Hamas

PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

Captive minorities in nations ruled by all-controlling despots play by the rules — or else. Iran’s estimated 9,000-15,000 Jews, one of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities, are a case in point.

Why? Because playing by the rules is just what happened recently when a visiting PBS journalist came calling on Iran’s Jews — with Teheran’s explicit permission, of course.

You’ll recall that Iran’s leaders constantly call for Israel’s physical destruction and that Teheran funds Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Both proxies are also sworn to destroy Israel.

This means that Iranian Jews are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many of them have relatives in Israel, and the Jewish homeland is where their biblical-era ancestors fled from some 2,700 years ago, when forced into exile.

In late November, one of PBS’s premiere news platforms, “PBS NewsHour,” broadcast a piece that, like other attempts to explain the Iranian Jewish community, came up frustratingly short.

Once again, those Iranian Jews interviewed on camera said what they always say, which is that life for them in Iran is, on balance, secure — though not always perfectly so — and that Israel is their enemy simply because it's their government's enemy.

What else could they say in a nation where just one politically suspect utterance by a Jewish community member, particularly if made to a foreign media outlet, could mean devastating consequences for them and their co-religionists?

(“Special correspondent” Reza Sayah did note some of the tightly controlled circumstances in which Iran’s Jewish minority survives as second-class citizens. But PBS could have added the comments of an outside expert or two to more fully explain the Iranian context. I can’t help wonder why that didn't happen.)

Here’s the lede-in to the NewsHour story, lifted from the segment’s transcript:

Jewish people have called Iran home for nearly 3,000 years. The Trump administration and U.S. ally Israel often depict the Iranian government as composed of anti-Semitic radical Islamists bent on destroying Israel. But within Iran, many of the estimated 15,000 Jews say they're safe and happy living in the Islamic Republic. Reza Sayah takes a rare inside look at life for Iran's Jewish minority.

“Safe and happy”? Perhaps in a Potemkin village sort of way.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

The word that keeps coming to mind as I attempt to wrap my head around last week’s deadly violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the formal opening of the American embassy building in Jerusalem is, “played.”

That’s played as in “being played.”

Palestinians were played by Hamas, the radical Sunni Muslim group that runs Gaza with minimal concern for those it rules. Israelis were played by their prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, whose political staying power is rooted in Israeli Jewish fears that their Arab and Iranian enemies are circling for a kill.

Then there’s President Donald Trump, who played his right-wing evangelical Christian base — allowing two of its prominent leaders to play Judaism and Jews at the embassy opening by reducing them to props — and disposable ones at that — in their eschatological vision. (I’ll say considerably more on this below.)

In short, it was a devilish display of the worst kind of cynicism imaginable, the sort that gets people killed in support of someone else’s political or religious agendas.

By now, GetReligion readers are surely familiar with the details of what happened -- the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, the presence of the Revs. Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee at the embassy opening, the opprobrium directed at Israel by its global critics, the arguments by its supporters that Israel acted only in self-defense.

None of it was surprising, and most of it mirroring the usual reactions coming from the usual suspects -- all of it amplified by the Internet echo chamber.

Minds are pretty much made up on who’s at fault for the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict; among members of the news media, among members of the public, among the various NGO’s who view the conflict as their concern, and among the myriad political and religious organizations who claim skin in the game.

Why repeat all those arguments and positions here? Instead, let’s keep to a minimum the usual barrage of links to news and analysis pieces I provide to bolster my points. There’s too many to cite, anyway, and -- the truth is -- picking journalistic winners and losers is largely a function of which side in the conflict you identify with.

I've been scouring the web for pieces that reflect as many viewpoints as I can find, but my conclusions about the coverage merely reflect my own bias.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

The news from Gaza is seldom good; last weekend was no exception. It's also generally wildly contradictory. A classic example of this occurred earlier this month that warrants attention.

For journalists and media consumers far from the scene, which is most of us, it merits attention because the contradictory information we receive prompts us to fall back on our preconceived notions about the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- that is to say, our biases -- to make sense of the situation. And that’s a distinct disadvantage.

Surely, conflicting narratives, or realities, are by no means restricted to Gaza. What makes Gaza a special case, however, is that it's an international flashpoint that could well spark a full-blown and multi-party Middle East war even more far-reaching than the mess that is Syria.

I’ll begin this exercise in contradictory narratives with an opinion piece published online by the conservative British weekly The Spectator. The piece was an attack on the BBC, which the writer and many right-leaning pro-Israel partisans consider an apologist, or worse, for the conflict’s Palestinian side. Topped by this headline, “The good news about Gaza you won’t hear on the BBC,” the piece included this section.

Western media has often focused on this issue [Palestine] to the detriment of many other conflicts or independence movements throughout the world. The BBC, in particular, has devoted an inordinate amount of its budget and staff to covering the West Bank and Gaza in thousands of reports over the years. But you would be hard pressed to learn from the BBC’s coverage that, despite many difficulties, Gaza’s economy is also thriving in all kinds of ways.
To get a glimpse of that you would have to turn instead to this recent Al-Jazeera report from Gaza, showing footage of the bustling, well-stocked glitzy shopping malls, the impressive children’s water park (at 5.25 in the video), the fancy restaurants, the nice hotels, the crowded food markets, the toy shops brimming with the latest plush toys (at 8.39 in the video). (This video was translated into English by the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute).

Within days -- coincidentally, I’m sure; the issue is endless fodder -- this news piece (spiced with analysis, although the piece is not marked as analysis) was published in The New York Times.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Attack near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate illustrates deepening fog in which journalists now work

Attack near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate illustrates deepening fog in which journalists now work

This is often difficult for those outside the profession to take in, but producing quality journalism isn't easy. It never has been and, given the trends, its likely this work will become even harder as the trade keeps evolving.

The web’s democratization of the news -- the proliferation of outlets, the expansion of the very definition of news, and the industry’s currently dire financial picture -- have made it even harder to produce quality journalism (a subjective concept in any event).

An added level of complexity is doing it where a multitude of players seeks to spin basic facts, which quickly become politicized. Then there’s the needs of a multitude of imperfect news outlets competing for speed and eyeballs.

All of which is to say, welcome to covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An incident last week in which an Israeli border policewoman was murdered by a Palestinian attacker, and ended with three Palestinian assailants shot dead by Israeli forces, exemplifies this journalistic sausage factory.

Let’s break it down, starting with the top of this story from the online journal, The Times of Israel. It's a pretty standard telling reflecting the mainstream Israeli Jewish perspective.

The Border Police officer killed in a coordinated stabbing and shooting attack in two areas in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday evening was identified late Friday as Hadas Malka, 23. The three attackers, who were allegedly members of Palestinian terrorist groups, were shot dead in the course of the attacks.
Staff Sergeant Malka was a resident of Moshav Givat Ezer in central Israel. She did her mandatory military service in the Border Police, and then extended her service 15 months ago and became an officer. She leaves behind parents and five siblings, three sisters and two brothers.
Malka was critically injured in a stabbing attack on Sultan Suleiman Street near Damascus Gate on Friday evening.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Is there any region of the world more confounding and irritating, no matter what your worldview, than the Middle East -- ground zero for some of the world's nastiest, religion-steeped political conflicts?

Well, yeah. There's also Washington, D.C.

But let's put that latter mess aside for a moment -- though political decisions made there undoubtedly impact capitals from North Africa to the Persian/Arab Gulf, and beyond.

We should never minimize the tragic and ongoing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and now even Iran following the successful ISIS attack there. They're a terrible indictment of humanity's penchant for cruelty and the pain that unfortunate folks are forced to endure by others.

For now, however, let's focus on Qatar, the natural gas-rich Gulf monarchy that until recent days managed to steer a middle -- if duplicitous -- course between the United States and its Sunni Arab quasi-allies on the one-hand, and Shiite Muslim Iran and its proxy militias, such as the Palestinian terror group cum Gaza government Hamas.

(Let's not forget that Qatar is also a major international media player, thanks to its financial backing of Al-Jazeera.)

You're probably aware that Qatar burst anew into the American political conscious when several of its Sunni Arab neighbors cut diplomatic ties and closed their borders with Qatar in retribution for its ties to Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters.

The situation escalated when President Donald Trump -- there's the D.C. connection -- took credit for the action and piled additional opprobrium on Qatar, which is situated on a thumb-shaped peninsula protruding into the Gulf directly opposite Iran. This, despite efforts by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson -- no doubt mindful that Qatar hosts America's largest Middle East military base -- to lessen the diplomatic confrontation.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

There is a piercing cry from click-bait hungry editors that you know is being heard this week in newsrooms everywhere: "OK PEOPLE! I need Wonder Woman-angle stories and I need them now! With as much art as possible."

If you do an online search, for example, for the terms "Wonder Woman" and "feminist" you get a mere 680,000 hits in Google NEWS, as opposed to the whole WWW. That was last night. 

With the whole Amazon meets Greek mythology thing going on, there have been a few stories sort of chasing that religion angle.

However, we can celebrate the fact that The Washington Post dedicated a large amount of digital space (I would appreciate knowing how much of this copy ran in the dead-treepulp analog edition) to an "Acts of Faith" feature that offered a great deal of information about the Jewish faith and Israeli identity of the actress with the iconic sword, shield, wrist armor and, well, form-fitting battle garb -- Gal Gadot.

The headline: "How the Jewish identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ star is causing a stir." Just about the only thing negative I can say about this report was that, for logical reasons, it needed to include quite a bit of material from other media sources. Oh, and this story also requires me -- once again -- to praise the work of this reporter, none other than former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. Awkward.

In addition to soaring box-office numbers and feminist and post-feminist arguments about cleavage, there is actual news linked to the popularity of this movie and its star. Right up top, readers learn:

Ahead of the film’s international release, Lebanon banned the film because of Gadot, who, like most Israeli citizens, served a mandatory two-year stint in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer. (Jordan is also reportedly considering a ban on the film.)
In 2014, Gadot posted on Facebook support of the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza while lighting candles with her daughter and writing “Shabbat Shalom,” the common greeting Jews say to one another on the Sabbath.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

In 2014, World Vision (WV) noted with pride on its website that Mohammed Khalil El Halabi had been named a United Nations humanitarian hero for his work leading the international evangelical Christian mega-charity in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

A year later, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), a right-leaning Israeli think tank, produced a lengthy white paper on WV's work in Gaza. It asserted that WV promoted "an anti-Israel narrative in order to obscure the role of Hamas in creating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. By serving as a conduit of misinformation about the Arab-Israel conflict, World Vision increases its income as it assists Hamas in its propaganda war against the Jewish state."

Neither the WV web post or the JPPA report received meaningful news media attention. That's as you might expect. In-house employee praise or white papers by groups with an obvious dog in the fight -- particularly those right-of-center on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- tend to gain little traction with mainstream journalistic professionals.

Here's what does receive attention: Last week, Halabi was charged by Israel with being a Hamas agent who diverted significant WV funds to the Sunni Islamist Palestinian group that the United States and other nations have labeled a terrorist group.

Click here to read how the New York Times handled the story. Click here to see how The Guardian played it.

WV is based in the Seattle area, so let's also see what the hometown newspaper did. Lacking its own international resources, the Seattle Times fell back on the time-honored journalistic slight-of-hand of having a staffer add a local veneer to a rewrite of wire reports. Been there, done that.

There are several journalistic points to be made here. But first a bit more on WV's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week (thanks, Disney.)

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Present Barack Obama's visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in the old Catonsville suburb, was an event that was both important and symbolic for a number of reasons.

For starters, violence linked to the rise of the Islamic State, as well as acts of terrorism inspired by radicalized forms of Islam, have become a bloody normality in world headlines during the years of the Obama presidency. President Obama has attempted to maintain what his supporters argue is a graceful, calm stance on these trends in an attempt to avoid pouring gasoline on the flames. His critics insist that he has chosen blindness, for motives that remain unclear.

Oh, and then there are those bizarre numbers that keep showing up in polls whenever Americans are asked if they believe Obama is, in fact, a Muslim (despite his adult conversion into a liberal, oldline Protestant band of faith).

Thus, the speech at the Baltimore-area mosque received major coverage, as it should. Most of the coverage did a good job of covering, in glowing terms, the content of the Obama message (full text here). What puzzled me, however, was the lack of attention focused on the location. This left me -- as usual -- puzzled about current trends in "liberal" and "conservative" journalism. Hold that thought.

This passage in The Washington Post report captured the mainstream media tone:

The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Define 'Islamist' and please be specific

Last week, the people who produce the Associated Press Stylebook issued a few revisions. One of them was for the term “Islamist.” It used to read:

Please respect our Commenting Policy