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Media Analyses





NYTís Bronner Smears Israel as Racist on MSNBC


According to the New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism, "Staff members may appear from time to time on local or national radio and television programs devoted to public affairs, but they should avoid expressing views that go beyond the news and analysis that could properly appear under their regular bylines." (Sec B1, 93) On this score, Times editors should review Ethan Bronner’s startling comments on a March 8, 2010 appearance on MSNBC with Chris Matthews, who was broadcasting at the time from Israel during Vice President Biden’s visit there. Bronner, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, casually leveled incendiary charges against the Israeli people, terming them prejudiced and racist – because many do not like the current American President as much as they do other U.S. leaders.

Bronner was asked in the interview to rank Israeli sentiment toward several American political figures. (It should be noted this interview took place before the controversy over plans for new housing in a Jerusalem neighborhood.) Here’s the video clip, followed by an excerpt of the transcript, with the full transcript further below:
 
 

BRONNER: I would say Bill Clinton is the—Bill Clinton is the most popular of those four. [Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama] And I would say...

(CROSSTALK)

BRONNER: Hillary‘s probably next.

MATTHEWS: The secretary of state.

BRONNER: That‘s correct. And then I would say Joe Biden and then President Obama.

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know...

Parse that response by Bronner. (Matthews’ own comments are another issue.)

The thrust of it is there’s something wrong – bigoted actually – in the Israeli body politic. First, without hesitating, the Times reporter termed Israelis "prejudiced" because of Barack Obama’s Islamic background (which he erroneously attributes only to a stepfather, though Obama’s father was also Muslim). He offers no evidence for this alleged prejudice, a serious charge which he simply asserts.

He does grant that, more than their "prejudice" against the president for his ethnic heritage, Israelis were "nervous" at Obama’s attempting to "recalibrate the relationship" in the form of distancing the U.S. from Israel – a rather oblique characterization of the substantial presidential change of course regarding Israel. That is, the actions of the president supposedly couldn’t fully explain the anxiety of Israelis and their negative attitudes toward Obama. Rather, the people themselves must be part of the problem, harboring irrational animus.

But he went further than this, interjecting what he termed a "perfectly honest" insight about Israel – that "some degree of racism" figures as well in the views toward Barack Obama.

On what does Bronner’s "honest" allegation of racism rest? Are there polls to show Israelis are less favorable toward the president because he’s African-American?

There are polls – but they reveal something  very different. Multiple polls in Israel before Obama’s election showed him the favorite over John McCain. In July 2008 a Maagar Mohot Survey found 37% preferred seeing Obama elected, compared to 28% for McCain. In November, just after the election a Shvakim Panorama poll found 63% said they were not concerned about the election of Barack Obama.

In May 2009 a poll by the Begin-Sadat Center found Israelis remained positive about the U.S. president, with 38% perceiving he had a friendly attitude toward Israel and just 7% an unfriendly view. Similarly, despite expressing uncertainty about his possible policies, a full 60% expressed favorable opinion about the president.

A Smith Research poll found a similar number of 31% in May perceiving Obama being friendly toward Israel. These attitudes plummeted though in June, by which time only 6% of Israelis considered Obama friendly. That dropped even further by August 28 when 4% found him favorable to Israel.
 
What happened between May and August? On May 18, at a joint White House press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama appeared to sidestep the Oslo Accords saying: "Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward." Responding later to questions about this, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said: "The issue of settlements is a final status issue, and until there are final status arrangements, it would not be fair to kill normal life inside existing communities."
 
As the New York Times reported on June 1, on the eve of the new president's first trip to the Middle East:  "President Obama indicated on Monday that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been, and he reiterated his call for a freeze of Israeli settlements."
 
In a June 3 story in the Christian Science Monitor  entitled "Obama visits Saudi Arabia, Cairo – why not Israel?" reporter Ilene Prusher wrote:
Obama, who was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and will speak in Egypt on Thursday, will not come to Israel as part of the trip. While there has been no official Israeli comment on this choice of itinerary, some observers see it as a symbol of how much has changed between Obama and the past few administrations, both under Republican George W. Bush and his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton.
In his June 4 Cairo speech addressing the Muslim world, the president returned to the issue of settlements, saying: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." 
 
Various American officials continued to press Israel on a freeze, without apparent requirements being laid upon the Palestinians.
 
Regardless of their sentiment about settlements per se, Israelis came to believe in dramatic numbers that Obama was leaning disproportionately and harshly on Israel – after the public initially hoped he’d be friendly to the Jewish state.
 
Equally notable and deplorable is the double standard applied by Bronner who avoids any use of the term racism with regard to bigoted invective and attacks leveled by Arabs against the Jewish state. A Nexis search finds not a single case in which he directly labeled Palestinians or Arabs racists – notwithstanding the many documented examples of anti-Semitic media broadcasts and bigoted political and religious statements from Arab sources. The Times' lack of coverage of the virulent hatred spewed against Israel has long been a central complaint of CAMERA's. Thus, Bronner's smearing of Israel as racist takes on an added dimension. In a poisonous sea of similar examples, MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) has translated a February 28, 2010 screed by Abdallah Jarbu', Hamas deputy minister of religious endowments, that aired on Al-Aqsa TV. The Muslim cleric has this to say:

Abdallah Jarbu': [The Jews] suffer from a mental disorder, because they are thieves and aggressors. A thief or an aggressor, who took property or land, develops a psychological disorder and pangs of conscience, because he took something that wasn't his.

They want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria – a microbe unparalleled in the world. It's not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: "You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews."

May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.

Why is it the New York Times all but ignores anti-Jewish bigotry while volubly, publicly — and without cause — denouncing Israelis as bigots?
 
The question for Times editors and readers is can a reporter who imputes bigoted sentiment to the Israeli population be trusted on any subject related to the Jewish state?  
 

MSNBC – March 8, 2010

MATTHEWS: Well, here we are in Israel. As I said, we‘re over here with the vice president‘s trip here. He‘s over here to jump-start, if you will, the Mideast peace talks and also to try to avoid a war with Iran on the part of Israel and to perhaps to push the sanctions efforts against Iran.

Let‘s go right now to Ethan Bronner. He‘s Jerusalem bureau chief for "The New York Times." Let me go to the first question, this Iran war. We in America, as you know, sitting at home, we think, Where might there be the next war? Israel might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear weapons. What‘s the word over here?

ETHAN BRONNER, "NEW YORK TIMES" JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Israel

might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear weapons. There are certainly serious preparations under way. But what has been the steady drumbeat for several months now from the United States, the chief of the—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA head, the national security adviser, now the vice president, all coming to say, Don‘t shoot, work with us on sanctions. And the Israelis are essentially going along with that for now.

MATTHEWS: What‘s the trip wire? If you‘re Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister, and you‘re sitting with this cabinet and his very, you know, hawkish foreign secretary, Lieberman, and you‘re thinking what we won‘t put up with. What won‘t Israel live with here in this small country, vulnerable, close to Iran? What won‘t they put up with?

BRONNER: In theory, what they won‘t put up with is a clear ability of Iran to build nuclear weapons in a short time. But nobody really knows when that trip wire is hit. And actually, the failure to know where that is, is one of the reasons that the United States is able to say to them, Work with us on sanctions. There is daylight growing between the regime and the people in Iran. There are reasons to make this work. And you yourselves don‘t know if this is going to work.

MATTHEWS: We don‘t know whether Ahmadinejad has got his head on the -you know, on earth. He makes statements like there was never a Holocaust, which could just be fiery rhetoric just to flame up the people, or it could be some demented belief on his part. Is there a sense that he‘s got his head together, that he‘s a rational person?

BRONNER: It‘s a very divided view on that, in this country anyway. There are people who see him as essentially a messianic, irrational individual, and there are others who watch Iran—and there‘s a whole crew of people who watch Iran here, as you can imagine—who think that decisions are made on a much more rational basis...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And the mullahs control the—control the bullet, basically. They will keep it back. Let me ask you about these peace talks over here. You and I have spent our lives hearing about peace talks in the Middle East. These are very strange. They‘re called "proximity talks" because George Mitchell, who brought peace to Northern Ireland, at least in the near term, is over here. Now he‘s going to be like a ping-pong ball. He‘s going to go back and forth under this new arrangement between here and

Jerusalem and his hotel, and then over to Ramallah across the Allenby bridge, then back and forth every day with a message from the Arab side to the Israeli side. What kind of—is this for real?

BRONNER: Well, it‘s for real for a period of months. I mean, the truth is that between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the distance he‘s going to have to travel, when he travels in his motorcade, it‘s about 15 or 20 minutes. So it won‘t be too bad a problem. Remember, Kissinger did this kind of shuttle diplomacy. It‘s not unheard of. The idea is that the Palestinians will refuse to sit down at the same table with the Israelis as long as settlements are continuing to be built. They‘re continuing to be built. We do have a right-wing government in power in Israel. And this was a way to get them to some form of a table, even though it‘s not a direct talk.

MATTHEWS: Do you expect any hope? Will they ever agree to move the land—the border around so that there‘s some claim to the capital on the part of the Palestinians that doesn‘t offend Israeli notions of sovereignty over Jerusalem? Is there any way to cut a deal?

BRONNER: I think there is a way to cut a deal. I mean, I think that the way the deal should be structured is fairly clear. The problem is that neither side seems willing to make the sacrifices to make that deal work.

MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton came very close, didn‘t he?

BRONNER: We think he did.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about politics. Who‘s more popular over here, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden? Put them in order. Who‘s the most popular figure over here in Israel?

BRONNER: I would say Bill Clinton is the—Bill Clinton is the most popular of those four. And I would say...

(CROSSTALK)

BRONNER: Hillary‘s probably next.

MATTHEWS: The secretary of state.

BRONNER: That‘s correct. And then I would say Joe Biden and then President Obama.

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know, let me ask you an ideal question.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It seems to be the great American presidents—and Clinton would be one of them in terms of the Middle East—have been able to wear two hats at the same time: great friend of Israel, trusted as a friend of Israel, going back to ‘48 with Harry Truman, and also have that credibility as a peacemaker, as a deal-maker, you know, as an honest broker.

BRONNER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Can this president play those roles, both those roles?

BRONNER: I think he can. I mean, but the—that the trouble is that each failed effort over the last decade or two has made it much harder for the next person to try to make the deal, because there‘s so much disillusionment over the failed deal, so that each side now comes to the table, or the pseudo-table in these proximity talk, with enormous cynicism about the other side‘s actual interest in peace.

MATTHEWS: Would a middle-of-the-road Americans, if they were living over here in Israel, would they be optimistic about peace...

BRONNER: I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS: Somebody without ideology?

BRONNER: I really don‘t think it‘s a matter of ideology. I think it‘s a matter of understanding that you can‘t square the circle very easily. The most Israel has ever offered and the least that the Palestinians have ever wanted to take have never met. And they‘re getting further apart.

MATTHEWS: And the population bomb over here, with so many more Arabs being born every day than Israelis?

BRONNER: Well, that‘s, of course, the reason that there‘s the strong demographic argument for why Israel should want to have a—in order—to have a two-state solution in order to maintain a Jewish democracy. But the difficulty is that security issues continue to get in the way and make it very, very difficult for the Israelis to accept the legitimacy of the other side‘s claims.

MATTHEWS: And it‘s hard to find a strong person on the other side who can keep the deal.

BRONNER: There‘s also a leadership crisis on both sides...

MATTHEWS: Yes. Right. Thank you.

BRONNER: ... as well as in the United States.

MATTHEWS: Ethan Bronner, I think you have told us how tough it is. Thank you very much for joining us...

(CROSSTALK)

BRONNER: ... pleasure.


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