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Debased Debate

I am continually struck by how utterly impoverished the “debate”  on Israel and the Middle East is in the South African media. Of course, part of this is the result of relentless propaganda aimed, for the most part, at the very lowest common denominator in our population.

Where it briefly strays from crude invective and grandstanding, almost all the articles are characterised by glib sloganeering, misrepresentation, decontextualisation and a pervasive ideological bias originating in the assumption that the guilty party is already established, Israel, and the only task is to activate the reader into a state of moral outrage.

May be language is better, especially if you are not sensitive to academic verbosity and obscurantism, but the content is the same: a deep ignorance and profound dishonesty at the very heart of the debate.

Here are some simple examples.

  1. 1.      E-TV recently aired a brief clip of a crying Palestinian child purportedly brutally separated from its parents and charged for ‘stone-throwing” by a heartless Israeli military police.

Here is a factual check from Arutz Sheva “The IDF said on Friday that a five-year-old Palestinian Authority Arab boy detained by troops for throwing stones had endangered public safety but had not been formally arrested.

The boy, Wadi’ Maswada, was detained for an hour or two by IDF soldiers on Tuesday after he threw rocks near the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron. The leftist B’tselem group later disseminated a video in which the soldiers are shown taking the boy to his parents’ home. The soldiers reportedly waited there until the arrival of the boy’s father, Karim Maswada, some 30minutes later.

The boy and his father were then taken to the IDF’s command centre nearby and handed over to Palestinian Authority police.

Throughout the event, the boy is accompanied by an Arab youth who holds his hand, and who appears to be his relative.”

Now why did that not appear in the report I wonder?

2.      Here is something else you won’t find in the SA media:

Three-year-old Adelle Biton, who was critically wounded in a rock terror attack in Samaria in March, was allowed to be temporarily discharged from the hospital on Friday so she can spend the weekend at home with her family. Adelle was transferred in May to the Beit Levinstein Hospital for rehabilitation after being in critical condition for 2.5 months.

3.     And here again:

Three Arabs attacked an 18-year-old Jew at the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday evening. The Arabs kicked the Jew and spit on him. They then fled the scene, but police caught up with them and arrested them. The 18-year-old who was attacked did not require medical attention. Police said they believe that the attack was nationalistically motivated and that the Arabs attacked the Jew simply because he is Jewish.”

But of course, that is simply resistance. Here are some resistance statistics: “According to their statistics, there were 5,635 attacks in the first half of 2013 against Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Greater Jerusalem regions alone, including 61 1 molotov cocktail attacks and 5,1 44 rock attacks. In addition, there were 8 shooting attacks and 3 stabbing attacks. In total, the violence left 1 person dead and 1 7 1 injured, including a 3 year-old girl who was seriously injured.”

 Also “resistance”? How convenient a term.


Just imagine you are an ordinary South African trying to make sense of the Middle East. Well there are reports of the violence and chaos rife in the region (EXPURGATED I may add. When did you hear of a Syrian rebel cutting out a victim’s heart and eating it?) but somehow these get decoupled from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But, we are given to understand, the Palestinians are peaceable lambs and easy prey for Israel which has nothing better to do than to find ways to oppress them. Should you ask what benefit the Israelis actually derive considering the costs involved, you will be met with a blank stare – it can only be attributed to inherent Israeli greed, fanaticism and brutality. Funny, they seem reasonably rational in other respects.

There is much marvellously informative and enlightening material on the conflict and I want to create a page to bring such useful and stimulating analysis and information to your attention. Unfortunately, you won’t find it in the South African media.

But, in the meantime, here is an article I submitted to Business Day. So far I have had zero response, despite following up, but at least you can see it. Our challenge is not only to counter the crude lies and selective reportage but to bring an added depth and information to an audience being brainwashed by a brainwashed media.

Submitted to o Business Day:

Pallo Jordan (business Day, 7 July “Egyptian coup could set stage for Arab winter” says much that one can agree with and little that provokes vehement rejection. In fact, even the headline subtly misrepresents his position which never unambiguously claimed that the “coup” per se was the likely tipping point.

Nevertheless, his piece is a subtle whitewash of the Muslim Brotherhood and indirectly suggests that military intervention will be to blame for the likely collapse of the democratic project in Egypt. He praises the African Union for their rejection of the “coup” – we can agree on the use of the word, even though it represented the will of a vast number of Egyptians and was necessary to avert the collapse of an economically desperate country into violent chaos. In so doing Jordan implies that, absent the military coup, Egypt was on track towards a pluralistic democracy; somewhere along the lines of European Christian democratic nations.

This is patent nonsense. Morsi, even before he narrowly became president by marginally free and fair elections, was no democrat. He was a committed Islamist whose creed was enunciated by al Banna about 85 years ago and encapsulated in the slogan “the Koran is our Constitution”. That slogan has been repeatedly confirmed by its chief ideologues and by its praxis over the succeeding decades. Eric Trager of The New Republic, a progressive American publication, spells out the credo of the Brotherhood: “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

 Only two years before being elected president, Morsi called Jews “the descendent of apes and pigs”, going on for good measure to say they were “hostile by nature” and to oppose any attempt at negotiation or compromise with Israel. He accused the Palestinian Authority of being a Zionist front and rejected aid from America – a stance he subsequently reversed out of dire necessity.

The left-wing analyst,  Alon Ben-Meir, described Morsi’s brief and disastrous reign as follows: “he subordinated politics to religion and succumbed to the conservative and religious branch of Islamists…He worked tirelessly to consolidate his powers while doing next to nothing to save the economy from pending collapse. He placed himself above judicial review and largely appointed fellow Brothers into key posts while allowing Brotherhood hooligans to beat up liberal opponents…he undermined the core of freedom of speech by intimidating the media and failing to build democratic institutions. Moreover, he pushed for a new constitution fully reliant on Sharia law, expanded blasphemy prosecutions, and supported discrimination against women.”

This hardly resembles democracy, Christian or secular, and it is pure wishful thinking to suggest Morsi, either in terms of personal temperament or ideology, was remotely capable of sparking an Egyptian democratic evolution.

If the issues in the Middle East or globally could be reduced to Morsi’ failings it would be indeed good news. But the overwhelming evidence indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood philosophy (of which Morsi is by no means an extreme proponent) has spawned a swarm of ideological offshoots ranging from openly terrorist entities like al-Qaeda and Hamas to ostensibly moderate and even democratic organisations, located in key Western states.

But John Wade in “Standpoint” has written a balanced but damning indictment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the UK, USA and elsewhere. As he puts it “No, the problem of violent extremism lies with the political and ideological strain injected into Islam by the Muslim Brothers for 85 years — a strain which is not, at its heart, compatible with a pluralistic, open-minded, tolerant, liberal society (my emphasis). Woolwich (the brutal stabbing of a British soldier in broad daylight) was the very extreme end of this ideology: a misplaced grievance narrative, cosmic anti-Semitism, and violently inflammatory rhetoric. To deny that this brew cannot possibly be a product of the political variant of Islam (as distinct from its religious one) is not merely complacent. It is also irresponsible.”

 These extracts are a tiny sample, and by no means the most virulent, of the thought processes and aims of the Muslim Brotherhood, its offshoots and clones. In fact, it is the default position of a considerable portion of the Arab-Muslim street against which genuinely enlightened and democratic forces within Muslim society are fighting, with little help from their natural allies, Western progressives.

 The failure of Pallo Jordan, who I hope would not object being termed a “social democrat”, to unambiguously oppose or even identify such movements can be attributed to a variety of motives. Amongst these is the laudable desire not to be seen as Islamophobic. But such misplaced political correctness simply opens the door to reaction from legitimately frightened Western democrats and to rightwing bigots who hate Muslims, Jews and Blacks with equal vehemence.

 But more sinisterly, I would surmise that Jordan and his camp (pervasive in the media and academia) whitewash such inherently fascist and oppressive movements because they are anti-Western and anti-Israel – when they are not openly anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, a substantial segment of Western progressives (liberals in the American misplaced terminology) have fallen into the trap of a knee-jerk anti-Westernism under the more palatable cover of multi-culturalism, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.

 It takes genuine courage and independence for a Western progressive to unambiguously oppose the fake revolutionary and democratic claims of would be theocratic totalitarians. Jordan is, apparently, not one of them.”

Mike Berger




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