Sunday, March 28, 2010

More media disinformation-NYT

NY Times Defends Obama, Not U.S. Interests; Blames Israel, Not White House or Palestinians For All Problems

Barry Rubin

The New York Times has now crossed the line from being a grossly slanted newspaper in its Middle East coverage to being one so partisan, blinkered, and defensive as to lose its value altogether. I do not write this lightly and have no wish to exaggerate. But the newspaper’s editorial of March 26 is so mendacious, so made up to suit the political purposes of the Obama administration without any reference to the facts that it is a work of politically tailored fiction.

Basically, the themes or omissions are as follows:

--Israeli policy is the result of extreme right-wing politicians.

--Most Israelis support Obama rather than their own government.

--The U.S.-Israel agreement of last October never existed.

--The Palestinians don’t exist and one doesn’t need to mention their actions or the administration’s total catering to them.

--Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done something so awful that it proves he doesn't want peace. What did he do? Precisely what he told the U.S. government he was going to do five months ago and which they then called a major step toward peace! The goal is to portray the issue as not being Obama versus Israel but rather Obama plus the Israeli majority against a relatively small number of extremists who have hijacked the country.

If only such tactics were used against America’s enemies.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to discuss this editorial in detail. It begins:

“After taking office last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel privately told many Americans and Europeans that he was committed to and capable of peacemaking, despite the hard-line positions that he had used to get elected for a second time. Trust me, he told them. We were skeptical when we first heard that, and we’re even more skeptical now.”

Netanyahu not only said this privately but also publicly, as is clear in the official Israeli government peace plan about which the Times has never even informed its readers. Here it is. Moreover, this government is not merely one of Netanyahu but also of Labour Party leader Ehud Barak and former-Labour leader Shimon Peres who was also in Kadima.

The story being set up is that the problem is that Netanyahu is neither committed nor capable of making peace. The Times is clearly never skeptical about the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership. But what has Netanyahu done to demonstrate such a thing? There was no problem before the recent crisis, set off by the announcement that a plan to build apartments in Jerusalem—still years off—had passed one more of seven stages toward approval.

It bears repeating over and over again that last October, Netanyahu reached a deal with the Obama Administration: No construction on the West Bank; construction to continue in Jerusalem. In addition, the White House agreed that this ban would be limited to nine months. The obvious concept was that the U.S. government was wagering that it could produce either enough progress on talks, benefits to Israel, or both that it could persuade Israel's government to extend that freeze. Netanyahu never broke that agreement, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed as a great step toward peace.

So has Netanyahu done something horrible or is this a largely fabricated crisis?

“All this week, the Obama administration had hoped Mr. Netanyahu would give it something to work with, a way to resolve the poisonous contretemps over Jerusalem and to finally restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It would have been a relief if they had succeeded. Serious negotiations on a two-state solution are in all their interests. And the challenges the United States and Israel face — especially Iran’s nuclear program — are too great for the leaders not to have a close working relationship.”

The Times was not dismayed by the fact that the PA refused to negotiate between January 2009 and February 2010, and then only indirectly agreed to do so. Unless I missed it, there hasn’t been one word of editorial criticism of the PA at all. In fact, the newspaper said not a single word regarding the PA's sabotage of Obama's call for negotiations last September.

What the second paragraph disguises is that the Obama Administration made a major new demand on Israel’s government: all construction to stop permanently after it had already accepted a compromise on the issue. This is not just “something to work with,” but rather a maximalist demand for something no Israeli government has ever given.

“But after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing government still insisted that they would not change their policy of building homes in the city, including East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to make the capital of an independent state.”

Again, there is no mention of the PA giving anything on any subject; this issue doesn’t even exist according to the Times. As noted above this is not merely a “right-wing government,” but the story is being set up to suggest that Obama is the true leader of Israel.

“President Obama made pursuing a peace deal a priority and has been understandably furious at Israel’s response. He correctly sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a factor in wider regional instability.”

In January, Obama announced that he felt it unlikely he could make serious progress on peace. Presumably this was a result of PA behavior as well. From that moment, it was clear that a peace deal was no longer a priority; again a point the Times does not even suggested.

“Mr. Netanyahu’s government provoked the controversy two weeks ago when it disclosed plans for 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. was on a fence-mending visit and Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” were to begin.”

It is interesting to note that the reason there were proximity talks only was that while Netanyahu called for direct negotiations (as had Obama last September), the PA rejected them. Moreover, Israelis know that it was not “Netanyahu’s government” but a low-level commission that announced the plans without clearing it with the prime minister. Even Israeli journalists who are strongly opposed to Netanyahu have made this point, which the Times ignores.

“Last year, Mr. Netanyahu rejected Mr. Obama’s call for a freeze on all settlement building. On Tuesday — just before Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Netanyahu at the White House — Israeli officials revealed plans to build 20 units in the Shepherd Hotel compound of East Jerusalem.”

While it is technically true that Netanyahu did not accept the freeze on all building—“settlement building” makes it sound (and no doubt many Times’ readers falsely believe—that new settlements are being constructed—it is also true that the Obama Administration accepted a compromise.

Let me give an analogy. You demand that I give you $100,000 to buy a property. I counter-offer $75,000. You accept it and publicly brag about what a great deal it is. A few months later you angrily announce that I rejected your proposal.

That is very close to the current situation.

“Palestinians are justifiably worried that these projects nibble away at the land available for their future state. The disputes with Israel have made Mr. Obama look weak and have given Palestinians and Arab leaders an excuse to walk away from the proximity talks (in which Mr. Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah) that Washington nurtured.”

Well, why should they worry if they can negotiate a deal? And if they are worried shouldn’t this make them more eager to reach a deal before ore is “nibbled” away. Remember, by the way, we are talking about a piece of land approximately four city blocks over the pre-1967 border in an uninhabited place.

But the best point of the paragraph is that the Times is shocked! Shocked! That this makes Obama look weak! How many things has Obama done in the Middle East to look weak? (To save space and because I know you can give a list, I won’t spend a page outlining them.) Yet on what single occasion has the Times been upset about this?

“Mr. Obama was right to demand that Mr. Netanyahu repair the damage. Details of their deliberately low-key White House meeting (no photos, no press, not even a joint statement afterward) have not been revealed. We hope Israel is being pressed to at least temporarily halt building in East Jerusalem as a sign of good faith. Jerusalem’s future must be decided in negotiations.”

Yes on the last sentence. But the announcement that in a few years Israel might start building some apartment buildings doesn’t decide Jerusalem’s future. If the PA offers a good deal then why should the presence of plans to build apartments—or even existing apartments—stop it? But that’s what this is mostly about: Trying to reach a deal which does not require the PA to give up anything it doesn’t want to, which means giving up nothing at all

“The administration should also insist that proximity talks, once begun, grapple immediately with core issues like borders and security, not incidentals. And it must ensure that the talks evolve quickly to direct negotiations — the only realistic format for an enduring agreement.”

This, too, is profoundly dishonest. Direct talks have been going along for most of the last 18 years. They were derailed first by the PA walk-out (over a war in Gaza begun by Hamas) and then by the Obama Administration’s own demand—beyond the PA’s demands—for the construction freeze.

There is no hint that the lack of talks doesn’t rest on Israel, with the possible exception of the last week though even this could have been finessed. Suppose Obama had said to Netanyahu: Please announce that there are no imminent plans to build these apartments and denounce the announcement as unauthorized by you. Things could have been worked out and indirect talks restarted.

Now the Administration’s explosion has put them off for months at least. After all, why should the PA, smiling as the U.S. government bashes Israel, relieve the pressure on Israel’s government? Especially since they don’t want to negotiate any way and they know the U.S. government won’t make them do so?

“Many Israelis find Mr. Obama’s willingness to challenge Israel unsettling. We find it refreshing that he has forced public debate on issues that must be debated publicly for a peace deal to happen. He must also press Palestinians and Arab leaders just as forcefully.”

Notice how the one sentence comes in at the end about how Obama must press Palestinians and Arabs. But there is not a single specific, nor any discussion of how the lack of balance in itself is damaging. Yet even the premise is flatly wrong: must there be a public debate now on a permanent end for Israel construction as the main and sole condition for reaching a peace deal? I could name a dozen other issues, including the PA’s failure to comply with its commitments on a daily basis.


“Questions from Israeli hard-liners and others about his commitment to Israel’s security are misplaced. The question is whether Mr. Netanyahu is able or willing to lead his country to a peace deal. He grudgingly endorsed the two-state solution. Does he intend to get there?”

Notice that the editorial does not speak of questions from Israelis but from “hard-liners and others,” implying—while still covering itself in language—that only some kind of extremist might question Obama’s commitment. Again, a long list of reasons for questioning that commitment could be made.

But again what has happened to make the question Netanyahu’s ability or willingness to make a peace deal. Here are the total charges against him: The announcement of building a set of apartments, for which he apologized, and another regarding 20 additional apartments.

It’s not as if he and his colleagues daily broadcast incitement to murder people on the other side through schools, sermons, and speeches. It’s not as if they refused to negotiate at all month after month. It’s not as if they released or did not incarcerate extremists who murdered civilians on the other side. (Actually they did release prisoners who murdered civilians but they were Palestinian prisoners who murdered Israelis.) It’s not as if they don’t even control half the territory for which they purport to bargain.

Those are all characteristics of the PA, things the Times does not even mention. This editorial is not merely slanted; it is so profoundly dishonest, distorting both the Palestinian and the Obama Administration role, as to be suitable to that published in a state-controlled newspaper in a dictatorship.

Once--and perhaps again in the not-distant future--the U.S.-Israel link was called a "special relationship" because it was so close. Now it is still distinctive in a special way: Israel is the only country in the world--a list that includes none of those countries sponsoring anti-American terror or trying to destroy U.S. interests--that this administration, perhaps only temporarily, wants to intimidate and defeat.

But is this all about Israel or is it about the desperation to defend an administration which has failed so badly and acted so erratically in foreign policy?

By so misrepresenting the facts and situation, some media can go on defending Obama's policies and actions. But that's no way to defend America and its interests, quite the contrary
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Some Truths About America’s Anti-Racist History: Portraying the Japanese in World War Two Films

Posted: 27 Mar 2010 02:57 PM PDT
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By Barry Rubin

This year, my son—who is attending the fourth grade at an American public school—has been subjected to an unending barrage of anti-Americanism, especially around the issue of racism. For some reason the main focus is alleged American racism toward the Japanese in World War Two. In addition, literally not a single positive word has been spoken about America during the entire school year.

At the same time, I have been watching a number of American films about the Pacific theatre during World War Two, not seeking them out but merely because they have been shown on television. The controversy over Tom Hanks’ statement and his new series on that war has added to the interest.

One thing very clear to me is that American films about the Pacific theatre are remarkably free of vicious or “racialist” incitement. On the contrary, it is remarkable how restrained they are. In many films that focus on combat—say, “Wake Island” or “They Were Expendable,” among them--there little talk about the Japanese at all, much less any demonizing of them. They are an enemy who is being fought and, if possible, killed, but there is no racialist message.

Another film, “Bataan,” (1943) showsout Americans and Filipinos fighting together in the early days of the war. The two allies are seen interacting on a basis of equality. Remember that Japanese are not a race and World War Two American stereotypes of other Asians—especially Filipinos and Chinese—are quite sympathetic. About the only characterization of the Japanese in this film is that while hated as foes the American soldiers describe them as very brave and skilled soldiers.

In “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo,” about the first American air raid on Japan, led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, there is one remarkable exchange in which a flier says that Americans should not be prejudiced against the Japanese people as a whole. He says that his family employed a Japanese gardener who was a pretty nice guy. While today this might be portrayed as patronizing, the context was that Japanese were human beings like everyone else.

Incidentally, when the plane crews crash land in China, their lives are saved by heroic Chinese, shown as defending themselves against Japanese aggression. They risk their own lives and give of their few possessions to help save Americans. Asians are thus portrayed very favorably.

If you want to see a film that expresses the American self-conception at the time, try "The Human Comedy" (1943), written by the Armenian-American Californian William Saroyan. Many now consider the film embarrassingly sentimental and corny. But it is actually quite noble. (I'd love to see this film being shown as representative of how Americans thought--or at least the standard they set for themselves--during those days.

Mickey Rooney plays a boy working at the telegraph office in a California town who watches his brother go off to war. But he has to deliver telegrams telling families that their sons are killed, wounded, or missing. There is a moving scene when he has to do so to a Mexican-American family (treated very sympathetically) and a truly remarkable one when his boss is driving through the park past all the different ethnic versions of July 4 celebrations, pointing them out as examples of American pluralism. I believe that in a scene of American soldiers heading east on a troop train, there are a couple of Asian-Americans in uniform, though no one remarks on the fact. This film should be mandatory viewing for public school students today to know that their ancestors weren’t neo-Nazi skinheads.

Especially interesting is the 1944 film, “Destination Tokyo.” It’s about an American submarine crew given a mission to sneak into Tokyo Bay with a Japanese-speaking American officer to gather intelligence for the raid mentioned above. So how did this wartime movie, chosen pretty much at random, deal with the Japanese? Is it an example of American racism and chauvinism, like schoolkids are taught nowadays?

There are two scenes in which the Japanese come up and they are both pretty remarkable. Remember the war was at its height when this film was made. In the first scene, the submarine is passing through the Aleutian islands when it is attacked by two Japanese planes. It shoots both of them down—perhaps an unreasonable amount of heroics but necessary to the plot since the mission would have to be cancelled if they are spotted.

One of the Japanese pilots parachutes and the captain orders him to be taken aboard for questioning. I think this is most unrealistic since they couldn’t go on a long mission with a Japanese officer on board. If it had happened in real life, they probably would have done nothing and he would have been dead of hypothermia in those icy waters within a few minutes.

But following orders, Mike, one of the most popular crew members, tries to pull him aboard. The pilot stabs him to death and is immediately machinegunned. This is not unrealistic since Japanese soldiers—especially officers—rarely surrendered and did use such tactics on many occasions.

At any rate, this could have been the basis for a real hate-Japanese diatribe. Instead, though, the speeches made by a crew member and by the captain (played by Cary Grant) to the crew are remarkable.

One crewman, who has earlier made clear his ethnic pride in being a Greek, to which he then proudly adds, "Greek American," (in the kind of American pluralist statement so common in wartime films), doesn’t attend the funeral. The other crew members are angry at him but he explains that he doesn’t think he’s earned the right to do so because he hasn’t made any contribution to avenging those already dead. Back in Greece, he recounts, his uncle, a professor, was killed by the Nazis:

“Because he had brains. Because everybody’s got to be their slave and those who won’t, like my uncle, they kill….So I don’t forget my uncle. I read where an American flier gets killed and I think of my uncle. I see pictures of little Chinese kids getting bombed and I think of my uncle. I hear about a Russian guerrilla getting hanged and I think about my uncle. And I see Mike lying in there dead from a Jap killer and I think of my uncle.”

Again, many would see this as contrived and mawkish but it is hardly a chauvinistic American rant. His inclusion of the Chinese, who like the Japanese are Asians, makes it pretty PC by any standards. It also points out once again the very strong pro-Chinese feeling in the United States at the time. Overall, it wasn't a bad way to explain the war in both terms of freedom and human connections.

A short time later, the captain says:

“Mike was with me on my first patrol. I was his friend. I know his family….I remember Mike’s pride when he bought his first roller skates for his little five-year-old boy….Well that Jap got a present, too, when he was five, a dagger….The Japs have a ceremony that goes with it….At thirteen he can put a machine-gun together blindfolded . So as I see it, that Jap was started on the road twenty years ago to putting a knife in Mike’s back. There are lots of Mikes dying now, and lots more will die. Until we put a stop to a system that puts knives in the hands of five-year-old children. You know, if Mike were here to put it into words right now that’s just about what he died for: more roller-skates in this world, including some for the next generation of Japanese kids because that’s the kind of a man Mike was.”

This isn’t a sophisticated lecture on the samurai class. The machine-gun part is silly, of course. But what does the speech say? That a terrible system in Japan has created people who inevitably act in a certain way and that this system must be democratized, not only for America’s sake but for that of the Japanese as well so that they can enjoy a better life.

This is a remarkable prophecy of the post-war American occupation policy and successful transformation of Japan. Such sentiments are the opposite of a racist interpretation, which sees such behavior as innate and certainly doesn’t care about the lives of the enemy. One can’t help thinking of parallels in a system which teaches children to become suicide bombers today, programming them to hate and to want to commit genocide.

Yet there is even more here. While racism--mainly against those of African descent--was long a terrible feature of American life, there are powerful counter-ideas also in American history. Americans believed that people were not merely the outcome of innate, genetic determinism. What better description of the American world view is there to say that a peasant, the descendant of generations of peasants, could get off the boat and become a prosperous and respected citizen? And there would be little or no prejudice against the children of those immigrants because of their background.

True, each new wave of immigrants was hazed, and those from Africa faced by far the longest and greatest mistreatment. Yet ultimately it was because racism was contrary to the American system and world view that it could not survive.

Returning to the film, in a later scene, the captain asks the intelligence officer about Japanese society. While the conversation may not be accurate, it is also explicitly anti-racialist. The officer explains that there was a democratic movement in Japan but the leaders were assassinated. The people have no power and are downtrodden, “No unions, no free press, nothing.” Most of them “believe what they’re told. They’ve been sold a swindle and they accept it.” it is explained that Japanese people live in appalling poverty in a way that stirs sympathy for them and that “females are useful there only to work and have children.”

Again, it is not that the Japanese are innately evil or inferior but merely that the people have been deprived of rights. They, too, are victims. There were heroic Japanese who wanted democracy but they were repressed. Note also that the oppression of women is an important issue, like today, in the mix which is said to make for an authoritarian society.

Of course, this is the Hollywood version of events, not what was going on in the field. But that’s precisely the point. This was the kind of thing Americans in their millions were being told: hate the Japanese as an enemy but not as a people or as a “race.” And, again, a very clear differentiation was being made among Asians based on nationality.

I’m not saying that these films are great art necessarily or accurate about how the war was fought. But inasmuch as there is an ideological statement in them, it is something Americans today can be proud of and it is also evidence that the rewriting of American history into a series of hate crimes is a lie.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood.

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