The Independent: Any Excuse to Attack Israel

Like many other newspapers, The Independent is running a series of articles looking back at the year’s news and events. Unsurprisingly, the death of Nelson Mandela warrants an article. Here’s a screenshot:


The subhead reads:

Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel claimed that he couldn’t afford the trip. His absence reminded us of Israel’s closeness to the apartheid regime

From this, you might well deduce that this is a dedicated anti-Israel article. In fact, Israel is mentioned in the tenth paragraph out of twelve and Netanyahu but one of a number of dignitaries who did not attend the Mandela funeral.

So why then promote the article with an anti-Israel subhead when it bears so little relevance to the actual focus of the story? Does The Independent believe that demonizing Israel is a good way to increase page views?

Or is this just another example of the irrational obsession with Israel in parts of the British press?

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December 29, 2013 15:24 By Category : Backspin UK News Tags:,

It’s Not About Free Speech

Reading in the New York Times, Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion on Israel, one could easily make the assumption that an all-powerful Jewish organization controls what American college students are allowed to say and think about Israel:

At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.

The issue has nothing to do with free speech. Hillel is not preventing debate about Israel. Even if that was their goal — and there is no evidence whatsoever of this — there is no way that they could stop critics of Israel from speaking out, whether on campus or anywhere else. The very fact that many American university campuses have become hotbeds of anti-Israel extremism proves that those who hate Israel have found a place to spread influence.

swartThe real question is whether Hillel, an international non-profit with the goal of supporting Jewish values including support for Israel, should sponsor those who attack and delegitimize the country.

In a manifesto, the Swarthmore Hillel students proclaimed: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

Support for Israel is one of Hillel’s core principles. Why should they give their name to those who are against the values that they stand for? Let an anti-Israel group — which are very prevalent on college campuses — fund the lecture.

And while the Times does include a quotation from Professor Alan Dershowitz explaining this point, the rest of the article goes against what he is saying, essentially making it out to be a free speech issue.

But that has more to do with the New York Times double standard when it comes to Israel. Can you think of another example of an advocacy organization being criticized for not sponsoring a lecture that contradicts what they advocate? Should the NAACP be taken to task for not sponsoring campus events led by racists?

Certainly not in the New York Times.

December 29, 2013 13:20 By Category : Backspin

Following Up on the Dishonest Reporting Awards

New York TimesComments and the roar of the crowd after announcing the New York Times won the 2013 Dishonest Reporting Award and other runners up.

1. The danger of forgetting that not everyone knows the nickname you’re talking about.

From: . . .@. . .com

Date: Thu, Dec 26, 2013

Subj: Re: A Year of Biased Reporting: Why the New York Times Won

The “Gray Lady”?  So now you have embodied a newspaper in the form of a woman to demonize.  Nice misogyny at work.  At least you are honest about it.

The Gray Lady is a nickname for the NY Times going years back, somewhat similar to Britons calling the BBC “Auntie.” I added this link to the article’s first Gray Lady reference to clarify the point.

No offense was intended. My apologies for the confusion.


Los Angeles Times2. We can’t fit everybody in.

From: . .

Date: Thu, Dec 24, 2013

Subj: Re: The 2013 Dishonest Reporting Awards – Pt 1

Just wondering — who were other nominees that didn’t quite make it?

The Dishonest Reporting awards reflect what the readers have to say, along with space limitations of our own. This year’s borderline cases just missing the cut for runner-up awards were the LA Times (for a baffling staff-ed about Israeli democracy), The Economist (for an inconsistent staff-ed about a prisoner release), and Al Jazeera America (kicking off with first guest Stephen Walt baiting Jews).


3. Last but not least, one of our runners up, Fadi Arouri, thinks his award gives him some street cred with the anti-normalization crowd. Thanks for the tweet linking to us, Fadi. You opened the door on a new audience for HonestReporting.

Fadi Arouri

(Image of NY Times building via Flickr/digiart2001)

December 29, 2013 12:09 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , , ,

Sky News Weighs in on Bedouin Issue


The Israeli government eventually backed down and decided that it would make changes to the Prawer-Begin Plan.

Arriving late to the party, this hasn’t stopped Sky News’ Sam Kiley from encouraging the view that Israeli plans for bringing the Bedouin into the 21st century are “racist.” The framing of the story is set by a sensationalist headline:


According to Kiley:

Dozens of homes built in what the government calls “unrecognised villages” have been bulldozed over the last few years.

And the village of Umm al Hiran has been served notice that it will be flattened, its 500 residents forced out and a Jewish development built in its place.

 Israeli journalist Ben Dror-Yemini addresses the very issue of Umm al Hiran:

Let’s take, for example, the repetitive chorus of the past few weeks, which sounds like this: “The Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran is slated to be turned into Hiran, a community for Jews only, via the disinheriting and transfer of the Bedouins, in accordance with the racist policy of the State of Israel.” This is also a summary of the claims in a series of articles in Haaretz.

After setting sail on the sea of lies, it’s worth returning to the solid ground of facts. First, the Bedouin members of the Al-Qian tribe, who are the focus of the current fuss, were transferred to the Yatir region of theNegev decades ago, of their own volition and at their request, due to a dispute with another tribe.

Second, when Hiran was being planned, a little over a decade ago, there were only a few Bedouins there, if any. The move to Umm al-Hiran occurred mainly in the wake of the plans for the new town. Aerial photographs prove this.

Third, only a small part of the master plan for Hiran is on the land occupied by the new squatters.

Fourth, adjacent to the Al-Qian compound, the state built Hura, a proper Bedouin village, with paved roads, electricity and water infrastructure and more.

Fifth, every family in the tribe is entitled to receive nearly a dunam of land. Even a bachelor over 24 is entitled to a plot of land, in preparation for future generations.

Sixth, in addition to the free land, with free infrastructure development, each family also receives monetary compensation for the previous, illegally built house where it lived.

Seventh, and here we’re in for a surprise, most of the tribe – 3,000 of the 4,000 members – actually felt this was a fair arrangement, and they indeed moved to Hura.

Eighth, Hiran is not designated only for religious Jews, and also not only for Jews. Any Bedouin who wishes to buy land there is invited to do so and is entitled to do so. Of course, that would cost money. In Meitar, for example, Bedouins from the surrounding area decided to buy plots of land. No one stopped them.

Kiley’s report simplifies a complicated situation and fails to include important context. Referring to these types of reports seen in the media and from various politicized non-governmental organizations (Kiley interviews Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis For Human Rights), Haviv Rettig Gur writes:

One key problem with this spectacularly excessive rhetoric is that for all the noise it generates, it fails to provide actual information to its audience.

For example, one cannot discover from the Rabbis for Human Rights video that almost half of the Bedouin being moved — roughly 15,000 – actually asked to be moved, even appealing to courts to get the state to grant them a new planned town in a separate location because the site where they had encamped was too close to the chemical works ofRamat Hovav, Israel’s main hazardous waste disposal facility.

Similarly, Guardian readers had no way of finding out in the paper’s coverage or the artists’ letter that Israel has already recognized several of the haphazard tent-cities of the Bedouin “dispersion,” but could not keep doing so indefinitely for the simple reason that the Negev Bedouin are the fastest growing population in the world, according to the Israeli government. They double their population every 15 years, and are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020. There simply isn’t any sustainable way to accommodate such a fast-growing population without municipal planning and multi-story housing.

And nowhere in the EU Parliament’s gathering of Socialists and Democrats could one learn that the Bedouin are being moved just three to five kilometers down the road from their current place of residence, and not out of the country.

Sam Kiley’s untimely report is just another in a plethora of one-sided journalism focused on the Bedouin.

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December 26, 2013 13:11 By Category : Backspin UK News Tags:, ,

Backlash Against ASA Boycott Gaining Momentum

When the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to launch an academic boycott against Israel in early December, al Jazeera crowed with a headline, Calls to boycott Israel grow on US campuses.

Actually, what’s really growing is the backlash against the association.

Indiana University is the latest academic institution to announce its withdrawal from the ASA in protest of the boycott decision. Indiana University President Michael McRobbie noted the chilling effect such boycotts have on academic freedom.

Capture - Goldberg ASAThe university joins Kenyon College, Penn State Harrisburg, and Brandeis University, which already announced their withdrawal from the ASA. Other prominent institutions of higher learning, including Harvard and Brown, have spoken against the boycott but refrained from moving against it formally.

Perhaps the biggest blow against the ASA, however, came this week in a strongly-worded condemnation from the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities:

“Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general,” the statement read.

American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom.”

The statement also asserted that the boycott “clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”

And the backlash is just beginning. The Washington Post published a series of statements from university presidents lambasting the ASA for using its platform for politics over the free flow of ideas.

So while the ASA succeeded in damaging Israel’s image through the publicity generated by the boycott, it’s clear that the association has harmed itself in the process. Hopefully, this episode will ultimately do some good by discrediting the notion of academic boycott entirely, revealing the practice as the very antithesis of academic freedom, both for the boycotted and the boycotter.

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December 24, 2013 14:53 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Molhem Barakat: From Al-Qaida Reject to Reuters

Molhem Barakat

Molhem Barakat, self-portrait

A Reuters photographer, Molhem Barakat, was killed in Aleppo on Friday. Some emerging details of his life are raising uncomfortable questions for the wire service and for the press corps covering Israel and the PA.

1. Barakat was in his teens, possibly as young as 17 when he started working as a freelancer for Reuters. It’s not clear because his age — a basic piece of information for a story like this — is conspicuously absent from Reuters’s own report of Barakat’s death.

As Duckrabbit points out:

If he had been fighting he would have been classed as a child soldier.

2. Barakat tried to join Al-Qaida. After learning of the photographer’s death, Hannah Lucinda Smith wrote that Barakat was the subject of her story, My Friend, the Aspiring Suicide Bomber.

Smith adds that when Barakat began working as a photographer, he wanted to work with her. (“I refused, because I didn’t want the responsibility of an eager seventeen year old with no war zone training and little experience on my shoulders.”)

Here’s Smith on why Barakat wanted to join Al-Qaida. (In the story, Smith refers to him as Youssef, “to protect him from the repercussions of what he was saying.”)

As we passed through the battered streets he told me his reasons. First was the monthly salary of 11,000 Syrian lira. It is a pitiful wage for a potential suicide bomber, but enough to tempt an eighteen-year-old stuck in a war zone with no job, no money and nowhere to study . . .

As I looked at him in his Gucci polo shirt, jeans and modish haircut, I found it difficult to imagine him in the get up of an Islamic extremist. “Will you have to grow a beard?” I asked. “You know, I’m pretty sure they won’t accept me,” he replied. “I’m too liberal. But maybe they’ll think I’ll be useful to them, because I can still go into regime areas so I could transport weapons there for them.”

3. Barakat was talented. You’ll see that in photo collections at Buzzfeed, the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.

4. Barakat was possibly abused by Reuters. A lot of journalists working in the Syria are freelancers who need work and experience. It’s an arrangement that news services find appealing because it’s less expensive than sending an in-house correspondent. (The Columbia Journalism Review and Vice – via dvafoto – elaborate on the problems with this arrangement.)

From what Corey Pein has learned about the situation, Barakat got some decent hand-me-down equipment from Reuters, but no personal safety gear or training. He didn’t make much money for his blood, sweat and tears:

Molhem was paid as little as $100 for uploading a daily set of 10 or more photos to Reuters, according to a freelance photographer who met Molhem earlier this year in Aleppo and stayed in touch with him.

The photographer, Stanislav Krupar, says Molhem told him this at a Free Syrian Army base that hosted members of the news media.

The wire service, at the moment, is brushing off queries from people like Stuart Hughes (a BBC journalist active in media protection issues). You can judge Reuters’s safety guidelines for yourself.

5. Barakat leaves us with a lot of questions. A few of the more obvious ones already asked by Pein:

• Why did Reuters not mention Molhem’s age in its report on his death? If the agency did not know his true age, why not?

• Who besides the named editor reviewed the report on his death before publication? Was it reviewed by lawyers? [What about the statement published in response to the BBC’s questions?]

• Was he provided with any equipment from Reuters? What type? Did Reuters offer him a bulletproof vest, helmet or eye protection? A satellite phone?

• Was he provided with safety training? Was he provided with any training whatsoever?

• If he might have been deemed too inexperienced or unqualified to gain a staff job, why was he deemed fit to submit work from an immensely challenging, complex and dangerous environment?

tweetI have a few questions of my own:

  1. To what extent did his Al-Qaida sympathies color his work for Reuters?
  2. Was Reuters at least aware that Barakat sought to become a suicide bomber? If yes, why did it feel comfortable hiring him? If not, why not?
  3. Are Western news services employing minors in Israel and the PA too? How difficult would it be to take advantage of an aspiring kid with a knack for camera work?
  4. How concerned should we be about Palestinian stringers with terrorist sympathies? What does this say about Israeli restrictions on Palestinian journalists?
  5. Were journalists injured during Israeli army operations adequately trained and equipped for personal safety? Do news services share culpability for incidents typically blamed on the IDF?
  6. What does the news industry’s heavy reliance on local stringers say about news coverage of Syria? How comparable is this to coverage of Israel and the PA?

(Image via Facebook/Molhem Barakat)

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December 23, 2013 23:58 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , ,

Mandela Legacy Falsely Co-opted by Palestinians

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Many anti-Israel articles have appeared in recent weeks following the death of Nelson Mandela. Anti-Israel activists have cynically used this opportunity to parrot the false charge that Israel is an “apartheid state” while claiming that Nelson Mandela believed the same. Typical of some of the quotes being attributed to Mandela is this that appears in a Toronto Star op-ed by Haroon Siddiqui:

Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.

In fact, the full quote should read:

We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.

Other conflicts have been removed from the quote to deliberately place the Palestinians at the center of the Mandela discussion. Here are some recent articles that address the Palestinian propaganda campaign that misappropriates the legacy of Nelson Mandela:

You can also find more resources on our page dedicated to The Apartheid State Libel.

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December 23, 2013 16:08 By Category : Backspin

PLO Claims Jesus Was Palestinian

This is the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) seasonal video message for Christmas:


 Note the video’s description:

Every Christmas Palestine celebrates the birth of one of its own, Jesus Christ.

“One of its own”?!

Jesus was, of course, born Jewish.

As Jeffrey Goldberg notes (emphasis added):

The most recent manifestation of the desire to de-Judaize Jesus has come not from European Christian churches, but from anti-Israel activists in the Arab world, who have engaged in a campaign to assert that Jesus was, in fact, a Palestinian (in other words, a member of a people that did not come into being until roughly 100 years ago), and that the Jews are guilty of deicide and genocide, among other -cides.

And what would happen today if a Jewish boy like Jesus decided to enter Palestinian-controlled areas? Most likely he’d have to lead his donkey through a hail of stones being thrown at him on the road.

The video itself is the usual Palestinian narrative of victim-hood and Israeli oppression. But when it comes to co-opting Jesus Christ, claiming him to be a Palestinian for their own propaganda, it’s clear just how far the Palestinians are prepared to go to distort history and religion for their cause.


The claim that Jesus was a Palestinian isn’t limited to the PLO’s YouTube account – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also publicly rewriting Christian history.

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December 23, 2013 12:42 By Category : Backspin

Joe Hyams to IAJF: No Iron Dome in the Media War

Joe at IAJF

HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams appeared at an event sponsored by the Iranian American Jewish Federation this week, speaking about the vital importance of media issues in the battle for Israel’s legitimacy.

Joe reminded the audience that while the IDF has successfully deployed the Iron Dome Missile Defense system against threats of rocket fire against Israel, there is no Iron Dome for attacks on the media battlefield.

“Each of us has to get educated and involved,” he told the audience. “The best way we can support our soldiers on the battlefield is by investing in our own defensive measures for public opinion.”

Zohreh Mizrahi arranged the event and said she was thrilled by the outcome. “The event was very successful, as many active members of the community were there to see for themselves,” she said. “We just need to clone Joe to keep the momentum on,” she added.

December 18, 2013 11:05 By Category : Backspin

A One Way Run

Ron Levy and Revital Seri

Ron Levy and Revital Seri, murdered while hiking in 1984.

Jonathan Brown describes in the Irish Times his experience as a runner in what he called “Palestine.” (“Running is a luxury lost to Palestinians”.) He sympathetically writes about how Palestinians are so used to running away from Israeli soldiers that they can’t conceive of running just for fun.

He doesn’t explain the context of the situation at all, as if to say that Israeli soldiers are only there to prevent the Palestinians from having fun and running for recreation:

With rifles raised to my chest, it is in this moment the essential difference between running in Palestine and almost anywhere else crystalises. The difference is between “running” and “running away from”. As words on a page, it’s a small difference. Even the physical action is similar – they both trigger primal human instincts. But the feelings they instil are polar opposites. One is endorphins, the other adrenaline; the certainty of your safety and the certainty of imminent danger. I’m caught between these dichotomies when I realize running is a luxury I’ve been taking for granted, a luxury lost to Palestine.

I’m a runner.  And I live in what Brown would call Palestine and what I refer to as Judea. I agree that it is a beautiful and challenging place to run.

But what Brown doesn’t seem to realize is that Israeli runners and hikers in this area also have concerns for their safety. Every time you lace up your sneakers or hiking boots, fatal attacks on hikers and joggers niggle in the back of your mind too.

Just a few weeks ago, the PA celebrated the release of Issa Abed Rabo. He became the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner by murdering Revital Seri and Ron Levy 1984. The two university students were hiking near a Cremisan monastery in southern Jerusalem when they encountered Rabo. He tied up Levy and Seri at gun point, placed bags over their heads, then killed the two.

So when you’re alone on a dirt trail and you see a Palestinian, a part of your mind always wonders if there’s going to be a problem.

But what happens is the same reaction that happens between Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers hundreds of times a day.

There is a mutual nod of the heads and then the instant is forgotten.

Not everything is as full of drama as the picture Brown paints.

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December 17, 2013 13:21 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , , ,