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Suggestion: there are many points that can be made about the inaccuracies and biases of the Stewart article (at least 8 of which are elaborated upon below). For a letter to the editor, take at most two of these items to discuss. If enough folks write in all of them will be covered.
Bill Stewart writes a weekly column in the Santa Fe New Mexican entitled “Understanding Your World.” He is a long retired former diplomat and journalist. In columns on the Middle East he frequently blames Israel for problems for which Israel has no responsibility, dismisses any positive Israeli actions as Israeli propaganda or “bribes to keep [Palestinians] quiet,” uses Palestinian propaganda buzzwords instead of more accurate language to describe the reality on the ground, and usually holds the Palestinians blameless for any Israeli reaction. For other columns in which Stewart disparages Israel in some way see here, here, here, and here. (This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are many more over Stewart’s almost 10 years of having a tired “voice” in the New Mexican.) [Update, August 27, 2016, a column on Syria by Stewart states (in his infinite future wisdom), “Even the Palestinians have an internationally recognized country, though they have yet to achieve liberation from Israeli occupation.”]
This Saturday, April 16, 2016 was no exception. In a column entitled “What’s Fueling Palestinian Violence?” Stewart perpetuates some myths, speculates on motives of Israelis without citing any evidence, and fails to provide historical context for Palestinian frustration, including especially the lack of leadership of the Palestinians themselves.
Stewart’s major errors
Here are some of the clear errors with Stewart’s opinions:
1. Stewart falsely equates Zionism with Nazism and Fascism. By comparing Israel’s nationalism (called Zionism in Israel’s specific case – a word Stewart doesn’t use) as similar to Nazism, Fascism and the right-wing movements in Europe today, Stewart is analogizing Israel as fascist and Nazi-like, an insidious and false analogy. Here’s what he says:
Right-wing nationalism is not a new phenomenon. In the 20th century, we saw its ugliest and most vicious versions in Germany and Italy, with the rise of Nazism and Fascism…
In present-day Europe, we are confronted with right-wing movements whose anti-foreign rhetoric is about all they have to offer… Nor are we in the U.S. immune to the siren call of nationalist vitriol, as right-wing presidential candidates bemoan America’s supposed fall from greatness, blaming it on weak leadership, illegal immigrants and the failure to maintain a military second to none…
Nor are other parts of the world immune. There is a growing nationalism in Israel…
Nearly all countries have their right-wing factions. However, to equate having a right-wing party with having the power to enact right-wing policies and actions is false and misleading.
Since Herzl’s call for a Jewish homeland in its historical location of current day Israel, it’s hard to imagine a more nationalistic nation. This doesn’t mean “nationalism” has to be equated with Nazism or fascism. Stewart insidiously states otherwise. Yes Israel as a whole has moved more to the center, and yes the poles of Israel’s political spectrum may have moved farther apart, a trend that has occurred in most Western nations in the past 20 years. But no Israeli government has become more “nationalistic” – all of the Israeli governments have believed that Israel is and needs to continue to be the homeland of the Jewish people. Further there is no evidence, as Stewart implies, that Israelis have become more xenophobic. They continue to welcome legal immigrants – no different from other countries that have immigrant quotas and requirements.
When asked about Jewish right-wing violent actions against Palestinians (Peace Index, December 2015), here is what Israelis said (Table 1):
Question: Lately it is often claimed that the Jewish groups committing attacks against Palestinians are marginal groups that represent only a small minority of the national-religious public. Do you agree or disagree with this claim?
Table 1 % Jews % Arabs % General Public Strongly agree with the claim 47.2 26.5 43.7 Moderately agree 26.2 33.4 27.4 Moderately disagree 11.4 9.4 11.1 Strongly disagree with the claim 8.0 16.7 9.4 Don’t know/ didn’t answer 7.2 14.1 8.3
Interestingly, Stewart doesn’t equate Palestinian nationalism and violence with their right-wing organizations and ongoing incitement of violence, yet compared with Israel the Palestinian government is more xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-women, homophobic, and anti-democratic than nearly all Western nations. How does Stewart let this get by him? Because his fierce anti-Israel stance blinds him.
2. Stewart claims Israeli settlements are “illegal.” This is not the first time Stewart has used this term. Stewart in the past has claimed this without any supporting discussion, documentation, or analysis. In this article Stewart proclaims without justification that there is a “universal view that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are illegal.” Of course, he is not alone in perpetuating this myth; many countries, columnists, the Palestinians themselves, and NGOs claim the same thing. But they are wrong. Their view is a policy one, not a legal one; the claim is used as rhetorical flourish without legal truth. A more comprehensive set of resources that provide analysis of the legality of the settlements can be found here.
3. Stewart claims Israelis are “more indifferent than ever before to the fate of their Palestinian neighbors.” He goes on to justify this claim by stating, again, the right-wing desire to keep the West Bank as part of Israel. Yet this is not at all what Israelis as a whole, nor their democratically-elected governments, believe. Here (Table 2) are results from recent Israeli polls:
Question: What is your position on conducting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?
Table 2 % Jews % Arabs Strongly agree with the claim 47.2 26.5 Moderately agree 26.2 33.4 Moderately disagree 11.4 9.4 Strongly disagree with the claim 8.0 16.7 Don’t know/ didn’t answer 7.2 14.1
At the same time, Israelis generally don’t have much faith that peace negotiations will lead to peace (Table 3):
Question: Do you believe or not believe that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will lead in the coming years to peace between Israel and the Palestinians? ( Source same as above: The Peace Index – December, 2015)
|Table 3||% Jews||% Arabs|
|Strongly agree with the claim||3.9||5.4|
|Strongly disagree with the claim||43.6||34.3|
|Don’t know/ didn’t answer||2.6||11.3|
If this is what Stewart means by “indifferent” he has clearly misinterpreted the data. Israelis crave peace; over 73% want negotiations pursued (Table 2). However, Israelis are pessimistic (Table 3) about peace negotiations because the Palestinians have refused to negotiate, and they’ve refused to show any willingness to be flexible and compromise when they have come to the table. By the way – Palestinians are also pessimistic. Does this make them (as a population) “indifferent?”
4. Stewart implies that the Palestinian Dispute with Israel is “the underlying issue that drives all others” in the Middle East, even “despite the wars in Iraq and Syria.” If we’ve interpreted his statement correctly – and the way it is expressed in Stewart’s article is somewhat ambiguous, so we might be off here a bit – then Stewart is way off base. No serious observer of the Middle East would argue that the Israel-Palestinian dispute drives any of the other events in the Middle East (ME). Some, including Dennis Ross (in his highly acclaimed Doomed to Succeed: the US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama), a diplomat with more gravitas than Stewart (primarily because of his direct involvement in ME diplomacy that was more central and recent than Stewart’s experiences) would argue that this dispute has never been a substantive driver in the US relationships with ME countries, let alone a cause for the turmoil in Iraq and Syria.
5. Stewart refuses to offer any reasons why the Palestinians do not yet have a state of their own. He holds the Palestinians blameless for their current situation. Yet the Israelis have offered comprehensive settlements (peace treaty terms) at least twice in the past 16 years: at Camp David by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and in Jerusalem by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (For more details on these offers and the Palestinian response see our prior discussion “Does Israel Want Peace?“) It is primarily the Palestinian leadership that has refused negotiations toward a settlement. PM Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that he has offered to sit down with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “anytime, anywhere” – an offer Abbas has refused for the past five and a half years.
6. Throughout the column, Stewart, by offering excuses for Palestinian violent behavior, also implicitly excuses (and accepts) the nature of the violence. At no time does Stewart condemn the terrorism imposed by the Palestinian indiscriminate knifings, shootings, and car rammings. At no time does he discuss the disgusting encouragement of violence by the Palestinian Authority and Fatah Party. The PA tells their children that all of Israel is their land. They encourage knife attacks by showing children on PA TV proclaiming that they should “Stab, stab, stab” Jews wherever they find them. Here’s Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the height of the violence back in September: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem.” As detailed in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the current round of violence, purported to be a spontaneous uprising by journalists or columnists like Stewart, is actually a well-orchestrated campaign which “follows many years in which Palestinian children have been taught to idolize the murder of Jews as a sacred value and to regard their own death in this “jihad” as the pinnacle of their aspirations.” Much more can be said on this – how Palestinians for example name public spaces after their “martyrs” – but that is for another time.
7. Stewart perpetuates the myth that the barrier built by Israel to separate the West Bank from pre-1967 Israeli borders is a wall. This is a favorite misstatement by anti-Israel reporters, analysts, and speakers. Only about 3% of the separation barrier is a cement wall. The rest is a high technology fence. While some may think this is a minor distinction, the reality is much different. Commonly the media depict the barrier as a 30 foot high cement wall, giving the wrong impression that this is like the Berlin Wall or the Warsaw ghetto. The cement wall sections exist primarily in areas where, during the second intifada (Palestinian violent uprising using terrorism to kills thousands of Israelis), Palestinian sharpshooters were murdering Israelis by shooting from the West Bank into Israeli areas. This was similar to the Syrian use of rockets toward Israelis from the Golan heights before the Six Day War in 1967. By the way, many don’t know that for the 36 years from 1967 to 2003 there was no separation fence because there was much less violence from the Palestinians and the Israelis didn’t see the need for one. It wasn’t until the extreme Palestinian violence that Israel deemed the fence necessary for the security of its citizens. As Mitchell Bard relates in his West Bank Security Fence: Background & Overview, “The value of the fence in saving lives is evident from the data: In 2002, the year before construction started, 457 Israelis were murdered; in 2009, 8 Israelis were killed.” See Bard’s entire article for a comprehensive background on the separation fence.
8. Finally, Stewart displays cynicism toward any Israeli action, showing his one-sided bias in reporting on the conflict. In relationship to an additional 30,000 new work permits Israel has issued to Palestinians on the West Bank he asks, “Are Israeli work permits for the Palestinians a gateway to prosperity, or bribes to keep them quiet?” He belittles Israel’s limited roadblocks: “Instead of blocking the roads in major sections of the West Bank, it does so only in limited areas, thus presumably, limiting Palestinian resentment. But does it? Closing the roads in smaller areas only forces Palestinians on their way to drive miles out of their way…” He calls this “a more subtle game” of the Israeli Army, displaying a disdain that is unwarranted and dangerous, once again showing his severe bias in this area.
One fails to understand how Stewart’s column helps us in “Understanding Your World.” Instead his biased writing actually heightens misunderstanding in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and perpetuates myths that need sunshine, not cynicism.
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