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Media Analyses





NPR’s Rehm Partners with Swipe-at-Israel Academic Gerges to Pummel Israel


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Diane Rehm's National Public Radio (NPR) interview program, aired by more than 160 public stations including many in major markets, chronically stacks the deck against Israeli governments and policies (examples – here and here).

Rehm's program on the Middle East (May 21, 2012) was essentially a polemic completely lacking in balance. Washington Times columnist Sol Sanders, in a May 27 commentary headlined "Neo-isolationists: 'Stop the world, I want to get off," about another Rehm broadcast, termed her the "chief political correctness high priestess" and referred to the show's pattern of featuring one-side panels.

Rehm's May 21 program featured not a panel but lone guest Fawaz Gerges, chair of the Middle Eastern Center at the London School of Economics. Despite his imposing academic title, Gerges has a record of soft-pedaling real Middle East problems. He has been an apologist  for the Hamas terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel ("Hamas has been branded a terrorist organization by U.S. and Israel and much of the international community. I think that's very unfortunate. … Hamas is first and foremost a deeply rooted political organization with social and cultural and other dimensions to it. It was elected. It has come forward many, many times to negotiate a truce with Israel, including recently…"). In this broadcast, Rehm tacitly accepts all of Gerges' assertions, reinforcing several.

NPR news programming has included such Gerges commentary as describing Yasser Arafat as having only "flirted with limited violence" when in fact, Arafat was a godfather of modern-day Middle Eastern terrorism and himself a killer (NPR, Sept. 29, 2003).

Gerges, at the outset of the May 21 program, praised President Obama for recognizing what Gerges views as the necessary approaching end of America's dominance in the world and the abandonment of America's dominant "cynical realism" in effect since the ending of the Cold War. According to Gerges, an important advantage to this would be the reversal of Middle Eastern peoples' view of America as a “neo-colonial power occupying Muslim lands.” Ignoring the Libyan and Egyptians revolts, he praised the chief executive for not “interfering” in Arab revolts.

Team Rehm/Gerges pummels President for not pummeling Israel

Mid-way through the broadcast, Rehm changes focus from a conversation ignoring Israel and praising Obama to one criticizing the president for his handling of the Arab-Israel conflict. “But you are critical of President Obama's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Rehm.

Gerges eagerly walks through the door Rehm holds open:

President Barack Obama's greatest political failure has been the Palestine-Israel peace process. From day one, President Barack Obama made it very clear that brokering, helping to broke a Palestine-Israel peace settlement is part of the strategic national interest of the United States of America. He basically did create a connection, a causal link between America's security interest and helping to broker a peace settlement. Because this is the most fundamental fault line in the region yet. After nine months of trying to broker a peace settlement, President Barack Obama has caved in. President Barack Obama basically did not fight for the power of his convictions.

Tag-team partner Rehm completes Gerges' explanation for him:

And it's so interesting because on his first day in the White House, he called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and pledged that day to help bring about a Palestinian state. What is it? Is it that he has run into a steel wall as far as [Israel's Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned now with his having created a coalition government that will guarantee he stays in office longer and perhaps prolongs this struggle?

But team Rehm-Gerges, bent on blaming only Israel for lack of Arab-Israeli peace and exculpating Palestinian leadership for its repeated rejection of "two-state" offers and refusal to resume negotiations, are incapable of providing a realistic explanation for the stalemate in Israeli-Arab diplomacy. Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly invited Palestinian Authority leaders to recommence peace negotiations without pre-conditions. He has made clear the objective of such negotiations would be a final settlement providing for peace between a "Palestine" based on much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel as a Jewish state. But Palestinian leaders have refused, insisting that various demands be conceded to first, preempting actual give-and-take negotiations. Further, the Palestinian leadership adamantly refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. For some reason, they imagine they can insist on a 23rd Arab state but refuse recognition of one Jewish state, the one with which they presumably are to make peace.

Presenting a completely one-side picture, both Rehm and Gerges ignore Palestinian rejection of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, at Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, and in 2008 after the Annapolis conference. They likewise are silent on Palestinian refusal to take advantage of Netanyahu's 10-month freeze of settlement construction, meant to bring them back to the table.

Gerges continued,

He [Obama] was unwilling to invest real political capital in order to basically bring about a Palestinian/Israeli settlement. Barack Obama, at the end of the day, is timid. Barack Obama governs by consensus and when he faces obstacles, unfortunately, he often retreats. And he retreated on the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.

The Rehm-Gerges tag-team continued criticizing the president and bringing up a favorite bogey man of the anti-Israel crowd, “special interest groups,” meaning the “Jewish lobby.”

Pummeling Congress, the political system and Israel’s prime minister

Barack Obama, Diane, confronted Benjamin Netanyahu three times and guess what? He caved in during the three times. And this tells you a great deal about the role of domestic politics, about the role of special interest groups, about the role of the Congress. Here you have Benjamin Netanyahu insulting the president in the White House and going to the Congress and receiving more than two dozen standing ovations by members of the Congress.

Neither Rehm nor Gerges, presented as a learned analyst, examine the possibility that congressional applause for Netanyahu and U.S. support for Israel reflects the overwhelming support of Israel versus the Palestinian Arabs by the American public, as shown in repeated opinion polls. The duo's silence on this point is necessary, so as not to raise evidence that would contradict the team's anti-Israel agenda.

Rhem continues with blinders firmly in place: “But if you have Israeli policy almost at the center of everything that happens in the Middle East and you have a president who, by your own words, has caved three times to Benjamin Netanyahu and the Congress and politics, then perhaps you see President Barack Obama as a failure.” Gerges responds, emphasizing his indictment of the American political system, the Congress, “special interest groups,” and of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu, “a major liability to the question of coexistence in that part of the world.” Gerges adds, “Benjamin Netanyahu and the right wing elements in Israel are creating facts on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, that is the settlements are being expanded, expanding on probably a monthly basis.”

Aside from being dangerously superficial, these comments exhibit prejudice and error. Rehm's assertion that Israeli policy is "almost at the center of everything that happens in the Middle East" is ludicrous. Israeli policy had little or nothing to do with the upheavals of the "Arab spring" in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Likewise Iran's suppression of anti-regime demonstrations in 2009, let alone the Sunni-versus-Shi'ite slaughter in Iraq. Such a claim echoes, inadvertently or not, the antisemitic trope that sinister Jewish influence underlies all great, unsettling events.

As for Gerges' “settlement expansion,” Israel has started virtually no new communities in the West Bank in years, and withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. What relatively limited new construction in existing settlements that has taken place in recent years has been “in-fill” within pre-existing boundaries. In any case, the settlements, which did not prevent Israeli-Palestinian talks and agreements from the 1993 Oslo accords on until raised by Obama in 2009, comprise less than five percent of the disputed West Bank.

Under the Oslo Accords, Israel turned over control of all the large Palestinian Arab population centers, leaving more than 95 percent of Palestinians living under its own leadership. In 2005 Israel withdrew every last citizen from the Gaza Strip but this led to a quadrupling of the number of rocket attacks originating from Gaza. About these basic facts, amnesia apparently affects Rehm and Gerges.

Team Rehm/Gerges rails against special interest groups

In response to a caller who demands “a balanced U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East [read: pressure Israel to accede to demands],” Gerges, portrayed many in the American political system as puppets of Israel's prime minister, and went on to identify the “special interest groups”:

“Yet the reality is, I mean, you're thinking about when I say special interest groups, you're talking about the role of AIPAC [America Israel Public Affairs Committee]. You're talking about the role of the lobby. You're talking about the role of a great segment of the media. And President Barack Obama and his advisors have convinced themselves that they cannot really stand up.”

Again, distorting the situation, Gerges criticizes “the role of a great segment of the media” but the mainstream news media is not particularly friendly to Israel. Gerges exaggerates the power of AIPAC, which while influential regarding U.S.-Israeli relations, pales in significance as a lobbying power in comparison to the National Rifle Association, American Association of Retired Persons, labor unions, farmers and so on. Like Rehm, he appears to echo unconsciously hoary antisemitic superstitions about Jewish control of communications media and large and malevolent Jewish political influence.

Despite its acronym, AIPAC is not a political action committee and does not contribute to electoral campaigns. As a lobby, its activities are public as can be seen from their Website and effective only to the extent that members of Congress and the executive branch, Democratic, Republican or independent, believe they are in U.S. interests.

Still attacking AIPAC on erroneous grounds, Gerges declares that “AIPAC does not speak for the Jewish communities. AIPAC and the Israeli lobby do not represent the Jewish people. A majority of the Jewish people in America are for a peace settlement based on a two-state solution.”

But Gerges' polemics ignore the fact that AIPAC supports a two-state solution as do many if not most American supporters of Israel. Again, public opinion polls indicate that AIPAC's support is strong among Jews and others and its positions are consistent with those of the majority of Jews and others who support Israel.

Rehm and Gerges provide excuses for Iran

Bringing up Iran, Rehm poses the question, “to what extent is the momentum building within Israel for an attack on Iran which would inevitably draw the United States in. Here, Gerges portrays Netanyahu as virtually alone in Israel in considering a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities (“But even the generals in Israel have said this is not a good idea”).

But opinion in Israel about a pre-emptive strike on Iran is split, with many senior officials, non-governmental analysts and pundits in support.To portray Netanyahu as going it alone, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other cabinet members agree Israel must be prepared to use military force against Iran's presumed nuclear weapons program is highly misleading. Yet Rehm interjects, “so why is he moving forward?”

Gerges, speaking almost as an apologist for the Iranian regime, explains,

Well, for a variety of reasons, that Iran is developing a nuclear program. Even though Iran has made it very clear it's not really trying to build nuclear bombs, even though Iran has not made a decision to build nuclear bombs. The consensus within the American intelligence services that Israel has still a long time. We're talking about a few years. And Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear bomb. But remember, during the first meeting beween Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to talk about Iran, he did not want to talk about the peace process.

Rehm and Gerges' downplaying the need to confront Iran's nuclear weaponry ambitions ignores world-wide apprehension concerning the threat. Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Egypt have warned they will not accept a nuclear armed Shi'ite Iran, and European leaders have warned of the dangers to their countries of such a development.
 
Likewise, Gerges overlooks the fact that American leaders also have said they cannot tolerate a nuclear armed Iran, partly because Iran's Islamic regime has been conducting low-level warfare against the United States for decades since Iran's violent takeover by the Muslim fundamentalist regime in 1979. It has, among other things, occupied the American embassy in Tehran that same year and seized American diplomats, supported terrorist entities hostile to American interests such as Hamas and especially Hezbollah whose 1983 truck bombing killed 241 American Marines at the multinational force barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Iran was linked to the bombing of U.S. military housing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996, in which several dozen Americans were murdered and many more wounded and more recently to arming anti-American insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran reportedly was behind the recent plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.

Israel is rightfully apprehensive concerning the existential threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran. The annihilationist intention of Iran's leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, toward Israel have been documented repeatedly. Ahmadinejad, a religious fanatic who apparently believes world conflict will hasten the return of Shi'ite Islam's messianic “Twelfth Imam,” has frequently advocated the destruction of Israel. For example, on Oct. 26, 2005, in a speech to a "World Without Zionism" conference in Tehran, he vowed that "Israel must be wiped off the map." The Iranian president called for Israel to be "uprooted" in a press conference with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Feb. 25, 2010, one of a number of more recent such statements.

Recently, former Spain PM Jose Maria Aznar said that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told  him in 2000 that Israel must be wiped from the map. And according to Iran's Fars News Agency (Tehran), Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi recently declared, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”

Israel’s “decimated” peace camp

Gerges:

I mean, when we talk to Israelis, many Israelis of the peace camp, the peace camp in Israel has been decimated over the last 15 or 20 years. And that's why Netanyahu feels that he is so powerful and so influential and he can really basically do whatever he wants because he has a sizeable number of Israelis behind his policies, not just on the peace process, but also on settlements, and that's why the settlements keep expanding. And that's why Palestinian lands are being devoured by settlements probably on a daily basis.

In addition to Gerges' propagandistic falsehood, “Palestinian lands are being devoured by settlements probably on a daily basis,” he mentions that “the peace camp in Israel has been decimated over the last 15 or 20 years” without providing any context. Rehm adds nothing here. But shedding light on this matter is a letter-to-the-editor in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, which offers a thoughtful explanation as to why so little remains of what Gerges calls Israel's "peace camp," as if there were a significant bloc within the Israeli public that could be described fairly as a "war camp":

Consider the party [Palestinian Arabs] with which we would like to live in peace. While here [Israel], generations of children grew up on poems and songs that express a yearning for peace, what did our neighbors' children learn? How many peace songs have been written by Arab poets? How many Arab kindergarten teachers taught their pupils how to draw a dove? During the early days of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli school system took steps to psychologically prepare Israeli children for the approaching peace. The Palestinian school system, on the other hand, continued to brainwash its children with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda, as it continues to do to this day.”

Click here to listen to the May 21 program, "Obama and The Middle East: The End of America's Moment."

Rehm lists honors suggestive of influence of her show

According to Rehm's Website,

The Diane Rehm Show was named to the Top 10 list of the most powerful programs in public radio for 2007 and 2008, based on its ability to draw listeners to public radio stations. It is the only live call-in talk show on the list. In 2010, Diane Rehm won a Peabody Award (widely considered one of the most prestigious and selective honors in electronic media) for her more than 30 years in public broadcasting. ... Rehm has been named “Washingtonian of the Year,” one of Washington's “100 Most Powerful Women,” and one of the “150 Most Influential People in Washington” by Washingtonian magazine. She has also been included several times on the magazine's list of the “100 Most Powerful Women,” most recently in 2011.

The Diane Rehm Show can be contacted at 202-885-1231 or e-mailed at drshow@wamu.org. NPR's Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos can be contacted. However, the ombudsman focuses primarily on complaints regarding news broadcasts, not "public affairs" features like The Diane Rehm Show so NPR President and CEO Gary E. Knell can be e-mailed at gknell@npr.org or contacted at 202-513-2000.


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