Diversion Tactic

In the Arab Mideast, the psychology of repression is often remarkably simple: Autocrats foment anti-Israel anger among their populations to divert attention from domestic criticism that would drive democratic reforms — e.g. a free and critical press, shared resources, enhanced education — reforms that would eventually dismantle their own autocratic rule.

Now, as the Iraq War has demonstrated America’s seriousness about promoting full democracy in the region, Syria’s Bashar Assad and King Abdullah II of Jordan are feeling the heat — and once again playing the Israel card to delay the progressive democratic reforms the West now insists upon.


Amidst growing U.S. criticism, the Syrians launched a PR campaign, dispatching a diplomat to New York and Washington for large press sessions. The spokeswoman brushed aside Syrian support for terror, its military control of southern Lebanon, and persecution of local journalists, then glibly stated, “The only solution to the Middle East is to end [Israeli] occupation and settlement… instead of condemning Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah and suicidal bombs and all this, end occupation, end settlements.”

The “diversion tactic” could not have been clearer, yet AFP’s Friday coverage of the session was headlined: “Mideast peace begins when Israeli occupation ends: Syria”

This headline omits the spokeswoman’s important denial of Syrian ties with Saddam’s Iraq, denial of Syrian support for terror groups, and denial of Syrian repression of their media. Absurd as it is, it was precisely the deflective message that Damascus hoped to spread: Israel is to fault for Syrian militancy and lack of democracy, as well as all Mideast woes.

Terror facts: Syria has been on the official U.S. terrorist list for over two decades, and has the most deadly chemical and biological weapons arsenal of any Arab state — well beyond the capacities Saddam ever held. For deployment, Syria has over 1,000 Scud missiles… and plenty of anti-Western fanatics.

Anti-democracy facts: Syrian law criminalizes peaceful expression critical of the government. The Assad regime routinely censors newspapers and other media, and Syrian courts recently locked up 10 important pro-democracy activists with long-term sentences. According to the U.S. State Department, Syria is “a military regime with virtually absolute authority in the hands of the President.”

AFP is one of the West’s most broadly syndicated news agencies. Don’t these facts demand that responsible Western media resist Syrian efforts to hide behind the “Israel excuse”?

Comments to AFP:


Jordan is often seen as a model for Arab reform, due to the limited political liberalization permitted there since 1989. Jordan is still a hereditary monarchy, however, whose ruler King Abdullah is now using the Israeli diversion to deal with the calls for internal democratic change.

The Mideast conflict referred to is, of course, Israeli-Palestinian, and Abdullah displaces pressure for democratic reform in his own country upon the Israelis. AP quotes Abdullah:

“With the cloud of the Israeli-Palestinian issue hanging over our heads, we’ll never have the secure, stable atmosphere, not only in Jordan, but throughout the region, to be able to develop in the way that we want.”

Anti-democracy facts: “Free and fair” Jordanian elections are manipulated through adjustments in the elections law, and criticism of “friendly” nations can be prosecuted in the State Security Court. Under Jordanian law, husbands may prevent their wives and children from leaving Jordan by placing a hold on their travel with the authorities. Last year, a former parliamentarian was sentenced to 18 months in jail for “seditious libel” — having penned an open letter accusing the Jordanian Prime Minister of unwarranted financial gain.

Are the Israelis really responsible for such lack of Jordanian democracy?

Comments to AP:

— Arab Calls to Debunk the Diversion —

An editorial in the Saudi-based “Arab News,” however, provides welcome honesty and hope for change:

“For decades it has been difficult to find anything in the opinion pages of the Arabic language press that did not concern Israel. Every problem faced by Arab societies was blamed, in however obscure or far-fetched a way, on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The issue served as a sort of lowest common denominator, satisfying many journalists who were not equipped to write about anything else as well as many of those who rule the Arab world and who would prefer Israel — rather than their own shortcomings — to be the subject of heated discussion in the “Arab street”… The days when the Arab world could just scream “Israel!” are over. The time for peaceful coexistence, internal reflection and healthy, progressive thinking has come.” http://www.arabnews.com/node/231121

HonestReporting encourages members to monitor your local media for their support — or refutation — of the insidious “diversion tactic.”


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