AFP’s Settlement Error

afpTake a look at the opening paragraph of an AFP story on the breakdown of peace talks:

US Secretary of State John Kerry has blamed approval of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem for derailing peace talks with Palestinians, a charge that pricked Israeli officials and sent aides into damage control.

Even if we were to accept the inaccurate terminology used to describe what are actually Jewish neighborhoods or suburbs of Jerusalem – which we don’t – AFP is evidently confused. The approval that the sentence refers to is for building units in existing neighborhoods, not the creation of new settlements as the sentence mistakenly implies.

When the media cannot distinguish between cities, neighborhoods, individual buildings or isolated hilltops, is it any wonder that there is no nuance in reporting on the settlement issue?

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April 9, 2014 13:14 By Category : Backspin

Recommended Reading: The IDF’s Combat Cameramen

doverIsrael’s business newspaper Globes has published a feature article focusing on the IDF’s combat cameramen:

[IDF First Sergeant Naor] Blanco is one of 24 fighters who are classified as “combat cameramen” who were trained in a special unit established by the IDF Spokesperson’s unit two years ago, and which operates as a combat platoon in every respect. They have undergone arduous training in the Golani brigade, like any other combat soldier. They know when to place the enemy in the crosshairs of their rifles, and when to point their cameras at them.

One picture is worth a thousand spins

Years later than it should have, the IDF has come to understand that stealth fighters and smart bombs are not enough to win the battle for public opinion, and that one good picture can save commissions of enquiry and a few other international headaches. En route to this victory, the IDF decided to forego one or two guns on the battlefield, and to replace them with still or video cameras that will make it possible to tell the same story to the world, in an entirely different way.

The men documenting operations are combat soldiers in every respect. They operate in the hottest conflict zones, they are up against civilian populations in the field, they see the whites of the terrorists’ eyes, and when bullets are whistle over their heads, their story only gets more interesting. When the forces advance towards their target with their fingers on their triggers, the combat cameraman points a loaded, battle-adapted camera, so the IDF can guarantee itself victory in the next battle – the one that will follow the moment the soldiers have left the heat of the battlefield: the battle of how the operation is perceived.

At the conclusion of the story, an IDF spokesperson says:

Today, we can only imagine how the Muhammad al-Durrah incident (during the Second Intifada) would have unfolded had we had a combat documenter at the scene.

Indeed, the use of trained soldiers to document the IDF’s operations through the camera lens is an important development and may yet prove crucial in defending Israel against Goldstone Report-style accusations in the future.

Read the full article here.

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April 8, 2014 15:00 By Category : Backspin Tags:,

BDS: A War of Attrition Against Israelis

war-attrition-tug-rope-773x403By keeping up the pressure on the Israeli public, the BDS is “softening up Israelis” to support withdrawal from the West Bank, according to Larry Derfner.

Writing in the left-wing Internet magazine +972, Derfner includes the text of an email he wrote to a supporter who was lamenting the improbability of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank due to the entrenchment of the “right wing and settlers.”

“I think that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to follow the S. African precedent – years of build-up of pressure until the Israeli public says enough,” he wrote. Adding later, “I think this is going to take a good few years of softening up Israelis until they’re ready.”

Derfner calls it “The BDS Long Game.” The message is consistent with an earlier piece he wrote for the same publication describing the impact of BDS as a psychological war against Israel.

The boycott doesn’t have to bring the Israeli economy to its knees, or anything close, for the Israeli body politic – the public, the opinion-makers and the decision-makers – to decide to end the occupation. All the boycott has to do is keep growing, drop by drop – yes, like Chinese water torture – for it to succeed. Because finally, the boycott is not an economic war against Israel, it’s a psychological war

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Derfner’s Long Game is really a war of attrition against the Israeli people. That message was reinforced this week by another critic of Israel, Harriet Sherwood, who used to cover Israel for the Guardian.

Israel frequently proclaims itself to be the only true democracy in the Middle East. Should its citizens demand an end to policies that have brought them economic pain, isolation and global opprobrium, their government will surely be forced to take notice.

At least Derfner and Sherwood are honest about the BDS and how it seeks “economic pain” for the people of Israel. In any other context, the left would deride this approach as collective punishment. But not when the BDS has the noble goal of “ending the occupation.” And for that, any means necessary are acceptable.

Image: CC BY-SA flickr/tottehoff.

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April 7, 2014 14:47 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Two-Faced Tutu and the Fight for Free Speech

Desmond_TutuSouth African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has a long history of defaming Israel as an apartheid state, has come out publicly against the proposed legislation in some states to limit funding for state universities that carry out academic boycotts against Israel.

In a statement published by Keep Free Speech in the Free State, Tutu conveyed “grave concern” about the legislation, particularly in Maryland:

I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people.

By defending “those who speak their conscience,” Tutu is apparently expressing concern for the free speech rights of those who want to boycott Israeli academics. Defending free speech, of course, would be a noble position for Tutu to take – if only he applied it equally across the board.

But Tutu doesn’t really care about free speech at all. He cares only about harming Israel. Otherwise, he would have joined the 250 college presidents and 134 members of Congress who reject academic boycott as an affront to academic freedom. A true fighter for free speech would have, at least, railed against both measures.

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But not Tutu.

In fact, Tutu expresses strong support for the BDS movement, which he claims “exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave.”

Tutu is completely wrong about the motives of the BDS movement, which makes no pretense of seeking a two-state solution. But even if he were right, it would not justify his lack of support for “those who speak their conscience” in Israeli academies.

Freezing Israeli academics out of the free exchange of ideas harms both the academy and any chance for finding common ground that could lead to the “lasting peace” Tutu claims to be supporting.

Tutu’s two-faced position is similar to the one adopted by a group of pro-BDS academics who published a letter last month complaining about “accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”

So silencing Israeli academics, simply because they come from Israel, is fine. But to take any counter-measures is grave a violation of rights aimed at “punishing and intimidating” the boycotters.

It’s another reminder of what one BDS group said when caught using Israeli technology: “BDS is a tactic, not a principle.”

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April 6, 2014 15:11 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

What is the Power of Economic Pressure on Israel?

729barcode-FBhoriz-ShareLink-398x208Although the BDS movement has little to show for its efforts against Israel other than damage to Israel’s image, the potential for large-scale boycotts of Israeli businesses from Europe hangs over Israel like a dark cloud.

That potential motivated the government to discuss the issue in February, and it has pushed members of the Israeli business sector to form a pressure group called Breaking the Impasse (BTI) calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The online magazine, Slate, covered a recent public relations campaign from BTI as an expression of concern on the part of Israeli business leaders about boycotts:

Yarom Ariav, the executive chairman of Lavi Capital and former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, told me, “The boycott issue is a threat because Israel is an open economy. We don’t have a big internal market [as] was the case in South Africa. … Our exports are about 40 percent of the GDP.”

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At the same time, the article quoted a former Likud member Uriel Lynn, who currently serves as the president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce:

BTI was “behaving very irresponsibly.” Israel, he insisted, is “not going to in any way bend for economic reasons.”

Judging by the panicked response from at least a portion of Israel’s business sector, the threat of boycotts may be more powerful than the boycotts themselves.

But the behavior of the government in the latest round of peace talks suggests that Lynn is correct in saying that Israel will not bend for economic reasons. Even the strongly pro-business Netanyahu never appeared to waver from Israel’s core demands.

In any case, with dark clouds looming, it’s never a bad time to send the business sector a message of solidarity by making an effort to buy Israeli products and promote the companies that are coming under the biggest threats.

(Note: the graphic above is EAN, used mostly outside the US.)

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April 3, 2014 14:35 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

The Times and “Occupied Arab Land”

Writing on the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, The Times (subscription-only) includes the following paragraph in its report:


The reference to “occupied Arab land” is inaccurate and prejudicial, implying that there is no Jewish historical or legal claim to those areas. While the correct terminology would be “disputed territories,” Catherine Philp’s description goes beyond other common (and inaccurate) terms that the media regularly use to describe the area of the West Bank / Judea and Samaria.

Within the context of the paragraph itself, it is nigh impossible that Israel would have referred to “occupied Arab land” in any statement it would have released.

HonestReporting has written to The Times and Catherine Philp requesting more neutral and objective terminology. Watch this space.

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April 3, 2014 14:18 By Category : Backspin UK News

Guardian Corrects the Error

The Guardian’s latest report on the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process contained the following paragraph:


HonestReporting sent an email to The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont and to the readers’ editor pointing out that, contrary to the above claim, the fourth prisoner release was not directly linked to Israeli calls for the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The prisoner release was in fact contingent on an agreement in advance that the Palestinians continue the peace negotiations. The error was also picked up by CiF Watch.

Beaumont and the readers’ editor both responded to HR’s email, explaining that the inaccurate sentence was the result of an editing error. The bottom of the article now includes the following:

• This article was corrected on 3 April 2014. The sentence: But despite the agreement, Netanyahu has refused to release the fourth group of prisoners unless the Palestinian Authority recognises Israel as a Jewish state”, should have said: “Then at the last moment, Netanyahu introduced new conditions for the last group to be released”. The error was made during the editing process.

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April 3, 2014 13:20 By Category : Backspin UK News

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