Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jews In Palestine: Anatomy Of A Meme

Yesterday's USA Today features an article with the headline "PLO Ambassador Says Palestinian State Should Be Free of Jews." The somewhat alarming headline was also reported in the conservative Daily Caller, and has received extensive coverage in Haaretz, JPost, and Yediot Achronot.

At a breakfast in Washington DC yesterday morning hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, a conservative Daily Caller reporter asked the PLO representative to the US whether a Jew could be elected mayor of Ramallah in a future Palestinian state. USA Today and the Daily Caller both framed his response as calling for Palestine to be free of Jews. But there is more to the story than meets the eye.

The first red flag is that USA Today quotes noted neo-conservative and CFR senior fellow Elliot Abrams. Given the quick turn-around time of the article, it is likely the journalist, Mr. Dorell, had a prior relationship with the highly sought-after Mr. Abrams. For his part, Mr. Dorell has a track record of conservative reporting. The right-wing website Real Clear Politics links to an earlier article Mr. Dorell published about the conservative fear of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt. In another article, he cites noted far right ideologue and Islamophobe Robert Spencer as a reliable source on Islam.

Jamie Weinstein, who reported the story for the Daily Caller, betrays a bias in her email to the Jerusalem Post about the story, saying "We hear nothing from the world community when the Palestinian ambassador to the US calls for a Jew-free state. Pushing for a state for the Palestinian Arabs is well and good, but it seems like the world should spend a little bit of time pondering what sort of state it will be." Legitimate as the sentiment may be, it is certainly not that of an unbiased observer.

That conservatives write conservative articles is certainly not a news story. But when a series of conservative journalists break a "big story" based entirely on one conservative person's interpretation of parts of a quote, it raises serious questions about the story's legitimacy.

Here's what Maen Areikat is actually reported to have said:

“Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future...But after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first."

Firstly, the statement doesn't actually answer the question. Secondly, its message is that building Palestinian autonomy is the first priority of a Palestinian State. In no part of the answer does Mr. Areikat actually talk about deporting Jews from a future Palestine. This means that how one reads the comments is largely a matter of personal biases and interpretation.

However, emotionally charged half-truths spread like wildfire in the Middle East, and among the American Jewish community. Since most conservative supporters of Israel are primed to read any Palestinian statement as anti-Israel, the story at hand will not die simply because it happens to not actually be true.

Petty partisanship aside, the story demonstrates how poorly Israel's response to the upcoming Palestine bid for has been managed. Complaining about hypothetical discrimination in a non-existent state means little to an international community who sees the ongoing Israeli presence in the West Bank as contributing greatly to the conflict. Smoke-screening has failed Israel as a tactic time and time again. To mitigate the expected harm to Israel's international reputation and security, the state needs to present alternatives to the status quo and help those who support Israel to bring an effective case to the public.

1 comment:

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