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Media Analyses





Bad Day at The Washington Post, Times Four


Remember Bad Day at Black Rock, the 1955 film-noir production starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan? No? Don't worry, The Washington Post's July 25, 2015 coverage of Israel could serve as a belated sequel, Bad Day at the National, Foreign and Op-Ed Desks.

Not one, two or three, but four articles, three like shiny automobiles with holes in their gas tanks, the fourth showing rust all around.

Let's go surfin' now …

“Letter From Tel Aviv: Memories amid frolicking on Tel Aviv's beaches” by Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth accurately describes a day in the sun, surf and sand in Israel's version of Miami. Two large black-and-white photos, one of Israelis paddle surfing, the other of musicians on the beach accompanied the feature.

But anniversary references to 2014's Operation Protective Edge knocked the piece askew.

“Last summer's war with Hamas killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, four of whom were killed by two Israeli missiles on a beach like this one but a few dozens of miles south (a tragic error, the Israeli military concluded). Gaza was pounded by Israeli artillery, and tens of thousands of housing units were destroyed. Rebuilding has been slow, and the people of Gaza live among the ruins and memories.”

Were 2,100 Palestinian dead militarily disproportionate? Israeli and other analyses, including by CAMERA, suggest the non-combatant to combatant ratio was roughly 1:1, much less than U.N. estimates for U.S.-led coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. Does “more than 500 children” count those between 15 and 18 used illegally by Hamas and other terrorist organizations as child soldiers? Those killed by the several hundred Palestinian mortars and rockets aimed at Israel but which fell short?

How many fewer Arab casualties would there have been in Gaza had Hamas not rejected repeated cease-fire offers before finally settling for essentially the initial terms? The Post doesn't ask and so can't tell.

Answers unsaid

“Pounded by Israeli artillery”—artillery targeting Hamas and other enemy installations illegally based in mosques, schools, apartment buildings and hospitals in urban neighborhoods, fired while simultaneously trying to minimize non-combatant casualties?

“Tens of thousands of housing units [damaged or] destroyed”—in about five percent of the Gaza Strip used most intensively by Hamas? Barely rebuilt because the Strip's rulers have other priorities, including reconstructing their elaborate infiltration tunnels into Israel?

“Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions fired 4,500 rockets and mortars at Israel. They did little damage, and most Israelis have quickly put last summer's war behind them.” Armed factions—not terrorists committing war crimes by indiscriminately targeting Israelis while using Gaza Arabs as human shields?

“They did little damage”—because Israel invested heavily in warning systems, bomb shelters and anti-missile defenses, unlike the “armed Palestinian factions”?

The Post relates that “Ari Shavit, author of best-selling historical memoir My Promised Land, wrote in the newspaper Haaretz earlier this month about how Tel Aviv has rebounded, how life is sweet again….‘Except for one small thing: the future,' he warned, alluding to Israel's 48-year occupation of lands Palestinians want for their own state.”

This reference is context-free. It hides the ball from readers.

Palestinian terrorists attacked Israel before its victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and occupation of “lands Palestinians want for their own state.” No mention that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and got thousands of Hamas mortars and rockets as thanks before last summer's war. Perhaps “lands Palestinians want for their own state” don't end with the Strip, West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. No mention that “the occupation” could have ended before last summer's war had Palestinian leaders not rejected in 2000, 2001, 2008 or 2014 “two-state solutions” or negotiations “frameworks” that either included peace with Israel as a Jewish state or pointed toward it.

What of Gazans while Israelis frolic on Tel Aviv's beaches? Turns out many of them were doing the same at those Gaza beaches “but a few dozens miles south.” The Post didn't report it, but did Reuters did, one day earlier, complete with pictures.

A week later a Reuter's feature headlined “ ‘Blue Beach' offers Gazans a glimpse of the good life,” (July 31), by correspondent Nidal al-Mughrabi began “a luxurious new tourist resort has opened in the Gaza Strip, its manicured lawns, sparkling pool and private beach in stark contrast to the impoverished territory still struggling to recover from last year's war.”

Yes, Tel Aviv's generally prosperous but Gaza, under Hamas' heel, is not. Regardless, if possible, people everywhere like to go to the beach.

Playing the race card

“A test of black-Jewish relations,” by Post columnist Colbert I. King, used a tweet by the wife of Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, which she later called a “stupid joke,” to cast opposition to President Barack Obama's nuclear weapons deal with Iran as partially based on bigotry.

King says that not what he's doing. “Those who regard the Iran nuclear deal as a grave threat to Israeli and U.S. interests have a moral duty to vigorously oppose it, just as those of us who view the deal as the best way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons should work for its adoption. Vilifying the president of the United States with slurs and insults, however, is out of bounds.”

Absolutely. But King's next sentence is “except, perhaps, in some places and with some people.” “Perhaps,” “some places” and “some people” cover a multitude of innuendo.

One person was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, whose Obama-Haman simile may well have been excessive but wasn't racial. Another was Rabbi Dov Lior, whose three-year-old remark cited might have been.

Among the “some people” are Israel's former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Oren for publicly speculating that “abandonment” by his Muslim father and stepfather created in the president a desire for “acceptance by their co-religionists” that subsequently affected Obama's foreign policy. Armchair psychoanalysis, but hardly vilification by slurs and insults.

So, King has one disavowed “stupid joke,” one past comment by Lior, who neither makes policy nor influences a great many Israelis, one “if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” political opinion and one unusual, but urgent address by a prime minister the president's political aides were, at the time, actively trying to defeat in the pending Israeli election.

On this thinnest of reeds he plunges ahead. King recounts the Congressional Black Caucus' general hostility to Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress last March “behind the back of the White House.” The Israeli leader forcefully argued against a “bad deal” with Iran he feared U.S. negotiators were pursuing.

Behind the curve

King cites caucus member James Clyburn's (S.C.) remark to USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham that Netanyahu's appearance was “a real in-your-face-slap at the president, and black folks know it…. [Netanyahu] wouldn't have done it to any other president.”

Nonsense, as CAMERA showed when Wickham's column appeared. Wickham repeatedly casts Israel and its U.S. supporters in a bad light (“Israel Seems to Irritate USA Today Columnist, Repeatedly,” CAMERA, March 5, 2015

Did a dozen black clergymen who spoke at the National Press Club in support of Netanyahu's address do so out of racism? What about the 21 of 42 Black Caucus members who attended the prime minister's speech? Were John Kennedy's harsh critics anti-Catholic? Is it just possible that determined opposition to presidential policies has nothing do with the president's race, religion or ethnicity? Not in this case, apparently. King writes:

“Should it come to a search for 40 Democratic votes to join the House's 247 Republicans in voting to override a possible Obama veto of legislation blocking an Iranian deal, don't look for help from the Congressional Black Caucus. Hostility to the current Israeli leadership is real, and not just among caucus members. Many of their African American constituents are quietly seething, too.” So if Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican from South Carolina, votes against the deal—he's been critical so far without declaring he'll vote no—will many of his African-American constituents be quietly seething against him?

Israel is, as the late New York Times columnist William Safire observed during the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, the only predominately white nation to have rescued large numbers of blacks from oppression and brought them to freedom. That remains true, regardless of the discrimination Ethiopian Israelis sometimes face.

Sightings of racism where it does not exist, or where it does but has negligible effect on behavior, policy or law, warp American politics and society. King, whose columns often have been more thoughtful, mistakenly makes such a sighting regarding Israel.

I spy, you spy, The Post misses a secretary of defense 

“Release of Pollard, convicted spy, likely; Ex-intelligence analyst, eligible for parole in fall, sold secrets to Israel,” by reporter Greg Miller never mentioned the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the Jonathan Pollard story.

The Post's page one article gave readers details about the spy's crime and potential parole after 30 years in prison. It noted that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies “have been vehemently opposed to freeing a convicted spy.”

But it never mentioned the “Weinberger memorandum,” an ex post facto intervention by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger that apparently influenced Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr.'s decision to overturn Pollard's plea bargain with the government. Instead of an expected 10 years or less sentence the civilian U.S. Navy analyst got life.

Weinberger was said to have blamed Pollard for the extensive damage caused to American anti-Soviet spy networks by CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames, then still undetected by U.S. counter-intelligence. Perhaps, though Weinberger said years later the “Pollard case was comparatively minor. It was made far greater than its actual importance.”

The article noted that while many people working in U.S. intelligence, defense and law enforcement continued to oppose Pollard's release, others no longer did. It did not mention that officials including former CIA Director James Woolsey,

former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Senate and House intelligence committee chairmen Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), respectively, had called for Pollard's release long before news of his pending parole.

“Why Israel and U.S. split on Jonathan Pollard's fate—and what may be next,” a “World Views” Post blog item by Adam Taylor that also appeared in the print edition, noted “signs of a shift” in official opposition to the spy's freedom. “Some unlikely figures, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have publicly called for his release.” But this side-bar feature also failed to mention Weinberger's intervention or previous official backing for freeing Pollard.

Four articles in one edition. The two on Pollard were incomplete. The other two were skewed. A bad day at 1150 15 St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071, and for Washington Post readers.

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