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Media Analyses





Juan Cole's Best Defense is an Angry Offensive


Juan Cole is pretty upset.

This time, the University of Michigan professor is up in arms about CAMERA's recent critique of flawed journalism by CNN's Ben Wedeman. Cole is so bothered that he even insists in a July 23 blog post that CAMERA's form of discourse "is against everything the Founding Generation of America stood for." (Yes. Everything.)

The outrage stems from the fact that he is mentioned by name in CAMERA's critique of Wedeman's reporting. Specifically, we point out that Wedeman's warm praise of a June 29 blog post by Cole, an inveterate anti-Israel activist, raises questions about the CNN journalist's objectivity with regard to the Middle East conflict. This is particularly so since the blog post Wedeman recommended contains the type of shrill anti-Israel rhetoric typical of Cole's commentary, and most especially in light of Wedeman's numerous problematic and false claims in his reporting on Israel that echo the biased rhetoric.

In Cole's angry response, he casually tosses about the terms "far rightwing," "fundamentally undemocratic" and, in a rather hysterical headline, "threat to American democracy." What he doesn't do is link to the article that inspired those epithets — and, it turns out, there's good reason for that. Linking to CAMERA's article would have made it all too easy for readers to notice that Cole's critique relied on one falsehood after another.

Note, for example, this passage in Cole's piece:

It would be perfectly all right for an advocacy group to say "In that blog posting, Cole gets the Turkish economy and its impact on relations with Israel wrong for reasons X, Y and Z." But CAMERA did not engage with my substantive points. They simply propagandized.

CAMERA wrote,

"Cole's article claimed: "[Israel's] isolation derives from Israeli policies, of illegal blockades … and systematic land theft and displacement of occupied civilians under its control, along with aggressive wars on neighbors, which target infrastructure and civilians and are clearly intended to keep neighbors poor and backward." In other words, Cole and Wedeman promote the argument that Israelis send their sons and daughters to war not for the country's security and preservation, but out of sheer malice. The Six-Day War, according to this view, did not stem from Egyptian acts of war and threats of annihilation."

But the article was not about 1967. It was about now. The reference was obviously to Lebanon and Gaza. Moreover, Mr. Wedeman specifically pointed to my comments on Israel-Turkish relations as what he found interesting, and did not anyway say I was right about everything. He certainly said nothing about the 1967 war (nor did I in that posting)! Yet CAMERA has invented such a statement and then damned him with it falsely.

Let's start with the last couple of sentences. Cole's argument is as follows: Although Wedeman says nothing about the 1967 war, CAMERA falsely claims he did, using this "invention" to damn the CNN reporter.

Ironically, Cole's own accusation about inventing statements relies on a complete fabrication. CAMERA never once claimed in its article that Wedeman says anything about the 1967 war.

Then there is Cole's complaint that CAMERA mentioned the Six-Day War even though, he says, his initial piece "was not about 1967. ... The reference was obviously to Lebanon and Gaza." In fact, Cole's blog post referred in general to Israeli "aggressive wars" meant to "keep neighbors poor and backward." But let's, for the sake of argument, accept that he did intend to refer specifically to the Gaza and Lebanon wars. Why would CAMERA mention 1967 but ignore those more recent wars? Is it, as Cole put it, a "dirty trick" by the Israel Lobby?

Actually, Cole's quote of CAMERA's article was deceptively truncated to support his charge of trickery. Gaza and Lebanon were explicitly mentioned in CAMERA's article, a mere two sentences after Cole cut off his partial quote. Below, in its entirety, is the relevant passage from CAMERA's article:

In a June 29, 2010 tweet, Wedeman directed his followers to an "excellent" article, as he put it, by the harshly anti-Israel professor/blogger Juan Cole. Judging by that warm praise, Wedeman embraces, and thinks his readers should likewise subscribe to, the radical and facile narrative put forth by Cole in the recommended piece. Cole's article claimed:

[Israel's] isolation derives from Israeli policies, of illegal blockades ... and systematic land theft and displacement of occupied civilians under its control, along with aggressive wars on neighbors, which target infrastructure and civilians and are clearly intended to keep neighbors poor and backward.

In other words, Cole and Wedeman promote the argument that Israelis send their sons and daughters to war not for the country's security and preservation, but out of sheer malice. The Six-Day War, according to this view, did not stem from Egyptian acts of war and threats of annihilation. The war that followed wasn't forced on Israel when Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attacked against the Jewish state on Yom Kippur in 1973. Hezbollah's missile salvo on northern Israel and cross-border kidnaping raid wasn't the reason for war in 2006, nor were the thousands of rockets and mortars fired from Hamas's Gaza Strip, which made life in southern Israel intolerable, the cause for Israel's Gaza operation in 2009. Those crazy Israelis simply want their neighbors to be "poor and backward." (Moreover, according to this line of thinking, Israeli official Mark Regev was lying when he described Israel's belief that "a healthy, successful, prosperous Palestine is in the interest of the state of Israel. Living next to a failed state, a failed economy, would only be a recipe for further violence.")

Cole's decision to conceal from his readers the bolded sentence while disingenuously suggesting that CAMERA referred to the 1967 war but not to the 2006 and 2009 wars is especially comical in light of his sanctimonious protest, elsewhere in his blog post, about "selective editing of texts and videos, innuendo, framing statements unfairly."

It is also worth mentioning Cole's complaint that "CAMERA did not engage with my substantive points." The article did not engage with his "substantive" points about Turkey because, simply put, is not about Turkey, nor is it anything but tangentially about Cole. It is about Wedeman's biases, his factual errors and his distortions, including the following (none of which, ironically enough, Cole bothers to address):

• Wedeman claimed in 2008 that Israel's security barrier had all but destroyed Bethlehem's economy by "reducing ... to a trickle" the number of tourists visiting the town. This was patently false — it was clear at the time that the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem during Christmas, the town's primary tourist season, had skyrocketed since Israel completed the barrier between Bethlehem and Jerusalem in 2005.

• Wedeman's July 19 analysis piece described Israel as needing to be "convinced" and "coaxed" to restart face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians, whereas in fact Israel has repeatedly requested an immediate resumption of direct negotiations, a point widely reported in the media.

• Wedeman prejudicially described eastern Jerusalem — disputed territory under Israeli sovereignty — as Palestinian territory, a partisan statement that violates the obligation in professional journalism to be objective.

While Cole avoids mention of any of these points, he does attempt to attack CAMERA's credibility by claiming, for example, that the organization "incorrectly and dishonestly maintains that only the Carter administration ever said that Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal."

One might have thought that a man who once absurdly insisted the 9/11 Commission Report blamed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on Israel's April 2002 anti-terror operation in Jenin, as did Cole, would refrain from referring to others' credibility. (He later removed that reference from his blog.)

Unfortunately for Cole, he didn't refrain, and instead made his accusation without bothering to verify, let alone substantiate, it. And so, yet again, the actual dishonesty lies in Cole's very accusation of dishonesty. Had he any concern for accuracy, he would have quickly discovered that previously imprecise wording on CAMERA's Web site about U.S. views on the legality of settlements has long been clarified to note, correctly, that no administration since Jimmy Carter's has dubbed settlements illegal. (See, for example, the notes appended to this and this article.  CAMERA continuously urges news organizations to run corrections when necessary, and we have no problem doing so ourselves.)

Finally, it is worth touching on the premise of Cole's July 23 piece. He argues that because CAMERA pointed out Ben Wedeman's praise and promotion of Cole's Israel-bashing piece, highlighted Wedeman's inaccuracies, and raised questions about his objectivity, we are therefore a "threat to American democracy" and guilty of "an attempt to make that scholarýs work taboo and to forbid its public mention." (This from an article that practically begs readers to ignore CAMERA, and from an author who asked his fans to do "oppo research" in hopes of discrediting a fellow scholar.)

Of course, critiquing news reporting and insisting on journalistic objectivity is legitimate and vital — the essence of citizen engagement in a democracy. And obviously, there's ample reason to raise questions about the objectivity of a Mideast journalist who not only promotes anti-Israel propaganda by a radical partisan, but also repeatedly makes errors that all trend in one direction — toward casting Israel in a negative light.


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