4. Your book pays at least as much attention to the Pentagon press corps and its relationship with power as it does to Stanley McChrystal and his team, and you write that after your article ran, you found that you had few problems dealing with military and political figures, but your relations with many of your fellow journalists had been poisoned. Why?
The original article contained an implicit criticism of a few of my colleagues, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the backlash. They would have ignored the implicit criticisms if they could have, but the story garnered too much attention. All of a sudden Jon Stewart is on the Daily Show saying,“Hey, you other guys suck.” I think that embarrassed a number of folks who weren’t used to being embarrassed. They are accustomed to being the unquestioned journalistic authorities of these wars. And, as a general rule, war correspondents are a competitive and catty breed. Put ten war reporters at a dinner table and one of them leaves the room, seven others at the table will tell you the guy is a dick, she misbehaves with sources, he’s a sketchy womanizer, he can’t be trusted, he makes stuff up, she doesn’t deserve this or that. Usually—it’s such a small, tight-knit community—that kind of dirty laundry is kept secret among the “luckless tribe,” as one reporter once described us. That’s the micro level.
On the macro level, there was something much larger than myself, or Rolling Stone, or McChrystal. It had to do with how the media, as a whole, had been covering these wars. And despite the best efforts of a number of excellent journalists, on stories from WMDs to the escalation in Afghanistan, we’ve done a pretty spotty job, I think. I also came to consider the Pentagon press corps not as a watchdog of the Pentagon, but an extension of the Pentagon. This was a critical insight for me.
Max Ajl wonders the same thing in Monthly Review:
One state or two? Boycott of Israeli goods or goods from the settlements? Is the lobby the genesis of American wrongdoing in Palestine or is it imperialism? The questions — regarding vision, strategy, and analysis — produce sharp cleavages on the Left. Indeed, generally ones much deeper than they need to be. And they remain stubbornly unsettled.
They also congeal in the person of Norman Finkelstein, who has taken some unpopular positions — his insistent call for a two-state solution, his references to “cultish” aspects of BDS — as well as more popular ones, like blaming the occupation solely on the Israel lobby. For that reason he has become a lightning rod, attracting furious bolts of criticism and support. The core issues, however, remain obscured amidst a charged atmosphere of extravagant denunciations (catcalls of Zionism and worse) from one side and fierce defenses from the other.
From one perspective, it’s an odd contretemps. Finkelstein has spent decades fighting for Palestinian dignity and a place for Palestinians to live free of the occupation’s suffocating violence and capricious indignities. He is the maverick scholar who exposed the American intellectual community as a gaggle of hacks by dissecting Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial, showing it to be a hoax intended to deny the Palestinians peoplehood by painting them as peripatetics who had fabricated a “Palestinian” identity to ride the wave of Israel’s successful nation-building project. And his forensic dismantling of Israeli scholarly mythologies in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict remains one of the very best primers on the prejudices that surround the conflict.
For all that time his fight has been for a two-state settlement: something that seemed reasonable in 1988 and in the early 1990s. But what seemed possible twenty years ago — with the Israeli electorate temporarily shaken by the savage repression of the 1st intifada and Israeli capital needing to recover from the aftermath of the destabilizing military-industrial accumulation patterns of the 1970s and 1980s, break through the sectoral envelope of domestic accumulation, and globalize – seems less possible now, with militarized accumulation again on the rise in the Middle East and elsewhere. In some ways, the argument for two states has become a relic when so much of the discourse (less so the organizing) of the radical pro-Palestinian Left in the West and the Palestinian Left in the Occupied Territories is oriented towards one single state.
Furthermore, the constituency for partition is far from a majority of the Israeli population. Those accepting removal of all settlements totaled 18 percent of the population in 2006 and declined to 14 percent in 2007. So, the Israeli state is in sync with the sentiments of the Israeli people. Rejectionism is consensual, while disagreements are technical, niggling about how tight should be the noose around Palestinian society’s neck. Thus a program for a forced withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders is a challenge to Israeli power. Two states with a just resolution of the refugee question and UN SC 242 borders is rabidly rejected by not only Israel but also America. It makes little sense to speak of “selling out” when the two-state solution is so stolidly rejected by those who must consent to its implementation for it to have meaning.
The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:
(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.
(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.
(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.
(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you.
Turning round a story is one of the most difficult tasks in journalism – and rarely more so than in the case of Iran. Iran, the dark revolutionary Islamist menace. Shia Iran, protector and manipulator of World Terror, of Syria and Lebanon and Hamas and Hezbollah. Ahmadinejad, the Mad Caliph. And, of course, Nuclear Iran, preparing to destroy Israel in a mushroom cloud of anti-Semitic hatred, ready to close the Strait of Hormuz – the moment the West’s (or Israel’s) forces attack.
Given the nature of the theocratic regime, the repulsive suppression of its post-election opponents in 2009, not to mention its massive pools of oil, every attempt to inject common sense into the story also has to carry a medical health warning: no, of course Iran is not a nice place. But …
Let’s take the Israeli version which, despite constant proof that Israel’s intelligence services are about as efficient as Syria’s, goes on being trumpeted by its friends in the West, none more subservient than Western journalists. The Israeli President warns us now that Iran is on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon. Heaven preserve us. Yet we reporters do not mention that Shimon Peres, as Israeli Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing in 1996. That was 16 years ago. And we do not recall that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999. That would be 13 years ago. Same old story.
In fact, we don’t know that Iran really is building a nuclear weapon. And after Iraq, it’s amazing that the old weapons of mass destruction details are popping with the same frequency as all the poppycock about Saddam’s titanic arsenal. Not to mention the date problem. When did all this start? The Shah. The old boy wanted nuclear power. He even said he wanted a bomb because “the US and the Soviet Union had nuclear bombs” and no one objected. Europeans rushed to supply the dictator’s wish. Siemens – not Russia – built the Bushehr nuclear facility.
And when Ayatollah Khomeini, Scourge of the West, Apostle of Shia Revolution, etc, took over Iran in 1979, he ordered the entire nuclear project to be closed down because it was “the work of the Devil”. Only when Saddam invaded Iran – with our Western encouragement – and started using poison gas against the Iranians (chemical components arriving from the West, of course) was Khomeini persuaded to reopen it.
All this has been deleted from the historical record; it was the black-turbaned mullahs who started the nuclear project, along with the crackpot Ahmadinejad. And Israel might have to destroy this terror-weapon to secure its own survival, to ensure the West’s survival, for democracy, etc, etc.
For Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel is the brutal, colonising, occupying power. But the moment Iran is mentioned, this colonial power turns into a tiny, vulnerable, peaceful state under imminent threat of extinction. Ahmadinejad – here again, I quote Netanyahu – is more dangerous than Hitler. Israel’s own nuclear warheads – all too real and now numbering almost 300 – disappear from the story. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are helping the Syrian regime destroy its opponents; they might like to – but there is no proof of this.
Apparently not, according to today’s Melbourne Age, though one has to wonder; our government can’t really support Zionist occupation more than it already does.
Well, I guess she could order an Australian military invasion of Iran; that may keep Tel Aviv happy for a few minutes:
Julia Gillard has moved to strengthen her already close relations with the Jewish community by giving her new business liaison adviser, Bruce Wolpe, the specific task of liaising with it.
Some caucus colleagues think treating the Jewish community in this special way is unwise, even weird. One called it ”a curious decision”. Another said: ”This is amateurish. Singling out the Jewish community when there are so many other components of Australian society is hard to comprehend.”
A third said that the level and quality of access for the Jewish community was already seen as superior to that of others and this could further that perception.
Critics accuse Ms Gillard of being too pro-Israel on Middle East issues, on which she has differed from Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s more even-handed position.
While Jewish leaders are publicly welcoming the Jewish liaison role, some sources in the community question why it is needed. One said it was peculiar and stupid – ”the Prime Minister has a very good relationship with the Jewish community. It doesn’t need to be channelled.”
A memo from the PM’s chief of staff, Ben Hubbard, to office colleagues, which is circulating among Jewish leaders, said Mr Wolpe, who is Jewish, ”will be responsible for liaison with the Australian business community and will also have a subsidiary role as liaison for the PM with the Jewish community”. Mr Wolpe’s latter role was not highlighted when his business appointment was announced recently.
At present Michael Cooney, a speechwriter and adviser in Ms Gillard’s office, liaises with various faith and ethnic communities.
Mr Wolpe, a former director of corporate affairs for Fairfax Media, owner of The Age, is senior adviser to US congressman Henry Waxman. He takes up his position with Ms Gillard in several weeks.
Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said while he personally had not dealt with Mr Wolpe ”my colleagues [in the Jewish community] are very positive about the relationship that can be built with him”. So far the dialogue with the Prime Minister had been very effective.
Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said there would not be a problem with Mr Wolpe’s appointment if there was similar liaison from Ms Gillard’s office with other faith communities.
Although Middle Eastern affairs are at the bottom rung of priorities for Australian politicians and there is nothing for Jewish lobbyists to do, Israel figures centrally in Jewish life. You won’t find an Australian Jew who has not visited Israel at least once, and many families have branches in Israel. In the neighborhood pharmacy, there is a Jewish National Fund blue box for donations to redeem the soil of Israel.
Here, Israel is still considered a tiny country surrounded by enemies. The use of the term “occupied territories” is considered “delegitimization” of Israel.
And then, six months ago, in the midst of the ugly campaign by the Im Tirtzu right-wing group against the New Israel Fund, following the Goldstone Report, a new branch of the New Israel Fund was established in Australia. Eight hundred Jewish lovers of Israel have already become members of the group, and have welcomed its chairwoman, Prof. Naomi Chazan, the same person whose picture Im Tirtzu put up in the streets in Israel showing a horn coming out of her head.
“I frequently find myself skipping reports in the newspaper about ‘price tag’ [attacks against Arabs and Israelis opposed to the settlements] or segregation of women, the list is getting longer and longer,” a young Jewish woman told me. “The work of the New Israel Fund is the only way left for people like me to support our dear brothers and sisters in Israel.”
This, if you will, is the contribution of the criminals of the hilltops, of Zeev Elkin and Ofir Akunis, to the New Israel Fund. Israel 2012 is forcing more and more Jews overseas to choose between loyalty to the Jewish state and loyalty to their humanistic and universal values.
A Jewish minority in enlightened countries cannot identify with a country that passes racist laws, persecutes human rights groups and besmirches the press. Some lovers of Israel have found a way to preserve their connection to the country by supporting groups that defend Israeli democracy.
Most of them, especially the younger generation, prefer to cut their ties. They are ashamed of us.
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and their ilk remain in power for a few more years, Israel will remain with only a handful of spineless lobbyists who make their living lobbying, along with power-drunk American Jewish billionaires who are ready to fight for Joseph’s Tomb to the last drop of our sons’ and grandsons’ blood.
This morning I was interviewed on Radio Adelaide about the limits (if any) of free speech in Australia:
It’s festival season, the Fringe, Adelaide Festival, WOMAD – and we’re all picking out which events we’ll go to – but what about the neo-Nazi aligned Hammered festival?
It’s to be held in Queensland– unsurprisingly it will be heavy metal music.
The festival is organised by the Southern Cross Hammerskins and ‘white resistance’ group, Blood and Honour Australia, which states it’s mission is to “secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The event be on April 21 – suspiciously close to Hitler’s birthday.
There have been calls to have it banned but the Labor government has refused to, saying it can’t stop ‘morons’ gathering but it will step in if anyone in attendance incites violence or commits racial vilification.
Tim Brunero spoke to Antony Loewenstein, a blogger, activist, author whose works include My Israel Question and online media contributor for New Matilda and Crikey about the controversy surrounding the event.
More on this latest video here.
This is the way they express themselves in private conversations and this is what they think. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman calls Haaretz “Der Sturmer,” the notorious Nazi propaganda tabloid; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Haaretz one of Israel’s two greatest enemies, along with The New York Times. Even the denial issued by Netanyahu’s bureau over the remarks by Jerusalem Post editor, Steve Linde, was weak and foggy: “Iran is the greatest enemy,” with nary a word about Haaretz.
That is to be expected: the attack on Israeli democracy will not pass over Haaretz. Netanyahu and Neeman are expressing their worldview. They want Israel without the High Court of Justice, without nonprofit associations, without Haaretz. There is no point in explaining to them and their ilk the task of the press, particularly when the other protective mechanisms of democracy are being increasingly undermined. They will not understand.
A person who excoriates one of the world’s most widely-admired newspapers, The New York Times, attests more to his own character than to that of the object of his assault. But we shall say this to both of these individuals: Your Israel, the one you are shaping now, owes a great debt to Haaretz. No other media outlet gives Israel a better name than the one you attack. No other whisper coming out of Israel engenders so much respect for Israel because Haaretz is one of its newspapers.
Sometimes, it is even misleading. Quite a few people throughout the world mistakenly think Haaretz is Israel. No, Haaretz is not Israel, unfortunately, but it is a different voice – the minority voice, which must be heard. It proved every day, both locally and to the world, that Israel is not only Avigdor Lieberman.
The recent murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist by (probably) Israel or America was a huge international story but most of the Western media coverage refused to call the killing by its rightful name, murder.
I was asked by Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post to comment about this press issue (my comment appears around 8:53):