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Media Analyses





New York Times Promotes Radical Sources Maligning Israel


A New York Times article about the FBI’s attempts to eavesdrop on the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the resulting leak of wiretapped conversations to a blogger (Scott Shane, “Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel,” Sept. 5, 2011) was as much a defense of these actions as it was about the controversial eavesdropping and illegal leak.

That is because the article was based almost entirely on the comments of extremist, anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein justifying the actions of his friend, Shamai Leibowitz, who was sentenced to 20 months of incarceration for illegally transferring wiretapped documents to publicize on Silverstein's blog.

Unsurprisingly, the New York Times article failed to accurately inform readers of the radical anti-Israel agenda of the two. Instead, it identified Silverstein simply as a “blogger” who “gives a liberal perspective on Israel and Israeli American relations” and Leibowitz as “a lawyer with a history of political activism” who shares Silverstein’s “concern about repercussions from a possible Israeli airstrike on nuclear facilities in Iran.”

But was the main motive for the duo’s actions really “concern” for Israel and the U.S., as the article suggests? Given the players’ extensive background of denigrating Israel, and in some instances, working to undermine the nation's legitimacy, "concern" is a dubious characteriztion, to put it mildly. Regrettably, The Times' failure to identify the commentators accurately is characteristic of its often biased reporting. 
 
Who is Shamai Leibowitz?

Shamai Leibowitz is not merely a politically liberal activist. Scion of the controversial philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a notorious critic of Israel who coined the term “Judeo-Nazi” to describe Israeli soldiers, Shamai has taken his grandfather’s condemnation to another level: He has promoted the dismantlement of the Jewish state, campaigning in the boycott, divestment and sanctions war against Israel.

An NGO-Monitor article by Attorney Avi Bell summarizes Shamai Leibowitz’s longtime activism against the Jewish state. Here are some examples:

* In 2003, Leibowitz wrote a paper entitled “Legal Strategies for a One State Framework” for the Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel.

* The following year, he addressed a conference in Lausanne promoting a single, non-Jewish state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

* Leibowitz joined the Somerville Divestment Project, with the goal of bringing the boycott and divestment movement to American municipalities, and in November 2004, travelled to the small Massachusetts municipality, urging it to openly divest from the Jewish state and calling on residents to “demand that their tax dollars are not invested in companies that sell equipment and ammunition” to the Israeli Defense Forces. Despite his best efforts, the motion failed.

* In 2005, Leibowitz published an article in The Nation promoting economic sanctions against Israel, and a lawfare campaign against Israeli military and political leaders which would ban them from travelling and bring lawsuits against them in international courts. In addition, Leibowitz urged the U.S. administration to prohibit the sale of any military equipment to Israel. (An abridged version of Leibowitz’s article is available here.)

* Leibowitz attempted to boost the successful efforts of liberal Protestant churches in the United States to promote divestment from companies doing business with Israel by speaking at various functions and urging other churches to join these efforts. Although initially successful, similar anti-Israel resolutions were defeated at subsequent national church gatherings.

* In his professional capacity as a lawyer, Leibowitz defended terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti in court for the murders of 26 Israelis. The lawyer aroused the wrath of the victim’s relatives when he declared his client to be “a Palestinian Moses” and compared his case to the biblical prophet’s killing of an Egyptian to save his fellow Jew. During the trial, Barghouti’s defense lawyers attempted to turn the tables on the case by handing out their own indictment of Israel, accusing the state of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Certainly Leibowitz’s history of animosity and agitation against Israel is noteworthy in an article about his involvement in the FBI’s spying attempts on that country. But the only hint of Leibowitz’s controversial actions come near the end of the article, sharply downplayed:

He practiced law in Israel for several years, representing several controversial clients, including Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader convicted of directing terrorist attacks on Israelis, who Mr. Leibowitz once said reminded him of Moses.

Isn't the real story here why  the FBI would turn to a person with such a radical anti-Israel agenda to help with its spying efforts on Israel, and why they trusted him with such confidential information? Needless to say, the article does not explore these obvious and essential questions. On the contrary, the reporter turned to a blogger with the same biased agenda to shape the article.

Who is Richard Silverstein?

Richard Silverstein is known as a radical, anti-Israel blogger who repeatedly defends Hamas while blaming the Israeli government, and who promotes Israel as a single state of all its citizens.

According to Silverstein:

If Israel is a Jewish state, then it is not a democratic state. It is an ethnocratic state. That is, a state with a hierarchy of rights with Jews at the top and Muslims at the bottom… ("Abbas demands Israel recognize Palestine as a Muslim state", Tikkun Olam blog. June 16, 2009)

On Hamas

Every reasonable person both inside and outside Israel knows what will stop the rain of Qassams descending on southern Israel. Hamas has told them what it wants: lifting the siege. If Israel agrees to end its depraved policy of suffocating Gaza, then Hamas would renew the tahdiya and there would be, if not peace, at least calm…
And in response to a reader’s comment on that blog item:
I have no idea what you’re talking about regarding Hamas rockets & the siege. The siege began just after Hamas won the PA election. That’s quite a while ago. I haven’t kept track of whether Hamas was firing rockets before then or not. ("Gaza, Meretz and the Bankruptcy of Israeli Politics." Tikkun Olam blog, Dec. 25, 2008)

Blaming Israel

For its response to the Eilat Attack:

This is exactly the sort of gift that Israeli rightists like Bibi Netanyahu love. … Yesterday’s attack in Eilat has fueled an Israeli reaction that can be described as uncontrollable fury, which has killed 14 including three children. ..Oh but I forgot, Palestinian blood is less red than Jewish blood. ("IDF Kills 14 in Gaza, Hamas Renounces Ceasefire, IDF Disagrees With Netanyahu on Responsibility for Eilat Attack," Tikkun Olam blog, August 19, 2011) 

For the stalemate in peace talks:

I don’t want to appear to be blaming Palestinian militants for the current impasse. They’re clearly at best opportunists taking advantage of prevailing conditions. The blame is entirely Israel’s and belongs to the Netanyahu government... ("2 IDF Officers, 4 Palestinian Militants Killed in Gaza," Tikkun Olam blog, March 27, 2010)

To support his agenda, Silverstein levels false and absurd accusations. For example, he accuses Israel of lying about Gazans carrying out the Eilat attack because three of the terrorists were found to have been Egyptians. (See “Bibi and Barak’s Terror Fraud: Egyptian News Reports Attackers Were Egyptian, Not Gazan”.)  And he frequently attacks people and organizations with whom he does not agree by fabricating the facts. (See here, here, and here.)   While he has labeled some bloggers he does not agree with as “Kahanist swine,” he himself gets quite bent out of shape when others criticize him. Hence many in the blogosphere view him as unhinged. (See here, and here.)

For more details about Silverstein, see here.

Why would the New York Times use such an unreliable source—someone who admitted to burning the leaked evidence in his Seattle backyard after Mr. Leibowitz came under investigation in 2009—for the essentials of the story? Perhaps because he bolsters the spin wherein Israel and its supporters are to blame for everything—even questionable FBI actions and illegal leaks of confidential information.

Indeed, readers are told that Israeli intelligence operations in the United States are “quite extensive, ranking just below those of China and Russia, and F.B.I. counterintelligence agents have long kept an eye on Israeli spying”… and that Mr. Silverstein views Leibowitz “as an American patriot and a whistle-blower.” Silverstein is then given the platform to present his charges:

“Mr. Leibowitz, though charged under the Espionage Act, was acting out of noble motives...”

“Mr. Leibowitz… released the documents because of concerns about Israel’s aggressive efforts to influence Congress and public opinion, and fears that Israel might strike nuclear facilities in Iran…”

“Mr. Leibowitz also believed that Israeli diplomats’ efforts to influence Congress and shape American public opinion were excessive and improper...”

“What really concerned [Leibowitz] at the time was the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, which he thought would be damaging to both Israel and the United States.”

Mr. Leibowitz considered “Israeli diplomats’ attempts to influence Congress” as “violation of the law...”

And in this way, the New York Times manages to stay on message – namely, to blame Israel and its supporters.
 

(See also CAMERA Snapshots: Richard Silverstein and the New York Times: The Source and the Cover-Up.)


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