Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Israeli elections are coming up, but first its time for a war.

There's no good moral basis for Israel's attack. While Hamas has been firing rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel intermittently for a long time, Israel apparently now "has to act." Why it didn't "have to act" at some point before is unclear.

The notion of having no choice but to attack is a neat trick. It's meant to legitimize anything, no matter how extreme. In fact, Israel didn't have to do anything. It chose one specific policy option, and the costs to Israel -- short term and particularly long term -- of it's choice will likely be significant.

As usual, there's a wider range of debate in Israel about the policy options and their consequences than there is here in the U.S.

On the right wing, there's a trendy notion, noted by Glenn Greenwald, that if Israel kills civilians, that's actually a good thing, because it will show the Arabs who the boss is.

As for the Bush Administration, its decision to not explicitly demand a cease-fire, while not surprising, keeps us as the rogue state from the international community. And that's one thing the U.S. media have missed -- just how extreme that position is (more on the media later).

Obama's silence on the war is unimpressive. He speaks on some economic issues, but when he wants to avoid an issue, he falls back on the "one president at a time" thing. And there's Mike Bloomberg, who parachuted in to Israel for a quick campaign appearance over the weekend. Yuck.

Perhaps most frustrating are the congressional democrats. Several have spoken out critically of Israel (I'll steal Daniel Levy's list on this: Donna Edwards, Lois Capps, Joe Sestak, Earl Blumenauer, Betty McCollum, and Keith Ellison). But the Reid's and Pelosi's and the rest won't utter a word critical of Israel. As usual, the Democrats' policy on Israel is very different from that of Democratic voters: in a Rasmussen poll, 31% of Democrats supported Israel's action, while 55% said Israel should have sought a diplomatic solution.

As for the media in the U.S., it's been an interesting mixed bag. There's lots of sick stuff, but I think there's also some evidence of improvement.

The bad is epitomized by David Gregory's interview of Tzipi Livni on Meet the Press. MTP is supposed to be the "tough questions" show, though that's almost always not been the case. And it wasn't on Sunday: Gregory's questions were the softest of softballs. Greenwald has the rundown. Gregory didn't even ask Livni about her repeated assertion that there is "no humanitarian crisis" in Gaza, a claim that is easily debunked.

The on-the-ground reporting in Gaza by the top print media has been far more impressive, and in the face, no less, of an Israeli government that is banning journalists from entering Gaza. This hasn't become a major story in and of itself (why not?) but perhaps it will soon. The reporters are presumably quite frustrated about the situation; the NYT's Ethan Bronner went so far as to tell the AP that "Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed."

Luckily, several of the majors already had part-time staff or stringers in Gaza, and they have produced commendable work documenting the civilian casualties. The NYT has Taghreed El-Khodary (Jan 6, Jan 5 (page 1), Dec 31); the LAT has Rushdi abu Alouf (Jan 6, Jan 5, Dec 28) and the Washington Post has Reyham Abdel Kareem (Jan 6, Jan 5, Jan 2, Dec 31, Dec 30 (page 1), Dec 29 (page 1); the AP has Ibrahim Barzak (Jan 5, Dec 30, Dec 28) and NPR has Ahmed Abu-Hamdan (Jan 5). NPR has also had coverage of civilian casualties reported form outside Gaza (Dec 31, Dec 29).

Newsweek, of all places, surprised me. They ran a short essay by Aaron David Miller, "Obama Must Get Tough With Israel to Achieve Peace." And their big story this weekend bordered on reasonable:
"there is only one path to peace, and both sides know what it is—and yet neither side has been willing to take it. ... The current Olmert "shelf plan" is remarkably similar to the Clinton parameters: a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians make painful compromises on the core issues of territory, security, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

I haven't seen much of the TV coverage. The clips I saw of the Sunday morning shows were rather pathetic. Ashraf Khalil of the LATimes says that Al-Jazeera has led the pack, by far, in covering Gaza.

I think what's missing the most is a bigger picture examination of what Israel has to gain or lose from this attack -- and of what the U.S. policy options would be beyond blindly supporting anything the Israeli administration does. It's a bit too easy to forget, reading this stuff, that the U.S.'s policy is extreme, and there's no reason it has to be this way.

Also, the U.S. media almost all went with the "Hamas started it" storyline, which sort of misses the point, and isn't really true anyhow (FAIR says almost all the media got it wrong, with the notable exception of an Ethan Bronner article).

All of that said, some bits of the coverage I mentioned above gives me some hope that we're moving ever so slightly in the right direction. And within the Jewish community in the U.S. (and I mean the people, the organizations, and pundits), there's good reason to believe that we've seen some improvement (see Jane Hamsher's coverage of this).

I should say that Jon Stewart's show Monday night was a much more serious take on this than just about anything else I've seen.

Update 2: Ethan Bronner has a story now specifically about Israel blocking journalists from covering Gaza (Jan 7).


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