Radical anti-Israel views on Chicago’s WBEZ

Long a forum for controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Worldview, a daily global affairs program produced by Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ (91.5), has in recent months offered a decidedly skewed guest list featuring a preponderance of anti-Zionists. Since April, host Jerome McDonnell (picture below on the left) has featured at least thirteen guests representing the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim perspective and only four presenting a perspective neutral or supportive of Israel.  Some pro-Israel guests were given more time to speak, perhaps to make up for their side’s much smaller representation on the programs, but this still didn’t compensate nearly enough in  overall time or impact for being so much fewer in number.

McDonnell’s laid-back interviewing style, effective in drawing out his guest’s points, enables those whose agendas are hostile to Israel to make inflammatory allegations against the Jewish state and its supporters without requiring them to provide any substantiation. His format, which rarely includes opposing views on the same program, means that there is no opportunity for effective rebuttal of erroneous information and propagandistic portrayals provided by his guests.
For example, in his September 25th show, McDonnell hosted John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt  (pictured above) to discuss their controversial book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” McDonnell allowed to pass without substantive follow-up questions or rebuttal Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s blanket assertions that “one of the principle causes of our problems in the Middle East was the Israel lobby” and that this was a “taboo subject” despite the enormous publicity and opportunities afforded to the authors and former President Jimmy Carter to publicize their point of view. McDonnell did not delve into such contentious statements by the two professors as “oil interests have little influence on our policy in the Middle East” despite the repeated success of Saudi Arabia in purchasing weapons from the U.S. in the face of heated opposition from Israel’s American supporters. Nor did he challenge the assertion that aid to Israel is given unconditionally, despite the well publicized refusal of the first Bush administration to give Israel loan guarantees because of its settlement policy. 
McDonnell did not effectively challenge the authors on the substance of their claims despite the widespread availability of numerous critiques pointing out the many errors and inconsistencies in their work.  McDonnell did provide an opportunity for Israel’s spokesman to give an opposing point of view on the following day, but he also included a “human rights advocate” who endorsed Walt and Mearsheimer’s position.

The following table lists recent Worldview programs which dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:




Sept. 26, 2007

Mark Regev – Israeli spokesman
Doug Cassel – Human rights advocate
Foreign policy and strategic relationship between U.S. and Israel
Defense of Mearsheimer-Walt thesis

Sept. 25, 2007

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer- Professors

Discuss their controversial book on the Jewish Lobby

Aug. 30, 2007

Max Blumenthal – Nation magazine

Norton Mezvinsky – Professor

Kaveh Afrasiabi – Professor Tehran U.

Mugging of Christian Zionists through slanted interviews

Perspective on Jewish fundamentalism by anti-Zionist Jew.

Apologia for Shia fundamentalism and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Aug. 29, 2007

Joel Richardson – Evangelist

Lester Wright – Evangelist

Warns of danger from Muslim fundamentalism and Ahmadinejad. Wright comes off as outside the mainstream.

July 27, 2007

Ali Abunimah – Electronic Intifada

Afif Safieh – Ambassador, PLO

Supporter of Hamas – blames Israel

Supporter of Fatah

June 6, 2007

Norman Finkelstein – Professor

Discredited scholar, a fringe extremist, offers revisionist history of Six-Day War

June 5, 2007

Michael Oren – Author

Provides well-documented account of Six-Day War

May 30, 2007

Elias Chacour – Archbishop of Galilee

An Arab Christian, he advocates for the Palestinian cause but seeks reconciliation

April 18, 2007

Huda Abu Arqoub – Muslim Palestinian

Tal Dor – Jewish activist

Amal Nassar – Christian Palestinian

Billed as a vision of peace, the group engages in one-sided propaganda against Israel

Of those listed above, only Mark Regev, Joel Richardson, an evangelist focused on End-Times eschatology and historian Michael Oren provided knowledgeable perspectives on the Middle East conflict that were not critical or hostile towards Israel. Thirteen of the guests listed above were pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israel. Several of the guests, including Norman Finkelstein and the three representatives of the anti-Zionist group Partners for Peace expressed highly contentious views based on dubious assertions that should have been challenged by the host.

Bringing guests hostile to Israel is nothing new for McDonnell. He has invited Ali Abuminah (founder of Electronic Intifada – picture above) four times in the past two years, fringe anti-Israel activist Jeff Halper , and ex-president Jimmy Carter . But until April, Worldview provided a similar number of Israeli government representatives and mainstream scholars like Michael Oren, David Makovsky and Bennett Zimmerman.

Allowing false statements to go unchallenged

On April 18, 2007, McDonnell devoted an entire hour to three women billed as the “Jerusalem Women Speak Tour” who purportedly seek to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but in fact promote a radical anti-Israel agenda. The “tour” is a longstanding effort by an organization called Partners for Peace, which in turn is the creation of a longstanding anti-Israel organization, The Council for the National Interest (CNI). CNI, founded by a group of former U.S. foreign service officers with extensive ties to Arab countries, lobbies against U.S. support for Israel and places full page advertisements in major newspapers railing against the Jewish state. Partners for Peace also boasts the founder of the radical group the International Solidarity Movement, Adam Shapiro, who has justified terrorist acts against Israelis. McDonnell should have clarified that these women hardly represented a balanced perspective.

The three women, an Israeli, a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian all shared the same perspective. The Israeli woman, Tal Dor, criticized Israel for “building a wall and making the state more and more militaristic… making us much less secure.” Never mind that since the separation barrier has been in place, suicide bombings against Israelis have dropped by over 90% and the Israeli death toll due to Palestinian terrorism has fallen from 452 in 2002 (prior to the barrier) to 27 in 2006. Acco rding to Tal, “We [Israel] will pay a price for our own behavior.”

The Palestinian Muslim, Huda Abu Arqoub, told listeners that they should stop paying taxes to the U.S. government because of its support for Israel. She asserted that the American people are manipulated by the mainstream media and that Hamas is “not a terrorist government. In fact, she claimed, “they are a healthy organization.”

Among the demonstrably false accusations she leveled at Israel are that “the Jewish state is attacking” the Muslim religion and that the “Jewish state does not recognize its citizen’s rights if they are not Jews.” McDonnell said nothing in response to these accusations despite the fact that it is well known that Israel is the most pluralistic state in the Middle East, where Arab citizens are equally protected under the law and have the right to vote.

McDonnell asked her about Palestinian textbooks. Abu Arqoub denied what has been confirmed on several occasions, that Palestinian schoolchildren are being exposed to anti-Israel and anti-Jewish indoctrination. She claimed that the textbooks are “bringing in the notion of peace” and they teach the concept of “knowing the other and respecting the other.” Arquob admitted that it was difficult to teach these notions since Israeli soldiers at checkpoints were “abusing as many Palestinian children as they can.”

Arqoub’s statements about Palestinian textbooks were directly contradicted only two months prior to the show bySenator Hillary Clinton, who condemned Palestinian textbooks for teaching hatred. Senator Clinton cited textbooks claiming that the founding of Israel was “a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history, when the Zionist gangs stole Palestine and expelled its people from their cities, their villages, their lands and their homes, and established the State of Israel.”

The textbooks also avoided mentioning atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews and makes no reference to the Holocaust against Jews, describing instead Nazi restrictions on “non-Aryan” people.

It was Arquoub, not McDonnell, who actually brought up Senator Clinton’s condemnation. She demanded an apology from the Senator. McDonnell did not challenge Arqoub on the substance of her claims.

Misrepresenting Christian Zionists as violent End Times fanatics

On August 30, McDonnell’s show about religious views regarding End-Times scenarios in the Middle East featured a derisive segment against Christian Zionists by Nation magazine writer Max Blumenthal, an interview with anti-Zionist professor Norton Mezvinsky on Jewish religious extremism and an apologia regarding Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by professor Kaveh Afrasiabi. In casting the views of radical ideologues and propagandists as legitimate and credible, complex issues, like the motivations of Christian Zionists and the vastly different strengths of religious extremism among the different faiths, are reduced to one-sided propaganda. McDonnell’s partisan treatment of such politically charged issues on a publicly supported station is troubling.

In the segment on Christian Zionists, Max Blumenthal used cuts from his filmed interviews to portray the attendees at a July, 2007, Christian United for Israel (CUFI) conference as unhinged fanatics or manipulators. He crudely mocked the “professed philo-Semitism” of Christian Zionists as a “clever way… of plumping up the turkey – the Jews – before they put it in the oven.” He leveled a number of controversial charges against Christian Zionists.

McDonnell offered no challenge to Blumenthal nor did he include a representative of CUFI to answer his accusations. Among the more inflammatory statements made by Blumenthal were:

Christian Zionists only support Israel because of their End-Times theology. Christian Zionist groups urge Israel to “take as much land from the Palestinians as possible” and “engage in nuclear war with Iran.” “Israel acts as a surrogate military base for neo-conservative worldwide military policy”… against even the EU and Russia. “Muslims were demonized openly in language I just considered unacceptable in open society.” Christian Zionists want to put American Muslims in internment camps. Christian Zionists and their Jewish supporters are “waging a holy war against all Muslims.” “Elements of the Israeli right and pro-Israel policy establishment are encouraging all of this.”

Blumenthal selectively incorporates brief comments by CUFI members disputing him in his film clip but dismisses their comments as PR.

Journalistic thuggery

Blumenthal admits that he “wanted to show that [John Hagee – the head of Christians United for Israel] is an anti-Semite in philosemitic clothing.” Blumenthal claims as evidence Hagee’s inclusion of a biblical quotation in his book foretelling the persecution of the Jewish people. Blumenthal accuses Hagee of blaming the Jews for their own persecution. Hagee denies the accusation and explains that Blumenthal misunderstood what he wrote. But Blumenthal misrepresents Hagee’s response as a denial that the lines were even in the book. McDonnell makes no effort to clarify the issue and instead plays along with Blumenthal, who ridicules Hagee and mockingly asks, “who did write it, did Jesus Christ write it or did God write it?”

CAMERA contacted a CUFI spokesman familiar with Blumenthal’s film who denied Blumenthal’s charges and pointed to official public pronouncements by the group and its leaders that contradict Blumenthal’s allegations.

The supposed “balance” that McDonnell provided to Blumenthal’s attack on Christian Zionists was an interview the previous day with an obscure fundamentalist named Lester Wright, who is convinced that the book of Daniel predicts today’s events unfolding in the Middle East. The net effect of the two segments is to render fundamentalist Christians as zany and dangerously irrational. McDonnell should have included a segment that allowed a spokesperson from CUFI, such as Pastor John Hagee, and/or another prominent, credible spokesman for Christian Zionism, to rebut these serious allegations.

Blaming Israel for the tensions with Iran

In sharp contrast to Blumenthal’s mugging of Christians United for Israel, McDonnell allows Tehran University professor Kaveh Afrasiabi to whitewash the Shia eschatology, particularly that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Afrasiabi blames Israeli fundamentalists for escalating tensions. Borrowing a page from the conspiracist crowd, Afrasiabi posits that “by inflaming tensions with Iran, they [neocons, Jews] hope to hasten their end times scenario.” He further contends that the rightwing Jews “celebrated the reign of Ahmadinejad” because he presented them with a “convenient enemy.” Afrasiabi insists that Ahmadinejad’s messianic fanaticism is exaggerated and dismisses Ahmadinejad as a “tin-pot pseudo-dictator.” According to Afrasiabi, there really is nothing to worry about here. He assures the audience that Shias’ “messianic element is not necessarily violent.” When McDonnell asks him to confirm that in his view the Iranian President does not adhere to an apocalyptic vision, the professor replied “I haven’t seen anything that would convince me otherwise.” It is Israel that “uses the ruse of Iran’s threat to divert attention from their own Arab problem.”

On the previous day (Aug. 29), McDonnell did carry an i nformative interview with Joel Richardson, who painted a frightening picture of Ahmadinejad and clearly differentiated between the passive Christian and Jewish eschatological beliefs from the active Muslim pursuit of the End-of-Times.

Jewish fundamentalist anti-Zionism

The third segment of the August 30 show featured a Jewish professor known for his radical anti-Zionist views to talk about Jewish fundamentalism. Professor Norton Mezvinsky admits that End-of-Times ultra-orthodox Jews are a minority within a minority, but nevertheless exaggerates their impact on the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. Mezvinsky, who co-authored a book with notorious anti-Zionist Israel Shahak, also gets his facts wrong, claiming that “since September 28, 2000 when Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount and fighting broke out, more Palestinians and more Israeli Jews have been killed then in the whole history of the State of Israel since 1948 up to that September 28, 2000.”

In fact, the approximately 1100 Israelis killed in the Second Intifada is considerably less than the number killed during the Arab attacks on Israel in 1947-1949 alone, where over 6000 Jews were killed (the vast majority after May 14, 1948). The toll of Israeli Jews from the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars, the War of Attrition in 1968-1970 and fighting Lebanon totaled another 6000.

Meanwhile, the cumulative total of Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza or Arab states bordering Israel, who were killed between 1950-2000 far exceeds 5000. Over that same time span, estimates of the number of Palestinians killed in internecine (Arab on Arab) fighting vastly exceeds the number killed since the beginning of the second Intifada (estimates of 4,000 -10,000 in 1969-1971 civil war in Jordan, tens of thousands in Lebanon from 1969-2000) .

Conceding that Palestinian suicide terrorists fit the definition of extremists, the numerically challenged Mezvinsky adds, “we’ve had terrorist acts committed by Israeli Jews. I’m not quantifying that.” Mezvinsky’s coyness allows him to gloss over the fact that the number of terrorist acts by Israeli Jews is minuscule in comparison to the thousands committed by Palestinians.

McDonnell offered both a critical and apologetic presentation on the Holocaust denier, Ahmadinejad, a supposed but inadequate balance on the Christian Zionists, while providing no rebuttal or balance to the one-sided critique of Israeli fundamentalists.

Offering extensive exposure to fringe radicals

On June 7, in a show supposedly related to the fortieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, McDonnell handed the microphone to Norman Finkelstein, who offered the conspiratorial view that Israel intentionally provoked the war in order to block Arab modernization. According to Finkelstein, Israel’s response to Arab attempts to modernize is to “bring out the club and break Arab skulls.” McDonnell’s decision to feature a discredited member of the radical fringe like Finkelstein as one of the two historians (the other being mainstream author, Michael Oren the prior day) to discuss the Six-Day War is a travesty. Finkelstein’s scholarship and invective are widely condemned, yet McDonnell gives over an entire show to showcase his revisionist history.

On July 27, Ali Abuminah, founder of a radical internet Web site, Electronic Intifada, provided a pro-Hamas version of recent events. Abuminah speaks out of both sides of his mouth, denigrating Palestinian President Abbas as illegitimate – despite the fact that he was democratically elected – while bestowing legitimacy on Hamas because it was elected. He also falsely claims that Hamas has abided by a truce with Israel but that “Israelis continue to rule and conquer through violence.”

While McDonnell has long welcomed radical anti-Israel types as guests on his show, in the past he was more careful about balancing their views by also inviting Israeli officials and mainstream commentators. While respect for free speech encourages controversial opinions to be discussed, with freedom comes responsibility.  It is incumbent upon the interviewer to effectively challenge unsubstantiated or inflammatory allegations.

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