Monday, August 20, 2012

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Sampler, 8/20/12

Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:

1) Nice continent you have there ... shame if anything happened to it

The New York Times reports Despite Alarm by U.S., Europe Lets Hezbollah Operate Openly. There's a lot of material in this article: some of it good and some of it disappointing spin. Notable though is the illustrative photograph of a crowd (apparently in Lebanon) giving full fisted salutes to Sheikh Nasrallah.
Washington and Jerusalem insist that Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization with bloody hands, and that it is working closely with Tehran to train, arm and finance the Syrian military’s lethal repression of the uprising there. Yet, the European Union continues to treat it foremost as a Lebanese political and social movement.

As Israel heightens fears of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, intelligence analysts warn that Iran and Hezbollah would respond with attacks of their own on targets abroad. Israeli and American officials have attributed the Bulgarian bus bombing last month that killed six people, including five Israeli tourists, to Hezbollah and Iran, saying it was part of a clandestine offensive that has included plots in Thailand, India, Cyprus and elsewhere.
While the group is believed to operate all over the Continent, Germany is a center of activity, with 950 members and supporters last year, up from 900 in 2010, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said in its annual threat report. On Saturday, Hezbollah supporters and others will march here for the annual Jerusalem Day event, a protest against Israeli control of that city. Organizers told the Berlin police that the event would attract 1,000 marchers, and that two counterdemonstrations were also likely.

Why does the first paragraph quoted above start with "Washington and Israel insist?" The first sentence would be true even without that. In fact a lot of the reporting supports the charge that Hezbollah's threat isn't just the opinion of Israel and the United States.

Of course it's also not Jerusalem Day but Qods Day. The fact that Qods day was created by Ayatollah Khomenini and still observed by Hezbollah, is a pretty strong indication that Hezbollah is tied to Iran.
"There is no consensus among the E.U. member states for putting Hezbollah in the terrorist-related list of the organizations,” Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the foreign minister of Cyprus, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said at the time. “Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the E.U. would consider listing the organization.”
The stark difference in views reflects the many roles that Hezbollah has played since it emerged in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982. Hezbollah’s militant wing was responsible for a string of kidnappings and for sophisticated bombings at home and has been accused of bombings abroad. But the group also became a source of social services that the shattered Lebanese government was incapable of providing, and has evolved since then into a political force with two cabinet ministers and a dozen seats in Parliament.
“They are quite professional in this, and this is something some Western donors are admitting that has a positive impression on some Western politicians,” said Stephan Rosiny, a research fellow at the Institute of Middle East Studies at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg.

This, of course, is a common, if mistaken rationale - that a terrorist organization has a "militant" side in addition to a "political" or "charitable" side. Despite the various rationales provided for the European toleration of Hezbollah, near the end of the article we read:

Some experts say that security officials on the Continent are resistant to blacklisting the group because they seem to see a tacit d├ętente, where Hezbollah does not stage attacks and European law enforcement officials do not interfere with its fund-raising and organizational work.
This is an idea that should have been developed more. Who are these experts? It wold be very interesting and disturbing if Europe, as a whole, allowed Hezbollah to operate within its borders out of cowardice.

Congress is attempting to change things in this regard.

2) Morsi's power grab

In contrast to last week's editorial in the New York Times, the editors of the Washington Post seem concerned with President Morsi's latest moves. In Egypt’s Morsi must moderate his power grab:
PRESIDENT MOHAMED MORSI retilted Egypt’s balance of power Sunday, two months after the ruling council of generals had tilted it too far in their own direction. This could prove a step toward a truly democratic Egypt, a positive turn of events. But there is a danger, too, for Mr. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who won the first free presidential election in Egypt’s modern history. He must respect others in a nascent civil society.
By any measure, the power grab by the council of generals was crude and offensive to the democratic aspirations of millions of Egyptians, who threw off Hosni Mubarak’s rule last year in the Arab Spring. Just as the polls closed in Egypt’s runoff presidential ballot in June, the military council stripped the presidency of power, seized authority to legislate until a new parliament is elected and to decide all matters related to the armed forces, and took a significant role in the writing of a new constitution.

On Sunday, Mr. Morsi returned those powers to himself. He also forced the country’s top two generals — both holdovers from the Mubarak years — into retirement and fired the chiefs of all the military services. Last week, he ousted Mr. Mubarak’s head of the security service. Mr. Morsi seems to have shrewdly capitalized on the Aug. 5 security debacle in which 16 Egyptian troops were killed by Islamist militants in the Sinai.

There's something quaint about an American newspaper lecturing the leader of Egypt on the benefits of democracy. It's pretty clear that those are niceties more respected by the former than the latter. Still it's good that the Post at least acknowledges that there's something disturbing about Morsi's overreach.

The Post, like the Times, believes that Egypt's military is the main impediment to democracy in Egypt, thus any other institution, by default, would be a better choice to lead Egypt. There's a certain myopia about recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood as having a totalitarian governing philosophy.

Barry Rubin synopsizes the control Morsi is exercising in What happened in Egypt:
Egyptian President al-Mursi has now named the heads of the main Egyptian newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. They include sleaze balls that sold out to the Mubarak regime and will do whatever he tells them and supporters of Islamism. The first round-ups have begun of reporters who are to bold and honest in their investigations. The walls are closing in.
Soon the generals will be replaced; soon the judges will be replaced, and so too will the diplomats. In other words, the internal and external bureaucracy of Egypt’s government will become transformed. The old national security considerations will change.
The next stop is the court system where plans are being made already to eliminate judges. True, there were many corrupt jurists but there was no institution in Egypt where there were more courageous individuals and advocates of democracy. But that’s the problem. The very integrity that made these e men stand up against Mubarak will make them do the same against the Brotherhood and they will not enforce Sharia law. Their vote against the parliamentary result was a warning. They will soon be ousted.
Morsi's recent power grabs weren't isolated incidents. Rather they were part of an ongoing pattern of accruing more power for the presidency and, consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood.

I missed something from Eric Trager's latest:
Meanwhile, Mr. Morsi's newly appointed defense minister, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, admitted that the military had subjected female activists to "virginity tests" in its brutal crackdown on Tahrir Square protests in March 2011. In its first major move against dissenters, the Morsi regime this month began prosecuting the editor of Al-Dustour, a private daily, for "harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law."
If the former general, Ahmed Shafiq had won the presidential race against Morsi and put El-Sisi in a position of power, do you believe that any news organization would have failed to mention that he was involved in the "virginity tests?"

3) The not-so-secret life of Richard Silverstein

If I happen to know that an old man walks the streets in a long white beard and flowing robes carrying a sign that says "The World will end Soon," I could report, "Elijah Jones believes the world will end soon." That would be undeniably true. However, given that Mr. Jones is quite clearly eccentric or unbalanced, reporting that would bestow upon him an authority he doesn't deserve.

In a sense, Richard Silverstein, is Elijah Jones of the Middle East. He "reports" all sorts of stuff about Israel. The one criteria he seemingly has is that the information he "reports" is damaging to Israel.

In another sense, Silverstein is like Walter Mitty of the James Thurber short story. In order to escape the drudgery of his ordinary life, Walter Mitty imagines himself to different extraordinary people. Silverstein imagines himself an investigative reporter. The difference being that Mitty's reveries stopped when confronted with reality, news organizations actually extend Silverstein's fantasies by using his reports and pretending that he's a reliable source.

The latest incident occurred when Silverstein claimed to have gotten a secret report for Israel's war plans against Iran. Apparently, these plans came not from the Israeli government, but from an online forum in Israel called Fresh. Here's part of what the operators of Fresh wrote:
Over the past two days, most of the people in Israel (ourselves included), have seen news reports all over the media, detailing the "Israeli Iran Attack Plan", allegedly originating from one Richard Silverstein, an American Anti-Israeli blogger.
Silverstein, whose lack of integrity is shown by his claims to have never visited though he has an active account, which he used to write 11 posts (the 12th was an attempt to publish classified information and resulted in deletion and a six month suspension of his account – suspension which was ended over a year ago), published yesterday a translation of what he claimed to have been a document obtained from “a high-level Israeli source who received it from an IDF officer”. Since we can’t read minds, we can only guess whether Silverstein source actually exist, and whether the source was informed on this “attack plan”.
What we don’t need to speculate about, is the fact the first publication of the said document (in a different version, which defined it as “an optimistic scenario for an attack in Iran” and clearly stated that it was based on foreign and non-classified sources and on the author’s own imagination) – was published four days before Silverstein’s publication, right here, on this website, in the Army and Security Forum, as a thread which was started by the forum’s moderator, Sirpad, on behalf of one of the forum’s most veteran and respected users, who was the original author of the document (yes, he and non-other).
There have been a number of critiques of the media's irresponsible behavior from Jewlicious, The Algemeiner Journal, Honest Reporting and even the anti "war on terror" website War in Context.

Israelly Cool ably exposed Silverstein's claims.

Elder of Ziyon graded the various media organizations that quoted Silverstein. Only three of these organizations rated a passing (C- or above) grade. I'd like to highlight one of the failures:

I don’t doubt that the document is real. I don’t doubt that it came from somewhere inside the Israeli government. What I doubt is the veracity of Silverstein’s source’s claim that this document is being used to “persuade high-level Israeli officials.”Believes him completely

972 is an online anti-Israel publication. Despite not being reliable, it has been quoted numerous times by The Lede blog at the New York Times. At least one of its contributors has been awarded an op-ed column in the Times. So yes, the problem of this one story extends beyond those publications who published it.

Silverstein, it should be remembered, was quoted in the New York Times and other publications lamenting the lack of civility in the blogging world. The complaint, coming from someone whose favored form of argument is an ad hominem attack, was laughable. Yet not one of the news organization that quoted Silverstein about civility bothered to check his blog to see his hypocrisy first hand.

When it comes to critics of Israel the standard of proof is so low that even legitimate news organizations will publish the rantings of the Elijah Jones and Walter Mittys of the world. Whether it's always malice or an unhealthy addiction to sensational stories regardless of their veracity (two of Silverstein's dupes this time were Ynet and Arutz-7) this all too common defect shows a lack of standards in journalism.

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