Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post, was on campus yesterday afternoon and the subject of his lecture was Israel in the eyes of the foreign media.
The lecture, which coincided with Hans Blix’s, was not promoted heavily and I wasn’t the only person in the audience to learn about it at the last minute. Unlike the al-Jazeera lecture of April 13, 2005, this one was sparsely attended, with an audience of only 40 or so. He’s a most interesting guy, and I decided to post nearly all my notes on the lecture.
Hoffman’s main contact at his job is giving interviews with foreign media, such as CNN, BBC. Of them, mostly al-Jazeera is tremendously interested in what’s going on in the country. When the Prime Minister gave a 45-minute long press conference regarding rape accusations, the local TV stations stopped after the first 20 minutes, but al-Jazeera carried the whole press conference. Having the al-Jazeera coverage not only in the conflict but in cultural and social events in the country shows the Arab world that Israel has more to offer than the conflict.
During the Barak years there was no foreign media spokesman, and the only on who spoke English detested Barak.
The Israeli military studied what happened in Jenin – where the fighting was reported as a massacre against the Palestinians, something that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, the troops had gone house-to-house to minimize casualties while trying to find terrorists. As there was no foreign media to do the reporting, the Palestinians got out a blood libel. From then on, the Israeli mililitary have made very effort possible to make sure the media go everywhere they go. No doubt this has improved how Israel comes across in the foreign media.
In contrast, last Summer there was a lot of media based in Jerusalem – and the media understood that it was Israel’s international border that was being defended.
Israel faces four major threats:
Internal rifts inside Isr society that threaten to tear from within: Divides between rich poor, Askenazi/Spahardic, Right/Left, all thses issues divide israelis.
The most scary? Iran.
Nuclear weapons: having them at all because if Iran has them the entire country of Israel would be the way Northern Israel was last country within range last Summer: The whole country would have to go down south or underground. Who would want to live in such a country? Iran is also developing longer range missiles to reach Europe; the US has established an antimissile base in Poland. Additionally, Iran supports Chavez; Iran then talks about the Jewish state from Israel and in Florida.
However, Hoffman genuinely thinks things will be alright, as the issue’s being handled discreetly at the highest levels. Olmert has been helping the country by networking with foreign powers ever since he was mayor of Jerusalem, and continues to this day, travelling to Russia China, Egypt London, US, and France, returning more optimistic after each visit.
A second reason for optimism: what is going on in American politcs. A lame duck President has to worry only about his place in history; if he saves the wold from nuclear destruction that will certainly earn him a place. The Democrat oposition now they alreay have the blue states and a way to gain red states is to prove they are tough. There’s a stream of Dem candidates visiting Israel, plus they want the Republicans to deal with Iran before they go the White House.
Additionally, the previous UN Secretary General never understood the fundamentalism threat. Now Ban Ki-moon’s trying to prevent North Korea from developing atomic weapons, but Iran is also a top priority.
Politics inside Iran: Ahmadinejad is losing the support of his people and there’s anger against him. As mayor, he improved the conditions of Tehran but has now brought the world against Iran. The Iranians need outside assistance to feed their people. Israel is hopeful that sanctions will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
What matters most is the politics in Israel. Used to be that generals were in charge, now Olmert is in charge but Israelis trust generals more. Hoffman said that in 62 days, Peretz (Minister of Defense) will be replaced, and the 2 leading candidates are miliary men. Israel needs a ough guy as Min of Def, as Nassralla head of Hizbollah, said last Summer that he wanted to test the weak leadership.
Ofense and defense
Defense: Israel has the Arrow Missile Defense System, which was tested again yesterday.
Ofense: Israel won’t be acting alone but with the countries that Olmert visited this last year acting together. When an Israeli general said last year, “Sometimes the last resort is the only resort”, it was the first time anyone had hinted at military option. In Iran they are scared of Israel, and the enemies are still scared of the Jewish state.
I’ll continue on this post later today. Continuing:
The threat from Syria and Lebanon:
Hoffman went to the north during the bombing last Summer. Dodging missiles and living in shelters was terrible for Israel to endure. However, the media didn’t get to see any of the damage because Iraelis don’t dwell in their victimhood. After suicide bombings they clean up immediately, and everything had been rebuilt immediately after the bombings from Lebanon. Israelis have resilience and morbid sense of humor.
They have to prepare for another war next Summer: those 4000 missiles that Hezbollah shot at Israel last year have already been replenished by Assad/Syria. Everybody in the military’s been recalled for retraining. There will be pressure on Olmert to quit after results of investigation on what went wrong comes out.
Assad has three pictures in his office: his father’s, Ahmadinejad’s, and Nassarallah’s.
The other threat are the Palestinians:
In the 14 months since they elected Hamas, Irsael had elected the government most willing to make accommodations that could have ended the conflict. Israel gave them two conditions: disarmament, and accepting the existence of Israel. Not a country in the world was supporting the Hamas government until last week, when Norway broke the boycott to spite Europe. At that time a suicide bomber was caught and a sniper attacked; Hamas claimed credit for that sniper, signaling that it’s not very smart to join Norway.
The Q&A Session:
My question was, what is being done with reporters like Charles Enderlin, who uses stringers that make up reports out of whole cloth?
Israel has a problem with foreign reporters having to rely on stringers. While Israelis speak freely in a divided kind of way, on the Palestenian street people won’t say anything out of fear from their lives. An organization in Israel has offered Arabic speakers to translate in the Palestinian areas.
2. How about the BBC’s fairness?
BBC sometimes is not very fair to Israel.
Al-Jazeera has never interviewed him three-against-one, the Israeli against the Arab, the Palestinian and the Lebanese.
When they interviewed him in London, the first question was “is this a land-grab?”, after the withdrawal from Gaza.
Israel is not given the benefit of the doubt. He tells them that the people of Israel want peace.
3. How important is the issue of recognition?
For Israel, it’s very important that its enemies allow it to exist. “Don’t kill us.”
4. What is the difference between al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, and the new all-Arabic BBC?
By allowing Israel’s Arab-language spokespeople on Arab media, it is good for Israel because they see more Israelis as people and not enemies. As far as actual news, foreigneers and rich Arabs tend to watch al-Jazeera, but al-Arabiya’s on TV screens throughtot arab world.
Update, Wednesday March 28
On a related subject, BBC pays £200,000 to ‘cover up report on anti-Israel bias’
The BBC has been accused of “shameful hypocrisy” over its decision to spend £200,000 blocking a freedom of information request about its reporting in the Middle East.
The corporation is fighting a landmark High Court action, which starts next week, in a bid to prevent the public finding out what is in the review, which is believed to be critical of the BBC’s coverage in the region.
BBC bosses have faced repeated claims that is coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been skewed by a pro-Palestianian bias.
The corporation famously came under fire after middle-east correspondent Barbara Plett revealed that she had cried at the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004.
The BBC’s decision to carry on pursuing the case, despite the fact than the Information Tribunal said it should make the report public, has sparked fury as it flies in the face of claims by BBC chiefs that it is trying to make the corporation more open and transparent.
Politicians have branded the BBC’s decision to carry on spending money, hiring the one of the country’s top public law barrister in the process, as “absolutely indefensible”.
They claim its publication is clearly in the public interest.
The BBC’s determination to bury the report has led to speculation that the report was damning in its assessment of the BBC’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict that the BBC wants to keep it under wraps at all costs.
h/t The Anchoress