Israeli PR Association chooses IDF spokesperson as Man of the Year

Posted: May 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, war | Comments Off

Israeli new site Ynet is reporting that IDF spokesperson Avi Bnayahu was selected as the Israeli PR and Spokespersons Association’s Man of the Year 2011.

The comic relief is the part explaining the selection:

“Bnayahu is known as a man who values and fights for his views and his credibility in the media, and relentlessly aiming to search and expose the truth,” said Silvia Bet-Halachmi, chairman of the PR and Spokespersons association.

I leave it to the readers to reflect on the meaning of this reward. It’s enough to say that Bnayahu was (partly) responsible for the arrest of 60 journalists during last year’s flottila incident. The IDF then searched the reporters, confiscated all their media, refused to release it in its entirely but rather edited and used parts of the material in the army’s propaganda campaign and for the Chief of Staff’s local political needs. In a way, I guess this kind of behavior is the wet dream of every PR man, so the PR Association might have a point.

Or as one of my friends wrote on his Facebook wall, “IDF Spokesperson is PR Man of the Year every year, since 1948.”


Gaza’s official PR video

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media | Tags: | Comments Off

High production value and the general sense of the commercials for the traveling businessman you get to see on CNN International:

h/t Max Blumenthal


Calling the US president “Hussein”

Posted: May 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism, the US and us | 1 Comment »

I noticed that whenever an Israeli pundit wants to show that there is something shady or untrustworthy about the White House’s policy, he calls the president by his full name.

This one is from Ari Shavit, a top columnist for Haaretz (my bold):

Weak leadership and a lack of moral clarity continue to characterize Obama. Instead of leading the Arab world to a good place, he’s being dragged along with it to a bad one.

(…)

The summer of 2011 is the summer of Barack Hussein Obama. If he does not stabilize the Middle East this summer, a regional avalanche will take place by summer’s end. Obama will bear personal responsibility if the Arab spring turns into a cold and bleak winter.


Israeli Wikileaks: Journalists demand not to try Haaretz reporter

Posted: May 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has summoned Haaretz journalist Uri Blau to a formal hearing – the last procedural step before prosecuting Blau in a criminal court. The 7th eye website reports [Hebrew] that the hearing will take place towards the end of the month. Last March, The Tel Aviv Office for the General Prosecution announced that it was considering prosecuting Blau for unauthorized possession of classified information.

Following the procedures against Blau, dozens of Israeli journalists have signed a petition, demanding not to put Haartez’s reporter on trail (my translation from Hebrew).

We – journalists and media people who fear for our professional freedom – call upon the Attorney General not to prosecute Haaretz’s journalist Uri Blau for holding classified documents. Some of us have our reservations regarding the conduct of Blau and Haaretz throughout the affair. Yet we are all concerned about the consequences of the Attorney General’s decision regarding the work of all journalists in Israel.

Putting a journalist on trial for possession of secret documents constitutes significant injury to the independence of the media. The immediate significance of the decision will be in putting restraints on our ability to reveal injustice and corruption [...] This precedent would severely harm the [ability to conduct] investigative journalism, which is at the heart of the free press. It is impossible to expose corruption—in any field—without holding documents, also those that are considered classified [...]

Uri Blau, an investigative reporter, received hundreds of classified IDF document from former soldier Anat Kamm. Blau published several pieces in Haaretz based on the documents, including one story which revealed that senior IDF officers—including Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy—might have knowingly violated a Supreme Court decision when they ordered targeted killings of Palestinian militants even when those could have been captured alive.

The story was approved for publication by the Army Censorship.

Later on, the Internal Security Service (Shabak) conducted an investigation which led to Anat Kamm, a former soldier at central command HQ, as the source for the leak. Kamm has been under house arrest for more than a year now. She recently agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecution which would mean up to 9 years in prison.

Following Kamm’s arrest, Blau left the country to London. Attorneys for Haaretz have negotiated his return with the Shabak; according to the agreement between the two sides, Blau will return the documents to the state. The Security Service later claimed that Blau violated the agreement. According to Blau, all the documents Anat Kamm handed him were returned to the Army. Blau also agreed to have his computer destroyed by the Internal Security Service.

Blau is to be charged according to article 113C of the criminal law (holding secret information), which is part of the espionage law.

Technically, every reporter in Israel who has witnessed or held a secret document can be charged with the same offense.

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The organizers of the petition against the prosecution of Uri Blau urge foreign journalists to support their call to the Attorney General. If you are a journalist or a media person and you wish to add your name to an English petition (to be published soon), please send your full name and organization to the following e-mail: kelev.shmira@gmail.com


Tablet calling Israel “A Liberal’s Paradise” (!)

Posted: November 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 18 Comments »

This is one of the most bizarre pieces I’ve seen this year. It comes from Tablet’s blog editor, Marc Tracy:

Israel, A Liberal’s Paradise

Are you a liberal upset over Tuesday’s results? Then have we got a country for you!

Starting next week, non-Jewish or -affiliated same-sex couples will be able to enter into civil unions. The bill’s sponsor wants to extend the law to all Israelis, including Jews; incredibly, the sponsor is none other than Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, notorious for sponsoring the heinous conversion bill. Even a blind squirrel catches an occasional nut, eh?

On top of that, an Israeli Health Ministry committee has made a new recommendation concerning medicinal marijuana. Not that it should be legalized—it already is legalized, natch—but that the country’s universal health care should pay for it.

And on the social front, two Israeli women became the first same-sex duo to compete together in a version of Dancing With The Stars. The “star” in this case was sportscaster Gili Shem Tov, a sportscaster who did the cha-cha. Shem Tov, a lesbian, said “it felt natural.” (Oh, and to answer your next question: They take turns leading.)

Even as a joke, this is taking it a bit far. Recent Hasbara efforts to portray Tel Aviv as a sort of fun & arts capitol have apparently got Mr. Tracy a bit confused. Or it’s the medical pot.

Leaving aside the Palestinians – as Jewish-American writers love doing – we are still talking about one of the most conservative democracies you could find. Even for Jews. Do we really need to remind that we must go through religious marriages in Israel, or they wouldn’t be recognized by the state? Or that It must be an orthodox marriages? Divorces are even worse, especially for women, who must obtain their husband consent to “release” them.

And no, Israel won’t have Gay marriage. The civil unions bill Mr. Tracy is praising is actually an attempt to bypass the fact that increasing numbers of Israelis can’t marry at all – since they are not recognized as Jews. So a new category of “marriage without marriage” was invented for them. Does that sound like a liberal’s Paradise?

And how about the fact that a woman holding a Torah book near the Wall stands the risk of being arrested? One of the only places in the world in which a Jew can be arrested for practicing his faith is, in fact, Jerusalem.

Israel is not very big on privacy issues as well. Our government is about to be the first in the West to collect fingerprints from all its citizens. And let the security services free access to the database.

As for gay rights, yes, there has been some improvement recently, but hate crimes are still taking place, and more often than people think. Last year two gay teens were shot to death in a Tel Aviv community center. The Shooter was never caught. But hell, we have lesbians on TV, so I guess things are great after all.

As an Israeli, I find these talks about “liberal Israel” a bit offensive. Like the rest of the American praises for Israeli democracy, there is something very hollow and dishonest about them. Introducing the Israeli version of liberalism in the US would make most Jews here go mad. But as long as it’s in Israel, everything is ok – over there, Jews can support politics and values they would never accept at home.

It all comes down to the fact that some people here just don’t see Israel as a real place, with real problems. I’m not even saying it’s such a terrible country (as long as you are a Jew), and I wouldn’t have gone into some of the issues I mentioned here, which are of little interest for readers outside Israel, if it wasn’t for the Tablet piece. As a whole, I like life in Tel Aviv. But let’s not fool ourselves: Israel is not a liberal society, and right now, it’s actually headed in the opposite direction.

And there is the occupation, of course.


The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide)

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth showing the same headline (photo: yossi gurvitz)Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Market Share* (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 43.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Ynet (English edition here).

Politics: After years of dominating the printed media market, Israel’s leading tabloid has met a fierce rival – the free paper Yisrael Hayom, launched three years ago by gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many people believe that this is the reason for the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone Yedioth has taken over the past year. The paper is constantly publishing articles attacking the Prime Minister, his staff and even his wife. Star pundit Nahum Barnea is especially hostile to Netanyahu; in fact, I think there is only one columnist in Yedioth – Hanoch Daum – who is an open Netanyahu supporter and a proxy to the Netanyahu family.

Leaving Netanyahu aside, Yedioth is a fairly centrist paper. It tends to be conservative on military and security issues, but more open than other tabloids when it comes to dealing with civil rights issues. The campaign the paper launched against the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court for their intervention in policy issues and nominations of high ranking officials seems to have calmed down recently.

I think people outside Israel don’t pay enough attention to Yedioth. For years, the paper was known for its ability to capture the voice of the average middle class Israeli. The front page story of the papers’ weekend magazine always presented “the man of the moment”, or the story that would be discussed during the following week. Yedioth is not as strong today – but it is still the most important media organization in Israel. Yedioth’s internet site (Ynet) is by far the most popular news site in Israel.

Yair Lapid, channel 2 anchorman and a possible candidate in the next elections, has a widely read column in Yedioth.

The bottom line for Yedioth Ahronoth: Conservative on security and Supreme Court; critical of the government and Netanyahu himself; slightly more liberal than the two other tabloids.

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Yisrael Hayom

Market Share (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 25.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew, printed edition only).

Politics: According to most estimates, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid, which is circulated in 250,000 copies, is losing money. But Adelson’s intention in launching the paper was not to gain profits, but political influence.

Adelson’s paper is edited by a former proxy to Netanyahu, Amos Regev. Under Regev, Israel Hayom is extremely supportive of the Prime Minister, constantly pushing stories that present Netanyahu and his family in a positive way. Recently, the paper is taking on an even more nationalistic editorial line.

[A more detailed post about the ties between Yisrael Hayom and Netanyahu can be found here.]

Yisrael Hayom is very hostile to the Palestinians; it tends to emphasize security threats and to present a favorable coverage of some of the new Knesset bills which are aimed against the Arab minority, Arabs members of Knesset and leftwing NGO’s (though one could find in it from time to time an occasional op-ed expressing different views).

Yisrael Hayom is supportive of the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court, but only on corruption issues, not civil rights ones.

Yisrael Hayom doesn’t have its own publishing house, so the paper has outsourced its printing and distribution to Haaretz. There are rumors that this move saved Haaretz from bankruptcy.

The bottom line for Yisrael Hayom: Conservative on security, diplomacy and civil rights; highly supportive of Netanyahu.

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Maariv

Market Share (June 2010): 12.5 percent on weekdays, 16.1 on weekends.

Internet site: nrg (Hebrew only).

Politics: for years, Maariv was Yedioth’s greatest enemy (when I moved from Ynet to Maariv in 2003, I was told by one of the senior editors that I would never write for Yedioth again), but now both papers join hands in the battle against Yisrael Hayom.

Maariv ran into financial difficulties more than six years ago, and since then it has been changing its editors and CEO’s frequently. A new team of editors (Yoav Zur and Yoav Golan), and a new co-publisher (businessman Zachi Rachiv) seem to have stabilized the paper a bit recently.

Under its new editors, Maariv has taken a sharp turn to the right. The paper’s subtle criticism of Netanyahu could be a bit misleading. Maariv keeps a very nationalistic and conservative line. It was Maariv that launched the campaign against the New Israel Fund by publishing the Im Tirzu reports. The paper is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies, and it usually presents a somewhat favorable coverage of the bills Israel Beitenu is trying to pass in the Knesset.

Rumors have it that it was a conscious decision by Maariv’s editors and managing board to take an editorial line that would exploit the current nationalistic trends in the Israeli society. The promotion of conservative contributors such as Kalman Livskind and Ben-Dror Yemini support this theory. Yemini is known for his campaigning against “lefty” influence in the Israel academia and media. He has repeatedly called to hold state funds from critical movies and from artists and professors who are “anti-Israeli”. Last week he published a double spread attacking Haaretz journalist Gidon Levi for an interview he gave to the Independent.

The bottom line for Maariv: Highly conservative on security; anti-civil rights, anti-Supreme Court; slightly critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

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Haaretz

Market Share (June 2010): 6.4 percent on weekdays, 7.4 on weekends.

Internet site: Haaretz (English site here).

Politics: Haaretz was Israel’s liberal paper for many years, and one could claim that it’s the only paper committed to supporting civil rights and promoting democratic values. By Israeli standards, Haaretz is very critical of the IDF, thought in the past few years the paper was criticized for pushing Palestinians’ civil right issues into its back pages. Many leftwing activists and politicians are also dismayed by the liberal line Haaretz tends to take on economical issues.

Haaretz’s editorial line is very critical of Netanyahu and Lieberman, though some important contributors, such as Ari Shavit and Yoel Marcus are less clear on the issue. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass is especially known for her work on Palestinian rights issues.

Haaretz’ circulation is not substantial – it’s almost similar to that of the unimportant free tabloid Israel Post – but it is widely read and discussed by public opinion makers, politicians, diplomats and the international press, so it has a more substantial weight than its numbers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that very few Israelis actually read Haaretz.

The bottom line for Haaretz: liberal on security, civil rights and economy; supportive of the Supreme Court; very critical of Netanyahu’s government.

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(*) Maariv and Israel Hayom are the only daily papers in Israel to disclose their circulation figures. The common way to measure papers’ share of the market – and the one used to determine advertising prices – is through the TGI poll, conducted twice a year by the independent company TNS-Telegal. The figures in this post relate to the June 2010 poll.

For daily updates on the leading stories in the Israel Hebrew press, check out the daily media roundup on +972 magazine.


As Budrus opens in US, film hero is denied exit from West Bank

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Budrus, a documentary about the unarmed struggle of a Palestinian village against the confiscation of its land for the construction of Israel’s security barrier, is opening today in cinemas in the US and in Israel.

I watched Budrus twice, a few months ago in Israel and last night in NY, in a special screening attended by Queen Noor of Jordan. I found the film as inspiring and compelling as it was on the first time I saw it.

In 2003-2004, Budrus played a key role in what became, in my opinion, the most important grassroots effort of the decade: the emergence of a widespread unarmed campaign against the occupation, involving Palestinians, Israelis and international activists.

What started as local protests in a handful of Palestinian villages, became a new strategy for challenging the entire mechanism and political rational of the Israeli control over the West Bank. One might say that the unarmed struggle is bringing this conflict back to its basics: not a diplomatic issue, but rather a human rights one; not a question of peace and war, but one relating to the denial of personal or political rights for decades from million of people.

Budrus, the film, does not claim to present a history of the Palestinian unarmed struggle, nor of Israeli involvement in anti-occupation activities. But it tells a story, or a certain reading of a story, which demonstrates the unique power the joint unarmed struggle in the current political context. In a political world dominated by talks of “war on terror”, and with a Palestinian society fragmented and torn apart, the unarmed struggle can provide a platform that will bring different groups together and at the same time, won’t alienate the international community.

As director Julia Bacha, said after the screening, when she and producers Ronit Avni and Rula Salameh started working on the film, nobody knew the name Budrus, and very few people outside Israel and the Palestinian territories even heard of the unarmed struggle. I won’t claim that Bil’in is a household name by now – just the fact that Budrus is only 20 minutes ride from Tel Aviv came as a shock to the audience at yesterday’s screening – where exactly do people think the West bank is? – and yet, more and more people realize these days that Middle East politics don’t start or ends in the Oval Office, nor does it happen only during George Mitchel’s fruitless trips between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Ayed Morrar, the organizer of the popular struggle in Budrus and the leading character of the film, was supposed to attend the special screening yesterday in New York. But from what I hear, Morrar was denied entry to Jerusalem by Israel, so he couldn’t apply for a US Visa.

Beside the obvious lesson here for all those thinking that “Palestinians are running their own life”, this, for me, should be another reason for people to go and see Budrus, so at least they can meet another side of this person, labeled by Israel as too dangerous to travel.

And it’s also just a very nice film.

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Budrus opened today in London and Tel Aviv. It opens Friday, October 8th, in New York and Boston. Details of shows in other cities and countries here.

The events described in Budrus happened seven years ago, but dozens of unarmed Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations happen every day in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. I report on them occasionally, but for a more detailed, on going, coverage check out reports and images and clips posted by my fellow +972 blogger Joseph Dana.


NIF denies it will stop supporting Israeli organizations criticizing the Jewish character of the state

Posted: September 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments »

The New Israel Fund denies that it will change its guidelines in ways that might end the support for organizations such as Mossawa Center and Adalah, who are openly calling for turning Israel into “a state for all its citizens” or a bi-national state.

The concern over the so-called new guidelines rose after an interview given by NIF director Daniel Sokatch to JTA. Sokatch was quoted saying that:

If we had an organization that made part of its project, part of its mission an effort to really, genuinely organize on behalf of creating a constitution that denied Israel as a sovereign vehicle for self-determination for the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland, if that became the focus of one of our organizations, we would not support that organization.

In recent months, the NIF was under pressure for its support of left wing and human rights organizations in Israel. A students group called Im Tirzu issued a report, claiming that the NIF-backed organizations were behind many of the allegations against Israel cited in the Goldstone Report. The allegations against the NIF were made public by Tabloids such as Maariv and Israel Hayom, and later repeated by members of the Knesset. Some of them are even trying to put limits on the political actions of the NIF.

Today, Maariv quoted Sokatch’s statement and speculated that the NIF has surrendered to the public campaign against it.

After the Yom Kippur holiday, I received an e-mail from an NIF spokesperson, asking to clarify the organization’s position on this issue. Later came an official statement:

The NIF shall continue to support, as it has done in the past, organizations protecting the rights of the State of Israel’s Arab citizens, such as Adalah and Mossawa – which the NIF even assisted to start…. Recent reports on changes in the NIF positions are wrong… The NIF was never a thought police, and it will never be one.

It sounds pretty straightforward, and I must admit that I never thought that the NIF will stop supporting an important organization like Adalah, which is something like the Israeli NAACP. I think that JTA rushed into conclusions here, and possibly even tried to push the NIF into a corner. Now the NIF must publicly declare that they would finance organizations that challenge the Jewish character of the state – something that wouldn’t look good with the Israeli public, and maybe even with their donors abroad – or abandon Mossawa and Adalah, which means betraying everything the NIF stands for. Everything they do could end up hurting them.

In the next few days, the NIF is expected to publish its new guidelines, and I guess that they will offer some more explanations for their future policy regarding the support of civil society organizations.


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.


Flotilla | IDF spokesperson spins Mavi Marmara video for local political purposes

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After weeks in which Israel refused to release the media confiscated form the journalists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, a short clip is posted on the IDF radio site, just at the perfect timing for Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s needs

Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified this week before the Turkel committee, the investigating panel Israel has formed to look into the events surrounding the deadly raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

In what seemed like a strange coincident, while Ashkenazy was testifying, IDF Radio released another short clip from the videos taken on the the Mavi Marmara and later confiscated by the army. This new video, it was claimed, shows Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi “in the presence of armed men on board the ship”. The Israeli media immediately jumped on the story, and Ashkenazy was temporarily forgotten.

MK Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, was the target of unprecedented public outrage in the Jewish public. She was almost physically attacked by Knessent Members, and later striped of some of her privileges as a member of the Israeli Parliament.

The head of the IDF Spokesperson unit, brigadier general Avi Bnayahu, is the closest ally of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, among high ranking officers.

As can be seen below, the clip the IDF released was heavily edited. MK Zoabi is seen passing on the deck when two men with sticks are passing, later she is seen with other men carrying sticks, but this is apparently after the IDF soldiers boarded the ship. Yet the headlines describing the clip in the Hebrew media declared that unlike what Zoabi told reporters after the raid, “She knew the passengers were armed“. Even Haaretz site claimed that the film proved MK Zoabi knew of the existence of weapons on the ship.

Leaving aside the fact that calling people carrying sticks and polls armed – especially when they face battle ships and commando soldiers – is taking it a bit far; there is little doubt on my mind that by releasing the film IDF spokesperson tried to provoke public anger against an Israeli Member of Parliament in order to silence the growing criticism over the army’s performances, and especially the talk regarding the actions of Chief of Staff Ashkenazy, who remained at his home and didn’t supervise the attack from Central Command in Tel Aviv.

If the Israeli army had serious allegations against MK Zoabi, he should have turned them to the state prosecutor’s office, rather than post them on the IDF radio’s site (As far as I know, it’s the only Mavi Marmara video not released officially on the army spokesperson’s site, but through the radio station). But it is the timing tells the real story: there hasn’t been a Maramara clip released in weeks now, and suddenly, when the chief of staff faces some public criticism, suddenly there are new “evidences” Israelis must see.

These are not easy days for the IDF’s commander, who is caught in an ugly public battle with defense minister Ehud Barak over the identity of his successor. Barak whishes that GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant will take over the Israeli army and Ashkenazi wants anyone but Galant. Affairs turned toxic last week after channel 2 published a document detailing a PR campaign to boost the chances of Galant winning the job (Galant claimed the document is fake and that this is a set-up intended to smear him). This led to a police investigation, and current suggestions are that the source for the leaked document was army spokesperson Avi Bnayahu.

It seems that Bnayahu, maybe even Ashkenazy, used the oldest trick in the handbook for the Israeli politician: Faced with troubles, find an unpopular Arab and attack him.

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The release of the new video by the Army spokesperson – this time, it seems, not to help Israel’s case in the world but for the army’s local political needs – should remind us that Israel is still holding the evidences that could have shed light on the events that took place on the Mavi Marmara and led to the death of nine people.

As they were led off the ships in the Israeli port of Ashdod, around 60 journalists who were present on the Gaza-bound flotilla had all their electronic items taken from them and all recorded media confiscated, never to be returned. Kürşat Bayhan, a Turkish reporter, told Zaman newspaper that he tried to hide his camera’s flash memory card under his tongue, but it was discovered and confiscated during a medical examination. Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who managed to smuggle out of Israel an hour-long video, said in a news conference at United Nations that another memory card she had was discovered and taken from her.

During the days following the raid, IDF spokesperson released short clips which appeared to have been taken from the footage confiscated from media representatives. These segments – who appeared to have backed some of Israel’s claims regarding the events – were released without stating who them, were and when.

At the time, I contacted the army spokesperson in request for an official explanation regarding the detention of journalists present on a foreign vessel and the confiscation of their recorded material.

In an official comment, IDF spokesperson stated that all media was taken from the journalists “for security reasons”, and that it was used later by the army “due to false allegations that were brought up.”

The army spokesperson chose not to comment on my question regarding the legal ground for these actions.