April 24, 2002
Scheer Watch

Robert Scheer has a new column up, and while it is not as odious as his past two columns, I still have a few issues with it.

The claim, hotly expressed in thousands of angry e-mails and subscription cancellations, that the U.S. media are anti-Israel is so absurd as to suggest hysteria. Are American Jews in such deep denial about the brutality of Israel's recent actions that they would damn those who report the truth?

No, I don't think so. The problem many people (Jews and non-Jews alike) have with the coverage is that, despite the fact that it is much more balanced than what Europe is producing, it is still biased against Israel.

Scheer's paper, the Los Angeles Times, is a case in point. There was a Pro-Israeli rally in Van Nuys on Sunday that attracted 60,000 people, and featured *BOTH* Gray Davis, the current governor (who is running for reelection) and Bill Simon, his GOP opponent, as well as several other notable speakers. The Times ignored this rally altogether. They also had rather slim support for the rally in Washington five days earlier, which had 100,000 people in attendance, along with prominent congressmen, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, they have had coverage of the little pro-Palestinian rallies that have sprung up through the LA area. This is bias, which Scheer does not seem to notice.

Certainly the American media are far more sympathetic to Israel than publishers and journalists in the rest of the world. This is particularly true in Western Europe, perhaps reflecting the widespread public sympathy there for the Palestinians, as measured in recent polls. Not that sympathy for Israelis, bloodied repeatedly by a merciless bombing campaign targeting civilians, is not equally warranted. It is my view that the prime historical responsibility for the failure to make peace in the Mideast lies with the refusal of the Arab nations to accept the justifiable existence of the Jewish state. However, the traditional absence of acknowledgement in U.S. news reporting of the ongoing victimization of the Palestinians, powerless from the beginning of their displacement half a century ago, is callously immoral.

As I pointed out, the European press, especially the British "elite" papers such as the Guardian, are appallingly anti-Israel. I am not talking about support for the Palestinians, I am talking about attacks on Israel, on Sharon, on the IDF, and even on Jews living outside of the Middle East altogether. I wonder how much of the support for the Palestinians in Europe is due to the wildly lopsided coverage of the conflict in Israel, and how it would shift if Europeans were to read American or Israeli news reports.

The Palestinians were not displaced by Israel, they were displaced by the invading armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq when they attacked Israel in 1948. Israel did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip until after the 1967 war. In between, Jordan (which annexed the West Bank) and Egypt (which annexed the Gaza Strip) were not particularly interested in improving conditions for the residents of these two areas, nor for the refugees created by the Arab-instigated wars. (It is true that Israel invaded first in both 1956 and 1967, but both of these wars were caused by Arabic blockades of Eilat and constant shelling of northern Israel by the Syrians and Lebanese; the Israelis had a valid casus belli in each case). It is also notable that despite the Arab claims of the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa mosque (on the Temple Mount), not even one Arabic political or major religious leader visited the mosque between 1948 and 1967. In fact, none of the Arabic leaders visited "Arabic East Jerusalem" at all during that time.

Palestinian victimization is not being ignored here in the US; look at all of the coverage of the alleged Jenin Massacre, and the sympathetic (sycophantic might be a better word) tales of the "plight" of the terrorists holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, or the stories about how the "cruel" Israelis are stopping ambulances to check for explosives. All of these stories have received widespread coverage here in the US.

Moreover, no group is so safely denigrated in the mass media of this country, particularly in film, as "the Arabs," who became the enemy of choice in post-Cold War movie-making in such films as "True Lies." And no group is as underrepresented in the media work force; there are more than 3 million Arab Americans, yet it is exceedingly rare to find one working as a newspaper reporter or TV news personality.

It is rather pathetic for Scheer to reach back eight years to find a single major film with Arabic villains, while he simultaneously ignores the successful effort by CAIR to change the villains in "The Sum of All Fears" from Arabic terrorists to European Neo-Nazis. While it is true that there have been a number of movies with anti-Arab themes ("Rules of Engagement" comes to mind) there is no more malignant stereotyping of Arabs coming from Hollywood then there is of, say, Republicans or big business executives.

While it is true that Arab-Americans do not have a big presence in the news world, that may be due to the career paths that Arabs choose in the US. There are a *lot* of Arabic doctors, probably far more than a proportionate share, but that is not a problem. Conversely, there are not a lot of Arabic NHL hockey players, but I doubt there will be a lot of coverage on THAT issue. Scheer has tried this line before, and while he does not state it explicitly this time, the implication is that there is a concerted effort to keep them out of the newsroom and off the screens of our televisions. This is not the case.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors doesn't even include Arabs or Muslims in its annual monitoring of groups underrepresented in the nation's newsrooms. Surely, if there were even a sprinkling of people in the news biz who were hearing from relatives in Ramallah or Jenin, it would influence the way events are interpreted.

Perhaps this is because there are no allegations of bias against Arabic/Muslim journalists, except from Robert Scheer and the folks over at CAIR. While I concede that having a relative in a war zone would probably result in increased coverage, there is no guarantee that it would be any more accurate than what we are seeing now, and given the Palestinian Authority's concerted media campaign, I would wonder if the relatives were reporting with a PA gun to their head, telling the reporter what the PA wanted disseminated.

Jews are not underrepresented in the U.S. media ranks, and it is a testament to their professionalism that their coverage is balanced. Odd, though, that other Jews deem their work prejudiced against Israel and at times even anti-Semitic; the convenient denigration is that a Jewish journalist who dares disagree with the more hawkish actions of Israel must be consumed with self-hate.

It is interesting how this canard has come home to roost. The left has used the "self-hatred" label for years when they are dealing with minorities who don't behave like good minorities should (in other words, support the left-wing agenda of most minority advocacy groups). It is particularly common against blacks such as Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and gays such as (Log Cabin Republican leader) Rich Tafel. It is still wrong. Most of the criticism against Jewish apologists for the Palestinians has nothing to do with alleged self-hate, just blind stupidity.

Full disclosure: I am Jewish and I daily converse with Jewish friends and acquaintances whose relatives, including their children, are living through the hell that suicide bombers have brought to the heart of Israel's civic life. Meanwhile, I have not a single acquaintance who is personally connected with anyone on the Palestinian side of events.

Scheer seems to think that this lends a greater aura of credibility to his pro-Palestinian biases. It does not. It just makes it all the more bewildering, since most reasonable people would feel a certain amount of anger towards a group that was killing and disrupting the lives of people for whom they care.

Scheer is remarkably like Robert Fisk, who still makes excuses for the Islamic extremists even after they beat him up. I cannot understand this mentality, and I am not sure I would ever want to understand. It is bizarre.

It would have been irresponsible for the media, Jewish or not, to fail to report the depressing accounts of United Nations and other observers that the Israeli onslaught was aimed at destroying all signs of civic life as well as the stated purpose of rooting out terror.

The media have failed to report on the true scope of the destruction in Jenin—it is nowhere near as bad as the pictures imply. All of the destruction is confined to a small area, one which the terrorists holed up in the camp had booby-trapped the buildings and mined the roads in an attempt to keep the Israelis away from their weapons caches. As for wanton destruction, the Israelis concentrated on police stations and other Palestinian Authority buildings because they had turned into incubation areas for terrorist cells, and because they too were being used as caches for Palestinian weaponry and explosive devices.

Or to treat Palestinian civilian deaths as a necessary evil made legitimate because they are caused by U.S.-supplied tanks and choppers rather than by suicide bombers.

I am so sick and tired of seeing this line. Did he get it from Noam Chomsky, or was it in Mother Jones? It does not matter where the weapons are from, but the anti-American left loves trying to tie American arms sales to any deaths they can find in an effort to discredit our foreign policy. The Palestinian deaths are not due to deliberate targeting of civilians, as are the suicide bombings. The vast majority of Palestinian deaths are of those who were actively attacking Israel. There were civilian deaths, to be sure, but not on the scale of the deaths of Israeli civilians. The Israeli reaction was justified because the Palestinians kept killing innocent Jews.

There was a time when the Zionist pioneers did not have tanks and helicopters and also placed bombs to get rid of the British occupiers.

Yes, and they were also condemned as terrorists. The difference is that they stopped killing indiscriminately, whereas the Arabic terrorists have not.

Remember, Hezbollah was formed to get the Israelis out of Lebanon. Well, the Israelis *are* gone from Lebanon, and Hezbollah is still around, and has taken to attacking Israelis in Israel. I doubt that they will stop if Israel withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza; they will see it as a validation of their tactics, and continue the attacks in an attempt to gain further concessions from the Israelis.

There is no easy way to end this standoff, but the Palestinians need to realize that they need to stop the attacks and recognize Israel before any meaningful dialogue occurs. I cannot imagine Israel ever making an offer as generous as the one Ehad Barak made at Camp David less than two years ago, because all of the concessions have come from their side. All they got for their efforts was 500 more dead Jews. Arafat has not budged at all, and has demonstrated an unwillingness to control the bombers and work with the Israelis to find a lasting solution.

posted on April 24, 2002 09:40 PM


Scotum: Read David Horowitz's "Radical Son" for a glimpse into the opportunistic mind-set of Scheer. Horowitz worked with him back in his days at "Ramparts" magazine.

posted by Media Minder on April 26, 2002 05:48 PM

I haven't read Radical Son, but Horowitz also discusses Scheer at some length in Hating Whitey, and other Progressive Causes. By the time I had read about Scheer, I was already convinced that he was an idiot. Having Horowitz state the same thing reaffirmed my views.

posted by scutum on April 29, 2002 06:48 PM

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