Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Haaretz doing PR for the PM

Arik Sharon the warrior magically
appeared this week in Haaretz. Posted by Hello

Enough about shit weasels, Jewish porn stars and halacha rulings on unibrow - it's time for a serious post about the news.

I don't mean to pick on Haaretz, but yes, this post concerns the New York Times of Israel. (After this post I'll do my best to leave Haaretz alone for a few days.)

It's amazing how the news media are all too happy to be used by political interests - as long as the story is good enough.

Such seems to be the case in the Haaretz report by veteran defense correspondent Ze'ev Schiff.

Schiff reported that Prime Minister Sharon "called for a large-scale Israel Defense Forces reaction to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip earlier this month, including artillery, but toned down his position following objections by IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon in a discussion that has recently come to light."

So Sharon wanted to blast away but the generals held him back. At least that's what Haaretz - and the prime minister - wants us to believe.

But how and why did this discussion "recently come to light?"

Because the people in the prime minister's office are not stupid. Sharon is being criticized for not doing more to prevent rocket fire and terror attacks (6 Israelis were killed at the Karni crossing Jan. 13). So it's time for Arik the warrior to make an appearance - even if it's a manufacured one - while Sharon the diplomat gives Abbas more time to rein in Palestinian militants and terror groups.

The question here is did Haaretz get the story with solid, aggressive reporting or did someone in the Prime Minister's Office simply pick up the phone and call Mr. Schiff, and say, "Ze'ev, I've got a story for you"?

Predictably, Mr. Schiff does not reveal how this story reached him. So we're left to to accept that the discussion in which Arik the warrior called for sweeping military action just "came to light" - as if by magic.

But the story came from Haaretz, so we shouldn't be asking any questions.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Haaretz editorial: B is a 'shit weasel'

In a blistering editorial, the Israeli daily Haaretz called the publisher of Not Another Israel Blog a "coward" and a "shit weasel."

Does Haaretz have a new editorial policy
under Editor in Chief David Landau?
 Posted by Hello

The short piece was unsigned but submitted to Not Another Israel Blog from ISP A simple online search revealed that this ISP belongs to a computer in Haaretz, a newspaper sometimes referred to as "The New York Times of Israel."

The text of the editorial follows:


While the author of the Haaretz editorial chose to remain anonymous - as does B - it is known that the piece was submitted on Sunday sometime between noon and 1 P.M. Israel time.

It is not known whether the editorial was submitted or approved by Haaretz Editor in Chief David Landau, English Edition Editor Peter Hirschberg or any other senior member of the editorial staff.

But the use of the term "shit weasel," which is mentioned in the Stephen King novel Dreamcatcher, suggests that the Haaretz reporter behind the editorial is familiar with the works of the popular horror author.

Not Another Israel Blog is known to express opinions critical of the Israeli media, particularly Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. The Haaretz editorial in question was apparently prompted by a recent post in which B opined that Haaretz correspondent Bradley Burston tends to open his pieces in an overly melodramatic style. While B expressed admiration for Burston as a writer and a journalist, he wrote that this drama detracts from the quality of Burston's work and was perhaps catering to the whims of an English-speaking audience outside of Israel.

"Personally I was surprised by the Haaretz editorial," said B, on condition of anonymity. "I'm flattered that the people at Haaretz are paying attention to my blog, but I'm not sure what the fuss is about now. I was only criticizing an aspect of Burston's writing style. There was nothing personal about it. Is that spewing hate?"

B said he doubted Burston was the author. "It's not his style and I don't think I wrote anything that would have upset him so much."

"I've also been critical of Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick - so I don't think I'm playing favorites here," he added. "I'm just offering my view of news coverage in Israel - particularly that aimed at the English-speaking community - which I believe too often fails to live up to proper journalistic standards."

Media experts said that the Haaretz response to Not Another Israel Blog reflects frustration among established media with the growing popularity of blogs.

"The big traditional news sources feel threatened because more and more people are bypassing them in favor of alternative news sources," said Prof. Marty Rosen, who teaches journalism at the State University of New York at Albany. "But regular reporters need to be careful because blogs are not bound by the same rules as newspapers or TV networks. Blogs can get away with a lot more."

When asked why he continues to maintain his anonymity, B said that it was crucial to his work.

"Any experienced journalist understands the importance of anonymous sources," he said. "Almost every major story in Haaretz has anonymous sources."

"In my case, I'm the reporter and the source. In some cases I'd like to reveal my identity so I can take credit for my work, but doing so would put restrictions on what I can write about, and breaking them could jeopardize my job."

B said bloggers would continue their work and not be intimidated by such scare tactics by traditional news media.

"I know it's Israel, not America, but I believe freedom of speech is still valued by many here, particularly journalists," B said. "If someone at Haaretz thinks he or she can stop me or my fellow bloggers from expressing our opinions, they're mistaken."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Jewish porn star Harry Reems today - a Christian convert selling real estate in Utah

Harry Reems and Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat. Posted by Hello

Is nothing sacred? Are there any Jewish heroes left?

Harry Reems, who costarred with Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat, the most popular pornographic film ever made - at least that's what the Los Angeles Times says - converted to Christianity, lives in Utah and sells real estate, according to the Times story.

The Times said it interviewed Reems because a new film called "Inside Deep Throat," produced for Universal and HBO, was scheduled to have its world premiere Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Finally a halacha ruling on unibrow

If it's a source of embarassment,
the rabbi says pluck away.
 Posted by Hello

I found the following on the Ask the Rabbi section of the Arutz 7 website:

What is the Halacha concerning someone who has a large "unibrow" (meaning his eyebrows grow straight across his face) is he allowed to wax/shave/tweeze the section in between the eyes? I know women definitely do it but how about men?
Since it brings me embarrassment since I have a large one, and not too many people do, therefore I feel different and embarrassed.

Men should not remove bodily hair for the sake of beautifying themselves like women do. But if it is not to beautify but to remove a body blemish that causes embarrassment one can rely on lenient opinions that permit the removal in such a case.

-Rabbi Elchanan Lewis

Friday, January 21, 2005

'What do you find most annoying about Israelis'

That's what the Israeli woman asked me on the phone.

She told me that we had exchanged phone numbers on Jdate several months earlier. I had no idea who she was. I asked her why we didn't talk then. She said she didn't know. She gave me her Jdate profile number and I quickly looked it up online. It indicated she lived in Jerusalem. Residence in the capital (If I forget thee o Jerusalem...) is usually a tip off of right-wing leanings.

Could you date Ra'anan Gissin - if he
was a woman? I didn't think so.
 Posted by Hello

She told me her grandparents were from Indiana. They lived in Bloomington and one or both of them - I don't remember - worked in the music department at Indiana University.

I should have known better. Her question was like giving me a map indicating the exact location of the lone mine in the field before me. But naturally I had to get close to it.

"It's how we think we're the center of the world, that everything revolves around us. I think it has to do with being the 'chosen people.'"

I deliberately said "we" because I do consider myself part of Israeli society and I also didn't want to appear as if I was criticizing her. Well, it really didn't matter.

Her response went something like this:

"But everyone is watching us. Every decision we make has to take into consideration the reaction of the rest of the world. They don't understand what we're going through. They only see the Palestinian side. They don't know what's really happening here."

Me: "Yes, but when's the last time you saw what was happening on the Palestinian side. Personally, I have no clue what's it's like from their point of view."

Her: "We're the victims here. What do you think is the solution? To build a wall and leave the territories? Will that bring peace?"

Me: "I don't know if it would bring peace, but it would mean we were doing the right thing - an end to the occupation. Build a wall on the border, just get out."

Her: "That won't solve anything. We're not the guilty ones here. Don't you watch the news?"

Here's where I got a bit annoyed because I sensed - perhaps it stemmed from my own insecurities - that she was lecturing me.

(In my opinion, the tendency to lecture about how the world works is the second most annoying thing about Israelis.)

Me: "Listen, I've been here eight years and most of my professional life has been in journalism. I read the news and I'm doing a graduate degree in political science. It's not like I'm some clueless immigrant who just arrived."

This didn't stop the floodgates. She continued with her lecture and seemed to be channeling Ra'anan Gissin. I was no longer paying attention to her argument except hoping to find some opening to disengage - gracefully if possible - from the conversation.

Suddenly there was a pause, as if she was waiting for a response.

Me: "Listen, I'm going to go now."

Her: "What? That's it? Just over this political discussion?"

Me: "Yeah, well, in any case I'm applying to graduate schools in the U.S. so I probably won't even be here in the fall. Layla tov."

Her: "Layla tov."

Please tone it down, Brad

I used to enjoy reading Bradley Burston's pieces for the online version of Haaretz. He's excellent at identifying the key issues of the day and putting them in their broader historical and political context.

But I wish he would tone down the melodramatic ledes. Here's the opeining in his latest piece:

Armed Islamists have long been the lethal wild card in the Dead Man's Hand of the Mideast peace table.

Dead Man's Hand of the Mideast peace table? What the hell is he talking about? It's damn entertaining writing, but for my taste way over the top.

Perhaps I've just grown tired of noisy journalism, but I also think such ledes detract from the quality of Burston's writing and skills as a journalist. I find it hard to take him seriously when it appears he's seeking the melodramatic angle of the story or he wants to transform the story of the day into a cliffhanger.

Here's the lede from a Burston piece entitled "The fight of Sharon's life: His place in history" dated May 27, 2003:

At the age of 75, with countless wars, near-fatal injuries, and half a century in public life behind him, Ariel Sharon only now faces the fight of his life - securing his place in history.

It seems to me the fight of Sharon's life were the wars and near-fatal injuries? But I guess that wouldn't make a good story.

It seems as if every time Burston writes there's some fight of someone's life or deadly card game. I get tired just reading his opening lines.

How about this piece (date unknown) entitled "The Abbas problem: Partner or Yasser Redux?":

No one doubts the courage of Mahmoud Abbas.

In the blood-soaked course of the Intifada, the professorially unglamorous Abbas, 69, gained sudden world stature as a lone voice for moderation in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and as the most likely partner for peacemaking in a post-Arafat epoch.

Now, however, an abrupt re-invention has vaulted Abbas onto the shoulders of gunmen and into the smiling public embrace of Marwan Barghouti's wife, in a campaign swing that has him lauding the legacy of Yasser Arafat, and vowing to protect the very men who head Israel's hit lists of most-wanted terrorists.

The only thing missing is the dramatic Hollywood music score playing in the background.

(For more examples, just do a Google search for Bradley Burston Haaretz.)

Do we really need to turn up the pressure on the reality here? I mean things are dramatic enough as it is. Can't we journalists put events in some kind of context and perspective?

This is Israel, our daily lives. Not entertainment for the English reading Jewish audience in America.

Or is it?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

How not to build trust with Israel Arabs

My apologies for not posting for nearly a week. I've been busy trying to make progress with my Master's thesis.

I was struck by this Haaretz article earlier in the week about changes in the duties of the Shin Bet official in the Education Ministry who had been deputy chief of Arab education in the country.

I don't think you need to be a leftist to be troubled by the previous arrangement.

I understand that the Shin Bet has a job to do, but to have a security officer assigned to Arab education? Even if you believe the Shin Bet needs to keep an eye on Arab education in Israel, shouldn't it be done in a more secretive manner?

It's like we're telling the Arabs, "We don't give a damn what you think. We don't even need to conceal our intelligence operation. Your loyalty to the state is in doubt, so we're watching every move you make."

Can't the Shin Bet just recruit someone in the Education Ministry to help out? Isn't that what agencies like the Shin Bet and Mossad are good at?

In any case, this is just another reflection of Israel's ineffective policy vis-a-vis its Arab population, which is no way to build an environment of loyalty and trust.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

'There will be no talks with desecrators of the Sabbath'

Rabbi Elyashiv sounds like he's about to smash our idols.

I have an idea.

The operation of businesses on the Sabbath creates a certain amount of tax revenue. I'm sure it wouldn't be too difficult for an economist to come up with the number.

If the ultra-Orthodox parties really want no dealings with Sabbath desecrators. i.e. the secular who keep this country's economy afloat, then I propose they not be entitled to this dirty money.

For example, if 1% of tax revenues end up going to the ultra-Orthodox today, under my plan they would get 1% of the tax revenues generated by businesses that do not operate on the Sabbath budget.

I wonder if such a proposal would get them talking to the Sabbath desecrators.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Haaretz: Israel's young Ethiopians like vodka and rap music so watch out

Why do our young Ethiopians want to be like Tupac? Posted by Hello

My first reaction to Wednesday's front page story in Haaretz was disgust. But maybe I've just read too many racism in the media articles for my graduate studies.

Ethiopian youth dance in Ashkelon, but dream of Harlem is a feature story about Ethiopian youth in Israel. While Haaretz should be applauded for covering Israel's Ethiopian community, the reporters - as well as the editors who selected the headline, photos and captions - likely perpetuated the racism in this country toward Ethiopians.

The story teaches some valuable lessons about Ethiopians in Israel:

-They like rap music
-They lie to their parents to get money to buy vodka
-They like clubs
-They would prefer to be in Harlem than Israel

But is any of this true?

The story ran on the front page of the Hebrew edition, above the fold, with the photo you can see in the English story above. Continued inside the paper, there is another photo of Ethiopians "fueling up" (yes, that's the language Haaretz used) and drinking vodka.

In addition, the premise of the headline (The same one was used in the Hebrew and English editions.) is questionable. When asked about their identify, the young Ethiopians interviewed for the story said:

"First of all Jewish, then Ethiopian."

"Jewish, for sure."

"Israeli and Ethiopian both."
That doesn't sound like Harlem to me.

Personally, I also don't understand what's so terrible about young Ethiopians creating for themselves their own identity in Israel. Is Haaretz - and the rest of Israel's elite - nervous that young Ethiopians are (God forbid!) different than the rest of us?

The story also neglects mention of discrimination against Ethiopians. In the past the Israeli press has had more than a few stories about religious Ethiopians being refused admission to religious schools.

Maybe this is a factor? Maybe not all young Ethiopians drink vodka and listen to rap music?

The headlines and captions are irresponsible and the content fails to meet even basic standards of responsible journalism. It's based on the research of one anthropologist and a single night interviewing young Ethiopians at a club.

More is to be expected from a paper that claims to be the New York Times of Israel.