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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

AN OPEN LETTER TO NY TIMES COLUMNIST, TOM FRIEDMAN

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About Maurice Ostroff
in response to his column in the New York Times,
 reproduced in the right hand column below
 
 
 
 

From Maurice Ostroff

December 21, 2011

Dear Mr. Friedman,

Your oped “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir” in the NY Times of Dec. 13, brings to mind your oped of Nov. 16, 2010 in which you very wisely opined "When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem.. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together".

Mr. Gingrich and Palestinian nationhood

It is ironic, that your latest oped epitomizes the objectionable situation you described in 2010 of facts and fabrications blending together. You start by misquoting Mr. Gingrich, claiming he said the Palestinians are not entitled to a state. In fact he neither said nor suggested that. This is what he said in his interview with the Jewish Channel to which you referred. “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people..”

Moreover, had you checked your facts you would have known that contrary to your claim, Mr. Gingrich actually supports a Palestinian state in a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians as he publicly repeated in a recent veterans’ forum.

Of course there is nothing inconsistent in advocating a state for the Palestinians even though believing them to be, not a separate nation, but part of the great Arab nation sharing a common linguistic, cultural, religious, and historical heritage.

Your statement that Gingrich advocates that Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank, pursue a road to apartheid, evict the West Bank Palestinians and engage in ethnic cleansing is pure speculation. There is nothing at all in what Gingrich said that remotely resembles these completely illogical and misleading conclusions.

Mr. Gingrich’s views on Palestinian nationhood are supported by the historical fact that when the status of the Ottoman Empire’s former possessions was determined at the San Remo conference in 1920, Syria and Lebanon were mandated to France while Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the southern portion of the territory (Palestine) were mandated to Britain. Jews, Christians and Arabs who lived in the British mandated territory were regarded as Palestinians, not by virtue of nationhood, but by virtue of living in what was then designated as Palestine.
See
http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id350.html


Furthermore, Mr. Gingrich’s views are supported by the authoritative opinion of many Arab personalities who are intimately involved in, and knowledgeable about, Arab affairs. For example, the high profile critic of the Israel government, Arab former member of Knesset Dr. Azmi Bishara expressed views almost identical to those of Mr. Gingrich. During an interview on Israel's Channel 2 TV he declared “There is no Palestinian nation. It's a colonial invention... " . In his current position as director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha and having authored several books in English, German and Arabic he very likely knows more about Palestinian nationhood than you do. He speaks and reads Arabic.
See
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3n5-yG-6dU .

The serious lack of knowledge of Middle East affairs demonstrated in your oped should concern all who are influenced by renowned journalists, whose prestige leads readers to accept their uninformed opinions as facts.

Bibi and the Jewish lobby

Your statement that PM Netanyahu’s standing ovation in Congress was bought and paid for by an Israel lobby is an example of what you described in your 2010 oped as “Facts, opinions and fabrications blending together”. That Netanyahu received a standing ovation is a fact. That the ovation was bought by a sinister Israel lobby of the type propagated by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt is your opinion blended with the inconvenient but undeniable fact.

Since the applause was unanimous, your statement that the members of congress who applauded “were bought and paid” is a terrible slur on the entire US Congress. Have you considered the probability that the applause was a genuine demonstration of approval by intelligent and worthy congressmen and women who think for themselves?

It is a matter of deep concern that a man of your undoubted influence can exhibit a degree of prejudice that ignores the counter influences of opponents of the Netanyahu government like JStreet with its support by billionaire George Soros and the new Israel fund as well as the high probability that any influence that may be exerted by a pro-Israel lobby is far outweighed by the massive petrodollar-funded Arab lobby.

We need look no further than a March 1, 2011 NY Times article “Arab Unrest Puts Their Lobbyists in Uneasy Spot” that refers to “one of the most formidable lobbying forces in town: the elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters here on delicate issues like arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions

Although one lobbyist admitted “you have to have a strong stomach to work with dictators in Middle Eastern nations with policies that many American find unsavoury”, Washington’s top lobbyists received tens of millions of dollars from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the region. According to federal filings, Middle East rulers pay retainers of $50,000 or more each month to consultants.

The UAE spent $5.3 million in 2009 for lobbying American officials. Morocco spent more than $3 million, Saudi Arabia about $1.5 million and Turkey nearly $1.7 million.

I do not for one moment deny your freedom to express your opinions. I urge you however, to please make it easier for your readers to distinguish between your opinions and the facts. In the above examples, the line between them is very blurred and your clarification will be appreciated.

This letter is being widely circulated as will the response I hope to receive from you

Sincerely
Maurice Ostroff



 

 

The New York Times

Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Published: December 13, 2011

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/opinion/friedman-newt-mitt-bibi-and-vladimir.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

 

I have a simple motto when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I love both Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their American friends — those who want to love them to death, literally.

Josh Haner/The New York Times

 

That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.

 

This was supposed to show that Newt loves Israel more than Mitt Romney, who only told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because “I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do. ... I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process. Instead, we should stand by our ally.”

 

That’s right. America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. And this guy’s running for president?

 

As for Newt, well, let’s see: If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?

 

I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.

 

I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.

 

It confuses them to read that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia last Wednesday, was quoted as saying that the recent Russian elections were “absolutely fair, free and democratic.” Yes, those elections — the ones that brought thousands of Russian democrats into the streets to protest the fraud. Israel’s foreign minister sided with Putin.

 

It confuses them to read that right-wing Jewish settlers attacked an Israeli army base on Tuesday in the West Bank, stoning Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the army removing “illegal” settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.

 

It confuses them to read, as the New Israel Fund reports on its Web site, that “more than 10 years ago, the ultra-Orthodox community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated buses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009, more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as ‘dress modestly.’ ”

 

It confuses them to read a Financial Times article from Israel on Monday, that said: “In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.”

 

And it confuses them to read Gideon Levy, a powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, this week that “anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray. ... What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”

 

So while Newt is cynically asking who are the Palestinians, he doesn’t even know that more than a few Israelis are asking, “Who are we?”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 14, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir.

 

 

 

 

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