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New Beginnings AND Truth in Middle East Reporting

I have at long last made formal application for funding to professionalise SOLAR PLEXUS. The idea behind this is that SOLAR PLEXUS will be more than a site for the counter message of pro-Zionist opinion but become a resource for all those, especially within the South African community, interested in Israel and the Middle East – and indeed the wider world.

Its stance will remain firmly, but not uncritically, pro-Israel but I want to carefully introduce voices other than my own. One way of doing that will be to provide links to various resources which I found interesting or provocative or highly informative or some combination of these. Including a link does not imply total agreement with either the facts or arguments, but rather indicates that I found that the link resonated in some way with me – even if somewhat unpleasantly. But I also want to introduce individuals and alternate perspectives from within the South African community to add to the value of the content.

I also hope professionalising the site will help improve the format and layout and make it more user-friendly, diverse and appealing. Marketing is part of the process and here I am also dependent on the goodwill and efforts of others involved in the same project – though perhaps with a different emphasis. Of course it cuts both ways and I will help by publicising sites and material which are worthwhile.

So my main post today is an edited version of a talk I recently delivered to a delightful and intelligent Christian Zionist group. It was somewhat strange for me as a secular Jew to encounter people so interested in Jewish roots and culture from a perspective so different to my own. But there was no doubting their sincerity and calibre and we are fortunate to have such steadfast allies.

But before I go there here are some interesting quotes and links which some of you may want to follow up in time.


The radical Left in Israel and the world views everything that is happening in the Arab world, and not only there, as an almost deterministic product of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, racism and the hatred of the other in the West,… Anyone who dares to hold up a mirror to Arab society will not be able to return home without a crown of thorns placed on his head by the local and global Left with the inscription: “Racist, rightist and unenlightened.”  Shaul Rosenfeld

Our media outlets run a constant stream of post-Zionist propaganda that has reduced our elected representatives’ field of action to the size of a postage stamp.” Caroline Glick quoted by Martin Sherman

Those genuinely wishing to change prevailing realities must realize this and focus resources on emplacing, empowering, and promoting counter-elites – what I have termed in previous columns “intellectual warriors” – to replace the current “agenda-setters.” In the design and operation of such initiatives it is crucial to avoid “singing to the choir.” They must aim at reaching across the political divide, at challenging and discrediting the incumbent elites – in full view of their own constituenciesMartin Sherman

It is evident that the attacks (9/11), and others before and since on US and allied forces…have won the Islamist groups responsible considerable sympathy far beyond the Muslim world, including among those vehemently opposed from a variety of ideological perspectives to the principal manifestations of its power. It is striking, however, that – beyond such often visceral reactions – there are signs of a far more developed and politically articulated accommodation in many parts of the world between Islamism as a political force and many groups of the left. The latter show every indication of appearing to see some combination of al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah, Hamas, and (not least) Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as exemplifying a new form of international anti-imperialism that matches – even completes – their own historic project.” Fred Halliday.

Islamists learned and borrowed much from their secular rivals: styles of anti-imperialist rhetoric, systems of social reform, the organisation of the centralised party’…” Fred Halliday

There is also a mindset of anti-Jewish prejudice that is riven with racism and religious obscurantism. Only a few in the west noted what many in the Islamic world will have at once understood, that one of the most destructive missiles fired by Hizbollah into Israel bore the name “Khaibar” – not a benign reference to the pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the name of a victorious battle fought against the Jews by the Prophet Mohammad in the 7th century. ” Fred Halliday

“...To my great sorrow, everywhere in the world where there are Muslims there is murder, mass bloodshed and terrorist attacks. We should leave the Jews alone, they are not responsible for our tragedies and hating them will not cure the nation of Islam or bring it successfully into the 21st century.” Ali Salim

Critical to note, this report says, is that the water crisis in Syria cannot be viewed in any other terms than one of the main causes of this civil war, as faced with critical water shortages, Syrians crowding these farm towns since 2009 at the start of this nations historic drought had started drilling deeper for fresh water in the aquifer beneath them. EU Times

My note: the acute shortages of water in the Middle East and other environmental and social-organisational challenges are going to increase exponentially in the Middle East – and of course elsewhere. Only those states with the skills, insight and advanced social and political cultures will be able to meet them. Catastrophe awaits the majority of Middle East states. Besides the devastation faced by their own  communities the fall-out is already with us.

At this point I will leave the links for another post in about 7-10 days time and proceed directly to my current post: Enjoyable reading!

Truth in Middle East Reporting: BLOG

We’ll start by acknowledging the inevitability of some degree of conflict resulting from the influx of European Jews into the Middle East and the establishment of a Jewish State. Two totally different cultures, with different histories and motivations came into contact on the same piece of land. Whatever the rationale for the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state (and I accept these which is why I am a supporter) some degree of friction was inevitable.

But the influx of Jews also offered great promise to the region as recognised by the more far-sighted on both sides of the equation. Unfortunately a set of regional and global factors exacerbated conflict and the benign outcome never came about. This is a matter for another time.

But these and other factors have coalesced in the present to precipitate the collapse of much of the Arab-Islamic political order into violence and chaos with the rise of anarchic terror groups operating under a cloak of religious fundamentalism.

Throughout these events Israel has remained a democracy with a strong human-rights culture, an independent judiciary and freedom of expression. It has grown in technological, economic and military power; in short, it is an oasis of stability, innovation, creativity and democracy in the midst of an ecological, demographic and political disaster. This is utterly incontrovertible.

I say this without gloating. What is happening in the Middle East and surrounding regions is a vast human catastrophe which threatens the whole world in ways both predictable and unpredictable. Nor do I claim that Israel’s actions have always been wise or humane or honest. I do not claim that the creation of the Jewish state was some sort of “immaculate conception” if you will forgive the metaphor. Realpolitik is not always pretty. Israel suffers from many problems and shortcomings (which I am not going to list here) that need fixing.

Nevertheless, the contrast between Israel and the surrounding societies is so striking it seems inconceivable that any moderately educated or rational person would equate the two social systems. Nor, looking at history, and not at some Utopian ideal selectively applied to the single Jewish state in the world, can anyone believe that the creation of Israel is anywhere near the bottom in terms of morality.

But even more importantly, an Israel peacefully integrated into the fabric of the Middle East could be the lifeboat the region needs to rescue itself from the terrible fate which awaits it.

One of the obstacles to a benign outcome and which we need to understand is the following paradox: substantial segments of South Africa and the West  believe that Israel is the main threat to world peace, that Israel is the evil wedge of Western imperialism and that the Palestinians and Arabs are innocent victims rather than the chief architects of their backward, corrupt and xenophobic societies? This despite the daily evidence of the contrary.

There are a number of reasons for this. Among the more important, Israel serves the previous role of the Jew as a scapegoat or a smokescreen or to serve as a psychological lightening rod or as Machiavellian way of keeping a restive population focussed on an external threat.

But another important reason (and the focus of this post) is this. The Western Left has come to dominate most of academia – especially the humanities which are the crucible of the media. The journalists who staff and police our media are the products of a liberal-left discourse in which the tacit guilt of the West is an underlying and fundamental assumption of their worldview and which, through constant manipulation by experienced activists, has become focussed on Israel as the prime example of Western racism, militarism and imperialism.

Let me provide you with an example from correspondence I’ve had with a leading journalist on a very prominent newspaper; the kind of newspaper which sets the framework of discussion for a significant segment of the educated classes of this country. This journalist is no rabble-rouser. He is committed to the liberal virtue of free speech and the importance of good and independent journalism. But let’s explore his worldview and his psychological motivations in the form of a dialogue, in small part imaginary but mostly real.

 Dialogue (in the form of an interview)

I (interviewer): good morning Mr J (journalist). Welcome to our radio program. You are a senior journalist on a prestigious national newspaper with a considerable presence on the South African scene. You are respected for your commitment to high journalistic standards, sense of fair play and writing talent. You are now editor of the Comments and Analysis section. That must be a very different kettle of fish to the Arts.

J – Yes it is – much more passionate and heated. And thank you for that introduction.

I – You’re welcome. It gets rougher from here because I want to raise one of the hotter topics: the question of Israel. Although miles away from any apparent strategic interest of South Africa, a tiny country in a sea of violence and turmoil, it seems to attract an amazing amount of attention both passionately for and even more passionately against. What do you feel about that?

J – Well I suppose that is for a host of reasons. It seems to be in the public eye because it has been the locus of hostility and conflict going back for decades. It sits in a globally important strategic region. Jews attract a great deal of attention – partly because of their achievements and significance, partly due to their tragic history and now because Jewish Zionists are seen as occupiers of Palestinian land. In this country the “apartheid” analogy has strong resonances.

I – Indeed. You don’t mention anti-Semitism or Islamist extremism, but no matter. You do say Jews are “seen as occupiers of Palestinian land”. In fact elsewhere you say, and I quote “You can argue the settlements are not illegal, as has been done,…since 1967. I don’t buy it. The UN doesn’t buy it. And no amount of quibbling about it is going to convince anyone (though obviously it helps justify it to Israelis). I don’t want to read about it any more; it’s same old, same old. Even if the settlements aren’t technically illegal, they are wrong. This is the mainstream position

This is a strange statement. Surely the issue is the truth rather than what is the mainstream position. And mainstream positions are not forever. But you dismiss evidence as quibbling and “the same old, same old”. Why don’t you “buy it”? Have you seriously looked at the evidence? Do you know that the Balfour Declaration (in 1917) followed by the San Remo Conference (in 1920) and validated by the League of Nations, gave Jews the legal right to settle anywhere roughly between the Mediterranean and the area currently constituting Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan – all of which was regarded as Palestine to become the Jewish homeland? Are you aware that amputating 78% of Palestine to create the Arab state of Transjordan by the British was done in secret and was entirely illegal under the terms of the Mandate. And so on…

But even if we simply say what is past is past, the Arabs and Palestinians have never accepted the West Bank as their territory, neither in 1947 at partition, nor in 1949 when the armistice borders were established. Throughout Jordanian rule over the West Bank till 1967 and even subsequently the Palestinians did not claim or indeed accept the West Bank as their homeland. All this is spelt out in and is readily available. But even while you try to dismiss this as “quibbling” and “the same old, same old” you also cover yourself with the comment “even if the settlements aren’t technically  illegal, they are wrong”.

Why do you insert the word “technically”? Surely if they are not illegal, then it is Israel that has been slandered repeatedly by the use of the word “illegal”, and rather than Israel stealing Palestinian land, the reverse is true – Palestinians are trying to grab Jewish land with the help of the Western media.

J – Well you can spin it anyway you like with these tedious arguments, but I don’t buy it. Nobody buys it. Look we all agree that Syria, Iran and the Middle East in general is a mess and a hotbed of extremism, but in my view “ Israel was founded as a nationalistic, ethnic and colonial project. It involved the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from many areas. It tried to be a democracy, but it’s an ethnically defined democracy, and it has certainly oppressed the hell out of the Palestinians in the occupied territories since 1967. The settlements in those areas since then are a form of land grab and are generating an “apartheid Israel.”

I – Goodness, you are wiggly aren’t you. You still go on with “land grab” even when, through tedious fact and argument, it appears that if any land grab took place it was from the Jewish homeland. You then throw in “apartheid” but cover yourself by saying “generating”. So it’s not really apartheid but maybe, just maybe, it will be “apartheid” some unspecified time in the future. In the meantime it is a convenient tool to beat Israel over the head with. And then there is the inconvenient fact that the population of the West Bank and Gaza continues to increase. They have a longer life expectancy than Turkey for example and score better on international index of Human Development than South Africa. All this despite on-going hostility and rockets.

J –My good friend Benjy Pogrund wastes his time trying to convince me that Israel is not an apartheid state. The fact is that a lot of European Jews colonised Palestine, stole the land from the indigenous people and set up an ethnic, nationalistic state trying to pass as a democracy. Just like white Calvinist South Africa. I rejected that and I won’t buy it from Israel whatever justifications you throw at me.

I – So when you look at Israel you see white South Africa, arrogant, powerful, insensitive and successful. In fact every achievement and Israeli success seems to add to the injustice of it all.  That’s perhaps why you keep using the words “colonising” and “stole” even though you know that they are not true. But, nevertheless, it must be disconcerting, indeed painful, when you see what is happening in the Arab and Muslim world, the spread of extremism and violence, the corruption and backwardness and the sheer hopelessness of these failed states. Can you really attribute all this to the Zionists and to the West? If not, perhaps you need to seriously re-examine the premises of your worldview and its implications for the people you profess to care about.

J – I see you’re swinging right with age. So here is my position in a nutshell: “Illegal” or not, Israel is an occupier of the West Bank. Why the settlements? Israel  is still colonizing land. Why? If it wants peace, why? Oh, it’s “disputed” . . . because you are occupying it!

 The territories don’t “automatically” belong to the Palestinians; but Israel belongs automatically to the Jews? I don’t get this reasoning.

 If Zionists really wanted to make Israel to look good, to regain the moral high ground, they should campaign for a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, removal of settlements, acceptance of Palestinian statehood, and . . .well, that’s a start.”

 I – Wow, well here we are back again at square one. You seem to believe a lie repeated a 1000 times becomes a truth, but a truth repeated a 1000 times becomes an irritation. Just one thought: perhaps the Israelis are more interested in survival than “looking good” in your eyes. There is really so much more to talk about but our time is at an end. Thank you for your time Mr J.


What has been gained by this correspondence? Well, firstly, some insight into the formative influences in Mr J’s thinking. One was captured in a comment he made in the course of our correspondence. I quote “I thought getting away from ethnic nationalism, racism, and religious rubbish, as summed up by Calvinist white apartheid, was part of my individuation. You cannot, surely, be suggesting that a further maturation has to take place (at my age? …), in which I will revert to ethnic-nationalist-Calvinist beliefs?”

 Of course I wasn’t suggesting that, but, equally, becoming a dogmatic, left-wing secular  fundamentalist rather than a dogmatic, right-wing Calvinist fundamentalist is neither liberation nor individuation. Mr J is at present unable to see that one is as oppressive and hopeless as the other.

But that exchange also confirmed that since the English liberal MSM media is controlled by people whose worldviews are broadly similar to my journalist friend, we simply cannot expect any significant change in the media climate for a while. In my study of the Cape Times it became quite clear that this ideology governed the material they published, the news they omitted and how they presented the news. People, including opinion leaders are profoundly influenced by this process.

If I had to say what is the core of the distortion in my journalist friend’s thinking about Israel, it lies in the following quote: “Israel was founded as a nationalistic, ethnic and colonial project. It involved the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from many areas.” This quote is utterly central. He (and those in his camp) see Israel as the embodiment of white South Africa. They’re interchangeable with minor variations. Since they reject the first – as an apartheid state – they cannot help reject the other.

Some might object and say I haven’t factored in anti-Semitism and other psychological motives. I do not discount these and they clearly play a role in some cases. But in the white, liberal media establishment common or garden variety anti-Semitism is probably not the major motive. It is the ignorant and shallow equation of the concept of “Apartheid South Africa” with “Zionist Israel”.

That is the elephant in the room which has been ruthlessly exploited by genuine anti-Semites, theocratic radicals and others with repugnant personal and political agendas, to swing Western elites to their side. That is why one sees an unholy (and uneasy) alliance between Western elites filled to the brim with Utopian visions of secular paradise and hardcore Islamic jihadists filled to the brim with visions of theocratic tyrannies.

Until we deal with the core distortion in the perceptions of the liberal Western media, it will be an uphill battle.

The fact is humans rarely change their opinions easily and seldom through facts and logic. In my view opinions change mainly because facts on the ground force change. Or some personal experience evokes change. This can be assisted by communication – sometimes confrontational sometimes through dialogue. It is often slow but this is what I, and Solar Plexus, am committed to.


Please help by increasing THE READERSHIP OF THIS BLOG AND BY PARTICiPATING IN THE DISCUSSION so it can become a powerful voice for truth and what I call “fearless moderation”.

 Mike Berger


One response to “New Beginnings AND Truth in Middle East Reporting

  1. Stephen November 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Having worked in the media I can say that you are spot on. This is because unless a person has realised the truth, as an act of personal penetrating insight that one trusts, it remains for him defined by filters unconsciously working within defined parameters – the assumptions, myths, holy cows, shibboleths, and prejudices of left-liberal humanist thought, that as you correctly point out is fostered in universities. It was an eye opener at university for a free spirited, open-minded person to see just how shuttered and self serving the so-called bastions of independent thought actually were. This is because dishonesty and honesty are not mental qualities, but qualities of spirit, and because guilt shame and fear can be used to mould anyone’s thinking accordingly. Reactions, some sincere, some naive, to an oppressive Calvinist state must also bear some responsibility, I suppose. It is anyway a western thing. No-one in the east troubles themselves with such perverse thinking, and all are confidently loyal towards their own communities. It’s all guilt really, and therefore hypocrisy.


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