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Media Analyses





NPR's Diane Rehm Plays Gaza Wild Card: Herself


Listening to the discussion about Israel-Hamas fighting on Diane Rehm’s July 22, 2014 National Public Radio program (“The Latest on the Crisis between Israel and Hamas,”) one could assume that the only place attacked was the Gaza Strip. Rehm herself did not once utter the names Tel Aviv, Sderot, Ashkelon, or any other Israeli cities targeted by the mortar and rocket barrage fired by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Neither did she mention the numerous infiltration tunnels from the Strip into Israel.

Unlike Rehm—whose programs dealing with Israel not infrequently exhibit deck-stacking, loading the guest list with critics of the Jewish state—panelist Anne Barnard, The New York Times Beirut bureau chief, did say that “Israeli citizens are also under siege, having to run into bomb shelters at a moment’s notice, against these rockets.”

The focus of the show emphasized hardships imposed on the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in response to intensified terrorist attacks. Listeners could have come away with an impression Israelis were living in a Mediterranean Switzerland rather than in a Middle East beset by violent upheaval since the “Arab Spring” of 2011 and the spread of jihadist movements in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Gaza.

A minimally balanced approach by Rehm would have included a mention of the more than 10,000 mortars and rockets fired at southern Israel since Hamas took over the Strip in 2006 if not any of the following: The group’s homicide bombers who which killed hundreds of Israeli citizens during the second intifada (2000 – 2005), its genocidal charter that calls for the obliteration of Israel in favor of an Islamic theocracy and war against Jews everywhere, or the indoctrination of Palestinian children as young as five to become martyrs.

Guest Hisham Melhem of Saudi Arabian-backed Al-Arabiya News Channel was on hand with a functional, if not explicit pro-Hamas apologia. He put all of the blame for the fighting on Israel and attempted to tie the combat to growth inside a few Jewish communities in the West Bank and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

Rehm’s third guest was Elise Labott of Cable News Network (CNN) and fourth was Reuven Azar, deputy Israeli ambassador to the United States. He got enough airtime but was kept on the defensive, with Rehm not always letting him respond to Melhem’s accusations. One of those charges was “the big lie” from the old anti-Israel playbook. Al-Arabiya’s Washington correspondent alleged that Israelis “have been incorporating, stealing Palestinian lands from the beginning.
That old Palestinian revisionism

“From the beginning, they never wanted to have Palestinian independent states. From Oslo [Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization diplomacy begun in 1993]—before Oslo, from the minute they took over the West Bank [as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War], everything—Israel was born by the arms, by force, and by expelling Palestinians from their native lands. Here we have in the Israeli government, officials, members of government, ministers who came—born in Soviet Russia, and they brought with them the sickness of that Soviet culture, political culture.”     

If Rehm had given Azar an opportunity to respond perhaps he would have been able to tell her audience that Israel accepted the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan for a two-state solution while the Arabs rejected it. Azar could have added that in 1948 the armies of five Arab countries invaded, trying—unsuccessfully, given the force of arms Melhem complained about—to wipe out the new Jewish State. But Rehm did not give the Israeli representative the chance.

So listeners were not reminded either that Israel only took over the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) as a result of successful self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War, after the armies of Egypt and Syria mobilized on its borders and their leaders promised Israel’s destruction. Or that Palestinian and other Arab leaders rejected then and Palestinian representatives rejected in 2000, 2001 and 2008 offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state in exchange for peace with Israel.

Rehm did refer to the Oslo Accords but, instead of letting Azar offer Israel’s viewpoint, moved on to the next caller. Her program screens callers, asking them what topics they intend to raise. In the past, would-be pro-Israel callers have complained to CAMERA about being screened, then left waiting on hold until the program ended. This time Rehm’s next listener phone-in focused on Jewish settlements instead of points pertinent to the fighting in Gaza and attacks on Israel. 

Other callers were simply inflammatory. “Isa” of Windsor Mills, Md., claimed “the prisoners of Auschwitz of today—which is Gaza—are rebelling against the Nazi prison guards.” Ah, the old Soviet-inspired Zionist-as-Nazi mantra.

The prisoners of Auschwitz? Israeli soldiers to Nazis? Were it so, the Gaza Strip, which experienced a marked increase in living standards and population after Israel took it from Egypt in 1967 and even after the collapse of the Oslo process and rise of Hamas has seen its population grow dramatically, would be a very different place.

Rehm insinuates the apartheid smear
The appropriate—intellectually honest—thing for Rehm as hostess to do would have been to say, “Okay, we don’t have time for historical slander and outright propaganda. Next caller please.” But what she did was turn to Azar and say “Mr. Ambassador, an apartheid situation in Gaza?”

Even Melhem had enough class to say later he didn’t “like comparisons. I don't like to bring up Nazism to this discussion. This is unacceptable because these comparisons really make you lose sight of what’s the real thing. And I don’t even want to bring apartheid here.” 

For good reason: Israel’s the only country in the Middle East providing its citizens—Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, male or female—equal rights. It would not be in Gaza, having withdrawn completely in 2004, but for aggression by Islamic fanatics committed to very real religious/ethnic/gender apartheid throughout the region. But that apparently’s too much for Rehm to deal with. Instead, she insinuates a discredited but widely used piece of anti-Israeli innuendo into the conversation. 

All the guests agreed in condemning the natural-gas rich sheikdom of Qatar for its financing of Hamas.
Azar did mention that “what happened is that Gaza is being utilized as a tool for, become a base of Iran, a base of attacks against Israel.” Iranian involvement also deserved further discussion.

But doing so would have challenge the too-narrow focus on Gaza that Rehm seemed to prefer. Azar did talk about what was going on regionally and said that “if we would have withdrawn [from the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip], we are at the verge of creating another dysfunctional Palestinian state that, like Syria, like Iraq, like other dysfunctional Arab countries, full with extremist forces, with terrorists, and we would have to be obliged, again and again, to deal with those.”

Azar spoke about Hamas storing and firing weapons from among the Palestinian population. Labott of CNN offered some confirmation: “There has been evidence that Hamas has basically tried to use—put weapons in residential homes and other places.”

Tightly screened callers
That did not resonate well with Melham. He repeatedly interrupted both Labbot and the ambassador. Although he said he condemned Hamas, he seemed particularly upset when the conversation shifted to war crimes by the terror group

Melhem finally turned to Azar and said “[d]on’t trap yourself with morality. It doesn't work here. That should be condemned, obviously. The point is we are—the Israelis tell the Palestinians to leave [evacuate potential targets in the Strip]. Leave where? Give me an answer. Leave where?”

The focus finally had shifted to Hamas. That could have given Rehm an opportunity not only to discuss what the terror group is doing but also to talk about its ideology and indoctrination of Palestinian Arabs, children in particular. But she didn’t bother.

Rehm took five callers. Three vehemently criticized Israel. One mumbled something about Hamas but then criticized Israeli settlements. Finally, the last caller addressed Melhem and said “My comment is also I just want everybody to remember that when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, that now we have 150,000 rockets aiming towards Israel. I also have a question for the Palestinian gentleman. How does building tunnels and find—you know, obviously costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build these elaborate tunnel systems, and these thousands, if not tens of thousands, of rockets—how does that help the Palestinian cause?”

Melhem might have been caught off guard because he evaded the question, responding “Yeah, yeah, but I mean, just—let’s talk about context. The Israelis withdrew without an agreement. [from the Gaza Strip in 2005]. They imposed the siege. They control the shoreline. They control the space. They control the borders and everything. These people, as I said, they live in a huge internment camp. I don’t want to call it more than that. When you put people in these conditions, they are going to burrow underground and build tunnels. And most of these tunnels are for smuggling, for economic reasons. And, yes, they are used now…”

By then perhaps there were enough listeners who recognized Melhem’s tactics. Rehm’s one-sidedness remains another matter. 

 


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