Jobs @ MG
Freedom of speech in the U.S. and Israel
By Dina Rashed
|The U.S. has always been the bastion of
free speech – or so it’s been claimed. Nevertheless, in the past few
months, the American media has not lived up to the standards it claims to
hold so dearly.
It is not an exaggeration that we get a more fair coverage of the ongoing
events in occupied Palestine and Israel from the Israeli media than from
that in America.
On multiple occasions, American papers have published reports on the
uprising following their print by Israeli papers or broadcast by Israeli
radio; and definitely not because of a lack of American reporters.
The coverage by Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz, two major Israeli papers,
extended beyond the official Israeli position; they have printed reports
on events, Op-eds, and columns that presented the other side of the story
far better than prominent U.S. papers.
At the same time that syndicated columnists, like those of the New York
Times and the Washington Post, kept blaming the Palestinians for the
latest outbreak of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, the
Ha’aretz printed breaking stories of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)
soldiers who are not willing to use live ammunition and rockets against
rock-throwing Palestinian civilians and children. The papers also
questioned the pinpoint killing of Palestinian Authority and Fatah
activists by Israeli forces, and the seriousness of the Israeli
Premier’s intentions to come to a real peace agreement.
Besides publishing stories of opponents of the occupation who support a
realistic and just path to achieving peace between the Israelis and the
Palestinians, the paper even printed letters from Palestinians and Arab
American Muslims. Its October 30th issue included a letter written by
Palestinian American Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based political activist,
that read, "Israel is the military occupier. Israeli tanks are
choking the life [out] of Palestinian towns and cities… not the other
way around. Israel is the builder of settlements. Israel is the breaker of
bones and the shooter of children. Israel is the one that turns on and off
the flow of food and fuel."
Abunimah, amazed by the courage of the paper to print his opinion, said
that there was some editing of his letter, but it was not unreasonable
given its length. "I think the strength of the criticism still comes
through. I doubt that an American newspaper would have printed the same
letter," he said.
Meanwhile, Muslims and Arab Americans struggle almost daily with
half-truthful, provocative editorials and columns that depict them in a
very distorted manner. Robert Fisk, a veteran journalist on Middle East
affairs and reporter to the British Independent who has been attacked on
several occasions by Arab papers for his writings, said he is being
vilified for telling the truth about the Palestinians. "Ignorance of
the Middle East is now so firmly adhered to in the U.S. that only a few
tiny newspapers report anything other than Israel's point of view. You
won't find Chomsky in The New York Times. . . But the degree of abuse and
outright threats now being directed at anyone – academic, analyst,
reporter – who dares to criticize Israel (or dares to tell the truth
about the Palestinian uprising) is fast reaching McCarthyite
proportions," (Independent, December 13, 2000).
But for few exceptions here and there, mainstream American political
discourse as set in U.S. papers has only spoken of "the besieged
Israel facing Palestinian violence." Their language has included
terms like "settlers" and "built neighborhoods" versus
"occupants" and "occupying settlements." The use of
the word "resistance" has hardly ever reflected (never mind
questioned why) the reality that the Palestinians are only throwing
It has been only since groups of the Israeli Left have started questioning
the rationale behind Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land that
a few news reports, and fewer analyses, have emerged within American media
– and only to report on the reaction of the Israeli society to the
uprising. American columnists still reserve from expressing their opinions
or challenging the existence of such settlements.
Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz have openly published the opinions of Israelis
such as Uri Avnery, well-known Israeli activist, former Knesset member,
and founder of the Gush-Shalom (Peace Bloc), who has criticized and
pinpointed the flaws of the peace talks and the proposals of the Israeli
Meanwhile, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, an American
bi-monthly Jewish magazine, Tikkun, dedicated a great deal of recent print
to discussing the peace process – featuring analyses of both the
Palestinian and Israeli positions in the peace process. Following its
November/December issue covering the Intifadah that questioned the status
of the Palestinians under occupation, that of the Palestinian Israelis,
and their integration within Israeli society, several subscribers and
advertisers began boycotting the magazine. Its existence is now threatened
and it may be forced to close its doors. Its editor, Michael Lerner who is
a Rabbi himself, received numerous letters condemning his and other
articles that criticized the Israeli government’s practices and
atrocities – despite the fact that the magazine published criticism of
the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian people as well.
"We have faced death threats, cancellations of subscriptions, and
loss of donations – which now imperils our financial survival.
Ironically, the substance of what we said in the November/ December
editorial is now being repeated by columnists and journalists in Israel
(though not yet by the people in the American Jewish establishment or the
UJA/Federation-controlled Jewish weekly newspapers," stated the
editorial in the magazine’s January/February issue.
Ha’aretz published a letter, in its issue dated January 17, 2001,
written by an ex-IDF officer expressing his shock at how Israeli soldiers
dragged a Palestinian teenager who had been shot, but was not yet dead,
down the street to a settlement where residents rejoiced over him. The
incident had been caught on camera and was aired on American news.
"It reminds me of cheetahs and hyenas, which kill and drag their
prey. The problem is that these animals kill to survive. Our solders kill
to maintain the occupation, an apartheid system. When the Arab crowd
lynched our solders in Ramallah, it was [considered] criminal, and they
were [considered] savage, and when our disciplined solders do it, it is
[considered] heroism and civilized," the ex-officer who is currently
residing in the U.S. wrote.
"I strongly believe that their blood is as red as ours and equally
sacred. Our army's actions in the West Bank and Gaza amount to crimes
against humanity. The Israel Defense Forces should investigate, in a fair
way, and punish these soldiers before the world wakes up and puts most of
us on trial for crimes against humanity."
Strangely enough, this ex-officer is currently residing in the U.S., but
how many American papers were willing to print such a letter? Is democracy
flourishing more in Israel – at least within its Jewish community –
than it is in the U.S.?
Could the well-put statement by Charlie Reese in the Orlando Sentinel,
"Palestinians won't get their independence until Americans get
theirs," be true? q