Tag Archives: media

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.

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.

After Itamar: Exploring the cynical logic that makes everyone a target

Everyone is rushing to condemn the gruesome murder of a family in the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to offer his “unequivocal condemnation” of the murders. For what it’s worth (very little), I offer my own denunciation of the killings. Murdering kids can not be justified on any human level. However, even if the motives of the killer seem obvious to everyone, journalists covering the incident must be reminded there is no hard evidence that a Palestinian terrorist committed the crime. No viable armed faction has taken credit, and Israeli police are even treating Thai workers as suspects.

Itamar is heavily guarded, surrounded by an electrified fence, and monitored 24/7 by a sophisticated system of video surveillance. Yet there is no video of the killer. Like it or not, until the identity of the killer is confirmed, the murder can only be described by journalists as an “alleged terror attack.” Legitimate outrage is no excuse to flout the basics of journalism 101.

Given the amount of violence visited upon local Palestinians by the residents of Itamar and nearby settlements, I will not be surprised if the killer turns out to be a rogue Palestinian bent on revenge. In one instance documented in 2007, settlers from Itamar stabbed a 52-year-old shepherd named Mohammad Hamdan Ibrahim Bani Jaber to death while he tended to his flock. Routine attacks from Itamar have prompted the near-total evacuation of the village Izbat Al Yanoon, while settlers from nearby Jewish colony of Yitzhar have staged homemade rocket attacks on local Palestinians and torched their mosques. As I have reported, Yitzhar is home to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the notorious “Torat Hamelech,” which uses rabbinical sources to justify the killing of non-Jewish civilians, including children, in combat situations.

Medical Xray of live ammunition lodge in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

Medical x-ray of live ammunition lodged in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

A year ago in nearby Palestinian farming villages Awarta and Iraq Burin, Israeli soldiers were accused of executing local youths during riots against settlement expansion. As Jesse Rosenfeld reported, despite the clear evidence of execution style killings, none of the soldiers who held the Palestinians in custody at the time they were shot were convicted of any crimes. And to my knowledge, no official American response followed. Thus the besieged villages near Itamar have been left without any recourse or legal means to redress their harassment and murder.

Israel’s method of occupation and its military rules of engagement — which are supported by the US in spirit and through acts like the recent UN settlement resolution veto — openly skirt international law, eliminating any outside mechanism for mediating conflict or redressing the grievances of civilians harmed by war. Under these terms, where distinctions between civilians and combatants are deliberately blurred in order to deepen Israel’s control over land gained through military conquest, horrific attacks like the kind allegedly witnessed in Itamar become all the more possible.

To establish an ethical basis for military operations aimed at consolidating the occupation, the Israeli army has turned to Zionist academics like Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher. In the service of the army, Kasher churned out elaborate manifestoes justifying Israel’s tactics during Lebanon II and Operation Cast Lead. Kasher’s concepts of warfare are best defined by his explicit justifications for killing unarmed civilians in any instance when an Israeli soldier believed that they were in danger. Kasher strained his logic to the point that he highlighted the 2004 US invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, when American troops fired white phosphorous shells into the city center and demolished hundreds of homes, to justify Israeli actions in Gaza. “If it’s between the soldier and the terrorist’s neighbor, the priority is the soldier,” Kasher said. “Any country would do the same.”

Another academic with close ties to the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus, Professor Arnon “the Arab Counter” Soffer of Haifa University, urged the army to massacre Palestinian civilians after the withdrawal from the illegal settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza. Soffer, who devised the separation wall policy in order to confine the Palestinians of the West Bank to what he called “three sausages,” reasoned that mass murder was the only way to maintain the security of the Southern Israeli perimeter communities while avoiding political concessions to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

“When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Soffer argued. “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” And that is exactly what Israel did when it followed Soffer’s logic in Operation Cast Lead. (Note the use of the word “animal” in Soffer’s language and in the language of Israelis responding to the murders in Itamar; the word is essentially a signal to kill Palestinians indiscriminately).

While Soffer and Kasher have both served as outside consultants for Israeli governments and the army, another advocate for slaughtering Palestinian civilians, Yaakov Amidror, has been appointed to serve as Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor. “That’s a totally illegal order,” Amidror once snapped at Israeli news anchor Haim Yavin, who had said that Israeli soldiers were instructed to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. “What should be said is ‘kill more of the bastards on the other side, so that we’ll win.’ Period.” Amidror has criticized Kasher for formalizing the army’s ethical code — “I said this should remain unwritten, so there wouldn’t be anything written, as [then] it would become technical,” he declared — and even called for the on-site execution of Israeli soldiers who refused to advance in battle. (Amidror also happens to be a religious settler who lives in the West Bank.)

Kasher, Soffer, and Amidror’s arguments relating to the killing of civilians are eerily similar to those advanced in a halakhic context by religious nationalist rabbis. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of Yitzar, a settlement that neighbors Itamar, has written in his book “Torat Hamelech” that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” A guide for anyone pondering when killing goyim is permissible, the book has been described by Rabbi Dov Lior of the settlement Kiryat Arba as “very relevant, especially in this time.” Lior, who has said that “gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring,” is also a firm advocate of slaughtering Palestinian civilians. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who reveled the officers with his views on modern warfare: “no such thing as civilians in wartime.” (For his part, Ronski has urged Israeli troops to show Palestinian civilians “no mercy.”)

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

So what is the difference between rabbis like Lior and Shapira and secular academics like Kasher and Soffer? I put this question to a 20-something settler (he is the last guy I interviewed in this video) during a rally in defense of the publication of “Torat Hamelech.” “Well, the difference is that someone like Kasher is speaking from his kishkes [guts],” the settler told me. “But Yitzhak Shapira is speaking from Torah; he’s speaking from Hashem.” In other words, the philosopher and the rabbi share a philosophy that justifies killing non-Jewish civilians, but the ethicist uses rational arguments rooted in secular Enlightenment thought, while the rabbi claims to be translating for God from ancient documents. In the end, both are working to cultivate an environment in which legal and moral protections for civilians are discarded in order to advance the maximalist goals of Jewish nationalism.

During his opening statement in his debate against Judge Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University on November 5, 2009, former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold claimed that the Goldstone Report was in fact an attack on Israeli society. In a section entitled “Maligning Israeli Society,” Gold and Lt. Col. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi wrote: “The language used by the UN Gaza report — and the gravity of its allegations about “deliberate” Israeli attacks on civilians — maligns Israeli society as a whole, for the Israel Defense Forces is a citizen’s army, an army which is made up of the people of Israel.”

In Gold’s own words, there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers — the army is society. Without knowing it, Gold deployed the very same argument Palestinian militant factions have used to justify suicide attacks inside Israel and the murder of the children of settlers in the West Bank. Thus Gold revealed the extent to which the process of comprehensively militarizing Jewish Israeli society — a central goal of Zionism since the days of Joseph Trumpeldor — had obliterated the distinction between civilian and combatant, transforming every human being into a possible target.

In such an environment, horrific violence against the innocent is not only possible, but inevitable. Of course, most of the violence will be meted out against the Palestinians, who live under a seemingly permanent occupation with negligible deterrent capacity and no political rights. But Israelis must also live in this moral wasteland and face the depressing consequences. Having to someday accept that they were responsible for its creation might be the cruelest fate of all.

Another IDF Claim Unravels: IDF Unable To Support Claim Of Terrorists Aboard Flotilla Ship

The IDF has distributed a press release claiming that it has evidence that five passengers on the Mavi Marmara were “active terror operatives.” The army’s claims appeared thin at best, and patently false at worst. When I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to ask for evidence, I was told there was none; all of the IDF’s claims were attributed to “intelligence” it could not share with reporters.

“The information in the statement comes based on intelligence,” Army spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me. “I don’t have any further information I can give.”

I pressed Arad to at least describe the intelligence he had seen. “There is very limited intelligence information we can give in this specific case,” he said. “Obviously I’m unable to give you more information.” He referred me to a colleague at the IDF’s North American desk. She did not answer after numerous tries. I’m going to call again tomorrow; journalist Lia Tarachansky has also placed a call to a spokesman and yielded similar responses which I’ll transcribe here soon.

One of the most bizarre accusations the IDF made was that former American citizen and ex-Marine Ken O’Keefe was planning to “train a commando unit” in the Gaza Strip. That’s the same Ken O’Keefe who organized an aid boat to Gaza, Aloha Palestine, with the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, Lauren Booth. In recent days, O’Keefe has been a major presence in the international media, giving his account of the melee on the deck of Mavi Marmara. Why would Hamas want some middle aged American guy with no experience in guerilla warfare to train its elite forces? The answer is the IDF is probably trying to smear O’Keefe to discredit his withering assessment of their conduct during the flotilla raid. “All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns,” O’Keefe has declared.

Hussein Arosh was implicated by the IDF for allegedly planning to “assist in smuggling Al-Qaeda operatives via Turkey into the Strip.” This claim is highly implausible. Why would Hamas allow Al Qaida operatives into the Gaza Strip when it is actively engaged in crushing any Al Qaida sympathizers who crop up within the territory it controls. Last year, Hamas forces killed 21 members of an Al Qaida inspired group in a battle in the Gaza Strip.

Another unusual IDF accusation was that the US resident Fatimah Mahmadi is a terrorist because she is “an active member of the organization ‘Viva Palestine’” who “attempted to smuggle forbidden electronic components into the Gaza Strip.” (I think the IDF means Viva Palestina, not Viva Palestine). Viva Palestina is not registered as a terrorist group by any country in the world; it is the British parliamentarian George Galloway’s pro-Palestine outfit, which is planning to organize more aid convoys.

The IDF’s press release did not appear credible in any way. If any reporters from the Israeli press had bothered to call the IDF to demand evidence, they would have learned that there was none. At least in Israel, the media is serving as a useful tool for the army. Just look at this piece by Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.