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Middle East Issues

Foreign Policy's Dead Letters to the Editor Policy

Foreign Policy, a bi-monthly journal of international affairs and Web site seems to have a letters to the editor policy foreign to detailed replies. It also appears to imagine that Human Rights Watch and Electronic Intifada are, contrary to their track records, credible sources when it comes to Israel.
CAMERA submitted two detailed rebuttal letters in recent months—shown below—but was told letters weren't published online and that sometimes the print edition carried them, sometimes it didn't. Too bad, because as the following submissions show, Foreign Policy—and its readers—could benefit from more skeptical editing of its writers and vetting of the sources they rely on.
Human Rights Watch: On Israel a Highly Unreliable Source
June 3, 2015
Letter to the Editor
Foreign Policy

Dear Editor:

Your article about Israel, the United States, and the United Nations, “Israel's Shield,” (June 1, 2015), relies heavily on a questionable source. As a result, readers are left hanging.

Writer Colum Lynch notes that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1379 (2011) requires governments do all they can to protect civilians caught up in war. Narrowly focusing on U.S.-Israeli politics and then relying on Human Rights Watch (HRW) as a credible source when it comes to Israel, Lynch goes astray.

He takes as sustentative a report from HRW, which he calls a “leading advocacy group for human rights.” But the report falsely equates Israeli self-defense with aggression waged by Hamas and other terrorists based in the Gaza Strip.

Important background on HRW is omitted. The group has a troubling past when it comes to Israel.
Executive director of the Middle East and North Africa section that oversees Israel, Sarah Leah Whitson, previously worked for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. There, according to non-profit watchdog NGO-Monitor, she was “very active in pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel causes.” Whitson's AAADC work goes unmentioned in her HRW bio. [For a recent CAMERA expose' of HRW's anti-Israel slant, see “Low-Hanging Fruit: Human Rights Watch and Palestinian Child Laborers,” April 14, 2015.]

In her current post at HRW, she solicited funds in a May, 2009 speech to an audience in Saudi Arabia on the very basis of HRW's work targeting Israel.

In response to allegations of bias, Whitson rashly compared her critics to Hezbollah. Ironically, this is the same U.S.-listed terrorist organization that she referred to as merely an “Islamic Resistance” in a 2007 article in the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar. In that piece she—not surprisingly—sought to portray Israel as an aggressor.

The founder of HRW, Robert L. Bernstein, publicly decried his former organization's anti-Israel bias in a 2009 New York Times Op-Ed. Bernstein said HRW, “with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies …[by writing] far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.” HRW, he concluded, sought to help “those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

Almost as an afterthought, Foreign Policy notes at the end of its article that HRW has “also documented abuses by Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas.” This is misleading, as Hamas is more than just an “armed group”; it is a terrorist organization that—among other violations of international law—uses Palestinian Arab civilians as “human shields” while indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians, two war crimes in one action.

Contrary to the HRW/UN story line of disproportionately high levels of child casualties in the Gaza Strip during last summer's Hamas-initiated war, the median age of Gazans is reported to be around 15, but males under 15 comprised only 13 percent of the non-combatant casualties in the first three weeks of fighting. Women of all ages constitute more than half of Gaza's population, yet they made up only 12 percent of the fatalities in that period. [That pattern appears to have continued throughout the 50 days of combat.]

Hence, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey's observation that Israel “went to extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties.

The author's failure to note questions raised about Human Rights Watch's credibility and to examine actual casualty ratios from the 2014 Israel-Hamas combat help to advance a narrative of false equivalence between a country defending itself and a terrorist group that purposefully murders civilians—Israeli and Palestinian—for propaganda value. Readers deserve better.

Sean Durns
Media Assistant
Washington, D.C.
Electronic Intifada: A Fundamentally Unreliable Source on Israel
May 11, 2015
Letter to the Editor
Foreign Policy

Dear Editor:

Siobhan O'Grady's article on Israel's new justice minister, Ayalet Shaked, (“The New Face of Israel's Hard Right,” May 7, 2015) features glaring omissions and a failure to identify sources on which she relies. The resultant commentary—it's certainly not a report—leaves readers with a decidedly one-sided view.

The author cites a post by a group called Electronic Intifada, which put forward what it claimed to be an English translation of remarks from Uri Elitzur, who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief of staff nearly 20 years ago. O'Grady says “the author of the blog post [at Electronic Intifada] claimed that the 631-word excerpt called Palestinian children “little snakes” and accused Palestinian mothers of raising their kids to become violent martyrs. And, the blog post said, it read as “‘a call for genocide' of the Palestinian people.”

Unfortunately for readers, O'Grady fails to provide background or even question the source she relies on. Had she done so, she would have found that Electronic Intifada has problems with quotes. It attributed a false quote to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in 2002 in which he purportedly said “the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” [Ya'alon said Palestinian Arabs must realize that Israelis are not a defeated people.]

Electronic Intifada also invented a quote ascribed to Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion. The latter fabrication falsely alleged that Ben Gurion said, “We must expel Arabs and take their place.” In fact, Ben Gurion had written, “We do not want to and we do not have to expel Arabs and take their place.” [For more details on EI's unconcern with accuracy, see CAMERA's “Electronic Intifada Continues to Struggle with Quotations,” Aug. 15, 2013.]

Foreign Policy's article claims that by sharing Elitzur's remarks on social media, Shaked saw her popularity increase “among [Israeli] voters who share her skepticism about the intentions of the Palestinians and who fiercely oppose ceding the land necessary to create a Palestinian state.” However, it omits mention of why such skepticism may exist, namely Palestinian rejection of U.S.-Israeli “two-state” proposals in 2000 and 2001, launching the terror war of the second intifada instead, turning down an Israeli two-state deal in 2008, and rebuffing Secretary of State John Kerry's “framework” for a two-state peace last year.

The author cites a quote from Shaked to the American Jewish newspaper The Forward: “If you feel like a Jew and you act like a Jew and your ideology is based on Zionism, you can feel at home in this party [Jewish Home].” O‘Grady then concludes, “As for the some 15 percent of Israel's population that identifies as Muslim? Looks like they're out of luck.”

Really? Israeli Arabs, including the Muslim majority, have been voting for a variety of parties, including Arab, communist, Muslim-oriented and even Zionist parties like Labor and Likud, in numerous elections. This year a combined Arab List won 11 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. In short, Israeli Arabs enjoy much greater democratic participation and representation than their brethren in many Arab states.
In her one-sided tract, O'Grady omits that Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab, oversaw this latest election, that Arab political parties exist in Israel, or as The Abraham Fund, a non-governmental organization (NGO), noted, “The high voting rates [in 2015] reflect the will of the Arab public to take part in the Israeli political process.”

Omissions and the author's failure to identify sources reflect a lack of journalistic due diligence that does readers of Foreign Policy a disservice.

Sean Durns
Media Assistant
Washington, D.C.
[A regular letters to the editor section in Foreign Policy's print edition, and provision for letters online, detailed and reviewed for sources and accuracy as comments often are not, seems a necessity if FP's to be, as it aspires, authoritative and engaged.]

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