Jerusalem Neighborhood a Victim of Lazy Journalism

A street in Gilo.

A street in Gilo.

Amidst the coverage of John Kerry’s attempts to prevent a collapse of the peace process, a number of media outlets mentioned the approval of over 700 housing tenders for the southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo.

The Daily Telegraph refers to the “East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo” while The Independent refers to the “Gilo settlement in East Jerusalem” and the BBC the “Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem.”

The descriptions of Gilo are symptomatic of the journalistic laziness surrounding the entire issue of settlements and precisely what these actually refer to. After all, many media outlets do nothing to dispel the largely mistaken image of all Israeli settlements as a collection of isolated homes on windswept hilltops. In the case of Gilo, this is as far from the truth as could be possible.

As Maurice Ostroff, writing in the Jerusalem Post, explains:

The $64,000 question then, is whether Gilo is in fact a settlement and if so, what type of settlement it is. To all who prefer to analyze a situation before arriving at a conclusion it is important to look at the facts in context. …

The reality is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.


At least the Washington Post gives an example of more nuanced language, referring to:

708 housing units in the Jerusalem area community of Gilo, which sits on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war and later annexed by the Jerusalem municipality.

To the Palestinians, Gilo is a Jewish settlement built on occupied land in East Jerusalem and, therefore, illegal by international law. Israel disputes this.

Those media outlets that cannot even be bothered to place Gilo in a correct geographical context let alone a political one are doing their readers a disservice that points to lazy journalism and a lack of objective and accurate reporting.

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April 2, 2014 14:00 By Category : Backspin

Unintended Consequences of Israel Boycotts

unintended-consequences-773x403When the American Studies Association (ASA) launched its infamous academic boycott of Israel in December, it could not have foreseen the scale of opposition it would come up against. And the unintended consequences of its decision are still being played out.

Hundreds of university presidents have already declared academic boycott to be an abrogation of academic freedom, effectively discrediting the idea. More significantly, a steady flow of legislation threatens to deny state funding to institutions practicing academic boycotts.

Some form of legislation triggered by the ASA boycott has appeared in New York, Florida, and Kansas, and was recently defeated in Illinois.

Just this week, the ASA published an urgent call to supporters to fight a measure currently in discussion in Maryland, where legislators placed anti-boycott measures into the state’s proposed budget:

The anti-boycott language was inserted into the House version of the budget bill as an amendment (which no one voted on since it was accepted as “friendly”), along with other amendments not in the version of the budget passed by the Senate. The two versions of the budget bills, including the various amendments, now must go to a conference committee. That committee is charged with deciding on the final language of the budget bill, which will then be voted on by both the Senate and the House with no further changes allowed.

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Even better, Electronic Intifada tells us that the measure includes a definition of anti-Semitism that references hate directed at Israel:

The amendment condemns the ASA boycott, affirms the State of Maryland’s commitment to cooperation with Israel and alleges that “anti-Semitism is an intolerable and ugly form of bigotry, prejudice, and hostility directed toward individuals of the Jewish faith and the State of Israel, often based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity.”

So if the budget passes along with the amendment, the ASA will have contributed to the barring of state funds to institutions that support the ASA’s measures against Israel along with the codification of a definition of anti-Semitism that could include the type of double standards against Israel that typify much of the BDS movement.

No wonder the ASA was alarmed by the legislation. It’s singularly responsible for all of it.

The ASA’s call to boycott succeeded in raising the profile of BDS and spreading awareness of the movement. But the backlash it triggered, especially in the area of legislation, may have long-term effects it never imagined.

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April 2, 2014 13:45 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Live Today: Connecting Israel and the Diaspora

HonestReporting will be hosting a live feed to the following event. Come back to this page at 11am EST / 6pm Israel time to connect with Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett.

Bennett Video Chat April 2nd 2014

Disclaimer: This event is not a project of HonestReporting and HR does not endorse the political opinions of any individual Israeli politicians. This event is being hosted in the Minister’s capacity and responsibility for Israel-Diaspora relations.

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April 2, 2014 13:40 By Category : Backspin

Israel Fighting Potential Ban from World Soccer

FIFA-football-soccer-ball-773x403Israel is facing a possible ban from international soccer competition, including the World Cup, unless it improves conditions for Palestinian players and coaches, according to media reports.

Jibril Rajoub, the head of Palestinian football and a former PA security official, is pushing for the FIFA ban, claiming Israel’s travel restrictions on Palestinians amount to a form of oppression. FIFA, the Federation of International Football Associations, is the governing body of international soccer competition.

The FIFA Congress is scheduled to meet in Sa0 Paulo in June to decide on the issue. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he plans to visit the region in April and hopes to have a written agreement between the two sides signed before or during the congress.

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Israeli Football Association CEO Rotem Kemer said Israel was making an effort to meet the needs of the Palestinians but warned that politics may have seeped into the issue.

“We don’t think this is right,” Kemer told Inside World Football. “It has never been the policy of FIFA and UEFA to mix politics and sport. We are making our best efforts in order to help the Palestinian association. We are trying to make things easier for them.”

In February, FIFA set up a mediation task force to resolve the issue, but Rajoub dismissed the results as unsatisfactory.

“It’s not just players,” he said. “You are talking about instructors, consultants, anyone who wants to come to Palestine. They have to wait for hours to get permits.”

The attempt to push Israel out of FIFA is in line with the stated goals of the BDS movement, which seeks a world-wide boycott of “Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.” The BDS supporters have also launched a petition on the issue that has already reached nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition makes a direct comparison between the current situation and that of Apartheid-era South Africa:

When FIFA formally suspended the membership of the South African FA between 1964 and 1992, its action contributed to international pressure to end apartheid.

Therefore, the petition asks FIFA to follow this precedent and suspend the Israeli FA. The Israeli government must at some point take notice.

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April 1, 2014 13:03 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Boycott Threats as a Tool of Diplomacy

diplomacyOne of the most authoritative sources on BDS news and analysis is the monthly BDS Monitor report published by the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). The latest edition looks at the trends that emerged throughout the month of March, most notably the use of boycott threats against Israel in the sphere of diplomacy.

The report notes that President Barack Obama made an apparent allusion to the potential increase in BDS-style pressure on Israel if peace talks collapse. America’s “ability to manage international fallout is going to be limited,” he told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg.

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At the same time, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, touted the “huge opportunities in trade, research, innovation that will benefit both Israel and the Palestinians” if an agreement is signed.

Obama’s and Ashton’s comments demonstrate the manner that BDS has been linked to the current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is used as a threat which is then partially disavowed by the US, and used in conjunction with unspecified benefits by the EU, that is accompanied by funding of NGOs that support BDS. Some observers expect the spread of informal boycotts by European firms if negotiations fail.

If the current negotiations collapse, as most observers expect, and as has already been telegraphed by Palestinian and Arab League leaders, the Palestinian moves are already clear. Fatah Party and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Nabil Shaath stated that the PA would seek a full South African style boycott of Israel by international institutions as well as bringing cases to the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice.

A South Africa style boycott, however, will be hard for the Palestinians to implement, at least as far as their own territories are concerned. Reports show that Israeli imports to the Palestinian territories are going up, not down. And if the Palestinians themselves do not lead the boycott, many others might think twice about it as well.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA flickr/Steve Lyon

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March 31, 2014 15:11 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Comments and the Roar of the Crowd – 7

The latest from my inbox. Are readers left out by our comments system? And the perils of poor punctuation.

GMail1. About a year ago, HonestReporting switched its comments to a Facebook-hosted system. Some readers, unfortunately, feel left behind.

From: …
Date: Fri, March 28, 2014
Subject: Comments

I thank your staff for giving me the ability to forward your newspapers to my contacts. However, as I have gmail, I am not able to send comments to Honest Reporting. While I used Hotmail, I had that ability. Then, Honest Reporting told me that comments could be sent only through Facebook. I had computer problems for a while, and now see that I may use various sights to post comments. However, gmail is not one of them.

Please remedy that situation.

 We used to allow free comments to everybody. Due to abusive comments and “comment-spam,” we decided to move to a subscriber-based commenting system (hosted by Facebook). It only allows registrants of Facebook, AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo to post comments. At this time, unfortunately, GMail is not compatible with the commenting system.

This new commenting system has helped us reach a wider audience on Facebook, and has significantly lowered abusive and inappropriate comments.


donkey2. The perils of poor punctuation. I can only imagine what he or she posts on Twitter or Facebook.

From: …
Date: Thu, March 20, 2014
Subject: (no subject)

You donkeys are controlling everything I’m with hezbollah and eat garbage

 Uh, which of us is eating the garbage?

(Image of donkey via Wikimedia Commons/Matthias Feilhauer)

March 31, 2014 14:57 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , ,

Liberal Zionists Emerging as Toughest BDS Fighters

media-controlFrom the high profile dust-up over SodaStream through the recent spate of divestment debates on campuses, some of the strongest voices against the BDS movement have come from critics of Israeli policy.

Peter Beinart, the de facto spokesman for Liberal Zionism, famously called for a boycott of the West Bank in 2012. In the same article, however, he also called for the increasing investment inside the Green Line, in order to distinguish “Zionist BDS” from the predominant BDS movement.

“Boycotting anything inside the green line invites ambiguity about the boycott’s ultimate goal — whether it seeks to end Israel’s occupation or Israel’s existence.”

MJ Rosenberg, a longtime critic of Israel’s West Bank policy, who was spurred by last week’s debate at the University of Michigan, to write a detailed piece about the duplicity of the BDS used the same argument:

The reason why BDS keeps failing despite the almost universal recognition that the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are illegal and immoral is that the BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is the end of the State of Israel itself.

In its view, all of historic Palestine is occupied territory; that means Tel Aviv and Haifa as much as Hebron and Nablus. Obviously, a movement dedicated to eradication of Israel as a country is never going to achieve support other than from a radical fringe.

Rosenberg and other supporters of the two-state solution – including those who support a “limited boycott” of the West Bank for that purpose – are best positioned to see that the BDS movement is not a “peace” movement and does not aim for a Palestinians state alongside a Jewish state.

Join the Fighting BDS Facebook page and take a stand against Israel’s delegitimization.

In fact, Liberal Zionists are the ones whose ideology is most threatened by BDS. When people on both sides, but especially the Palestinians, start to tilt towards a one-state solution to the conflict, the concept of democratic Israel with a strong Jewish majority is threatened.  And that’s pushed Liberal Zionists to draw sharp distinctions between their own two-state agenda and the destructive measures promoted by the BDS.

Or as anti-Zionist Steven Weiss of the anti-Israel Mondoweiss website writes scornfully, “In their effort to preserve Jewish status in Israel, some of these liberal Zionists would seem to be… conservative.”

But by supporting any part of the BDS’s tactics, such as a West Bank boycott, Liberal Zionists are unwittingly helping the BDS movement grow. Young activists who are deeply concerned about Palestinian rights often fail to make the clear distinction Liberal Zionists are trying to make, and end up throwing their support behind a movement that ultimately seeks Israel’s destruction as a Jewish state.

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March 30, 2014 15:47 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Is it ‘Taboo’ to Defend Israel on Campus?

horrendous-headlinesEven though Israel Apartheid Week – and the shrill spectacles it inspires on many college campuses – has come and gone, the anti-Israel climate at a number of universities refuses to cool.

A case in point is the University of Michigan, where the student government voted down a call for divestments from Israel. The vote, 25-9, with five abstentions, ended a tense week of campaigning, which included threats and intimidation of Jewish students on campus.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, some students even requested a police investigation into threats that have created “an atmosphere of fear among pro-Israel students” on the campus.

University of Michigan police were contacted Wednesday evening after two pro-Palestinian activists allegedly threatened a student who refused to support their boycott initiative.

The threatening rhetoric used by these pro-Palestinian activists is part of wider campaign by the University of Michigan’s pro-Palestine group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), which is part of the virulently anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS).

Join the Fighting BDS Facebook page and take a stand againt Israel’s delegitimization.

Writing about an “open forum” taking place at the Vasser College, Jonathan Marks of Commentary, noted the pro-Israel speakers were shouted down when they attempted to express their views.

At least at this Vassar forum, it was not even possible to have a debate about the desirability of BDS because the students who support BDS have no intention of engaging in a debate or even letting their opponents speak without disrupting them.

While the forum may not have sunk to the level of intimidation and anti-Semitism that was reported at the University of Michigan, shouting down or disrupting pro-Israel students has its own chilling effect on free speech and open debate.

But as Marks noted, the tactic is unlikely to serve the BDS movement well in the long term. He also pointed to one of the central conceits of the movement that underlies such behavior:

BDS supporters, who usually say they are fighting a “taboo” against discussing Israel on college campuses, rarely concede that they actually think the taboo is against supporting Israel.

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March 27, 2014 15:29 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

BDS Can’t Get What They Want…with The Rolling Stones

satisfaction-FB-fightingBDS-773x403The Rolling Stones finally confirmed their long-rumored concert in Israel, scheduled for the beginning of June. And since the Rolling Stones are nothing if not a major force in culture, it didn’t take long for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement to try bullying the band to cancel. According  to the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, the concert announcement provoked “a furious response” from the BDS.

“We urge the Rolling Stones to refrain from playing in apartheid Israel and not to condone Israel’s violations of international law and human rights against the Palestinian people,” said Rafeef Ziadah, a BDS spokesman.

Ziadah also said, apparently without irony, that the June 4 concert in Tel Aviv would serve Israel’s “campaign to rebrand itself and will be used as a publicity tool by the Israeli government.”


Join our Fighting BDS Facebook page and stand up agains the delegitimization of Israel.


What is ironic about Ziadah’s statement is that it’s the BDS movement, not Israel, that’s using the concert to gain publicity. By attacking a group like the Rolling Stones, which hold enormous cultural status and thus commands public interest, the BDS movement and its delegitmization of Israel, get covered in newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph.

This sort of cultural exploitation is one of the main tactics the BDS movement uses to spread its anti-Israel message. Too bad the media is so willing to be used as a tool to promote the BDS narrative.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a group as formidable and sophisticated as the Rolling Stones caving in to BDS pressure. The article, however, did note that BDS supporters such as Roger Waters might get involved. Ziadah herself implied that the campaign against the Stones appearance was far from over. “We will be working with all of our supporters to urge the Rolling Stones to abandon this ill-advised concert,” she said.

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March 26, 2014 15:21 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Reuters Goes Overboard With Anonymous Sources

anonymous sourcesI can accept anonymous sources up to a point. They’re not ideal, but sometimes, there’s no other way to get the hard info on a story.

But the lack of transparency raises doubts about the quality of the journalism and trust the reporter. It’s a leap of faith.

So whenever we come across an unnamed source, we should wonder:

  1. Who is the source?
  2. Is he really in a position to know what he claims? Has the reporter provided enough background info on the source to help us make our own judgment?
  3. Why can’t he be identified for the story? Are readers given a plausible explanation?
  4. What are the source’s possible motives for speaking to the reporter?
  5. Is he fudging anything?
  6. Could the info have been obtained on the record from somewhere else?

The ethics get even murkier when these anonymous sources move from objective info to interpretation and analysis.

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Which brings us to Reuters. Reporter Dan Williams gives a soapbox to claims that the Klos-C weapons ship intercepted by Israel was delivering arms to Sinai jihadis, and not, as Israel claims, to Gaza.


Unfortunately, all the voices that this report is based on are anonymous. All assess the story, but there are no hard facts that weren’t previously known.

And Israel has already denied the report.

It’s certainly plausible that some (or even all) of the M302 rockets, mortars and bullets were meant for Islamists in the Sinai (or even other parts of Africa).

And I’m open to the possibility that Israel claimed these weapons were destined to Gaza to spare Egypt’s government some embarrassment. As Reuters brilliantly reported recently, Cairo’s having difficulty taking back the Sinai.

But to base a news report on nothing more than the hypotheses of ”a U.S. official and two non-Israeli regional sources,” none of whom are identified, isn’t journalism.

It’s speculation.

And if that’s what Reuters wants to indulge in, I’m perfectly willing to spend an hour with Williams over coffee ruminating on a wide variety of topics, some of which I’m even qualified to discuss. I’ll do it on the record too.

That’s Benson with a B.

Image: CC BY flickr/Julian Carvajal

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March 26, 2014 13:32 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , , ,