Archive for April, 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day in Geneva

In an incident of immaculate timing, the Holocaust-denying president of Iran Mahmud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at the UN headquarters in Geneva, at the eve of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day — as well as Hitler’s 120th birthday. Mr. Ahmadinejad and delegates from many other countries are in Switzerland to attend the controversial and widely condemned conference Durban II.

In the past, Mr. Ahmadinejad has on many occasions denied the Holocaust and called for the destruction of Israel. This time around, he used the forum of the UN anti-racism conference to once again spread his message of racism.

To his credit, the Swedish delegate joined his EU colleagues at the conference when they stood up and walked out in reaction to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s latest installment in his seemingly endless diatribe.

The Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, stayed in the hall. However, he took advantage of the fact that he spoke immediately following Mr. Ahmadinejad, and criticized the Iranian president for spreading “hatred, fear and intolerance”.

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April 20, 2009 at 15:47 1 comment

BBC Biased Too

Not only Swedish media is criticized for its anti-Israeli bias. The BBC Trust has criticized the news corporation’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, for not having lived up to the BBC standards of impartiality and acuracy. The Trust said that Bowen had been in breach of the BBC standards when claiming that Zionism is expansionist, that Israel defies all understanding of international law except its own, and that the US views Har Homa in Jerusalem as an illegal settlement.

The decision of the BBC Trust met with criticism from BBC reporters. Interestingly enough, however, they didn’t comment on the findings of the Trust, but rather thought that this kind of public criticism would undermine the public’s trust in the BBC. All according to this report in the Independent.

It might also be of interest to note a small detail in the article from the Independent. Adel Darwish, the political editor of The Middle East Magazine Group, is asked to comment on the results of the BBC Trust inquiry. His conclusion is: 

“He [Bowen] will be falsely applauded by the left-wing organisations, the Arabs and the anti-American groups. But on the other hand he will be seen as a villain by the pro-Israeli lobby who have a view that the BBC is biased against them.”

I suppose it could be a coincidence, but why are the anti-Americans called groups, but the pro-Israelis a lobby?

April 18, 2009 at 17:14 1 comment

New Study: Swedish Press Failed in Gaza

Roland Poirier Martinsson is a philosopher and the head of the media institute at the Swedish think tank Timbro. RPM got his Ph.D. in theoretical philosophy at Lund University (where yours truely incidentally was his student at an eye-opening summer course some ten years ago).

RPM recently published a report on how the Swedish press handled the coverage of Operation Cast Lead. He has analyzed the news coverage of the four national newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Aftonbladet, and concludes that they failed to live up to their own professional standards in their reporting on the war in Gaza.

RPM’s low-key and logically stringent criticism focuses on three points. First of all, the papers (with the exception of DN) failed in providing any explanation for the Israeli attack — instead making it seem as if an irrational and brutal war machine unleashed its fury on innocent civilians. Secondly, RPM criticizes the way the papers treat the issue of war crimes. He points out that the only case of war crime that was beyond any doubt — and even confessed, proudly, by those who committed it — even before the start of the operation, was the continuous Hamas shelling of Israeli civilians in the south. However, nearly all discussions on war crimes in the press focused on Israeli actions. Thirdly, the greater narrative into which the reporting was placed, was over all the Palestinian narrative of a poor, downtrodden people, victim of an aggressive colonial power.

RPM is careful to point out that he doesn’t claim that the coverage in these four papers was erroneous. He doesn’t know. The point is, however, that neither did the people who decided to publish. Nonetheless, they followed a publishing pattern that lead them in a consistent anti-Israeli direction. Even though there are very few examples where individual articles step over the line of what can be described as honest reporting, RPM stresses that the over-all coverage creates a picture that’s highly problematic.

The report was launched at a seminar, where the editors of Expressen, Thomas Mattsson, and of Aftonbladet, Jen Helin, participated in a discussion about RPM’s findings. Though the two editors agreed that the operation possibly should have been provided with a wider context, both of them defended their respective papers and their coverage.  

In my view, their defense only reinforced the criticism put forward by RPM. For instance, both Mr. Helin and Mr. Mattsson seem to take Palestinian sources from Gaza at face value, whereas Israeli sources are treated with the professional skepticism that is called for in these situations. One example that springs to my mind is when Mr. Helin from Aftonbladet, during the discussion, claimed that the IDF would have used white phosphorus in an illegal manner during the fighting. He does this even though he knows by now, not least since it’s pointed out by RPM in his report, that this is an unsubstantiated rumor questioned even by the International Red Cross.

In an interesting remark, Mr. Helin defended why his paper — Aftonbladet — wrote so little about Hamas’ role in the escalation of the conflict. He said that it’s obvious that Hamas is a terror organization that commits war crimes. Therefore it doesn’t have to be reported (ca 21:30 into the broadcast). He also delivered the most noteworthy remark of the discussion, when he questioned RPM for wanting the press to contextualize the conflict in the first place. Some 34:30 into the broadcast, he said that “if it becomes so incredibly important for you to explain why one sends an army against someone who shoots rockets, then you want something with your reporting”, implying that attempts to explain or contextualize is in fact justifications and attempts at pro-Israeli apologetics.

RPM’s report is available on the internet and can be downloaded free of charge here. The discussion at the launch is also available on the internet, and can be watched here.

So far, Svenska Dagbladet has written about the publication of the report, and the editor-in-chief at Expressen, Thomas Mattsson, comments on the seminar.

My own earlier survey of the op-ed coverage of Cast Lead can be read here.

April 16, 2009 at 06:42 Leave a comment

On the Way to the Maimuna

Pesach is over.

Of course it was a lot of fun, and we all enjoyed the badly needed vacation, but nonetheless a collective sigh of relief rises from the house of Israel when we sink our teeth into the first freshly baked post-Passover pita or steaming hot pizza slice, straight from the oven.

It’s funny how this holiday has a serious problem with its focus. I mean, isn’t it supposed to be all about the Exodus from Egypt? So how come everybody seems so obsessed with the provisions? You only have to raid the internet to find plenty of examples of this phenomenon, such as this clip, and this one.

Personally — for the first time ever — I actually managed to calculate my matzah consumption in such a masterly way, that I ran out of the stuff when the holiday ended. For those of you whose planning wasn’t quite as spot-on, I can recommend this musical tip that would make both Martha Stuart and Odetta jealous.

April 15, 2009 at 17:20 Leave a comment

On Editoral Ethics

Editors have a lot of hidden power.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah learned this the hard way. He was a great scholar of his time — in fact of all times — and his opinion was held in high esteem among his sagely colleagues in the Talmud. As a young rabbi, he was even granted the high office of patriarch for a short while, and when he died, it was said that “With the death of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was removed the crown of the sages”. (Sotah 49b)

Nonetheless, we all remember him as the guy who got Ben Zoma wrong, because once — no doubt drowsy after a long night without sleep in the company of rabbi Eliezer, rabbi Akiva and rabbi Tarfon — he didn’t keep his mouth shut, and he rendered an interpretation of Ben Zoma that the sages disagreed with.

No big deal, one could think — this happens all the time in the Talmud, which is filled with arguments and disagreements.

True, but the problem is that this one quote — a mere 50 words — made it into the Passover Haggadah. Thus it’s one of the few Talmudic passages that most people ever read, and Eleazar comes out as a shmuck, dissed by the sages of blessed memory.

Once again we’re reminded of the media’s power to manipulate people’s images.

If she’s got one, I’m sure Eleazar ben Azariah is the Dutchess of Cornwall’s favorite Talmudic sage.

April 10, 2009 at 15:52 Leave a comment

Now Also in Jerusalem

Everyone wants to live in Tel Aviv.

Some embittered Jerusalemites still deny this, and argue with a vehemence that would almost be convincing — if the denial itself hadn’t been so absurd. One of the reasons they mention for resisting the song of the siren — besides the choking humidity and the ever-present cockroaches — is the problem of finding parking. Admittedly, finding a place to park your car in the White City is a nightmare, but few would argue that it’s a reason to move to Jerusalem. (Or Dimona — I hear there’s plenty of parking in Dimona.)

In any case, now it seems that the curse of finding parking has caught up with parts of the population in the Holy City as well.

Next year in Tel Aviv.

April 7, 2009 at 07:01 2 comments

Congratulations!

Last night, the official ceremony marking the celebrations of Tel Aviv’s centennial year was held at Rabin Square.

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If you missed it, you’ll have another chance — in 2109.

April 5, 2009 at 19:47 Leave a comment

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