Comments and the Roar of the Crowd – 6

A sampling of the latest from my inbox.

Christian Science Monitor1. Are some newspapers beyond the pale?

From: …
Date: Wed, Mar 19, 2014
Subject: Re: IDNS: What Does Unearthed Arafat Video Mean for Peace Talks?

Why are you quoting articles from the cult of the Christian science monitor? thank you for attention to this matter.

I cite articles in the Israel Daily News Stream which make points that I feel warrant the attention of our readers. And I link to those articles so readers can read them in full for themselves, form their own judgments, and perhaps share the article or take action if so moved. The IDNS links to a wide variety of news services — Israeli, US, British, Arab, Australian, Canadian, left, right, center, etc.

It’s okay for readers to have “favorite” papers or papers they’ll absolutely never read as a matter of principle. That’s everyone’s individual choice. HonestReporting doesn’t endorse news services.

As for your feelings abou the Christian Science Monitor, HonestReporting monitors the Monitor because:

  1. It has a correspondent in Israel (currently Christa Case Bryant).
  2. It publishes original commentary.
  3. Its readership is sizable.
  4. It’s viewed as a respectable, mainstream paper.

It’s a terrible disservice to HonestReporting readers to only criticize the media. When the Monitor — or any other news service — has content that contributes to a better understanding of Israel and the Mideast, it earns an appropriate mention in the IDNS.

Last but not least: IDNS links and references do not constitute endorsements of news services.

acronyms2. Acronyms, shmakronyms.

From: …
Date: Thu, Mar 13, 2014
Subject: To HonestReporting Editors

You quoted a story today that was identified as originating with AFP – nowhere do you say who AFP is – Is that Americans for Prosperity? (they are generally a respected conservative group)

AFP refers to Agence France-Presse, a French-based wire service that competes with the Associated Press and Reuters.

For the sake of brevity, I don’t spell out the full names of news sites like — for example — British Broadcasting Corp. News, when BBC suffices. I take the acronyms for granted, but as you point out, this doesn’t mean everyone else does.

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March 19, 2014 10:35 By Category : Backspin Tags:, ,

Fighting BDS – Salon Sides with Roger Waters

salon-taking-sides-02Salon, one of the first magazines to appear exclusively on the Internet, has never been a friend of Israel, and its recent output on the Jewish state is decidedly pro-BDS. This week alone, the magazine published two pieces revolving around the two most prominent celebrities on either side of the BDS debate – pro-BDS Roger Waters and anti-BDS Scarlett Johansson.

Not surprisingly, Waters gets free space to promote BDS without comment while Johansson’s support for SodaStream is referred to as “awful” by the magazine.

The article on Johansson falls in line with the BDS position on SodaStream, which remains in the BDS crosshairs because of its factory in Mishor Adumim.

The article starts out with a quotes from interviews Johansson gave the Guardian’s Sunday publication, The Observer, and the New Yorker, defending the SodaStream factory “as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”

“She’s entitled to her opinion, but this feels excessive, a defense of her taking SodaStream money that’s worse than the initial offense,” the magazine writes, adding:

Johansson’s representation of herself as someone with a level of perception greater than that of the human rights groups that have condemned profiting from occupied territories is the sort of thing people talk about when they wish actresses wouldn’t talk politics.

Please join our Facebook page Fighting BDS, dedicated to bringing you all the news in the battle against Israel’s delegitimization.

The same day, Salon also provided a forum for Roger Waters to defend his support for BDS and to deny accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against him recently by a prominent Jewish leader in the UK.

Waters appeared to back down on earlier statements comparing the Palestinians to Jews during the Holocaust.

But he also promotes BDS a movement that “recognizes universal human rights under the law for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or color,” ignoring the fact that BDS aims to destroy Israel’s Jewish character and flood Israel’s borders with millions of Palestinian refugees.

Image: CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons/Daigo Oliva, Wikimedia Commons/GabboT, Font Awesome by Dave Gandy,

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March 18, 2014 16:03 By Category : Backspin Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)

Only Israel is “Hard-Line” According to AP

APlogoIsrael’s coalition government doesn’t always speak with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Palestinian issue. But why does the Associated Press refer to it as “hard-line”?

Members of Israel’s hard-line government have questioned Abbas’ readiness to make peace. But ahead of Monday’s meeting, Abbas received a boost of support from Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said: “We have to continue to work with the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas” and called him “a man of principles.”

While members of Israel’s government have certainly questioned Abbas’ readiness to make peace, does this make them “hard-line”? Does this make the entire government “hard-line”?

Granted, the coalition contains some members of parties such as Bayit Hayehudi and parts of the Likud who are adamantly opposed to making concessions to the Palestinians. However, the coalition’s second largest party is the centrist Yesh Atid, which supports peace negotiations which are led by the Hatnua party’s Tzipi Livni. Not to mention the Israeli PM Netanyahu who has publicly committed to a two-state solution.

So why then does the Associated Press use such lazy and inaccurate terminology? And why is Israel, which has repeatedly committed to making peace, portrayed as “hard-line” even when the Palestinian side has not moved one inch from its own zero-sum demands?

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March 18, 2014 11:29 By Category : Backspin

Free Lance Fauxtography, Reuters Style

Molhem Barakat

Molhem Barakat

Last year’s death of Molhem Barakat — a Syrian freelance photographer for Reuters who was under age and had previously sought to be a suicide bomber — continues to raise questions about the integrity of the wire service’s images.

The talented teenage photographer was killed covering fighting in Aleppo last December.

The NY Times explains:

Interviews with numerous Syrian photographers, most requesting anonymity because they have worked as freelancers for Reuters, said many of the freelancers are activists — in one case a spokesman — who supported the rebels. Three of them also said that the freelancers had provided Reuters with images that were staged or improperly credited, sometimes under pseudonyms. And while Reuters has given the local stringers protective vests and helmets, most said that the stringers lacked training in personal safety and first aid.

Jim Gaines, Reuters’s global editor, said that the agency would not use combatants but did rely on activists for pictures. “We use activists in Syria partly because they have access and partly because you have to be among friends to be safe,” he said. And although “we scrutinize all images and captions” to ensure they are free from bias, Reuters does not “as a general practice” inform subscribers that activists took the photos.

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Reuters had no problem crediting the IDF (and rightly so) for handout photos of weapons seized aboard the Klos-C. More importantly, just as Israeli soldiers (and the activists who love ‘em) don’t moonlight as freelance Reuters photographers, neither should Syrian rebels and their partisan supporters.

The Times reports some specific examples:

Among the 26 Syrian photographers in Reuters’s Syria freelance network is Abdul-Rahman Ismael, a spokesman for a rebel group; his work was credited to Abdalrhman Ismail. On Jan. 9, The New York Times ran a Reuters photograph credited to Mr. Ismael that accompanied an article in which Mr. Ismael was also quoted by The Times as an activist . . . .

Three photographers who worked for Reuters in Aleppo claimed that at times when a photograph didn’t turn out as hoped, some of the Reuters freelancers staged photographs. One of them directly admitted to staging photos.

ReutersThe Times touched on two other issues that also deserve attention:

1. The identity of the freelancers.

The Syrian photographers understandably need anonymity to protect themselves from the Syrian government. But instead of using a pseudonym, the caption should directly explain that the image is anonymously credited to protect the identity of the photographer. That’s transparency allowing readers to better judge the image for themselves.

If Reuters isn’t comfortable crediting anonymous images for the long haul, the wire service better come up with a better system to honestly document the civil war.

2. Is Reuters doing enough to protect its freelancers?

When Barakat died last year, there was very much a question of whether Reuters was doing enough to support its freelancers with flak jackets, helmets, safety training, and general photography equipment.

What’s at stake here? News services being used by one faction or another through the freelancers. Muddying the integrity of photo credits. Staged photos. And an international wire service that may not be ethically doing enough to protect the lives of its personnel.

We saw something similar during a 2010 Israeli-Lebanese border skirmish that was suspiciously too well-covered by Reuters photographers. (See Border Clash: A Case Study in Reuters Photography).

Who says the camera doesn’t lie?

(Image via Facebook/Molhem Barakat)

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March 16, 2014 0:02 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , , , ,

It’s Just “Tit-For-Tat” For the Financial Times

While its actual article doesn’t employ such terminology, the Financial Times’ subhead on its Middle East news page raises some eyebrows:


“Tit-for-tat” expresses a false moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists initiating the firing of rockets towards Israeli civilian targets and Israeli counter-measures to protect its civilians.

Suspiciously similar to the all too familiar “cycle of violence.”

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March 13, 2014 15:36 By Category : Backspin UK News Tags:, , ,

Only Israel to Blame In UNRWA’s Eyes

unrwalogo2UNRWA’s deputy commissioner-general Margot Ellis writes on The Guardian’s Comment is Free how the greater media focus on Syria has impacted UNRWA’s fundraising ability for emergency projects for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank:

Aid money follows the cameras. Cameras follow conflict. Syria is no exception. …

Gaza hit the headlines during the upsurge in fighting in the winter of 2008-2009 and then again in November 2012. For a brief few days the cameras were there to capture the Israeli attack and the rockets that flew towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The West Bank is even more severely “news fatigued”. The occupation, now more than 45 years old, is hardly a news story, some would say.

Ellis is effectively acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies and the media. If UNRWA can only raise money on the back of media coverage of the conflict, is it any wonder that NGOs make so much effort to supply the media with one-sided reports bashing Israel?

And to prove the point, Ellis writes about the plight of Palestinians:

The only way of dealing with these man-made emergencies is to get rid of the underlying causes: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the closure of Gaza which is stifling the economy, increasing poverty and unemployment, and forcing even greater dependency on aid provided by the international community. The need for emergency interventions would diminish dramatically if Gaza was opened up for normal business and trade.

So only Israel is responsible for the situation of the Palestinians. No mention of Hamas’s control over Gaza or Egypt’s closure of the Rafah border crossing. No mention of Palestinian terrorism that has contributed to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement as a security necessity.

But just imagine if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were to be resolved. Where would UNRWA be then? Margot Ellis and NGO workers like her would be out of a job. And where would organizations such as UNRWA be then?

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March 13, 2014 11:36 By Category : Backspin UK News Tags:, , , ,

AFP Retracts False Palestinian Charge

afplogoIt’s all too easy to accuse Israel of any crime you can imagine, especially when the media rely on unnamed Palestinian sources for their stories. Take this from AFP under the headline “Palestinian dies after Israel troops fire on his car“:

A Palestinian died on Tuesday after Israeli troops fired on his car near Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, Palestinian security sources said.

The sources said his car then veered off the road, and it was not clear whether the gunfire or the subsequent crash killed him.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli army, but the police described the incident as a traffic accident.

The Times of Israel reports, however that the AFP retracted the story after the Palestinians notified them that “their information on army gunfire was incorrect.”

TOI goes on to report:

According to Ma’an, Palestinian government sources claimed that the wreck was the result of a high-speed chase by Israeli security forces. However, an IDF spokesperson said that there were no reports of a chase, and the incident was “probably a car accident.”

The real surprise in this case is that the Palestinians owned up to an error. No surprise though that AFP was prepared to run the story in the first place. But just how much damage can a story do before it gets quietly buried by a newsroom?

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March 11, 2014 14:41 By Category : Backspin

Context-Free Headlines

Not everybody reads articles. You just see headlines as you quickly your news sites and social media feeds.

Which is why this AP headline contains all the info most people will know about yesterday’s incident at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.

Associated Press

You have to read the article to find out that Raed Zueter tried to grab a gun from a soldier.

“The terrorist ran toward soldiers yelling ‘Allahu akbar’ attempting to seize their weapons,” the Israeli military said. “The soldiers felt an immediate threat to their lives and fired toward his lower extremities. The suspect then began to strangle a soldier and the force resorted to firing again.”

AFP’s no better.

Israeli troops kill Jordanian judge at border crossing

While Zueter’s death has whipped up a predictable firestorm in Jordan, sensationalized headlines like these only inflame tensions even more.

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March 11, 2014 10:40 By Category : Backspin Tags:, , , , ,

Guardian Headline Screams Bias

What would you think if you saw this in The Guardian?


A headline referring to discrimination against women in the workplace plus a photo of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset would suggest a serious problem for women’s rights in Israel.

It’s only when you look at the rest of the article that you will see that it includes a selection of rather dry news briefs from the civil services of countries including Canada, India and Pakistan.

But only Israel warrants a sensationalized headline and a photo that bears very little relevance to the non-story at hand.

As for the rights of women in Israel, The Guardian may wish to consider that the issue of gender inequality has arisen in a state comptroller report precisely because Israel takes this seriously. Israel, a state that has had a female prime minister, doesn’t only compare favorably on this issue to its Middle East neighbors (where, for example, women in Saudi Arabia are not even allowed to drive), but also does with other Western liberal democracies.

Yet another example of The Guardian’s unhealthy obsession with reporting anything and everything remotely negative to do with Israel and amplifying it to a wholly disproportionate level.

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March 9, 2014 11:49 By Category : Backspin UK News Tags:

Save the Date: HR CEO to Speak at Newton, MA Event


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March 6, 2014 17:14 By Category : Backspin