Tag Archives: New York Times

U.S. media buys Israel’s Naksa spin, ignores contary evidence

Variations on the line the Israeli government fed to Israeli media yesterday about the killings of demonstrators in the Golan Heights Sunday have made its way to the U.S. media, despite there being little evidence produced to support their claims.

The New York Times report is representative of how U.S. corporate media is covering the killings:

Israeli military officials on Monday disputed the casualty figures announced by Syria a day earlier, after Israeli forces fired on protesters who had tried to breach the Syrian frontier border with the Israeli-held Golan Heights. The discrepancy in numbers underlined the messages being conveyed by each side…

Israel said the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria was exploiting the Palestinian issue by sending unarmed protesters to the frontier in order to divert attention from its own antigovernment uprising and the bloody attempts to put it down.

Israel could not provide an exact number of how many protesters had been killed. But the Israeli military said Monday that 10 protesters were killed after they threw makeshift firebombs and started a fire that set off land mines near the border town of Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the lines.

“There were also a lot of shows being put on for the cameras,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military. “If somebody was shot in the toe, 30 people would crowd around with a stretcher. At night, when there was no shooting, the ambulances kept running up and down, their lights flashing in the dark.”

The Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor reports have similar bents.  On CNN, Eliot Spitzer interviewed Aaron David Miller, and they both agreed that the protests had been “orchestrated” by the Assad regime, which is in the middle of suppressing its own uprising for democracy.

It very well may be that the Syrian regime decided not to block protesters from approaching the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.  But that is a far cry from saying that Syria deliberately orchestrated unarmed protests by, perhaps, paying demonstrators, implying that Palestinian refugees demanding their rights can’t protest on their own initiative.  Max Blumenthal does a good job of casting doubt on the “demonstrators-for-hire” claim here.

More evidence and analysis point in the opposite direction of the Israeli military’s justifications that are printed in U.S. media.  The Israeli government has not produced a shred of evidence in support of their claims (and if they have, do point them out to me).  Yet there’s plenty of evidence to support claims of Israeli troops firing on protesters and killing them.

Before getting into the evidence and analysis, though, it’s worth asking:  why were there only hundreds of people marching to the Golan Heights on Naksa Day, if the Assad regime really wanted to divert attention from their own oppressive tactics?  Couldn’t they have brought out thousands if that were true?  And why would they be blocking people from reaching the Golan again if they wanted to provoke Israel more?

Over at the Electronic Intifada, Jillian Kestler D’Amours, a journalist based in Jerusalem, interviews Salman Fakhreddin, an activist who protested in the Golan.  His response testifies to reports that Israeli snipers killed unarmed demonstrators:

Yesterday, hundreds of refugees from Syria — Palestinians and Syrians — marched to the ceasefire line near Majdal Shams in a place called the Valley of Tears. We usually use this place for families [living opposite of the ceasefire line] to meet each other and to speak to each other with loudspeaker on all days of the year. Yesterday, it was a demonstration in memory of the war of ‘67 and the occupation of the Golan, West Bank and Gaza and Sinai. When these people reached the ceasefire line, the Israeli forces were well prepared with snipers. They were there already and they began firing live bullets and they killed and injured hundreds of people. Twenty-three people were killed yesterday.

It is a blood harvest of the Israeli army. I think first they began shooting to kill and during the afternoon and at beginning of the night, they began firing tear gas and rubber bullets. It means that the Israeli army yesterday was standing on its head and thinking with its feet. They dealt with the issue in the opposite of a humanitarian way. They decided to kill people in order to frighten them not to continue with this demonstration because they are afraid of the delegitimization of the state of Israel and the Israeli policy in the international community.

On the other hand, the demonstration yesterday and the demonstration of Nakba Day [on 15 May] is trying to develop a culture of nonviolence in the area, in the struggle against the Israelis, or what’s called the popular resistance. In Israel, they want to stop that because they are afraid it will reach the knowledge of the international community and the internal Israeli community will join this struggle as a peaceful struggle against colonialism and apartheid in this place of the world.

I think the idea was to stop that and because of that, they chose this way: to kill people first and then to shoot them with tear gas.

An eyewitness account for Amnesty International reported on by the Ma’an News Agency deal further blows to Israeli claims:

The global rights group said they had spoken to a human rights activist in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who “contradicts IDF [Israeli army] claims that all possible non-lethal means were used to disperse the protesters before lethal force was used.”

The march, marking Naksa day which commemorates the 1967 war, saw thousands of demonstrators calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands rush the ceasefire line. Syria’s state media say 23 were killed by Israeli army fire, while the Israeli military say 10 died throwing Molotov cocktails toward landmines.

A human rights activist who was 10 meters from the army told Amnesty he saw Israeli soldiers sheltering behind multiple barbed wire fences and periodically firing live ammunition at protesters some 60 meters away between 11am to 9pm.

The activist said soldiers had initially warned protesters in Arabic before opening fire, as Israeli army statements had said, but that troops did not fire tear gas or sound bombs to disperse the protesters until around dusk, in contradiction to army assurances that all non-lethal means were used, Amnesty said in a statement.

The rights organization also noted that while military spokespeople said Israeli troops aimed at the lower half of protesters’ bodies, Syrian health authorities reported that the majority of injuries were to the upper body.

Amnesty said it was “seriously concerned that Israeli troops used excessive force by firing live ammunition against protesters who were not endangering the lives of Israeli military personnel or others.”

The Israeli disinformation about the Naksa Day killings are similar to what happened after the flotilla raid and the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah.  But the U.S. media continues to print Israeli spin without investigating what really happened.

The upshot of the Tony Kushner muzzling

Image from Columbia.edu

The decision by the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Board of Trustees to block famous playwright Tony Kushner’s honorary degree at John Jay College is rightly being met with outrage.  But there’s also an important upshot to the controversy:  the racism that right-wing supporters of Israel deploy against Palestinians is getting an airing, as is the unrelenting attempts by powerful pro-Israel types to shut down debate on Palestine.  It’s a tiny airing, but it’s a start.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the far-right supporter of Israel behind the decision to block Kushner’s degree, is being pilloried in the press.  For instance, while Jeffrey Goldberg minces words and refuses to call him a racist, he did write three blog posts criticizing Wiesenfeld.

The narrative that Wiesenfeld wanted to disseminate–that Kushner is an extremist and an anti-Semite–has backfired, and has turned into a story about Wiesenfeld’s politics and how one powerful supporter of the State of Israel successfully managed to block debate and smear a prominent American artist.

Wiesenfeld’s racism against Palestinians, and the shameful way Kushner was treated, was cataloged in an interview published today by the New York Times’ Jim Dwyer:

Mr. Wiesenfeld is the City University of New York trustee who rose this week at a board meeting to block an honorary degree to the playwright Tony Kushner, declaring him an “extremist” opponent and critic of Israel.

It was a startling development for a board that appeared to be on the verge of rubber-stamping a bundle of honorary degrees proposed by the colleges within the university, including one for Mr. Kushner from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Mr. Kushner was not present, and fragments of his views — which are complicated, passionate, critical — were balled up into a few pellets by Mr. Wiesenfeld, who gave a 900-word speech that was mostly devoted to other figures who he felt were radically hostile to Israel. He quoted about 75 words that he said showed that Mr. Kushner’s thinking was beyond the pale.

The trustees pulled the playwright’s name from the motion and moved on to wholesale rubber-stamping of the remaining honorary degrees.

Was this any way for one of the great public universities of the world to discuss the views of one of the leading dramatists of modern times, author of the epic “Angels in America”?


I tried to ask a question about the damage done by a short, one-sided discussion of vigorously debated aspects of Middle East politics, like the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, and which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.

But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”

Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human? “They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.

A separate New York Times article notes that this was not the first time Zionists attempted to nix an award for Kushner:

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Mr. Kushner has received 15 honorary degrees. In 2006, some pro-Zionist groups tried to block him from getting an honorary degree at Brandeis University, but the university decided to go ahead with the honor.

In response to the current episode, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a vehement supporter of Israel, has called on CUNY to fire Wiesenfeld:

Ed Koch call for the City University of New York to terminate its relationship with a trustee who engineered the denial of an honorary degree to Tony Kushner because of the playwright’s criticism of Israel…

Neither Kushner nor anyone else was invited to speak in his defense.

“Mr. Wiesenfeld and the trustees who followed his request should immediately reverse their action and urge Mr. Kushner to forgive them,” Koch wrote. “I consider Mr. Wiesenfeld’s action so outrageous as to be an abuse of power on his part requiring his resignation or removal from the Board of Trustees.”

This was probably not what Wiesenfeld was expecting.  CUNY is already backpedaling.  Former Mayor Koch is airing his outrage over Wiesenfeld’s actions.  The New York Times and Jeffrey Goldberg are calling him out for his repugnant views.  Some discussion of the history of these attempts to shut down dissent over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is being heard.  What needs to happen next is an honest discussion about the facts concerning the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Corporate media delete U.S. role in Hamas-Fatah split

In response to the youth of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank rising up on March 14 and 15 to call for Palestinian political unity, both the leaders of Fatah and Hamas pledged to enter into talks aimed at reconciliation.  Most recently, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah “met with senior Hamas officials to discuss a proposed trip to Gaza and efforts to mend internal Palestinian division by forming a unity government,” the Ma’an News Agency reported.

With those talks came a spate of articles in the U.S. corporate media about the efforts at reconciliation.  But in providing background on why these talks are happening, and the roots of the split between Hamas and Fatah, media outlets have deleted the crucial role the U.S. played in fomenting that split.

The New York Times explained that:

[Abbas had] not set foot in Gaza in the four years since a brief, bloody civil war there sent him and his Fatah colleagues fleeing to the West Bank…Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in early 2006, and, for a brief time, Fatah and Hamas had a national unity government. But tensions between them led to the fighting and a break in communications.

TIME magazine’s Karl Vick similarly put it this way:

Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party that governs the West Bank, has accepted an invitation from rival Hamas to travel to the Gaza Strip. The visit would be the first since Hamas drove Fatah operatives out of Gaza in 2007 — throwing some off from the tops of buildings — in the turmoil that followed Hamas’ surprise victory in elections months earlier.

All of these accounts don’t mention where the “turmoil” and the breakup of the short-lived national unity government between Hamas and Fatah following the 2006 elections came from.  The expose of the Bush administration’s role in the split by David Rose in Vanity Fair remains essential reading for those wanting to understand the roots of the split.

Some crucial excerpts:

Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)

But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza…

Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.

Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of “engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory.” He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. “It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen,” Wurmser says…

Without this back story, why there is a bitter Hamas-Fatah split remains obscured.  The least the U.S. media could do is provide a sentence explaining these facts.

NY Times Isabel Kershner Wasn’t At Bil’in Demo–But Still Wrongly Reports On It

The New York Times has a report up by Isabel Kershner on yesterday’s demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil’in against the illegal separation barrier, where the Israel Defense Forces’ use of tear-gas canisters led to the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a demonstrator.

The Times report is disingenuous at best–and that probably results from the fact that Kershner or any other Times reporter wasn’t at the demonstration, according to Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli blogger who was there.

Kershner writes:

The Palestinians say the protests are meant to be nonviolent, but they inevitably end in clashes, with young Palestinians hurling stones and the Israeli security forces firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

It may be the case that at past demonstrations in Bil’in, stones have been hurled while Israel uses brutal military force against the protesters.  But to write about “violence” in Bil’in in the context of the anti-wall protest yesterday, especially when a Times reporter wasn’t there, is just plain sloppy reporting–and all the more so considering that eyewitness reports indicate that there were no stones hurled yesterday.

Joseph Dana, an Israeli blogger who chronicles the nonviolent resistance movement in the occupied territories, was on the ground yesterday live-tweeting the Bil’in demo.  Dana tweeted that the IDF’s claims of people throwing stones were “lies.”  Goldman affirmed Dana’s tweet with one of her own.

It shouldn’t have been too hard for Kershner to speak with Goldman, Dana or any of the other people at the demonstration to find out if stones were, in fact, hurled.  Instead, the world will read a distorted picture of what happened yesterday when Abu Rahmah was killed by the IDF.

The U.N. Flotilla Report Goes Down the Media’s Black Hole

The return of the Turkish Mavi Marmara to Istanbul and efforts to end the Israeli-Turkish diplomatic chill has produced a number of media reports that mention the May 31 Gaza-bound aid flotilla.  But news outlets are continuing to frame the events aboard the flotilla ambivalently, and there is a media blackout of mentioning the one independent report on the Israeli raid that has been released.

The Associated Press:

The ship was part of an international flotilla carrying supplies to Gaza in a campaign to breach the blockade on Gaza when Israeli troops intercepted the convoy. Eight Turks and an American-Turkish teenager were killed in the violence that erupted on board the Mavi Marmara…

Israel insists commandos opened fire in self-defense after meeting what they called unexpected resistance when they boarded the Mavi Marmara

The New York Times:

Israel has refused to apologize, saying that the ship was warned to stay away and that Israeli commandos fired in self-defense after the activists aboard the ship fired first.

In both of these accounts, media outlets–reflecting their slavish devotion to “objectivity”–have avoided explicitly blaming either Israel or the activists for the 9 people that were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara.  But by quoting what Israel says and omitting what the activists and the United Nations report on the raid state, mainstream media has de facto created the impression that Israel bears little blame.

The U.N. report, which has gotten little media attention, was written by three human rights experts who found that the raid was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality.”  It debunked Israel’s claims of “firing in self-defense,” finding that “live ammunition was used from the helicopter onto the top deck prior to the descent of the soldiers” onto the ship.  Some more excerpts from the U.N. report that you won’t find in corporate media:

Israeli soldiers continued shooting at passengers who had already been wounded, with live ammunition, soft baton charges (beanbags) and plastic bullets. Forensic analysis demonstrates that two of the passengers killed on the top deck received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground: Furkan Doğan received a bullet in the face and İbrahim Bilgen received a fatal wound from a soft baton round (beanbag) fired at such close proximity to his head that parts such as wadding penetrated his skull and entered his brain. Furthermore, some of the wounded were subjected to further violence, including being hit with the butt of a weapon, being kicked in the head, chest and back and being verbally abused. A number of the wounded passengers were handcuffed and then left unattended for some time before being dragged to the front of the deck by their arms or legs…

In boarding the Mavi Marmara, both from the sea and from the air, the Israeli forces met a level of resistance from some of the passengers on board that was significant and, it appears, unexpected. However, there is no available evidence to support the claim that any of the passengers had or used firearms at any stage. In the initial phases of fighting with the Israeli soldiers on the top deck, three Israeli soldiers were disarmed and taken inside the
ship. At this point, there may have been a justifiable belief of an immediate threat to life or serious injury of certain soldiers which would have justified the use of firearms against specific passengers..

The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution. Furkan Doğan and İbrahim Bilgen were shot at near range while the victims were lying injured on the top deck. Cevdet Kiliçlar, Cengiz Akyüz, Cengiz Songür and Çetin Topçuoğlu were shot on the bridge deck
while not participating in activities that represented a threat to any Israeli soldier. In these instances and possibly other killings on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law, specifically article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Extra legal and summary executions, combined with the fact that the U.N. team found that the Israelis fired first, belie the claim that Israel acted in self-defense and with justification.  Israel’s willing media partners should, at the very least, include the conclusions of the U.N. report in their articles on the Mavi Marmara.



WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Promises 3700 Files on Israel

The Arabic-language news outlet Al Jazeera aired an interview last Wednesday with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.  Some excerpts from this translated version:

When will you publish the files related to Israel on your website?

We will publish 3700 files and the source is the American embassy in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Netanyahu was traveling to Paris to talk to the US ambassador there. You will see more information about that in six months.

Do these Israeli files speak about the July 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon?

Yes there is some information about that and these files were classified as top secret.

Is there any relation with these files and the assassination of Hamas military leader Al Mabhoh in Dubai?

Yes there are some indication to this and may be some special reports published by newspapers. Mossad agents used Australian, British and European passports to travel to Dubai and there are diplomatic files about that…

The English-language Jerusalem Post adds in this intriguing tidbit:

“The Guardian, El-Pais and Le Monde have published only two percent of the files related to Israel due to the sensitive relations between Germany, France and Israel. Even The New York Times could not publish more due to the sensitivities related to the Jewish community in the US,” [Assange] added.

Lawrence Swaim of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation had interesting insights on this interview.  He told me that the most interesting answer Assange gave was when he said that he needs “more journalists including Arabs to read and analyse and put everything in the context for the benefit of the readers.”  Swaim comments:

This indicates the increasing collaboration of Assange with established media. And the more he collaborates, the more selectivity in releasing date will occur, and the more political that selectivity will become. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing–I think it’s a great thing. And the selectivity was inevitable, since a cold drop of thousands of piece of data on the internet wasn’t really working for Assange. The point he is trying to make–about systemic evil in government–was getting buried in plain sight under the weight of a great deal of useless material.

Assange is simply saying at this point that he’s going to release stuff about Israel, a great deal of which originates with the Israelis themselves. Therefore he is in a position to retaliate if the US keeps using CIA assets and allies to imprison him by releasing things that will embarrass Israel. He may not have had that it mind at the beginning, but that’s the way it’s shaping up. But Assange is playing a dangerous game. He’s too high-profile now to be assassinated, but the US security establishment may decide they need to punish Assange as an example. Thus they may keep trying to run him to ground while drafting new law preventing the free flow of information to and in the internet. But that way, they will recieve very strong opposition from hacktivists.

Angry Arab: New York Times Distorts Politics of Lebanese Newspaper

I don’t blog much about events in Lebanon because I haven’t read enough about the country nor have I been there, but I just wanted to highlight an example of the New York Times‘ distorted coverage of the Middle East on an issue other than Israel/Palestine, where their reporting is usually quite bad.

In a piece on the WikiLeaks cables titled, “Leaked Cables Stir Resentment and Shrugs,” New York Times reporter Alan Cowell writes:

And in an age when years of diplomatic cables can be stored on a single flash drive, it appeared that WikiLeaks might not be alone: Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper that supports the Shiite militant and political group Hezbollah, has been posting documents from eight Arab countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.

As’ad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese-born analyst whose coverage of WikiLeaks and its revelations about the Arab world have been indispensable on his Angry Arab blog, says that the Times‘ description of Al Akhbar is far from accurate:

I should expect only ignorance and errors in the New York Times whenever any aspect of the Middle East is brought up.  But the distortion–I strongly believe–is deliberate.  This Al-Akhbar newspaper is a leftist newspaper founded by the leftist Joseph Samahah and led by the leftists Khalid Saghieh and Ibrahim Amin (the latter is a long time communist since his youth).  Its main publisher is a secular businessperson who resides in London (Hasan Khalil).  I have been to the paper numerous times and know many of the reporters and editors and I can honestly say that I know of no Hizbullah member and supporter there.  I know that American journalists find it hard to believe that there are leftists in the Middle East, but they exist and they can produce a newspaper.  I have repeatedly mocked Khumayni, Sistani, and Ahmadinajad in the newspaper.  The paper is on the record for being the only Arab paper to ever support gender and homosexual rights. You think that Hizbullah is that open minded?  Recently, I wrote that Hizbullah deputy-secretary general, Na`im Qasim, specializes in “scaring off children” when he appears on TV.  Now don’t get me wrong, the paper fiercely supports resistance to Israel and thus supports Hizbullah’s stance against Israel.  But the paper never supported Hizbullah ideology or domestic politics.  If anything, it has been critical of them