Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

An open letter to Larry Derfner

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About Maurice Ostroff
From Maurice Ostroff                                       
September 1, 2007

Dear Larry,
"God's Warriors"
Your article "2.5 cheers for CNN" (Jerusalem Post Aug. 29, 2007)

We have exchanged views before and I hope you will accept the following comments in the constructive spirit intended as you did in the past.
 
As I am one of those you harshly criticized for our efforts to correct the dangerous misconceptions created in Christanne Amanpour's six-hour documentary, I cannot allow your accusations to go unanswered.
 
While you may get away with labeling us "self-declared advocates for Israel who say they want objectivity in journalism", your allegation that our "idea of objectivity is what more genuinely objective observers would call "pro-Israel spin" is way out.
 
By objectivity we "self-declared advocates" mean that honest journalism must avoid irrational arguments. Opinions should be based on credible information and not be disguised as facts. And readers should not be misled by presenting information out of context. The "God's Warriors" documentary violates all these criteria.
 
For example, although they had no relevance whatsoever to the religious fervor which the documentary purported to explain, Amanpour proffered free advertising segments to former President Carter and Professor Mearsheimer to promote their blatantly anti-Israel books, and their cabal of a pernicious Jewish Lobby.  As both personalities have been publicly criticized for blatant errors, there was an obvious lapse in journalistic integrity by the total absence of any balancing views by someone like Alan Dershowitz for example.

The Jewish Lobby cannot be discussed rationally as an isolated phenomenon. Objectivity requires that it be discussed in the context of very many diverse influential lobbies, including for example, the ACLU and the very powerful, well-funded Arab lobbies that are part of the Washington scene.

You write about right-wing Jewish complaints that "God's Warriors" sets up a moral equivalency between Muslim terror and Jewish terror. Do you consider this equivalency justifiable? And why do you imagine that the complaints emanate from right-wingers only? As my political views on social justice are left of center, there is no logic in labeling me a right-winger merely because I disagree with Amanpour's equating of Islamic fundamentalist terror with Jewish terror.
 
Amanpour creates the dangerous impression that enthusiastic, or even zealous devotion to Judaism or Christianity is as serious a threat as Islamic fundamentalist violence. That this is her viewpoint is confirmed by her responses to comments posted on the CNN web site. In response to a respondent who wrote that she believes we are watching an imminent "perfect storm" of global holy war, Amanpour replied that she does not see it. This despite 9/11 and  Ahmadenijad's threats to annihilate Israel. And despite the prominent editor of an Arabic daily newspaper in London announcing publicly that he would "dance in Trafalgar Square if Iranian missiles hit Israel."
 
That Amanpour's message is that there is no difference between Jewish, Muslim and Christian Warriors and that the Moral Majority and Evangelists are as dangerous as Islamic Fundamentalists was again confirmed in another reply to the same respondent. Amanpour wrote that as long as people believe that only their holy book [Koran, Torah or Bible] or only their holy word matters and is relevant, then there will be no solution. (Words in parenthesis are mine).
 
Larry, do you not agree that, by equating Fundamentalist violence with non-violent religious movements, this widely viewed documentary diverts attention from the real threat of Jihad?
 
Have you not noticed that the entire series ignores the basic motivator of Islamic violence; the incitement to hatred emanating from state media and mosques, not only in Arab countries but even under the noses of European and British governments? Am I a right-winger because I am perturbed by the indoctrination of infants to become suicidal Warriors as shown in an interview with a three-and-a-half year old girl? See video clip at
http://tinyurl.com/kz5of
 
It is difficult to understand why you are so critical of anyone who defends Israel in the very real media war.

For example you wrote in December, 2006 "Nobody and nothing in the world has an army of advocates, defenders, PR people, marketers, spin-meisters and image-polishers like Israel has". This statement is of course completely wrong. Have you not heard of the Guardian, the Electronic Intifada, the BBC or Pappe, Chomsky, Kasrils, Finkelstein  and hundreds of others who regularly demonize Israel in a very polished and professional manner.

Then you went on to write: "This army isn't made up just of the government but of Jews and Judeophiles all over the world, especially in the U.S. It includes the entire alphabet soup of American Jewish organizations, right-wing 'media watchdogs' like CAMERA and Honest Reporting, hundreds of Jewish newspapers and Web sites, Alan Dershowitz, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Republican Party, the Christian Right, FOX News and an assortment of other forces."

In my considered opinion, based on familiarity with their work, CAMERA and Honest Reporting not only do a very competent and admirable, but a valuable job of correcting the unfortunate abundance of misinformation prevalent in mainstream as well as alternative media.

But rather than appreciate the value of their efforts, you disparage them all - without substantiation. You write:  "I'll tell you what they want: They want no criticism of Israel whatsoever …" How can you claim to know what anyone wants? Do you really intend to discredit the extensive research these organizations invest in their analyses of anti-Israel propaganda? And much more importantly, do you not believe it is essential to counter the continuing onslaught of Israel bashing?

Because misinformation and bias have become so prevalent in the media,  I too, have created a web site devoted to correcting it. Though special care is taken to maintain credibility by checking the veracity of all data presented as fact and adhering to rational, civil discourse and intellectual honesty, while suppressing known biases and permitting the facts to go wherever they lead I will probably be labelled by you as a spin-meister. (
http://maurice-ostroff.tripod.com/)

Sadly, every bit of negative propaganda against Israel that appears in the media is eagerly and  successfully used by advocates of boycotts against Israel. Without in any way denying the importance of constructive criticism of Israel, your unjustified attacks on those who defend Israel against bias and misinformation, serve only to strengthen our enemies. And Larry, this leads to an important question. Are you proud that your words as quoted above and which create a distorted picture of Israel, appear in full on a web site promoting divestment from Israel? See
http://www.divestmentproject.org/censorship.shtml

I look forward to your considered reply. This letter is being distributed to my mailing list and published on the web, as will your reply

Sincerely,

Maurice

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Rattling The Cage: 2.5 cheers for CNN



I found CNN's documentary God's Warriors disappointing. In six hours, it didn't make any new points about Jewish, Islamic or Christian fundamentalist politics, and didn't connect or compare the three except to say that they're all fanatical.

I think Christiane Amanpour's narration - although not the footage - understated the magnitude of the problem of Muslim terrorism. She said it was limited to the "extreme fringe" of the world's Muslims, "a tiny minority," "a few." If only this were true.

These are my main criticisms; I could raise a couple of other objections, but they're niggling.

Yet if I think of God's Warriors as a whole, I wouldn't say it's an unfair or distorted documentary by any means. It's not anti-Jewish and pro-Muslim, as the Jewish Right is claiming. It's not an "abomination," as CAMERA calls it, or a "brazen lie," as columnist Jonathan S. Tobin wrote in The Jerusalem Post. These sorts of reactions say a lot more about the Jewish Right than they do about CNN or Christiane Amanpour.

Self-declared advocates for Israel say they want objectivity in journalism, yet their idea of objectivity is what more genuinely objective observers would call "pro-Israel spin." Reading the right-wing Jewish reactions to God's Warriors, you would never imagine that the Jewish segment opens with a Hebron settler, Tsipi Schissel, describing tearfully and graphically how a Palestinian terrorist stabbed her father to death, or that Schissel's story was illustrated with photos of her as a little girl with her father.

THE POINT, made at the very beginning, was to humanize her for the viewers, and to show that the settlers' fanaticism is fueled by Palestinian terror. This latter point was made even in the documentary's passage about Baruch Goldstein, which featured his friend Meir Lapid recounting how, a few months before the Hebron massacre, Goldstein had tried vainly to save the lives of Lapid's father and brother, who had been shot by Palestinians.

"They died in his hands," Lapid tells Amanpour. She asks him what effect he thinks it had on Goldstein. "I think it killed him," he replies.

Where's the anti-Semitism, the malicious distortion, the abomination? In all, God's Warriors gives much more attention to Israeli victims of Palestinian terror than to Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation. There is one scene that humanizes a Palestinian terrorist with his mother's recollection of how he cradled a Palestinian girl shot dead by Israeli soldiers, and how he "stopped laughing" afterward. But the segment also shows photos of the four Israeli women the young terrorist killed, with Amanpour describing the victims as "a nurse, a woman returning home from the dentist, and two mothers of young children."

There's only fleeting footage of Palestinians and other Muslims crying over their dead at the hands of Israel or the US, while the screen is filled with the wreckage and bloody bodies from suicide bombings and the smoke-engulfed World Trade Center on 9/11.

ALTHOUGH here and there in her narration Amanpour tried to diminish the scale of Muslim terrorism, the pictures she was showing told the true, and much more powerful, story. Behind footage of Muslim terror around the world, culminating with the images of 9/11, Amanpour says: "There is probably nothing more frightening and symbolic of Islamic extremism than the suicide attack. It is the weapon of choice for terrorists in Israel... in Iraq... in Indonesia... in England... and in the United States."

For all the right-wing Jewish complaints that God's Warriors sets up a "moral equivalency" between Muslim terror and Jewish terror, anyone who's been awake for the last six years cannot watch this documentary and come away thinking there's no difference between the two. The Jewish segment focuses on the religious settler movement and its assassins. The Muslim segment focuses on Iran and al-Qaida. CNN's audience, or at least the great majority of it, knows very well which warriors are the global threat, and which warriors aren't.

ONE OF the reasons it knows is because CNN has been telling its audience this for the last six years. For CNN, as for every other mainstream news medium in the world, militant Islam has been one of the two leading stories of the post-9/11 world, the other being George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Compared to Iran and al-Qaida, the Jewish settlers have been a minor item - except during the Gaza disengagement, when the Gush Katif evacuees actually got sympathetic international coverage.

Since 9/11, CNN has not given anything like equal time to Jewish, Islamic and Christian fanaticism, but instead has given a giant majority of time to the Islamic strain. And searching YouTube, I find that Amanpour did a two-hour documentary titled In the Footsteps of Bin Laden, which I seriously doubt was anti-Jewish or pro-Muslim.

I also came across a 10-minute CNN news segment on Obsession, a documentary that compares modern Islamism with Nazism, and I see the CNN anchorwoman telling the filmmakers at the end, "I can't thank you enough... The movie left many of us speechless. We appreciate what you've done."

What more do CAMERA, Honest Reporting.com and the rest of the "Israel advocates" want? I'll tell you what they want: They want no criticism of Israel whatsoever, and this is their main beef against God's Warriors - that it didn't make clear that in Israel, unlike in the Muslim world, religious terrorists are the exception rather than the rule, that Israel, unlike the Muslim world, cracks down on its extremists.

THIS IS the "wild weed" theory that the Jewish Right has been promulgating for decades, and will promulgate for decades to come as instances of violence by Israeli fanatics continue. The "wild weed" theory is the brazen lie; if Israel was as intolerant of radical Jewish violence as the Jewish Right claims, why does such violence keep happening - against Palestinians, against Israeli soldiers, against leftist demonstrators who dare approach the settlements?

Why does the threat of settler violence hang over any consideration of a future Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank? What Christiane Amanpour should have said is that the Muslim warriors are an incomparably greater menace to the world than their Jewish counterparts, but that within Israel and the West Bank, the Jewish warriors are one awful menace.

That would have given the documentary some perspective. Unfortunately, I don't think it would have reduced the amount of right-wing Jewish hate mail she's getting by one bit.

Postscript: Evelyn Gordon was right last week in arguing that Israel should take in substantial numbers of refugees from Darfur, and that it's extremely dangerous for any Sudanese refugees to be sent back to Egypt.

But she was wrong in arguing that Israel should not offer sanctuary to refugees from southern Sudan because it is supposedly safe for them now to go home. The fact that 157,000 refugees have returned to southern Sudan since the truce of 2005 only shows that while southern Sudan remains a hell on earth, it is now somewhat less of a hell on earth than the refugee camps in Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Central African Republic, where those 157,000 refugees had been living.

The several hundred southern Sudanese refugees who came to Israel, usually sitting for many months in prison, have been threatened with prosecution by Sudan's interior minister if they return home. He accuses them of collaborating in an Israeli plot to defame Sudan. Obviously, they can't go home, and they can't go back to Egypt, either. They are not "economic immigrants."

If Israel can take in many more Darfurians, as Gordon rightly insists, it can also take in the several hundred southern Sudanese currently in Israel. Until something changes, they have no place else to go.

 


 

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