Bill Stewart in the New Mexican May 6 – Unhinged Again

Bill Stewart’s False Facts

In a thinly veiled response to SFMEW’s blog critique of his last anti-Zionist article, and Susan Goldstein’s subsequent letter to the New Mexican’s editor, Stewart produced another inaccurate and extraordinarily biased column in the New Mexican on May 6, 2017.  The full piece can be read directly online here if you have a subscription to the New Mexican, or with the following link:  Middle East peace is in Kushner’s hands – The Santa Fe New Mexican- Local Columns.  There are many errors, innuendoes, suppositions, accusations, and inaccuracies in Stewart’s column.  We could take issue with almost every sentence of Stewart’s article, but will highlight only a few of these inaccuracies in the talking points below.

For further background, we have chronicled Stewart’s factual errors and misjudgments in prior blog postings (see here for a summary).

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Write a letter to the editor or op-ed piece and submit it to the New Mexican by sending it to  Letters should be no more than 150 words.  Op-ed submissions should be no longer than 600 words.  Provide reference sources for any factual claims.  More information on how to write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces can be found on our resources page here.

Talking points:

We recommend you concentrate on one or two of the following points in a letter; 3-4 in an op-ed piece:

1.  “[King Abdullah said] the Israel-Palestine dispute was ultimately the most important in the Middle East.”

This is an inaccurate and misleading quote in many ways:

  1. The transcript of the White House press briefing is quite clear:   the King did not state that this conflict is “the most important in the Middle East.”  Abdullah’s emphasis in his opening statement was on (what he called) Arab-Muslim states defeating the “international scourge” of terrorism. He mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict secondarily as an opportunity of “security, acceptance and normal ties for Israel with all Arab countries…”   He mentioned thirdly the Syrian use of chemical warfare and the Syrian conflict as inhumane and “savage.”
  2. It was only later, upon questioning by the press, that the King said (italics added), “And again, I have to remind people that very early on there was an early engagement by the President and his team to the Israelis and the Palestinians to be able to see what he can do to bring them together.  It is the core conflict for a lot of us in the region.”  This would imply that while it is an important conflict for some of the states, including Jordan, Abdullah never said it is “the most important in the Middle East.”
  3. By Stewart framing his opening statement as he did, Stewart intentionally mislead his readers.  While it may appear as if this is just a nuanced difference, it clearly is not – Stewart’s paraphrasing increases the importance of the dispute over such devastating conflicts as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and it expands what the King was saying – in his region (i.e., neighboring countries) about the need to combat terrorism.
  4. Dennis Ross, in his book Doomed to Succeed:  the US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, gives good evidence as to why the Palestinian dispute with Israel is not close to the top of the concerns of most Middle East country leaders.  Ross re-stated this viewpoint at his talk in Santa Fe on February 15, 2017.  Perhaps Stewart should read Ross’ book before commenting again?

2.  “[King Abdullah] is right, of course, though many Americans, blinded both by pro-Israel sentiment and a wilful misunderstanding of history, would disagree.”

Given our prior examples of Stewart’s misleading statements about Israel, including the opening statement of his May 6 article, one wonders who is blinded here?  Stewart has been in error on many of his statements over the years, blaming much of the Middle East problems on Israel.  Stewart clearly has a strong, deep-seated bias against Israel.  His lack of ability to provide any reasonable insight into conflicts in the region seems to this writer to wonder:  when was the last time he even visited the region?  Spoken with unbiased individuals who are more knowledgeable than him?

3.  “The king did not mean that the Islamic State, the war in Iraq and the Syrian civil war were caused by the Israelis and the Palestinians.  What he meant was that these horrifying wars … were fueled by the seemingly unending dispute and sometimes outright war between Palestine and Israel.”

Let’s see, Stewart (a) knows what the King means, and (b) is attributing a higher intensity of fighting by ISIS, in the Syrian civil war, and the Iraq sectarian disputes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.  This is nonsense.  No serious expert in the Middle East would claim that the Syrian conflict or the war in Iraq has any relationship to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  These Arab nations have had sectarian, tribal, and other internal disputes for years.  The so-called Arab Spring initiated the Syrian conflict, and, of course, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq set the stage for the current Iraq situation and the ability of ISIS to get a foothold.  If there is any piece of these disputes inflamed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is because Syrian President Bashar Assad and prior Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used the Palestinian problem to inflame their own populations.

4.  Mahmoud Abbas came to the White House in early May “in a weakened position as he is now 82 years old and he is getting ready to step down…[and] his leadership is undermined by the fact that the Gaza Strip is in the hands of Hamas…”

Hmmm…really…only because of his age and Hamas, versus his own peace-avoiding behavior?  Perhaps his hand is weakened more because:

  • Abbas has maintained power for 11 years though he was elected for a 4 year term.
  • There is significant corruption in the Palestinian Authority that has demoralized his own people.
  • Abbas has encouraged terrorism which has taken its toll on his people.
  • He has walked away from generous offers for peace by two “progressive” Israeli Prime Ministers:  Ehud Barak (2000) and Ehud Olmert (2008), further dashing his people’s hopes.  Yassir Arafat was primarily responsible for rejecting the 2000 offer in which Abbas was involved, but Abbas has been characterized during these negotiations as having, ”made clear to the Americans that the Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything.“
  • He continues to foment hatred of Jews and the existence of Israel.
  • He has refused to work toward a peace-loving education system, or to re-set his people’s expectations of what might come from a peace opportunity.

We could go on about this, but clearly if Abbas is in a “weakened state” it must be one of his own doing, having been in power for 11 years.  Almost all Middle East observers agree that the Palestinians need new leadership.  The problem is most commentators don’t know who they would be – the current leadership, including, of course, Abbas, have restricted the growth of the next generation.

5.  Congress’ support for Israel is tantamount to “[throwing] the Palestinians under the bus”, “a major reason why the US is so mistrusted in the Middle East”, and “is foreign policy rubbish…[undermining] the search for peace.”

These kind of statements are further proof for our assertion in #2 above that Stewart’s anti-Zionist bias is clouding his judgment.  Among a multitude of reasons the Congress has supported Israel because (1) the American people overwhelmingly support Israel, (2) Israel’s values are in line with America’s values, (3) Israel has taken great steps to embrace peace when it has been met with genuine efforts by the other side – see the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of 1994 – when it was willing to dismantle 18 settlements in the Sinai in 1982 to fulfill the Egypt peace treaty, displacing 7,000-8,000 Israelis living there.

The US is mistrusted in the Middle East these days because President Obama was feckless in his lack of support of traditional allies (see Haar’s analysis, which reflects the viewpoints of many speakers from the Middle East speaking over the past few years).  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and others have been put off by the Obama administration’s abandonment of leaders who have been stalwarts of American alliance, and the embracing of Iran through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known colloquially as the “Iran Nuclear Deal”), and JCPOA deceptions by the Obama administration (see, for example, the most recent revelations by Politico here, and the article in the Wall Street Journal September 1, 2016 here.).

6.  “The Palestinians defend the practice [of supporting terrorism] as an exercise in humanitarianism…[and claim] more settlements in the occupied West Bank is the real cause of terrorism.”

We are still trying to understand how Stewart can justify terrorism, which the Palestinians use to justify killing of defenseless civilians, as a form of humanitariansm.  Notice how Stewart tries to avoid saying this is his own viewpoint by putting the claim that buildings are “terrorism” into the mouths of the Palestinians.  But Stewart doesn’t argue against these concepts, and one could interpret his wording as supporting his actual belief that Palestinian terrorism is justifiable and that the $315 million a year in supporting families of Palestinian terrorists, alive or dead, in Israeli jails or freed in prior prisoner exchanges, or survivors of terrorists is fine.

Let’s see – buildings as terrorism.  Is Stewart serious?  If so, then he’s living in the wrong place.  Last we knew, Israelis and Americans – even Santa Feans – substantially value life over property.  It seems that Stewart has bought into the Palestinian propaganda that building=terrorism.

Does Stewart actually believe what he writes – that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the top issue in the MIddle East, that buildings=terrorism, that Abbas should be excused from making concessions for peace?   If so, maybe Stewart can live in peace by moving to that place where his values are more in line with the population, and where Stewart’s false facts, disguised as diplomatic argument, are all the fashion.  Perhaps the West Bank?

It’s time for the New Mexican to find a foreign policy commentator who is up-to-date, knowledgeable, and can provide real insight to advance readers’ understanding of world events.

The SFMEW next meeting will be at 7:15 pm on Monday, May 15, hosted by HaMakom at it’s meeting location at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 107 W. Barcelona.

Please come – we need your direct and immediate input on several issues, including the newly permitted sign on Old Pecos Trail, desired speakers for 2017-2018, tactics for dealing with Bill Stewart’s antiquated and uninformed views of the Middle East (see above), and anti-BDS legislation.

Thank you HaMakom.

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Santa Fe Middle East Watch is a beneficiary organization of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.