Scorning the Island of DemocracyNovember 7, 2002 12:00 by ManagingTeam
As the Israeli government prepares for new elections — the only genuine democratic process in the Middle East today — some commentators are making outlandish comparisons of democratic Israel to the world’s worst dictatorial despots.
(1) The Daytona Beach (Florida) News Journal published an editorial cartoon by Bruce Beattie, entitled “Which Nukes Are You Most Afraid Of?” The cartoon shows a short list of axis-of-evil states like North Korea, Iraq, Iran, al-Qaida, and — you guessed it — Israel.
By lumping democratic Israel together with despotic terror regimes, Beattie mocks the serious efforts of Western civilization to foster democracy in the Middle East and beyond.
Comments to Time at:
Comments to the Daytona Beach News Journal:
Comments to the artist:
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(2) On a visit to Saudi Arabia, The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd questioned the anti-Israel slant of Saudi education (“Under the Ramadan Moon” – Nov. 6). Dowd spoke with Saudi deputy ministers of education, and reports:
“They were defensive about American suspicion of the religious hard-liners’ influence on boys’ schooling. ‘Why don’t you go to Israeli math textbooks and see what they’re saying — If you kill 10 Arabs one day and 12 the next day, what would be the total?’ demanded one deputy.”
Of course, no such Israeli textbook exists. It’s bad enough that the Saudi media prints blood libels against the Jews. But for The Times to be echoing these claims, allowing such inflammatory statements to go unquestioned, unchallenged and uncriticized, points to one of two problems: Either Dowd actually believed the libel, and ignored the basic journalistic rule of fact-checking. Or Dowd knew that the Saudi claim was false, but reported it anyway, thus being guilty of gratuitously spreading a vicious, baseless lie.
UPDATE: In response to a complaint from HonestReporting member Michael S., Gail Collins of The New York Times Editorial Board wrote:
“Maureen was using the textbook comment as an example of the extreme misinformation that floats around in the Mideast. It’s obvious that she didn’t expect anyone to take it literally. However I’m very sorry you were disturbed by it.”
We question how “obvious” this is. Quite likely Dowd’s satire was lost on a large percentage of The Times’ million-plus readers, who turn to the newspaper of record” for accurate information, not satire. Without offering any clarification, Dowd’s column leads to grave misinterpretation — particularly damaging at a time when inflammatory accusations already proliferate against Israel.
We reiterate: In this case, The Times is guilty of grave journalistic irresponsibility, and has misled countless thousands of readers.
Write to The Times and demand a retraction:
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Fortunately, someone out there is intelligently questioning Israel’s being singled out for such scorn. Harvard professor Alan M. Dershowitz puts it all into perspective in the National Post of Canada (http://www.nationalpost.com), in a column entitled “Treatment of Israel Strikes an Alien Note.” We reprint the full article here:
“TREATMENT OF ISRAEL STRIKES AN ALIEN NOTE”
If a visitor from a far away galaxy were to land at an American or Canadian university and peruse some of the petitions that were circulating around the campus, he would probably come away with the conclusion that the Earth is a peaceful and fair planet with only one villainous nation determined to destroy the peace and to violate human rights.
That nation would not be Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Russia or Iran. It would be Israel.
There are currently petitions circulating on most North American university campuses that would seek to have universities terminate all investments in companies that do business in or with Israel. There are also petitions asking individual faculty members to boycott scientists and scholars who happen to be Israeli Jews, regardless of their personal views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. There have been efforts, some successful, to prevent Israeli speakers from appearing on college campuses, as recently occurred at Concordia University. There are no comparable petitions seeking any action against other countries that enslave minorities, imprison dissidents, murder political opponents and torture suspected terrorists. Nor are there any comparable efforts to silence speakers from other countries.
The intergalactic visitor would wonder what this pariah nation, Israel, must have done to deserve this unique form of economic capital punishment. If he then went to the library and began to read books and articles about this planet, he would discover that Israel was a vibrant democracy, with freedom of speech, press and religion, that was surrounded by a group of tyrannical and undemocratic regimes, many of which are actively seeking its destruction.
He would learn that in Egypt, homosexuals are routinely imprisoned and threatened with execution; that in Jordan suspected terrorists and other opponents of the government are tortured, and that if individualized torture does not work, their relatives are called in and threatened with torture as well; that in Saudi Arabia, women who engage in sex outside of marriage are beheaded; that in Iraq, political opponents are routinely murdered en masse and no dissent is permitted; that in Iran members of religious minorities, such as Baha’is and Jews, are imprisoned and sometimes executed; that in all of these surrounding nations, anti-Semitic material is frequently broadcast on state-sponsored television and radio programs; in Saudi Arabia apartheid is practised against non-Muslims, with signs indicating that Muslims must go to certain areas and non-Muslims to others; that China has occupied Tibet for half a century; that in several African countries women are stoned to death for violating sexual mores; that slavery still exists in some parts of the world; and that genocide has been committed by a number of countries in recent memory.
Our curious visitor would wonder why there are no petitions circulating with regard to these human rights violators. Is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — an occupation it has offered to end in exchange for peace — worse than the Chinese occupation of Tibet? Are the tactics used to combat terrorism by Israel worse than those used by the Russians against Chechen terrorists? Are Arab and Muslim states more democratic than Israel? Is there any comparable institution in any Arab or Muslim state to the Israeli Supreme Court, which frequently rules in favour of Palestinian claims against the Israeli government and military?
Does the absence of the death penalty in Israel alone, among Middle East nations, make it more barbaric than the countries which behead, hang and shoot political dissidents? Is Israel’s settlement policy, which 78% of Israelis want to end in exchange for peace, worse than the Chinese attempt at cultural geno
cide in Tibet? Is Israel’s policy of full equality for openly gay soldiers and members of the Knesset somehow worse than the policy of Muslim states to persecute those who have a different sexual orientation than the majority? Is Israel’s commitment to equality for women worse than the gender apartheid practised in Saudi Arabia?
Our visitor would be perplexed to hear the excuses made by university professors and students for why they are prepared to delegitimate Israel while remaining silent about the far worse abuses committed by other countries. If he were to ask a student about the abuses committed by other countries, he would be told (as I have been): “You’re changing the subject. We’re talking about Israel now.”
This reminds me of an incident from the 1920s involving then-Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell. Lowell decided that the number of Jews admitted to Harvard should be reduced because “Jews cheat.” When a distinguished alumnus, Judge Learned Hand, pointed out that Protestants also cheat, Lowell responded, “You’re changing the subject; we’re talking about Jews.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that as responsible and cautious a writer as Andrew Sullivan, formerly editor of The New Republic and now a writer for The New York Times Magazine, has concluded that “fanatical anti-Semitism, as bad or even worse than Hitler’s, is now a cultural norm across much of the Middle East and beyond. It’s the acrid glue that unites Saddam, Arafat, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Saudis. They all hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed.”
Our intergalactic traveller, after learning all of these facts, would wonder what kind of a planet he had landed on. Do we have everything backwards? Do we know the difference between right and wrong? Do our universities teach the truth?
These are questions that need asking, lest we become the kind of world the visitor would have experienced had he arrived in Europe during the late 1930s and early 1940s.