Tag Archives: anti-Israel

Is NPR Anti-Israel?

by Symi Rom-Rymer

It’s practically impossible for a news organization, especially one like NPR, that is considered left-of-center, to cover the Middle East conflict and not to be accused, by someone, of being anti-Israel. A quick Google search shows that people across the spectrum have taken issue with NPR and its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In 2000, CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a conservative pro-Israel media watchdog group, called the station’s coverage of Israel hostile, adding that it presented Israel as “morally reprehensible.” In May of this year, it criticized the Diane Rehm Show, saying that Rehm “stacked the deck against Israel” in a segment. Of course, it’s not only pro-Israel advocates who take issue with NPR’s Middle East reporting. In 2001, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a liberal media watchdog group, quoted Arab-American media critic Ali Abuminah saying that NPR’s coverage of Israeli attacks on Palestinians was, “cursory, inconsistent and wholly inadequate.”

NPR is no stranger to controversy. In the past year alone, it has been excoriated for firing Juan Williams and for remarks made by the now-former NPR executive Ron Schiller about the Tea Party. Congress, pushed by conservative Republican representatives, recently debated a bill that would eliminate government funding for its programming. All this contention has not escaped the notice of NPR hosts and reporters. In March, on the NPR show “On the Media,” host Brooke Gladstone and Ira Glass, of “This American Life,” looked at the charges of liberal bias leveled against NPR by conservative lawmakers and commentators. They broke down certain segments and discussed, with input from self-defined conservative listeners, instances of suspected liberal favoritism.

In addition, Gladstone interviewed three different media analysts who had conducted studies on bias in the news. According Steve Rendal from FAIR, NPR did in fact have a bias: a conservative one. Tim Groseclose, a professor in the Economics and Political Science Department at UCLA, and Jeff Milyo, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, carried out their own study which showed that NPR did, in fact, have a liberal bias, but so did 18 out of the 20 media outlets it evaluated, including The Wall Street Journal.  Finally, Gladstone interviewed Tom Rosenstiel, of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center. He found that NPR’s coverage was as neutral as or more conservative than other major American news outlets. The results, in other words, were inconclusive.

Although we might think of ideal journalism as a purely objective reporting of the facts, that is simply not the reality. Each individual reporter has his or her own biases, and so does each news organization. It’s impossible not to. These biases come not only from how we see the world as adults but from our experiences growing up. Our ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, our families, our friends, our education–formal and informal–all inform how we see the world.

How each media outlet chooses to handle that subjective reality, however, is a different matter. Seven years ago, NPR, perhaps in response to criticism it received from Jewish and Arab groups, asked John Felton, foreign editor at NPR and former foreign affairs reporter for Congressional Quarterly, to compile annual quarterly reports assessing NPR’s Middle East coverage. Each report breaks down the coverage into various catagories, including Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Voices. One of the most interesting findings in his reports is that while the critics on both sides seems to think that NPR’s coverage is too extreme on one side or the other, Felton feels that NPR does not push the envelope enough. In several reports he mentions that the commentators and analysts invited on various shows represent the milder opinions on the conflict and that a lack of radical views offers a limited picture of the mindset of many in the region.

In the “On the Media” piece, one of Gladstone’s conservative listeners commented that he didn’t so much oppose certain stories themselves, but rather took issue with the tone that was used, especially by some of the journalists. It wasn’t something concrete that he could point to, but rather a general feeling. As Felton points out in his reports, NPR, like many news outlets, occasionally makes mistakes in its coverage. Sometimes it misquotes a casualty figure or poorly translates an interviewee or misrepresents a situation. But on the whole, these actual errors are few. CAMERA, Abuminah, and others are, like Gladstone’s listener, likely reacting to an emotional feeling they get when comparing the broadcasts to their very particular point of view rather than to an objective shortcoming. For them, NPR may never get it right. But at least they’re trying.


Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

By Steven Philp

It is a common fiction that Jews control Hollywood. Yet there are few more adamant about this misrepresentation—and no one less happy—than Orthodox Jew and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. According to his new book Primetime Propaganda the producers, writers, and actors based in Los Angeles are, instead, a group of liberals using television to promote a “radical” agenda. Friends counters traditional family values, Happy Days took a stance against American engagement in Viet Nam, and M*A*S*H pushed the merits of pacifism. In an interview with The Independent, Shapiro promises that his book will illustrate how people in the industry have attempted to “shape America in their own leftist image.” The 416-page exposé utilizes interviews with approximately seventy media professionals; this includes what he characterizes as “gotcha” moments, in which those interviewed admit to using television to convey progressive themes. “I was shocked by the openness of the Hollywood crowd when it came to admitting anti-conservative discrimination inside the industry,” Shapiro explained to The Independent. “They weren’t ashamed of it. In fact, some were actually proud of it.”

Among the interviewees is Martha Kauffman—the Jewish co-creator of the critically acclaimed television series Friends—who explained her decision behind casting the sister of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as the officiate of a same-sex wedding. “When we did the lesbian wedding, we knew there was going to be some flack,” said Kauffman, touching on the prevalence of homophobia in the mid-1990’s. “I have to say, when we cast Candice Gingrich as the minister of that wedding, there was a bit of a ‘fuck you’ in it to the right-wing, directly.” Newt Gingrich has been an outspoken opponent against equal rights for the LGBTQ community; in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on November 14, 2008 he illustrated his fear of a “gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.”

Shapiro is particularly critical of the influence television has had on American children; his vitriol reaches its apex when addressing Sesame Street. He accuses the series—which has received over 100 Emmy Awards—of brainwashing its viewers.  The show premiered in 1969, and featured characters like Oscar the Grouch to teach tolerance when one is faced with “conflicts arising from racial and ethnic diversity.” Shapiro touts his belief that the show has motivated minority groups toward civil disobedience, through its messages of equality and sharing.  “Sesame Street tried to tackle divorce, tackled ‘peaceful conflict resolution’ in the aftermath of 9/11 and had [openly gay actor] Neil Patrick Harris on the show playing the subtly-named fairy shoeperson.” What is intolerable to Shapiro is the series’ message of tolerance, and that it would encourage young Americans to stand up against the injustices of discrimination.

Shapiro admits that the people he interviewed may have been candid with him because they were unfamiliar with his conservative politics. “There was a certain amount of stereotyping on their part in granting the interview,” he explained to The Independent. “Many probably assumed that with a name like Shapiro and a Harvard Law credential, there was no need to Google me: I would have to be a leftist. In Hollywood, talking to a Jew with a Harvard Law baseball cap is like talking to someone wearing an Obama pin.” Shapiro has been critical of the progressive character of the Jewish American community. In an article posted to Townhall, he explained his opinion that Jews who vote for Obama are “Jews in Name Only,” placed in dialectic opposition to the Jewish community. Considering attempts by the Obama administration to push compromise on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and citing its affiliation with “anti-Semitic” government officials, Shapiro expresses his befuddlement that any Jew would vote for or support our current President. He concludes that these Jews must “not care about Israel. Or if they do, they care about it less than abortion, gay marriage and global warming.” For Shapiro only an uncompromising nationalism defines the Jewish people, while placing primacy on human dignity belies “true” Jewish values. Both his unwavering stance on Israel and his McCarthyism are anachronistic; the conclusion that pacifism, tolerance, and diversity are un-American speaks to an era that we have gladly left behind. Shapiro accuses liberal Jews of creating unnecessary divisions within our community, yet by characterizing them as “not authentically Jewish” vis-à-vis their political imperatives, he commits the same crime. Furthermore, by questioning the veracity of their self-identification with Judaism, Shapiro violates the halakhic mores that mandate our respect toward fellow Jews.

It is an imperative laid out in Deuteronomy that we treat strangers with respect, and the impassioned plea of the prophet Isaiah that we grant the widow and orphan kindness. Counter to Shapiro’s ethno-centric conception of Judaism, protecting vulnerable classes is also a Jewish value; that the television industry bears witness to the myriad facets of humankind—and that series like Sesame Street teach our children to accept these differences—even if characterized as a “liberal agenda,” is one that every Jew should be proud to stand behind.

There is No Love in Bigotry

By Steven Philp

On Sunday, March 6 the Jewish Federation of North America kicked off Tribefest, a three-day event in Las Vegas, NV that billed itself as “an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration” of Jewish Life. Approximately fifteen hundred people aged 22 to 45 were said to attend the conference, participating in workshops led by Jewish leaders from across North America. One of these presentations—entitled “The Kabbalah of Love”—focused on love as a “central theme of Jewish teachings.” A description of the workshop leads with the question: Is love coincidental, or does each of us have a “destiny to connect to another?” Unfortunately the featured speaker participated in one of the larger demonstrations of hate in recent months; Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of the North County Chabad Center was photographed carrying American and Israeli flags in protest against a Muslim charity event in Yorba Linda, CA.

According to an article posted on Salon, on February 13 the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) organized a fundraiser at a local community center to benefit women’s shelters and homeless rehabilitation programs in Southern California. The event drew attention because of two controversial speakers, Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Abdel Malik Ali. According to the Orange County Register, the former was named by a U.S. attorney among 169 others as a coconspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. However, Wahhaj was never charged and has consistently denied involvement in the attack.  The latter speaker is known for having levied heavy criticism against Israel. Notably, Ali participated in the 2010 “Israel Apartheid Week” at the University of California Irvine. This led local organizations—including several Tea Party groups and the North County Chabad Center—to hold a protest in an adjacent park. Several hundred people came to the event, which was attended by at least two Members of Congress and several local politicians. In response to the protest, ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas emphasized that they “should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism.”

Yet this did not prevent 100 protesters from breaking off from the main event to stand outside the community center, heckling people attending the fundraiser. In a video released on March 2 by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), people can be heard shouting hateful rhetoric as families—many with small children—walked from the parking lot to the charity event. Among the many slurs yelled by the protesters, several chanted “USA! USA!” “Mohammed was a pervert. Mohammed was a fraud,” and—strangely, given that many attendees were American—“Go back home.” As noted by blogger Max Blumenthal, the shocking bigotry that characterized this event is eerily reminiscent of anti-desegregation protests that occurred at our schools only fifty years ago.

To his credit, Rabbi Eliezrie has released a statement disassociating himself with the protestors outside the community center. Yet he falls short of denouncing their message, instead accusing CAIR of releasing the aforementioned video as part of  “a long history of distorting the truth.” He states that he discouraged people from attending the other smaller protest, yet he fails to mention that anti-Muslim vitriol was present at his event. When Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly noted that her son is a Marine, she quickly added, “I know quite a few Marines who would be happy to help these terrorists to a, uh, early meeting in paradise.” The crowd responded to her comment with applause and laughter.

As stated by a Muslim woman who attended the charity event, “It is surprising, but everyone has a right to express their opinion.” Rabbi Eliezrie is within his rights, if not his perceived duty, to protest against anti-Israel activists like Abdel Malik Ali. Yet by attending an event which espouses violence and bigotry against Muslim-American families, displaying an American and Israeli flag at the protest, and then failing to denounce the vitriol of his fellow protestors Rabbi Eliezrie has sent a strong message about his politics and those of his larger community. Before he teaches the ins and outs of love to the next generation of Jewish leaders, he should first consider his current association with hate.

At J Street, Attempting to Redefine “Pro-Israel”

By Niv Elis

In its second-ever conference in Washington, DC this week, the self-described “Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel” lobby group J Street drew some 2,000 left-leaning Israel supporters.

By its very existence J Street, has sparked a conflicted and sometimes angry debate within the Jewish community as to what it means to be “pro-Israel.”  Before J Street, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held a virtual monopoly in Washington on the term pro-Israel.  For AIPAC, it meant supporting a “strong U.S.-Israel relationship” by keeping disagreements out of the public spotlight and, more broadly, supporting the policies of the democratically elected government in Israel, regardless of who was in power.  But critics, including many J Street supporters, accuse AIPAC of being more sympathetic to the conservative Likud party and promoting its hard-line policies.

J Street has its own critics, who argue that it provides political cover for those who undermine or delegitimize Israel.  After all, they say, how can publicly criticizing Israel and its policies be construed as “Pro-Israel?”

In order to get a better understanding, Moment asked participants in J Street’s conference what being pro-Israel meant to them.  These are some of the responses:

“It means supporting the best interest of the state of Israel, which means supporting peace.” -Yahel Metalon, New York, NY

“To me being pro-Israel means caring deeply about Israel, its security, its fate and the fate of the Israeli people.  It means hoping for a better Israel, making it a more democratic, safer place for all its citizens to be.” –Shiri Ourian, Moshav Kfar Neter, Israel

“I support a peaceful Israel that is there forever, living in peace, that can count on being secure in its future.  I have a dream of seeing Israel at peace forever and would love to see that come to pass in my lifetime.”  -Bruce Pollock, Rochester, NY

“I think being pro-Israel is about really having the conversation about the future of Israel, where you want it to go and helping to shape that in the present in every capacity whether it’s social, political, economic, educational, all of it.  It’s tying conversation and activism.”  -Darya Shaikh, New York, NY

“I have no idea.  I’m from Israel.  I grew up there and moved to New York in my twenties, so I really can’t answer that question.  This conference is the first time I ever felt there was a viable, Jewish American Left that I can associate with.  I haven’t felt that since I moved from Israel.” -Avi Criden, Israel

“It means defending Israel, when necessary, against its very real enemies, providing for its security and also defending its democratic institutions and ensuring that it can have a stable future as a prosperous, democratic and peaceful state.”  –Ben Alter, New Haven, CT

“It means to be for Israel, for the state, for the survival of Israel.  How do you demonstrate it?  Don’t hate yourself.” –Isi Tenenbom, Hamburg, Germany

“It means thinking about everything in a slightly different way.  I feel a push and a pull, a need to be involved.  I’m afraid to be involved.  Where do you stop with that involvement?  It’s this love conflict and it takes a lot of excitement and motivation to consider things in a different way” –Hilda Blyer, Ottawa, Canada

“I think it’s important for American Jews to be concerned about social justice in at least two countries.  In my mind it’s the obligation of American Jews to assert their concern that Israel be activated as a force for peace, in its interest and in America’s interest.” -Marvin Sparrow, Boston, MA

“I guess to support both a physical place, in terms of a home land—a safe place for Jewish people to go and a place where Jewish people from around the world can feel culturally and spiritually fulfilled in some way—and that includes it being a place where people’s rights are respected.  Ultimately I think that pursuing peace and respecting the rights of others are a very important part of being pro-Israel.  To me being Jewish has to involve justice, and I don’t want to have to choose between those values and having that physical place for safety.” -Daniel Marans, Washington, DC

“I have no f*cking clue.  That’s kind of why I’m here, isn’t it? -Raphaela Wyman-Kelman, New York, NY

What do you think it means to be “Pro-Israel?”  Leave us a comment and let us know!

Additional reporting by Sala Levin