Tag Archives: israeli army

Another major conflict of interest for the NY Times Jerusalem Bureau

New York Times Jerusalem Deputy Bureau Chief Isabel Kershner is married to Hirsh Goodman, an Israeli citizen and prominent liberal Zionist intellectual. Goodman works at a military-linked Israeli think tank called the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), where he serves as a senior research fellow in a position endowed by the billionaire Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman. On the INSS website, Goodman described his job as helping “Israel devise a strategy to impact positively on international and Arab public opinion and overall disseminate its message more effectively” — in other words, media spin. In a recent column for the Jerusalem Post, Goodman urged the government of Israel to treat threats to its image as acts of war, and to respond in kind.

An ethical reporter on a politically sensitive assignment might have avoided allowing intimate relationships they maintained with people at the center of the conflict to impact their reporting. But not Kershner. As Alex Kane just revealed in a devastating report published by the media watchdog FAIR, Kershner “overwhelmingly relies on the INSS for think tank analysis about events in the region.” According to Kane, Kershner has quoted her husband’s think tank a whopping 17 times — far more than any other comparable policy outfit. However, she has yet to publicly disclose her connection to the INSS and the media spin strategist who doubles as her husband.

The Times’ former Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, left his job last month after a string of humiliating scandals. First, the Times public editor called for his reassignment when he attempted to conceal from the public his son’s enlistment in the Israeli army. However, Times editor in chief Bill Keller rejected the recommendation. Bronner suffered further embarrassment when I exposed his business relationship with a pro-Israel public relations firm operated by an illegal settler. Once again, the Times editorial leadership let him off the hook.

Last month, at a farewell party for Bronner in East Jerusalem sponsored by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), international diplomats and members of the Israeli and Palestinian intelligensia grilled the outgoing bureau chief about his conflicts of interest. One Israeli journalist in attendance told me Bronner expressed no misgivings about his conduct, treating his questioners with a mixture of dismissiveness and smug condescension. After a group of young Palestinian intellectuals and activists stormed out in disgust, a South African diplomat reminded Bronner that he could not “determine his own objectivity.” The rancorous scene illustrated the deep stain Bronner’s legacy had left on the Times’ reputation in Israel-Palestine.

Though Bronner is gone, Kershner’s clear violations of Times ethical guidelines are likely to compound the damage to the paper’s credibility in the region. Will the Times ignore Kane’s reporting, exempting Kershner from rules other reporters are required to stringently observe, or will Public Editor Arthur Brisbane treat the revelations with the seriousness they deserve?

This was originally posted at Al Akhbar English.

In a fear society, where some facts are crimes

Tel Aviv University was built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis. The university’s faculty lounge is the village mukhtar’s former home. At the corner of Arlosoroff and Ibn Gvirol streets, where the Century Tower skyscraper stands, a Palestinian village named Sommeil used to exist.

When activists from the Israeli group Zochrot set out into the heart of Tel Aviv’s “Independence Day” festivities to educate revelers about these facts, they were accused of engaging in criminal activities.

As soon as the activists attempted to exit an office building to place small placards on Ibn Gvirol Street memorializing Palestinian villages destroyed during the Nakba, riot police surrounded them with metal gates, blocking them inside. The police informed them that they would be arrested if they attempted to interact with the crowds celebrating Israel’s birth. “We will not allow you to enter the celebrations with your pictures or your fliers,” a cop told Zochrot’s Eitan Bronstein. “We will not allow this form of protest. It might disturb the peace so we won’t allow it.” Another police officer told Bronstein his placards represented “inciting material.”

Though the police repression can hardly be excused, there is some reason to believe the Zochrot activists could have been subjected to harsh violence if they had been allowed to proceed with their action. While caged behind the metal gates, passersby surrounded the activists and held forth. “You’re lucky the police is here. You should thank them,” said a bald, beefy man who had to be led away.

Another hulking character who identified himself as a member of Unit 51 from the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade paratrooper corps barked at the activists, “The only thing you are is a bunch of traitors. Every day people here are fighting… This is unbelievable. You are traitors and if we had the chance we would shoot you one by one. One by one we would shoot you…”

The demonstration concluded with police violently arresting three participants including one man for the crime of reading aloud the names of destroyed Palestinian villages.

Lia Tarachansky of the Real News Network filmed the melee. Her footage is below:

The repression of Zochrot’s educational action was the street level manifestation of the campaign the Israeli government has waged to mute discussion of the Nakba and punish those who violate the code of silence. Last year, the government passed a law that allows the denial of state funding to NGO’s that participate in Nakba commemorations. In 2009, it banned the use of the term “Nakba” in school textbooks. Limor Livnat, a right-wing Knesset member who co-sponsored the so-called Nakba Law and banned textbooks using the word during her term as Israel’s Education Minister, declared that merely allowing students to learn about the mass expulsion of Palestinians during 1947 and 1948 would encourage them to work against the Jewish state.

The images of brawny riot cops — literal thought police — roughing up the small band of Zochrot members for publicly reading “inciting” facts recalled a passage from a widely publicized book about the importance of promoting democracy around the globe. “If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm,” the book read, “then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society.”

The book is called “The Case For Democracy.” One of its authors, Natan Sharansky, was a former Soviet dissident who currently heads the Jewish Agency, a key arm of Israel’s settlement enterprise. The other author is Ron Dermer, an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu known as “Bibi’s brain.” Together, the two called for overthrowing repressive regimes around the world, inspiring former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to quote their so-called “Town Square Test,” while they actively guided Israel’s descent into authoritarianism.

How could Sharansky and Dermer fail to see the irony in their actions? As the scenes from Zochrot’s demonstration illustrated, reflection is never an option in a fear society.

#GazaUnderAttack on Citizen Radio

Israeli Channel 10 military anchor Alon Ben David stands beside a graphic reading, "Death toll: Gaza, 25; Israel, 0" (via Ami Kaufman at 972mag.com)

Israeli Channel 10 military anchor Alon Ben David stands beside a graphic reading, "Death toll: Gaza, 25; Israel, 0" (via Ami Kaufman at 972mag.com)

I discussed Israel’s real motives for its recent attacks on the Gaza Strip and talked about my reporting on Israel-Palestine with Citizen Radio hosts Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein.

Citizen Radio happens to be one of the most refreshing and authentically progressive radio shows I’ve listened to. Kilkenny and Kilstein deserve enormous credit for bringing the issue of Gaza to their listeners.

Listen to my interview here.

Top media ethics expert: Times’ Ethan Bronner is in “very dicey ethical territory”

Yesterday I reported for the Columbia Journalism Review that New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner is on the speaker’s bureau of Lone Star Communications, an Israeli public relations firm that pitches him stories. Bronner has provided extensive coverage to several of the firm’s clients, including those involved in major political controversies. What’s more, the firm’s CEO and founder, Charley Levine, is a settler, media advisor to several right-wing government ministers, and a Captain in the Israeli army Spokesman’s Unit. Today, Ali Abunimah reported on Levine’s casually racist attitude towards Arabs. So Levine and his firm — which yesterday removed all mentions of their connection to Bronner — have a clear ideological slant. I have trouble understanding how this relationship does not violate Times ethics guidelines.

The Times has been warned before about Bronner. When the Electronic Intifada reported that Bronner’s son had joined the Israeli army, then-Public Editor Clark Hoyt recommended that Bronner be reassigned. As with his son’s army service, Bronner did not appear to have disclosed to the Times his relationship with Lone Star Communications. When I asked the Times’ Standards Editor Phil Corbett if Bronner’s involvement with the PR firm violated Times ethics policy, he did not request further details or allow me to submit specific questions. Instead, I was informed through an intermediary, Times’ VP for Corporate Communications Eileen Murphy, that the Times viewed Bronner’s emailed response to me as sufficient, and had no doubts about his integrity. It seems fairly clear at this point, after two major conflicts of interest have been exposed, that the Times has afforded Bronner a level of impunity that no reporter should enjoy.

While reporting my story, I spoke to one of the country’s leading experts on journalism ethics, Robert Steele, who directs De Pauw University’s Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics. I described Bronner’s relationship with Lone Star in detail to Steele. His comments did not make into my report for CJR, so I have reproduced them below. In short, Steele concluded “with confidence” that Bronner has waded into “very dicey ethical territory.”

Read Steele’s remarks on Bronner here.

Israeli Army can’t provide me evidence of flotilla’s violent plans, story unravels (Updated)

Israelis woke up on June 27 to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Israelis woke up to a front page Jerusalem Post story claiming flotilla passengers planned violence against soldiers. The story has completely unraveled.

Update: Neues Deutschland reported that chief army spokesperson Avital Liebovich claimed Israel infiltrated the US boat to Gaza with naval intelligence agents, who relayed the IDF with a report of the passengers’ violent intentions. The passengers denied the claim as baseless and hysterical. The ludicrous nature of Liebovich’s claim is underscored by my interview (below) with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, where she works. A robot translation of the ND article is here.

On June 27, the Israeli army released a highly suspect claim that passengers on the flotilla planned to kill and maim Israeli soldiers. The claim looks like yet another anti-flotilla hoax emanating from Israeli government channels.

Today, I reached an official from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit after placing several calls and an email to the office requesting proof to support the army’s claim. The official was unable to supply me with one piece of evidence. Instead, she said, “Basically there’s a trust between the IDF and reporters. And like in any other army, you know, a senior IDF source says something, people are inclined to believe it because this is somebody high up, this is somebody that has a lifetime of experience and credibility and this is like any other army.”

When I asked why anyone would report such a claim without seeing any firm evidence, the army spokesperson said, “If there were something we probably would give it but because of sensitivities we can’t expand further.”

Listen to the whole interview here:

Despite an apparent lack of evidence, the army’s disinformation found its way into top Israeli newspapers through a select group of military correspondents including the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz. Katz reported that flotilla passengers planned to kill Israeli soldiers and that they were bringing “bags of sulfur” to attack the soldiers. “This is a chemical weapon, and if poured on a soldier it can paralyze him,” an unnamed army source told Katz. “If the sulfur is then lit on fire, the soldier will light up like a torch.” Yedioth Aharanot’s Hanan Greenberg also reported, “IDF fears flotilla activists will try to kill Israeli soldiers.” And Haaretz hyped the claim in Hebrew.

Today, the army’s story was exposed as disinformation. First, Yedioth Aharonot military correspondent Alex Fishman reported, “There is no information that there is going to be a group of radicals on board that will form a hard core of violent resistance against IDF soliders. Nor is there any clear information about live weapons that will be on board the ships.” Then, a group of Israeli government ministers accused the army of “media spin” and “public relations hysteria” for claiming the flotilla passengers planned to attack soldiers with chemical weapons.

And now, an Israeli army official (who curiously did not want to give me her name) has refused to supply me with any evidence to support the army’s wild claims. As I wrote during Israel’s disinformation spree in the wake of last year’s flotilla, nothing the Israeli army says can be trusted. Unfortunately, many reporters still accept the army’s claims on trust, while others do not even bother to investigate.