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Al-Jazeera America (AJAM) Watch for January – February 2014

Jan. 30, 2014 – 9:50 PM Eastern

America Tonight program (9-10 PM Eastern) eight-minute report.

Host: Adam May (based in Al-Jazeera's Washington, D.C. studio), previously a news anchor for Baltimore's CBS affiliate, WJZ.

Al-Jazeera seized on another opportunity to denigrate Israel. Basically, all other network and major market local coverage of the matter was very brief, reasonably factual and didn't propagandize the story against Israel. Only Al-Jazeera aired a Palestinian politician's propaganda spiel. The report was prompted by the rejection of an advertisement originally scheduled to be run by Fox Broadcast network on the Feb. 2, 2014 Super Bowl broadcast. The ad is for an Israeli company, SodaStream, employing Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Jews in a manufacturing plant located in the West Bank. The AL-Jazeera report falsely implies that the ad was rejected by Fox because it promotes an Israeli company operating in the West Bank. But the actual reason it was temporarily rejected was because it denigrated two of Fox's advertising clients ("Sorry, Coke and Pepsi") at the end of the ad.

May: “Welcome back. Finally tonight, some 164 million people are expected to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. It's a prime spot for companies to advertise their products. And of course, celebrity endorsements are the gold standard. But one ad the Super Bowl rejected, featuring actress Scarlett Johansson, is generating a different kind of buzz. America Tonight takes a look at the clash between celebrity endorsements and their humanitarian work.”

Scarlett Johansson (clip from SodaStream ad): “Like most actors my real job is saving the world.”

May: “It may look like any number of advertisements featuring a Hollywood celebrity. It has a little pop and fizz, a little glamour, but also a whole lot of controversy. Soon after this ad for SodaStream hit the air waves, Scarlett Johansson ended her eight-year ambassadorship with the international aid group, Oxfam, citing a fundamental difference of opinion.”

May (voiceover for West Bank video clip): “SodaStream, a company whose primary production plant is here in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, has come under heavy criticism from Palestinian activists. They say products made in the ‘occupied territories' only serve to support the occupation.”

May (Oxfam statement displayed on screen): “In a statement, Oxfam said that while it respected Johansson's independence, Oxfam believes that businesses such as SodaStream that operate in settlements further the on going poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law.”

May: “SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum says the mixed staff of more than 1200 Israeli and Palestinian employees represent the possibility for peace in the region.”

Birnbaum: “This factory is a dream for activists and politicians – both sides of this dilemma. Because this factory is a model for peace, SodaStream is showing every day what peace will look like, and proving every day that there can be peace between our peoples.”

May: “But Palestinian officials don't see it that way.”

Ahmed Majdalani (Palestinian Authority minister of labor): “This factory is located on annexed and occupied Palestinian land. This is a settlement and settlements are in violation of international law. This factory is set up on land stolen by force. If they want to set up bridges for peace, why don't they establish this factory in Israel, and then employ Palestinian workers.”

Host Adam May questionably asserts that Johansson's SodaStream ad is comparable to activities of other “celebrities whose paid deals have stirred controversy” such as Jennifer Lopez's controversial birthday concert for the brutal dictator of Islamic Turkmenistan, Beyonce's private performance for Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and George Clooney's “string of endorsements which is under fire for its labor practices.” May ends the report with a 3.75 minute conversation with a representative of World Peace Foundation discussing the proposition that celebrities who make testimonials for political and philanthropic causes often generate controversy mainly due to misunderstanding the issues involved.

Jan. 13, 2014 – 6:30 AM Eastern

Host: Stephanie Sy (formerly ABC News' Asia correspondent based in Beijing, China).

Guest: Adel Darwish, British journalist, former Middle East editor of U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper, author of "The Edge of War."

Mr. Darwish's interview concerning the late Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel and military chief, included incorrect, misleading assertions.

Sy: "Sir, thank you very being with us and tell us how you knew Prime Minister Sharon."

Darwish: "Well, I knew Sharon before he became prime minister and after he became prime minister and as a general he was not very disciplined and (indistinct) of the leadership in 1956 he walked into an ambush by the Egyptians because of indiscipline and did it a few times in different wars. In the Yom Kippur war crossing the Suez canal against orders probably turned the tide of war against Israel and this was a shaky start. And then later on it was a big mistake he made in Beirut in 1982 when he let the Phalange [Christian Arab militia] into the Palestinian camps and that ended his career then because the judiciary commission found him responsible for the death of hundreds ..."

Sy: "You knew him personally. So how will you, yourself, remember him? I mean clearly you stated these major moments in history, probably he was the most important figure in Israeli history but how would you describe the man, was he the bulldozer and was he a bulldog?"

Darwish: "He was an overwhelming character, I must say, and he probably wouldn't allow you in the discussion to interrupt him much to the point he was making. It was helpful when I was researching one of my books about water ... in 1993 and I actually spent a day with him at his ranch at his farm which is about six miles southwest of Jerusalem. He did actually give me very good information about water politics and, in fact, he actually confirmed that the Six-Day War in 1967 was about water because the Syrians wanted to divert water away from the Sea of Galilee which would be putting a lot of pressure on Israel. So the launch of the war because of water – that was very helpful..."

NOTE: Darwish makes a misleading, inaccurate assertion, "... it was a big mistake he [Sharon] made in Beirut in 1982 when he let the Phalange [Christian Arab militia] into the Palestinian camps and that ended his career then because the judiciary commission found him responsible for the death of hundreds ..."

But the Israeli fact-finding commission found that Sharon bore not "responsibility" but rather "indirect responsibility" for the killings of hundreds of Palestinians committed not by Israelis but by Christian Lebanese Phalange militia in revenge for previous massacres of Christian Arabs by Arafat's PLO. The Phalange militia – the only militia that entered the camps – was tasked with rooting out terrorists, not with conducting a massacre. So, Sharon, who was actually not in Lebanon at the time – as Defense Minister he was in Jerusalem – erred in underestimating the depth of hatred on the part of Christian Lebanese Arabs for the Palestinian Arabs. Therefore he was responsible presumably for the faulty decision of permitting the Christian militia to enter the camps – a kind of "fog of war" mistake.

If Sharon bore "indirect responsibility," what is the culpability of all those Palestinian Authority officials who spent years with Arafat in the Palestine Liberation Organization, starting with President Mahmoud Abbas, for the killings of many thousands of Arabs and Jews?

Likewise misleading and inaccurate was Darwish's assertion as to the cause of the 1967 Six-Day War (June 5-10), "... he [Sharon] actually confirmed that the Six-Day War in 1967 was about water because the Syrians wanted to divert water away from the Sea of Galilee ..."

Whatever Sharon told Darwish or did not tell him about the circumstances leading to the Six-Day War, this is what happened: While it's true that water resources was one of the factors in increasing tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors especially with Syria which had begun diverting water from the Jordan River in retaliation for Israel's tapping the Jordan River by canal for irrigation of the Southern Negev desert, the Six-Day War was not a war about water. This war, — the third major Arab-Israeli conflict — was in a sense a continuation of the first two wars. Broadly speaking, the causes of the fighting in 1967 overlapped with the causes of fighting in 1948 (Arab rejection of Israel) and 1956 (continued rejectionism and an Egyptian blockade of shipping to Israel).

Specifically, the war stemmed from Egypt's decision to expel United Nations troops from the Sinai peninsula and blockade Israel's port of Eilat, under international law a casus belli, or act of war, in addition to belligerent Arab threats to destroy Israel. Much of the above could be traced to Soviet meddling and misinformation.

Israel was not the aggressor in the 1967 War. By June 4, a military alliance of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq mobilized nearly 250,000 troops, 2,000 tanks and 700 aircraft on its borders. After weeks of Arab threats and aggression, Israel - then a country the size of New Jersey with a population of about 2 million - pre-empted encirclement with strikes against Egyptian and Syrian forces.

Did the Arab encirclement mean war? In 1964, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared that "the danger of Israel lies in the very existence of Israel." Syria simultaneously shelled Israeli farms and towns from the Golan Heights. Syrian attacks grew more intense in 1965 and 1966, as did Egyptian rhetoric. Mr. Nasser stated, "[W]e aim at the destruction of the state of Israel." Arab terrorist infiltrations and attacks against Israel increased.

By May 1967, Egypt expelled U.N. peacekeeping personnel from the Sinai Peninsula. On May 20, Syrian Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad stressed that "the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation." On May 22, in an act of war, Egypt closed the international Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On May 28, Mr. Nasser declared that "we will not accept any ... coexistence with Israel." Israeli forces, after being on high alert for three weeks waiting futilely for international diplomacy to resolve the threat, attacked on June 5. The reason for attacking? To preempt potential annihilation. Al-Jazeera America's Middle East coverage more often resembles propaganda than it does reality.
Jan. 3, 2014 – 6:18 AM (Eastern)

Typically, Al-Jazeera America's lengthy January 3 reports (documented here) on the difficulties in achieving a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are one-sided. Meanwhile, not a word from Al-Jazeera America about a major impediment to a genuine peace as described in a recent New York Times editorial. The commentary stated that Palestinian President Abbas “needs to crack down on the incitement of hatred against Israel in Palestinian schools, textbooks and government controlled media.” This incitement has continued unabated for decades although it's a major violation of the Oslo Accords.

Host: Stephanie Sy (formerly ABC News' Asia correspondent based in Beijing, China).

Correspondent: Nick Schifrin, Al-Jazeera America's first foreign correspondent, is based in Jerusalem. He formerly was an ABC News correspondent based in London.

Sy: “Secretary of State John Kerry heads to the West Bank today and a meeting with Palestinian President Abbas and he's already met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and he's trying to get them to hammer out the framework for a peace deal and we are live from Jerusalem and good morning Nick [Schifrin]. Kerry restarted the peace talks for the decades-old conflict back in July and gave it nine months and we are at the halfway point now and has there been any progress?”

Schifrin: “Not a whole lot of progress to be honest, Stephanie. What Kerry said yesterday and what the aides are trying to do has down-played expectations and Kerry used the phrase, ‘All I'm here to do is create the guideline for the framework for future talks' and it's no where near an agreement and all he is trying to do is get the two sides to talk.

There are sticky issues on both sides with one on the Israeli side insisting the Palestinians acknowledge them as a Jewish state and that is new, Israel never demanded Egypt or Jordan to acknowledge them in the past but they say for us to know the Palestinians are true peace partners they have to say that it's a Jewish state [Israel's insistence that Palestinian leaders acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, signifying acceptance of a real 'two-state solution,' one Jewish, one Arab, is not new. It was raised by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 and by prime ministers before him]. They [the Palestinian representatives] say that is buying into your narrative and accepting that the Arabs who lived in Israel before 1948 will not be able to return and marginalized the Arabs in Israel now.

On the other side they [the Israelis] will have to accept 1967 borders and that means accepting an Israel without the West Bank, without Gaza, without the Golan Heights and one thing I read this morning in … is Netanyahu never accepted that and for Netanyahu to accept the borders [of the 1949 armistice lines] is like a Jew eating pork on Yom Kippur and I will translate that as Jews never eat pork and they don't eat anything on Yom Kippur and that will give you a sense of how difficult it is for the Israeli government to concede the 1967 borders.”

Sy: “A sign of the Netanyahu stance is that it has continued in the occupied territories and Kerry got one concession from Israel before he arrived as to no new settlements for now. But will that last?”

Schifrin: “This is a very, very small concession. The Israelis tell me and all journalists here they have no intention of stopping these settlement announcements; 1400 settlements [new housing units within existing settlements, not new settlements] were supposed to be announced in the last few days and they delayed the announcement as one Israeli officials put it to me not stick their finger in the eye of John Kerry but the settlements will go forward and a sense on the Israeli side they are trying to lower expectations and trying to already shift blame to the Palestinians and really doubt, really cast doubt on whether Kerry can succeed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a press conference with Kerry yesterday was very skeptical and the tone coming from the Israelis, let's listen to what he has to say.”

Netanyahu: “I know you are committed to peace. I know I'm committed to peace. But unfortunately given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there is growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.”

Schifrin: “And Stephanie, it goes without saying that if the rhetoric continues it makes Kerry's job harder.”

NOTE: Al-Jazeera America's news reporting from Israel and the Palestinian territories, inadvertently or not, sounds more like a blame game than reportage since it places the onus on Israel for difficulties in achieving an Israel/Arab peace agreement. For example, Al-Jazeera repeats the Palestinian charge that Israel unreasonably requires Palestinian Arabs to recognize Israel as a Jewish state because such recognition would undercut Israel's Arab citizens as well as Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants (who claim a “right of return” which the relevant U.N. resolutions did not establish and which, if exercised on large scale would overwhelm Israel demographically causing it to cease to be a Jewish state). Al-Jazeera essentially reports the Palestinian position without noting that all 21Arab states are overwhelmingly Muslim, and sometimes — like the draft Palestinian Authority constitution — cite Islamic law as a source for civil law, and generally do not accord full rights to non-Muslims (often persecuted), while Israel accords full rights to and respects its Muslim, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens.

Jan. 3, 2014 – 7:12 AM (Eastern)

Host: Stephanie Sy (formerly ABC News' Asia correspondent based in Beijing, China).

Correspondent: Nick Schifrin, Al-Jazeera America's first foreign correspondent, is based in Jerusalem. He formerly was an ABC News correspondent based in London.

Sy: “Secretary of State John Kerry heads to the West Bank meeting with the Palestinian president today. He met with Israeli prime minister. He is trying to get the two sides to hammer out the framework for a peace deal. We are joined live from Jerusalem now. Nick, Secretary Kerry restarted these peace talks for this decades-old conflict back in July. He was going to give it nine months. We're at the halfway mark now. Has there been any progress?”

Schifrin: “Not a whole lot. U.S. officials are really describing what Kerry's doing as small baby steps. What Kerry said yesterday is all he's trying to do here is talk about the differences for a framework for the guidelines of the talk. That's actually the words he used, so nowhere near any kind of agreement. What we're talking about is talking about what we're going to talk about, that despite the fact that they've been talking for six months, and met 20 times. What Kerry requires is now trying to say look, ‘now's the time where you have to make some concessions, now is the time where you have to make some hard choices.' What he's getting privately and publicly from both sides is positioning, both blaming the other side for the possible future failure of the talk and we especially heard that yesterday from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu: “I know that you are committed to peace. I know that I'm committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's doubt that the Palestinians are committed to peace.”

Schifrin: “The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions. We are close to that time, if not at it. What U.S. officials are saying is that Kerry is saying behind the scenes is those concessions, those hard choices, he wants them to make those in the next few weeks, perhaps no more than the next month or so. What he's hoping … is to get a piece of paper where both sides say yes, this is what we're going to talk about in the future and right now that's the goal, Stephanie.”

Sy: “But there are so many remaining road blocks, Nick. Kerry was able to get this small concession from Israel that they aren't dealing with new settlement, but will that last?”

Schifrin: “The settlements are a hot topic right now and such a road block. Last week, Israeli officials called journalists, foreign and Israeli and say we are going to announce 1,400 more settlements. The Palestinians expressed outrage. Israeli believes that it can build anywhere it wants to in the West Bank, land captured in the 1967 war. Palestinians say if you really want peace, really want a two state solution, how can you keep building these settlements, which the U.N. calls illegal and how can you keep building them on land we hope is the heart of the future Palestinian state? The Israelis say we have the right to, and also it's very popular among right wing Israelis especially and the base for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push those settlements forward. That announcement has been delayed until after Kerry leaves, clearly no concession there if that settlement announcement continues to take place next week and the Palestinians react with fury and even threaten to pull out of the talks if that takes place.”

Sy: “As far apart as ever, it seems.”

NOTE: Al-Jazeera's Schifrin distorts the settlements issue: “Israel believes that it can build anywhere it wants to in the West Bank, land captured in the 1967 war.” The claim that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law is false, though it has been made often, including by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. See, for example, CAMERA's Washington Times Op-Ed, “Ban Ki-moon is wrong about Israeli settlement, Mar. 9, 2013. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, on which all successful Arab-Israeli negotiations since the 1967 Six-Day War have been based clearly avoids stating Israel must withdraw from all of the territories gained in this war. The resolution stipulates rather that Israel withdraw from some of the disputed territory, but not necessarily all. Former U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, one of the drafters of the resolution, has commented on the this fact relative to the resolution's wording: Motions to require the withdrawal of Israel from "the" territories or "all the territories" occupied in the course of the Six Day War were put forward many times with great linguistic ingenuity. They were all defeated both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council.

Security Council Resolution 242 remains the basis for subsequent peace plans including the Israeli-Palestinian 1993 Oslo accords. The resolution requires only Israeli military withdrawal from unspecified portions of territory gained in self-defense in 1967, and Israel has already withdrawn from most of the territory — the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip.

In addition, the most relevant international law, the League of Nations' Palestine Mandate, Article 6, encourages "close Jewish settlement on the land" west of the Jordan River. Article 6 is incorporated by Article 80, the so-called "Palestine article" of the U.N. Charter. The United States upheld the Mandate, including Article 6, when Congress approved the Anglo-American Convention of 1924. Assertions that Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem are illegal may be political, diplomatic or propagandistic, but, regardless of who makes them, they do not reflect international law.
Jan. 3, 2014 – 7:35 AM (Eastern)

Host: Thomas Drayton (formerly of Fox affiliate station in Philadelphia).

Guest: Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, an Israeli, is a professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (Ben-Meir tends to be a neutral analyst in the conflict between the parties).

Drayton: “Secretary of State John Kerry is playing mediator in the Middle East. This morning, he met with Israeli officials and later will talk with the Palestinian president. Thursday, during a press conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu flatly said he was unsure the negotiations will work.”

Netanyahu: “I know that you are committed to peace. I know that I am committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's growing do doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.”

Drayton: “Joining us is a professor of international relations and Middle East studies, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, joining us this morning. Thank you for being with us. Netanyahu offered a gloomy assessment. Is he basically giving himself an out if talks fail by placing blame on the Palestinian leadership?”

Ben-Meir: “I think it's ironic that the prime minister suggests that the Palestinians are not committed to peace when in fact he himself continues to expands the settlements and this is certainly sending the wrong message both to the Israelis and to the Palestinians and does not indicate that he, himself is in fact committed to a two state solution. Certainly the Palestinians are not helpful, either insisting on the right to return, which is a non-starter with Israelis and that, too, doesn't suggest that he is completely committed to peace. What's happening here, they both are polarizing their own respect to public and that is certainly not helpful to the peace process.”

Drayton: “I know the terms of any final deal are still in the distance. You've been following these talks closely. What do you make of the progress so far and is a spring deadline set by Secretary Kerry too ambitious?”

Ben-Meir: “I don't think there has been any much progress thus far and the reason being that both sides are holding to extreme positions and that it's extremely difficult to reconcile, so some are suggesting that instead of reaching a final agreement by April, they may eventually agree on some kind of an interim agreement. I don't think that, too, is going to be much helpful, considering the volatile situation in the Middle East altogether. So my prediction, if I should say that, could say that, is that not much really will be achieved and if anything, it's going to be ambiguous enough that both people will be able to manipulate it in months to come.”

Drayton: “Looking back at this time compromise. sides. What will the key issues be to getting this deal done, possible road blocks, you talked about halt in more settlements?”

Ben-Meir: “The important thing is to agree on borders. Once you agree, Israel can do what it would like to do in the settlement, the Palestinians will have for themselves defined exactly what their state is going to look like, then you talk about security for Israelis as well as for the Palestinians, but by insisting, for example, that security be dealt first by the Israelis, that does not allow for the process to continue in a manner that could make any progress forward, so I think and I have been suggesting this all along, that borders ought to be established, but even more importantly, that the United States ought to put its foot down and both sides need to understand there will be consequences if they are not going to follow a general framework that has been past.”

Drayton: “The talks continue, no easy solution to a conflict that has been ongoing for quite some time. Professor Ben-Meir joining us from Miami. Thank you for your time.”

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