Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Defame Israel - NPR edition


When it comes down to it, all of the anti-Israel agitators, protesters and complainers use the same method for their smears. It is easy, effective and sometimes even partially truthful.

The method is to simply compare Israel with their idea of perfection, and note where it falls short. It is insidious, because when it is done well, it is difficult to argue against on a point by point basis, and that tends to make people think that Israel is guilty of horrendous crimes. It is criticism without context, calumnies without comparisons, arguments without considering the alternative.

A classic example is being broadcast today on NPR, on the very real problem of tens of thousands of illegal African immigrants who are sneaking into Israel:

In Israel, No Welcome Mat For African Migrants

Israeli officials have stepped up efforts to stem the flow of African asylum seekers and migrant workers into Israel. With numbers reaching into the tens of thousands, Israeli officials are pressed to find a policy to combat the ever-increasing flow of people.

Israeli construction workers are battling against the blustery wind and sandstorms to build a fence across one stretch of desert.

The $270 million fence will cover 87 miles of Israel's southern border with Egypt. African refugees are smuggled through this area almost daily. They travel thousands of miles and often spend their life savings to try to reach Israel, a country they see as their doorstep to the West.

Israel, however, is far from laying down the welcome mat.

Sigal Rosen is an organizer at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group for refugees, in Tel Aviv. She says that though Israel signed the Geneva Convention relating to refugees, it regularly violates it.

"During the last years, Israel is sending a very clear message to all asylum seekers: Beware. We are not interested in your presence here. We will do whatever is in our power to prevent you from being here, even if the price is violating our legal commitments," Rosen says.

...On Nov. 22, the same day that work began on the fence along the Egyptian border, Yishai presented his four-part plan to make Israel a less desirable locale for refugees.

In addition to the fence, Israel is building a detention center that will operate as a yet undefined "open facility" for any would-be refugee who decides to remain in Israel.

The third step in Yishai's plan is to punish any employer who hires African migrants or supports their employment.

The last step is the repatriation of refugees who are already in Israel. Israel took that step for the first time — last week — when it removed 150 southern Sudanese who agreed to leave voluntarily in exchange for some pocket money and a flight home in time to vote in the upcoming referendum on the region's independence.

...At the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Rosen says she knows many more who would consider leaving Israel if they were given a similar deal. Most of them, she says, have become fed up.

"Actually, Israel doesn't have an immigration policy. What we have is a big mess," she says.

Now for some context.

Let's start with the headline: Israel does not roll out the "welcome mat" for African migrants.

Is there any country in the world that actively seeks or welcomes migrants from Africa? Has a single country gone to Israel and said "We would love to take them in?" The idea is absurd, but to NPR, Israel is to be castigated for not openly allowing itself to be overrun with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

Not all of the migrants are refugees. In fact, there is a process that must be gone through to determine whether they can legally seek asylum. UNHCR in Israel used to do it, but a couple of years ago Israel took over that function partially because UNHCR was getting overwhelmed.

Many of the African migrants are not fleeing persecution and personal danger, but simply seeking a better life in the nearest Western-style state. Which means that they are not "refugees." It gets complicated though because once many of them step foot in Israel they really cannot go back to their own countries. In those cases Israel has a very good reason to discourage them from coming to begin with.

Notice that these African migrants usually pass through Egypt on their way to Israel. That indicates that they are not simply escaping persecution but illegally seeking a better life. (There are also a significant number from West Africa who visit Israel on religious pilgrimages and then never leave.)

Israel really is a tiny nation, While Israel in the past has welcomed small numbers of refugees in need (Vietnamese "boat people" in 1977, Bosnian Muslim refugees in 1993, southern Lebanese Christians in 2000) it simply cannot have the open door policy that NPR seems to demand. Even the US, 450 times the size of Israel, cannot survive with such a policy. It is a matter of national survival.

Moreover, UNHCR credits Israel with great strides in improving its policies on dealing with asylum seekers, creating a program from scratch in only a few years.

The UNHCR itself is concerned not only in resettlement when necessary but in repatriation when possible, meaning that Israel's attempts to send migrants back to their original homes is quite consistent with preferred international standards.

Not only that, but Israel now has a serious crime problem from these illegal African immigrants.

One doesn't even have to mention the fact that Egyptian policies are to shoot migrants on sight.

All of these facts are easily ascertained and they took me only a few minutes to learn. But NPR's Sheera Frenkel could not be bothered to find out the facts.

The methodology of the report is also very biased. Only one side is humanized; the Israeli policies are presented purely as malicious. You won't find Frenkel interviewing Israeli victims of crimes by Africans, nor Israeli officials who are dedicating their lives to making the lives of the Africans as bearable as possible while keeping within Israeli policies and respecting Israel's citizens, and not even UNHCR officials in Israel. Instead she interviews only two people - an advocate for the illegal migrants and an actual migrant - whose views are hardly unbiased.

In other words, NPR is presenting a hatchet job, solely for the purpose of demonizing Israel.

The methods are familiar, because we have seen countless similar articles from the media that use the same format: find people who are unhappy with some aspect of Israeli society, de-contextualize it while humanizing only one side of the story and making the Israeli side seem cold and heartless, and highlighting where Israel is supposedly falling short to some idealized standards that are literally impossible or that would cause worse human rights problems in themselves.

This is merely one of thousands of examples of how the media slyly and subtly tries to undermine Israel.

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