Palestinian-Israel conflict

Malaysia bars Israeli para-athletes, loses major swim competition and major media ignored it

Malaysia bars Israeli para-athletes, loses major swim competition and major media ignored it

We hear a great deal these days, and appropriately so, about rising anti-Semitism across Europe, much of it masquerading as anti-Israel political rhetoric. For years we’ve known about the virulent anti-Semitic attitudes that permeate the Arab world and neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Nor is there any lack of probing news coverage about the spike in anti-Semitism here in the United States. Look no further than the recent Women's March on Washington for evidence.

Still, I urge you to read this recent analysis by Holocaust and anti-Semitism scholar par excellence Deborah Lipstadt to better understand this ominous state of affairs.

Lipstadt notes how even Israel’s government and some Jews unwittingly make the situation worse.

What we hear very little about, however, is the Jew hatred — and its geopolitical twin, the hatred of all things Israeli — that emanates from Malaysia.

This past Sunday — which coincided with international Holocaust Remembrance Day — the International Paralympic Committee cancelled a top-level swimming competition set for Malaysia later this year because of that nation’s refusal to allow Israeli athletes to compete in, or even enter, the Southeast Asian country.

Did you see anything about this in the mainstream media?

Speaking at the Oxford Union [in England] a week ago, prime minister Dr Mahatir Mohamed confirmed that the visa-denial was punitive but restated his country’s right to bar visitors from countries whose policies he disagreed with, adding that if the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wanted to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the tournament, “they can do so”. He has also previously described Jews as “hook-nosed” and suggested four million, rather than six million Jews, were killed in the Shoah [Holocaust].

The above paragraph is from London’s Jewish News, as carried by the Times of Israel news website.

As you might imagine, the Malaysia story has been followed closely by Israeli and Jewish diaspora media, along with Asian and Muslim-world news outlets.

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Anti-Semitism: Journalistically parsing its current upsurge both here and abroad

Anti-Semitism: Journalistically parsing its current upsurge both here and abroad

I recently spent time in Costa Rica where I was able to visit the nation’s central Jewish “compound” in San Jose, the capital city. My guide was a member of one of the country’s leading Jewish families.

I called it a compound — as opposed to a campus — because that’s how it felt. High concrete walls that seemed more appropriate for a military facility than what I actually encountered — a broad, grassy, central plaza surrounded by a small kosher restaurant, a community history and Holocaust museum, a private Jewish school, a large synagogue I was told is filled on important Jewish holidays and for rites of passage, a senior citizens center, and assorted other community offices.

Had I not been escorted by a member of a leading Costa Rican Jewish family, my wife and I would have had to submit, for security reasons, our identifying information eight days in advance of a visit. As it turned out, thanks to our friend, we just show up and were whisked past the armed guards waiting outside the compound’s thick metal doors.

All this in a nation with only about 3,000 Jews — most able to trace their ancestry to World War II-era Poland — and who our guide insisted face relatively little overt anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment. And yet they're fearful. Why?

Because Jews across the world — particularly so in Europe but also in tiny Costa Rica and even the United States —  increasingly feel insecure because of a rising tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions — the two are often wrongly conflated, by both sides — being reported in the international press, as they should be.

The majority of GetReligion readers, I’m sure, are familiar with this turn of events. But let’s probe a  bit deeper. What’s causing this upsurge today?

Is it an ugly resurfacing of the historical anti-Semitism that Jews have faced since the earliest decades of Christianity's split from Judaism, the first of the big three Abrahamic faiths?

Or is it a product of the further globalization of Islam, sparked in part by Muslim immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands, and the impact this and their general attitudes toward Israel has had on the societies in which they've resettled?

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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.

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Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif appears over. It ended well short of its worst possible outcome, but without any finality — again.

By “worst possible outcome,” I mean a terribly bloody escalation. By “without any finality,” I mean that sooner or later the situation will again heat up because the core of the conflict -- which side has the final word on physical control of the site -- remains unsettled.

But that’s how both sides want it for now -- save for each camp’s most radical elements who would relish an explosive fight to the finish. That’s because neither side's leadership Is capable of making the tough political compromises necessary to really defuse the situation.

So this slow-boiling tribal war over land continues. (Need to catch up with recent events?  If so, read this piece from The Economist, written part way through the episode.)

Religion reporters: Jews this week observed the solemn commemoration of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destructions of the First and Second Jewish temples (plus other Jewish tragedies across history) that stood on the Old City esplanade from which the site takes it Jewish name.

While the commemoration ran from Monday evening to Tuesday evening, it's not too late to tie Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar’s month of Av)  to the current state of affairs. You might want to refer to this handy Religion News Service “‘Splainer."

I'm not qualified to speak definitively about just how the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif dispute breaks down along religious, nationalistic and political lines among ordinary Palestinians and other Muslims that support them -- as opposed to the statements of Palestinian leaders who always stress religious claims in rallying global Muslim support.

Suffice it to say that traditional Islam, far more than do contemporary Christianity or rabbinic Judaism (rabbinic, meaning post-Temple), makes little differentiation between the religious and political realms, and that for many Muslims living under undemocratic governments religion is the only outlet for political expression on any level.

However, I do know enough about the Jewish side to suggest that reporters consider the following.

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One-sided Washington Post special section ignores Palestinian failures contributing to West Bank occupation

One-sided Washington Post special section ignores Palestinian failures contributing to West Bank occupation

Allow me to stipulate upfront that I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only conceivable outcome that has any chance of succeeding.

Let me also stipulate that I agree -- with some reservations that I'll explain below -- with the general international consensus that continued Israeli settlement activities in Palestinian areas is a serious hinderance to achieving that two-state goal.

Also, that Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are too often heavy handed and, thus, are easily interpreted as being unjust. In short, while I'm a strong Zionist, I do not believe that Israeli government policies are above reproach -- not by a long shot.

However, I also subscribe to the notion that quality journalism acknowledges there are at least two sides to every conflict, and that historical context is exceedingly important to understanding why any conflict, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, keeps dragging on. It's important for journalists, when covering a heated debate, to treat people on both sides with respect, while striving for accuracy and fairness.

Which is why I believe that The Washington Post's three-story special section published Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the June 1967 war in which Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is an exercise in one-sided, blatantly anti-Israel journalism.

All three stories featured the problems, and the suffering, that Palestinians endure under Israeli control without any -- not any -- input from Israeli sources defending or at least explaining their side's actions.

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Glass houses, religious garb, a crucial Middle East sidebar and, of course, Donald Trump

Glass houses, religious garb, a crucial Middle East sidebar and, of course, Donald Trump

Forget the bromides about how wrong it is to make snap judgements about people based solely on their physical appearance. Truth is, we -- by which I mean virtually every last one of us -- put enormous stock in appearances.

To narrow that generalization down some, I'm referring in particular to the world of religion and religious garb.

Spot a woman wearing a Muslim hijab on Main Street U.S.A. -- not to mention a niqab, or face veil -- and, invariably, we conjure thoughts about what this woman believes and how she practices her faith. Individual perspective colors our thoughts, for sure, but the larger point I'm making is that our minds are largely reactive, so react we will.

Which brings me to the following story that's been wending it way through Israeli and American Jewish news outlets. It is, as you haven't guessed, a story about appearances and religious garb. And perhaps, also, the need for endless content in our 24-7 journalistic environment.

President Donald Trump -- despite the claims of critics that, at the least, he's willing to countenance anti-Semitic displays among core supporters -- has several self-identified Orthodox Jews in his entourage.

Most famously, his daughter, Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, and her husband, Jared Kushner, self-identify as Orthodox.

As does Jason Greenblatt, a long-time attorney for Trump's business organization who is now a presidential special envoy. Greenblatt made his first extensive visit to the Middle East on behalf of the president last week, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Whether or not Greenblatt's effort will bear fruit in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, is undoubtedly the storyline that's most important here.

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Getting upset while doing errands and listening to NPR stories about Israel

Getting upset while doing errands and listening to NPR stories about Israel

National Public Radio floats in and out of my journalistic consciousness, but not as much as in the past. Since I (thankfully) no longer commute for work, I now spend little time in my car stuck in rush hour traffic, the only time I listened to NPR with any real consistency.

I appreciate NPR's attempts to deliver a quality product.  And while it often succeeds, I do not think everything it does is top-notch. Like any news operation, at times it messes up. Then there's the brevity of the broadcast news format; outside of special features, it leaves little time for context and nuance.

Clearly, I'm a print guy. Though I did a short stint back in 1970 writing rip-and-read, top-of-the-hour, news roundups for United Press International radio clients when I worked in the agency's San Francisco bureau.

One subject about which I think NPR could do better is its coverage of Israel and Israeli Jewish society. I'm not alone on this. Right-of-center pro-Israel groups have long claimed that NPR is biased in favor of the Palestinian side, and goes out of its way to make Israel look bad.

Click here for an example of that criticism. To read an NPR ombudsman's response to the bias claims, click here.

My take is that the right-wing media watchdogs -- whose complaints help swell my email inbox -- too often find bias where I find only journalistic tripwires, such as quoting the same available officials over and over, or favoring English speakers over others simply because the NPR audience is English speaking.

However, two recent NPR stories I heard on separate days while in my car doing local errands did get under my skin more than usual.

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Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

What presidential campaign reporting is to political junkies, the naming of a new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief is to the most vociferous partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's red meat for people on both sides.

The Times is arguably the world's most influential newspaper and the Jerusalem job is among its most visible perches. That means only the thick-skinned need apply. I'm talking rhino-hide thick.

Just about every story produced by the Jerusalem bureau -- for which the bureau chief is deemed responsible by friend and foe alike -- is perceived by partisans to be of ultimate importance in the closely watched, extraordinarily complex and seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It matters little if yesterday's story went your way, or that tomorrow's may as well. We're talking about virtually daily conflict reporting in which every ephemeral sentence is subject to microscopic scrutiny. Because who knows when some verb or noun chosen hastily under deadline pressure will sway world opinion?

The charges of bias fly fast and furious. And they come, at one time or another, from just about every faction -- from the far-right and the far-left, from Israelis and Palestinians, from those in-country and those outside it. From every angry troll with a keyboard.

(Nor does the partisan crowd seem to know or care that editors may chop copy for length, may change verbs or nouns on a whim, choose the accompanying art, and write the headline. The person in the byline always gets the blame.)

Oy, the pressure -- which I've written about before.

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Palestinian BDS movement: Getting a handle on a complicated story ahead of deadline

Palestinian BDS movement: Getting a handle on a complicated story ahead of deadline

So you're taking a group of art students to Paris and you want to sign them up in advance for a group tour of the Louvre.

No problem.

Unless the students are Israeli. Then, unexpectedly, the world's most visited museum is too busy to accommodate 17 more visitors. Ironically, it seems not to matter one bit that the Louvre relies on Israeli technology for its in-house security.

This incident is one of a slew of similar situations reported daily in Israeli and American Jewish media and ascribed to the impact of the Palestinian-led "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement. BDS, as it's commonly known, is designed to pressure Israel to ... well ... just what is its intent is the subject of this post.

What are BDS's tactical and strategic goals? What motivates its leaders? How do journalists keep from getting lost in the rhetoric clouding this issue?

As in most places, but perhaps even more so in the largely dysfunctional and terribly sad Middle East, the answers are highly subjective. Is BDS a nonviolent effort to help Palestinians gain an independent nation? Or is it a tactic designed to help isolate, undermine and eventually destroy Israel?

As I said, the answer depends upon the speaker. Here's a link to Wikipedia's exhaustive attempt to address the issue in an even-handed manner, -- to the degree that's actually possible.

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