Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Why the Media Get the Middle East Wrong" with Jeff Jacoby

Last Tuesday night (12/2) Tikvah hosted Jeff Jacoby, columnist of the Boston Globe, to talk about "Why the Media Gets the Middle East Wrong." It was a fascinating talk with about 45 people in attendance. Jacoby began the evening by reading news stories from various American newspapers and pointed out how when it comes to the Middle East, publications like to leave certain facts out. For example, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Palestinians to stop firing rockets into Israel and for Israel not to respond with excessive, a respected newpaper reported the story as saying: "Ban Ki-moon tells Israel to stop using excessive force on Palestinians" without making any mention of the rest of his statement. There was another case with Newsweek Magazine when on the cover the face of a female suicide bomber was placed next to a picture of a female victim of the bombing. Their two stories were profiled equally and their faces were the same size. This sort of imagery creates a sense of moral equivalence between the murderer and the murdered. There are countless other similar examples.

Jacoby then went into why such a bias exists. Logically, it doesn't make sense that such a tiny region with such a relatively small conflict (compared to ones in Darfur and Congo with MUCH more violence) gets so much coverage, and negative coverage at that. The reasons are as follows: First, access to Israel is much easier for international journalists than it is to many other places. Tel Aviv is very hospital to reporters and there is a thriving free press in Israel. Reporters are much more likely to spend months posted in a beautiful hotel by the beach in Tel Aviv than they are to stay in Sudan or Congo. The next reason is fear. In the Islamic fundamentalist countries around Israel, journalists are threatened and intimidated by the government for writing anything critical. In Israel, it is more than OK to criticize the government -- Israelis do it more than enough! Another reason is the media's general leaning towards the left side of the political spectrum. While the Left and Right in this country are supportive of Israel, it is a trend of late for the Left to be more critical of Israel. Because most major media outlets in this country are left-leaning, this tendency to be critical of Israel is apparent. Lastly, there is often reporting based on nonfactual information. When a reporter goes to the Middle East and doesn't know the local language, they depend on translators and guides to give them the story of what's going on. The translators/guides in Palestinian territories often work for the government and take journalists to staged scenes of children throwing rocks that are not genuine at all. Reporters don't have any other options so they run with the fake story and photographs and people in the rest of the world take them to be true. Following his talk, Jacoby took questions from people in the audience, some journalists themselves and some just interested students.

Overall it was a great evening and a wonderful way to end the semester. Thanks to all of you who showed up! We look forward to seeing you for more events after the break.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Address the Real Problems at Berkeley

The following is a statement made by ZFA Director Yehuda HaKohen. We are posting it here because of its relevance to issues affecting Zionist students at Cal.

Address the real problems at Berkeley
by Yehuda HaKohen

As director of the Zionist Freedom Alliance and one of the organizers of Israel Liberation Week at UC Berkeley last month, I was disturbed to learn some of the things being said about the ZFA not only by the “Students for Justice in Palestine” and their supporters but also by the Bay Area’s organized Jewish leadership. For readers unaware of recent events at Berkeley, the ZFA hosted Israel Liberation Week on campus from November 10th-14th. On the afternoon of Thursday November 13th, we brought Jewish, Black and Mexican performers together for a concert advocating Jewish national rights. A series of unnecessary events that began with a disruption of the concert by the SJP and ended in a violent confrontation between Arabs and Jews has since become the focus of media attention.

Rather than address the underlying tensions at Berkeley that led to the unfortunate incident, the Jewish community leaders have placed the blame for the violence on the ZFA, labeling us as an “extreme right-wing” group and accusing us of brainwashing impressionable Jewish students towards confrontational behavior. But this libel holds no water when one looks at what we stand for and what we stand against. The ZFA message carries absolutely no anti-Arab or Islamophobic sentiment. ZFA has never brought speakers like Daniel Pipes* or Walid Shoebat to any campus, nor have we ever screened alarmist anti-Muslim films like Obsession. To the contrary, genuine efforts were made to dialogue with members of SJP and the Muslim Student Association. I even personally invited SJP leaders to an Israel Liberation Week event called “Moral Dilemmas Confronting the State of Israel Today” that deals with certain problematic areas of Israeli government policy. Although similar efforts to engage in genuine dialogue with Muslim and Arab students on other campuses have been well received, we encountered only a hostile atmosphere at Berkeley to anything that could be labeled Zionist.

In truth, the perception that Zionist students at UC Berkeley are “confrontational” is simply the most recent outgrowth of an obvious intolerance on campus for any individuals or groups who appear supportive of the Jewish state. In all my years working on university campuses, I have never encountered a climate of hate towards Israel like that at Berkeley. During the week I spent on campus, I witnessed pro-Israel students incessantly mocked, taunted and ridiculed by their peers. The Zionist students justifiably feel discriminated against by the university. The dean of students, Jonathan Poullard, told me following the concert that these Zionist students (most of whom are members of the Tikvah organization) have been making trouble on campus for the last year. But such “trouble making” simply means that these students have been assertive in their opposition to the anti-Zionist bigotry and SJP propaganda that has flourished unchecked at UC Berkeley for years. Before Tikvah, the activities of anti-Israel groups went unchallenged and no one contested the erroneous narrative that Zionism is akin to racism or that Israel is an oppressive colonial regime. But now Jewish students at Berkeley proudly proclaim their national rights and anti-Israel groups know that they no longer have free reign.

Marginalizing any ideological group is dangerous, yet this is precisely what the UC Berkeley administration, dean of students, Jewish Student Union and campus Hillel have done to the leaders of Tikvah. If the administration is truly interested in calming tensions on campus, the first step is making pro-Israel students feel that their political views are valid and that Zionism has a legitimate place among the many other just causes at UC Berkeley.

The ZFA’s overall message is one of Jewish rights. We unapologetically assert that the Jewish people, like all other peoples, enjoy national rights – specifically the right to self-determination in our homeland; without denigrating anyone else. Even though some Jewish leaders and groups are curiously afraid to vocally assert such rights, these are mainstream views within the Jewish community. Just because we promote the Jewish people’s legal, moral and historic rights to our country does not justify labeling the ZFA as a “right-wing” group. And neither does defending oneself from physical attack. It was the assertion of our own people’s legitimate rights that prompted the regrettable disruption of our concert by the SJP and the physical confrontation that ultimately followed.

The ZFA leadership fully understands that the deplorable incident at our concert has justifiably alarmed many in the Bay Area community. We understand that it has brought long standing tensions to the forefront and forced Jews and non-Jews alike to deal with deeply rooted problems that have in the past been swept under the rug. But rather than seek a convenient scapegoat to deflect blame from local Jewish leadership, why not work together and address the real difficulties confronting pro-Israel students at Berkeley? Why not take advantage of ZFA’s experience and expertise in making the Berkeley campus, and the Bay Area in general, a more accepting place for those who speak of Jewish rights?

*NOTE: Tikvah has hosted Daniel Pipes in the past because we feel that it is important to bring speakers of many viewpoints to this campus. Again, it was a Tikvah event, not a ZFA event. These are two separate organizations who have worked together in the past but don't necessarily share the same viewpoints on everything.