-Semitism. In Europe we have real attacks, conducted mostly by Muslims, while the rightists, who are often blackmailed, embrace Israel. IAW is not anti-Semitism, it’s an expression of a lack of empathy especially with the problems of Israel.

Then Avi Benlolo asked: why shouldn’t we consider the BDS movement anti-Semitic? In Michael Coren’s opinion, the people in that movement are radical minorities. There are not many Arabs, only aging white people.

THE “FIXER” INTERMISSION

After that the discussion drifted to the actual field coverage of the events in the Middle East. Somebody brought up the point that the limited budgets force the media to reduce the number of reporters. Carole MacNeil said that because of that the remaining journalists have to rely on local “fixers”. She obviously meant that those local people help in obtaining information about events.

At this point, Tarek Fatah expressed his displeasure with the term, saying that it implies an inferior position. Those people should be treated the same way as the Western journalists. Jonathan Kay tried to help out Carole by sharing an experience he had with a “fixer” in the West Bank. That Arab woman helped him arrange interviews with people, whom he would’ve never been able to see otherwise. On top of that, she had a souvenir shop in Ramallah, where JK spent over $500 on gifts and both of them were happy.

At this moment Tarek literally went ballistic – he said that both of them had a racist attitude toward the local people and Kay even treated his “fixer” like a pimp, because he paid her. Frankly, I wasn’t able to figure out the reason for his rage. Neither Carole, nor Jonathan had used the word in any racist context. In fact, if Tarek had the same reaction after Kay’s remarks about Haroon being “mainstream”, I would’ve supported him completely.

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Michael Coren and Tarek Fatah

 

Tarek got up and said he wanted to leave; he couldn’t stay with people expressing such outrageous views. Coren tried to stop him, but after a heated verbal exchange Tarek left. His daughter Natasha tried to explain to Jonathan why the talk about “fixers” is racist and “paternalistic” and to make him apologize, but frankly she wasn’t very convincing. Jonathan Kay didn’t apologize.

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The discussion heats up

 

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Tarek Fatah leaves the building

 

Due to that exciting experience, we lost 20 minutes of the discussion.

That lengthened the question and answer session. Many were deeply concerned with the danger coming from Iran. There were a few Muslim students, who after the discussion went straight to MC with the usual questions. I didn’t hear everything, but remember how one of them, standing next to me asked him why the 6 million Palestinians living in Israel and under occupation are not allowed to mark their “Nakba”. When did they multiply to such numbers?

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Michael Coren with the Muslim students

 

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The discussion continues

 

Overall, it was a nice discussion, even with the “fixer” incident – a nice exercise in free speech, which makes you feel good that we live in a country, which is still free.

 

© 2012 Blogwrath.com

Barry Rubin in Toronto

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Prof. Barry Rubin speaks at a Speakers Action Group event in Toronto

 

Thanks to the efforts of the Speakers Action Group last Friday we had the opportunity to listen to a remarkable speaker – Professor Barry Rubin. He is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA). He is also author of many books on the Middle East issues.

He started with the statement that a titanic battle is going on in the Arab countries and the Middle East, which became more visible with the recent revolutions in the area. There are three groups, which define the face of that battle – the first one is Al Qaida. Although it is often in the news, it is not
the most important one. Its importance has diminished in the last few years.

The second one, which is very important, is Iran and its alliance – Syria, Hezbollah, the Shia movements, etc. The third chief group is the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Despite of having been suppressed for years, now the movement is rising into a prominence.

Right now this is the most important struggle in the world, although most governments and the mainstream media don’t recognize that fact. An example of that blindness is the situation in Lebanon, where recently they formed a new government with 60% representation of the Muslim extremists from Hezbollah. The change was mentioned in New York Times, but with the remark that the movement is gaining “some influence” in the government.

The situation is not much better when they discuss Turkey – the creeping Islamism of the Prime Minister Erdogan is usually ignored and its potential consequences never analyzed.

Reality is often distorted – recently TIME magazine carried an article explaining how well the Christians are treated in Egypt.

The Islamists are definitely making advances, although in Prof. Rubin’s opinion, they will be eventually defeated.

The forces involved and the indifference of politicians and media create the background for the events that took place during the last six months. While everybody was praising the “Arab Spring”, the Muslim Brotherhood declared a war against the West. They openly said that the West will be defeated, because it is weak. With the prospect of gaining real political power, they will be able to put their threats into practice.

The first country we need to watch is Egypt. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Throws Israel onto the Train to Auschwitz

There was a time when Barack Hussein Obama looked like a wonderful guy ready to bring happiness and prosperity to everybody. It was in 2008 when he needed the support of every imaginable ethnic or political group, because the outcome of the upcoming presidential election wasn’t clear at all.

Jews were one of those groups. Trying to get their donations and political support, Obama was throwing at them generous promises for unconditional support of Israel, guarantees for the indivisibility of Jerusalem, lasting peace, fair to all sides, etc. etc.

Of course, even then there were lonely voices, which doubted his rhetoric and pointed out his lack of principles. After all, he spent years at the church of
the racist Jeremiah Wright, he got and endorsement from the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and he counted a former Marxist terrorist among his friends.

But the desire to have the first politically correct black President blurred the vision of the US voters. And now they are paying for that. It’s not only the horribly mismanaged economy, forced to pay for unsustainable programs, it’s also the disastrous foreign policy.

Case in point is Obama’s Mideast speech this week.  It was strange, to say the least – all those promises to Israel and the Jews made in 2008 are gone. He paints a picture of the Middle East, its problems and their solutions, which is in a striking dissonance with reality.

Obviously, he is urged to react to the so-called “Arab Spring” in a way that would please the “revolutionary masses”. After praising what happened over there as the best thing since the sliced bread, he mentions what measures we need to see applied in those countries:

“We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.”

Is this some kind of dark humour? Free speech and freedom of religion are totally incompatible with the Muslim tradition. The people of Egypt overwhelmingly support the death penalty for apostasy and total sharia control. The only country where those values were applied to certain extend was Turkey and only because Ataturk practically banished Islam from public life. However, the Islamist government of Erdogan is working very hard to “correct” the situation.

Then Obama makes sure that the previous paragraph shouldn’t be taken too seriously. America need not interfere too much, in fact it must stay in the shadows while allowing the Islamists to do whatever they want: Read the rest of this entry »

The Legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane

In November of this year we will mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York. The fact that he is not forgotten and that his life and work still produce strong emotions of admiration in his supporters and hatred in his enemies is a testimony to the power of his personality.

JDL-Canada organized a memorial in his honour on October 26. It began with a prayer for Rabbi Kahane and a reading of quotes from his speeches and writings, which are still relevant. He had a simple message that was rooted in reality, he believed that Israel should remain a Jewish state in order to survive.

In an emotional presentation, Meir Weinstein, the National Director of JDL-Canada, summarized the work of Rabbi Kahane. He created the Jewish Defence League, which with its practical work has contributed to the Jewish cause more than many other personalities and organizations (like the Nazi hunters for example). In the early years of Israel, the young Jews knew what they were fighting for. Later, other people thought that they would have a better chance if they try to achieve Israel’s goals through diplomacy. Because of that, Kahane was ostracized, his road was lonely, but later the reality showed that it was the true road.

meir-weinstein-kahane-memorial-toronto Read the rest of this entry »

The Lost Facts on the Middle East Conflict

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Salomon Benzimra and Goldi Steiner

The tiny piece of land where modern Israel is located is one of the most disputed territories in the world. From the late Roman Empire through the crusades in the Middle Ages to the modern-day conflicts, dozens of different countries, movements and religions had clash in order to take control over it.

It is nearly impossible for a side observer to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Due to the ill political will of many sites involved in those conflicts, it is hard to dig out the truth hidden in obscure documents and forgotten meetings and conferences. This thankless task has been pursued for years by Salomon Benzimra, a tireless researcher whose new presentation titled Restoring Factual Evidence in the Middle East Conflict, took place at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (Toronto) on October 25, 2010.

It was an event organized by Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights (CILR) founded by Goldi Steiner, who was also present. The hall was fully packed with listeners eager to hear the truth on the Middle East. Read the rest of this entry »