Op-Ed in Sacramento Bee: “Asserting Mideast facts isn’t censorship”

The following Op-Ed appeared in the Sacramento Bee on March 10, 2007:

Asserting Mideast facts isn’t censorship

By Gilead Ini


Some of Israel’s critics would have you think they are under siege. Anyone who criticizes Israel, they say, will immediately be labeled an anti-Semite.

But the claim is simply untrue. There are no major Jewish organizations or leaders who say criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. Israel is a normal country, and as such can justifiably be scrutinized, analyzed and, when appropriate, criticized in the court of public opinion (according to the same standards that apply to other normal countries).

If anything, it is some of Israel’s detractors who have a problem being criticized. When others point out logical flaws or outright falsehoods in their denunciations of Israel, these critics respond by loudly protesting that the “Israel lobby” is trying to suppress discussion on the topic.

The accusation defies logic. As journalist Bret Stephens asked, “How does joining a debate become an effort to suppress it?” Indeed, any debater knows that exposing errors and distortions in an opponent’s argument is an important part of the battle of ideas, and a normal way of getting the facts into the discourse.

Equally untenable is the proposition that, because of this supposed Israel lobby, discussion of Israel is lacking in the United States. Consider this: In January of this year, Israel was mentioned in 211 New York Times articles. Sudan and Darfur, where the Times editorial board says a genocide is taking place, were mentioned in just 53 articles.

Nonetheless, some anti-Israel activists can’t resist claiming their views are being suppressed by a nefarious lobby. This serves a dual purpose for the activist: It discourages careful analysis of their claims — after all, nobody wants to be accused of suppressing debate — while at the same time assigning to themselves the mystique of being a persecuted intellectual martyr.

A prime example of this strategy recently appeared in this newspaper. On Feb. 25, the headline of an opinion piece announced: “Pro-Israeli lobby is silencing debate.” The author, activist/professor George Bisharat, went on to cite the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) as part of this cabal.

In fact, CAMERA works to ensure that media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is free of factual errors and distortions by highlighting falsehoods and sharing the facts with editors and the public.

After all, accuracy is central to the media codes of ethics written by journalists themselves.

For example, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics calls on the media to “test the accuracy of information from all sources,” to “admit mistakes and correct them promptly,” and to “invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.”

CAMERA and its members are a key part of this important dialogue.

Moreover, contrary to Bisharat’s ridiculous assertions, our work is neither “coordinated with” nor “directed by” right-wing Israeli governments, or for that matter any governments. Nor do we “harangue” journalists, as Bisharat claimed.

Daniel Okrent should know — as former public editor of the New York Times, he was a central part of the exchanges between the newspaper and CAMERA. About those discussions, he wrote that CAMERA offers “respectful appraisal” rather than “vituperation and threat.”

Bisharat does not like our work, and perhaps understandably so — we’ve brought a number of his factual errors to the attention of the media and publicized them on our Web site. But to say that we or the many others who dare criticize the critics are “silencing dissent” is not only wrong. It is a disservice to free, open and democratic debate.

About the writer:

Gilead Ini is a senior research analyst with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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