The issue of the Sydney Biennale receiving financial support from Transfield, a company profiting from running detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, has troubled many artists and activists (my recent Guardian column examined it).
Back in January 2013 I signed a statement as a Jew in a global campaign backing the Palestinian right of return. The same New York-based Jews have collected signatures for a new, equally vital statement and my signature appears below:
We salute the American Studies Association’s courageous endorsement of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli academic institutions, which are leading accomplices in more than six decades of ethnic cleansing, colonization, war crimes, and apartheid.
As Jews, we refuse to remain silent as a so-called “Jewish state,” armed by the U.S. and its allies, commits these injustices with impunity in our name.
Contrary to baseless charges of “anti-Semitism,” BDS resembles the boycotts that “singled out” similarly racist regimes in Jim Crow United States and apartheid South Africa.
Applying the same standards to apartheid Israel, BDS demands nothing more — nor less — than freedom and justice throughout all of historic Palestine, by calling for:
• An end to Israeli military occupation of the 1967 territories
• Full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel
• Right of return for Palestinian refugees, as affirmed by UN resolution 194
We call on Jews of conscience everywhere to honor our own proud heritage of resistance to oppression and injustice by standing with the Palestinian people, BDS, the ASA, and the growing international movement in support of these fundamental human rights.
Partial list of initial signers
(List in formation; affiliations listed for identification only. Add your name here.)
- Avigail Abarbanel, psychotherapist, activist, writer; Inverness, Scotland
- Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Switzerland
- Prof. Jonathan Beller, Humanities and Media Studies; Director, Graduate Program in Media Studies, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn
- Prof. Steve Brier, historian, New York
- Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, Tel Aviv
- Nora Barrows-Friedman, journalist; Oakland
- Max Blumenthal, journalist and author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
- Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture, UC Berkeley
- Lenni Brenner, author of Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators
- Estee Chandler, Community Organizer, Los Angeles
- Mike Cushman, Convener, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (UK)
- Eron Davidson, award-winning filmmaker, Roadmap to Apartheid, USA
- Warren Davis, labor and political activist, Philadelphia, PA
- Hedy Epstein, Nazi Holocaust survivor and human rights activist; St. Louis, MO
- Samuel Farber, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Brooklyn College, CUNY
- Joel Finkel, Jewish Voices for Peace-Chicago
- Prof. Cynthia Franklin, Co-Editor, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, University of Hawai’i
- Lee Gargaliano, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-US
- Dr. Terri Ginsberg, film and media scholar, New York
- Sherna Berger Gluck, emerita faculty, California State University, Long Beach; founding member, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Israel Divestment Campaign
- Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, Berkeley
- Hector Grad, Prof. of Social Anthropology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
- Ira Grupper, former National Co-Chair, New Jewish Agenda (1989-1993)
- Jeff Halper, Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
- Stanley Heller, Host, “The Struggle” Video News, TSVN
- Shir Hever, Jewish Voice for Just Peace, Germany
- Tikva Honig-Parnass, former member of the Zionist armed forces (1948); author of False Prophets of Peace: Liberal Zionism and the Struggle for Palestine
- Adam Horowitz, Co-Editor, Mondoweiss
- Selma James, Global Women’s Strike; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-UK
- Jake Javanshir, Independent Jewish Voices, Toronto
- Emily Katz Kishawi, Jewish Anti Zionist Network, San Francisco
- Sara Kershnar, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-International
- David Klein, Organizing Committee, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
- Toby Kramer, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-US
- David Letwin, activist and teacher, Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
- Michael Letwin, Former president, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Organizing Committee, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
- Dr. Les Levidow, Open University, UK
- Brooke Lober, PhD candidate, Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Arizona
- Antony Loewenstein, Australian journalist and author
- Jennifer Loewenstein, Faculty Associate, Middle East Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Samantha Liapes, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
- Barbara Lubin, Executive Director, Middle East Children’s Alliance; Oakland, CA
- Prof. David Makofsky, Research Anthropologist, People’s Republic of China
- Mike Marqusee, author of If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew
- Thomas Mayer, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Linda Milazzo, writer, activist, educator, Los Angeles
- Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
- Prof. Bertell Ollman, Dept. of Politics, New York University
- Prof. Ilan Pappé, Israeli historian and socialist activist
- Miko Peled, writer, activist, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine
- Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Sakharov Prize laureate, Jerusalem
- Karen Pomer, granddaughter of Henri B. van Leeuwen, Dutch anti-Zionist leader and Bergen-Belsen survivor
- Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London
- Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights (for ID purposes only); New York
- Ruben Rosenberg Colorni, Journalist, The News Junkie Post, Activist – Youth for Palestine; The Hague
- Lillian Rosengarten, activist for Palestinian liberation and a bi-national Israel/Palestinian State; New York
- Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics
- Ilana Rossoff, community organizer; New Jersey
- Cheryl Rubenberg, retired associate professor of Middle East politics at Florida International University (Miami)
- Josh Ruebner, Author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace
- Margot Salom, Just Peace for Palestine; Brisbane
- Yom Shamash, Independent Jewish Voices; Vancouver
- Tali Shapiro, Boycott from Within; Israel
- Sid Shniad, Independent Jewish Voices; Vancouver
- Jonatan Stanczak, Managing Director, The Freedom Theatre
- Marsha Steinberg, BDS-LA for Justice in Palestine
- Prof. Miriam Swenson, educational psychology
- Steve Terry, criminal defense attorney; Brooklyn, NY
- Sam Weinstein, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Labor
- Abraham Weizfeld, Administrative Secretary, Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians
- Marcy Winograd, former congressional candidate, Los Angeles
- Bekah Wolf, UC Hastings College of Law Student; Co-founder, Palestine Solidarity Project
- Sherry Wolf, Associate Editor, International Socialist Review
- Dr. Roger van Zwanenberg, Non-Executive Director, Pluto Books Ltd.; London
My weekly Guardian column is below:
But a major sponsor is Transfield, a company used by the Australian Federal Government to handle refugee services and which therefore profits from the asylum seeker industry on Nauru and Manus Island. This association has caused refugee activists to call for a boycott of the Biennale.
Sydney design academic, Matthew Kiem, recently penned an open letter to visual arts teachers to send a strong, public message to the Biennale that association with a company like Transfield was ethically unacceptable. He wrote in part:
The most appropriate response to this situation is to boycott the Biennale. While this may feel as though we are giving something up, it is in fact one of the best opportunities we have to make a material impact on the supply chains that permit the detention industry to work. We are in a particularly strong position here given that our decisions could have the effect of redirecting a significant number of students, income, and kudos away from [this event] and towards other kinds of experiences and discussions … A strong response this year is the best way to ensure that future Biennales are not funded through [companies associated with asylum seeker detention].
Kiem told artsHub that “we can and should be putting pressure on the Biennale organisers to find other ways of funding art.”
In the last week I’ve seen countless high profile refugee activists writing on Twitter that they intend to boycott the event and will encourage supporters and the public to follow suit.
Thus far the Biennale has stayed relatively quiet on the matter, though last Friday tweeted:
Naming and shaming corporate sponsors of cultural events and products has a long and noble history. London’s Tate Modern is backed by BP, causing British activists to stress the corporation’s questionable environmental practices. This year in Australia the Minerals Council, in an attempt to sex up and soften its image, is sponsoring a popular commercial radio program. Online protest was guaranteed.
Actor Scarlett Johansson recently found herself in the crosshairs of pro-Palestine advocates because she backed Sodastream, a company with a factory in an illegal settlement in the West Bank. Her reputation has taken a hit and the role of Palestinian workers under occupation received global attention. Other firms operating in the West Bank, while brazenly saying they don’t fear future boycotts, are naive if they don’t think similar actions will soon affect them.
In America recently the gender equality organisation Catalyst awarded weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin for “supporting women’s advancement”. I know there were a number of employees at Catalyst who expressed dismay at the tragic irony of praising a corporation that sells technology to some of the worst abusers of women in the world, such as Saudi Arabia. Separating politics from ethics is impossible.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, a critical social media campaign against the Biennale, currently developing organically, has the potential to embarrass the event and highlight the often vexed question of corporate sponsorship of artistic and cultural events. If the boycott grows, it won’t be the first time that these tactics have been employed in Australia over funding.
Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival faced outrage in 2002 when it was announced that Forestry Tasmania would be a sponsor in 2003.Artists boycotted, including novelist Peter Carey, and the move caused a vital debate about the ways in which organisations, often with a problematic public image, aim to alter perceptions by backing arts events. Principled participants have a potential choice; be involved and risk being seen as complicit or remove themselves and remain pure. In the real world, such decisions, especially for artists who need and crave exposure, are not easy matters.
Although it’s true that Transfield has a long history of backing various artistic forms, the last years have seen a conscious choice to enter the world of asylum detention. Both Serco and G4S know how financially beneficial this is.
The exact nature of Transfield’s work is mired in mystery - a press release on 29 January merely referred to Garrison Support Services and Welfare at both Manus Island and Nauru – but it’s clear that management sees further opportunities with Tony Abbott’s government; Canberra has a bottomless pit of money to “stop the boats” and punish refugees.
The links between the Biennale and Transfield are not hidden – the chairman of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is also an executive director at Transfield.
Is this really the kind of corporation to which a leading arts event wants to be associated? What message does this send to the wider community? Should it be acceptable to earn money from the grubby business of imprisoning asylum seekers while at the same time backing glittering artistic works?
I’ve asked the Biennale to address these contradictions. “Our understanding”, they write, “is that the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are run by the Serco Group, which is not a Biennale sponsor.” This is incorrect; Serco has no known involvement.
“If any sponsor were found to be directly involved in the abuse of refugees, or anyone else for that matter, we would naturally reconsider our relationship.”
The statement continues: “Transfield Services has been a long time supporter of the Biennale. They supply food, clothing and other provisions to a number of industries and government projects. They are a listed company with high ethical standards and a publicly stated code of conduct.”
Addressing the call to boycott the event, “we believe that the campaign is well intentioned but misguided.” I ask about the potential social media campaign against them. “Many of us at the Biennale hold strong views on the refugee issue,” they argue. “We would not knowingly associate with the abuse of a disadvantaged group like the refugees. We believe that any action to hinder the Biennale would damage the ability of 94 artists to exhibit their work and gain exposure for their talent. That would be regrettable.”
How the Biennale and related events are funded should be key public questions, especially in an age where far too many companies want to mask their dirty profit-making with shiny, artistic treats. It is our responsibility to demand better.
Welcome to the smell of futility. The last months have seen an avalanche of Zionists, liberal Zionists, columnists and fear-mongers claiming that boycotts against Israel are dangerous, yet offering nothing to end the occupation.
The latest, via Haaretz, is the Netanyahu government potentially spending huge dollars on attacking BDS backers. There’s one small problem (as usual): it’s about spin and does nothing to end daily violence against Palestinians:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting Sunday evening to discuss how to cope with the growing threat of the economic boycott on Israel in light of continued occupation and settlement construction in the West Bank.
Senior Israeli officials said prior to the meeting that the plan was to try to decide on a strategy and determine whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.
The discussion had been scheduled to take place last week, but canceled at the last minute due to the political row between Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Sunday’s meeting will take place amid a different confron
tation – this time between Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The previous discussion was supposed to include a broad forum of ministers. The Science Ministry asked to separate the discussion on the economic boycott threat from a discussion on the academic boycott threat, since there is already a strategy for the latter, while the former has yet to be dealt with.
The discussion, scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M., will only include Lieberman, Bennett and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is expected to present a plan his ministry has been working on.
According to plan, Israel should be proactive in its opposition to organizations who promote boycotts against Israel. The plan proposes to invest substantial resources in organizing a public campaign.
Minister Steinitz is demanding a budget of 100 million shekels for implementation of the plan, which would include PR materials and aggressive legal and media campaigns against pro-boycott organizations.
The Foreign Ministry has a different approach. Diplomats think the non-governmental organizations pushing for a wide-ranging boycott against Israel and not strictly against the settlements are relatively marginal and that a public campaign against them will only play into their hands, bolstering them.
The Foreign Ministry thinks the public response to organizations promoting a boycott against Israel should be constricted. It wants to focus on less public diplomatic activity to combat such initiatives and believes advancing the peace process with the Palestinians will stave off a large portion of the boycott threats.
One of the issues to be discussed at the meeting is whether to file legal suits in European and North American courts against organizations that are proponents of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Ministers will also consider whether to take legal action against financial institutions that boycott settlements, or boycott Israeli companies that are somehow operating in or connected to the settlements.
Another consideration is whether to activate the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., specifically AIPAC, in order to promote legislation in Congress against the economic boycott of Israel, akin to the legislation that was passed in the 1970′s against the Arab boycott.
One of the issues that will be raised during the discussion is that there is a lack of knowledge and inefficient tracking by Israeli intelligence of pro-BDS organizations.
The Strategic Affairs Ministry has provided the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence department a budget of several million shekels for the purpose of bolstering military surveillance of such organizations. However, the need for the prime minister to instruct the Shin Bet Security Service and the Mossad on the efforts is likely to come up.
Strong piece in this weekend’s New York Times by Palestinian Omar Barghouti on the logic and increasing power of BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] against Israel:
The landslide vote by the American Studies Association in December to endorse an academic boycott of Israel, coming on the heels of a similar decision by the Association for Asian-American Studies, among others, as well as divestment votes by several university student councils, proves that B.D.S. is no longer a taboo in the United States.
The B.D.S. movement’s economic impact is also becoming evident. The recent decision by the $200 billion Dutch pension fund, PGGM, to divest from the five largest Israeli banks due to their involvement in occupied Palestinian territory has sent shock waves through the Israeli establishment.To underscore the “existential” danger that B.D.S. poses, Israel and its lobby groups often invoke the smear of anti-Semitism, despite the unequivocal, consistent position of the movement against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. This unfounded allegation is intended to intimidate into silence those who criticize Israel and to conflate such criticism with anti-Jewish racism.
Arguing that boycotting Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic is not only false, it also presumes that Israel and “the Jews” are one and the same. This is as absurd and bigoted as claiming that a boycott of a self-defined Islamic state like Saudi Arabia, say, because of its horrific human rights record, would of necessity be Islamophobic.
The B.D.S. movement’s call for full equality in law and policies for the Palestinian citizens of Israel is particularly troubling for Israel because it raises questions about its self-definition as an exclusionary Jewish state. Israel considers any challenge to what even the Department of State has criticized as its system of “institutional, legal, and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens as an “existential threat,” partially because of the apartheid image that this challenge evokes.
I was recently interviewed for the Executive Style section (!) at Fairfax Media by Gary Nunn, under the headline, Winning By Putting Yourself Second, on my work over Palestine:
Antony Loewenstein is an Australian-Jewish opponent of Israel. Having spent time in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and written two books on the subject, he says it’s his “responsibility as a human first, and a Jew second, to speak out when injustice occurs committed by my people’’.
He says while growing up in Melbourne, he attended Sabbath meals with his family.
‘‘I recall discussions about Israel and Palestine and the casual racism expressed towards Arabs. I didn’t have the knowledge then or language to forcefully respond but it made me distinctly uncomfortable.”
If he didn’t have the forceful language back then, he’s certainly learnt it since.
“Too many politicians and journalists stay silent and endorse Israeli policies out of a deluded sense of solidarity. Their silence shames us all.”
He admits that his stance puts plenty at stake. “My parents have been partly ostracised by many in the Melbourne Jewish community … and I continue to receive hate mail and occasional death threats for daring to support the Palestinians.”
The Zionist lobby and its various backers can argue that global anti-Semitism is the reason the Jewish state is increasingly isolated. Dream on. Here’s Larry Derfner, writing in +972 Magazine, explaining the sign of the BDS times:
On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.
In her narration, Weiss ridicules the settlers and the government’s head-in-the-sand reaction to the rising tide. The segment from the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Park opens against a background of twangy guitar music like from a Western. “To the world it’s a black mark, a symbol of the occupation,” she reads. “But here they insist it’s actually a point of light in the area, an island of coexistence that continues to flourish despite efforts to erase it from the map.” A factory owner who moved his business to Barkan from the other side of the Green Line makes a fool of himself by saying, “If the state would only assist us by boycotting the Europeans and other countries causing us trouble …” The Barkan segment ends with the manager of Shamir Salads saying that between the European and Palestinian boycott, he’s losing about $115,000 to $143,000 a month in sales. “In my view,” he says, “it will spread from [the West Bank] to other places in Israel that have no connection to the territories.”
Weiss likewise ridicules Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who runs the government’s “hasbara war,” as he puts it. Weiss: “Yes, in the Foreign Ministry they are for the time being sticking to the old conception: it’s all a question of hasbara. This week the campaign’s new weapon, developed with the contributions of world Jewry: (Pause) Another hasbara agency, this time with the original name ‘Face To Israel.’” She quotes the co-owner of Psagot Winery saying the boycott is “nothing to get excited about,” that people have been boycotting Jews for 2,000 years, and concluding, “If you ask me, in the last 2,000 years, our situation today is the best it’s ever been.” That final phrase, along with what Weiss describes as Elkin’s “conceptzia,” are the same infamous words that Israelis associate with the fatal complacency that preceded the surprise Yom Kippur War.
The Channel 2 piece features abortive telephone calls with boycott “victims” who didn’t want to be interviewed for fear of bad publicity. The most dramatic testimony comes from Daniel Reisner, an attorney with the blue-chip law firm Herzog Fox Neeman who advises such clients. He explains:
Most of the companies victimized by the boycott behave like rape victims. They don’t want to tell anybody. It’s as if they’ve contracted some sort of disease and they don’t want anyone to know.
More and more companies are coming to us for advice – quietly, in the evening, where no one can hear them – and they say: ‘I’ve gotten into this or that situation; is there something you can do to help?’”
Without giving the names of his clients or the extent of their losses, Reisner says the boycott is causing Israeli businesses to lose foreign contracts and investors. “My fear is of a snowball effect,” he says. Prof. Shai Arkin, vice president for R&D at Hebrew University, says there are many cases of Israeli candidates for research fellowships at foreign universities being turned down because their resumes include service in the Israeli army.
Advice from a friend abroad comes from Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel: “I love Israel. And I’m worried that in another five years Israel will wake up and find that it doesn’t have enough friends.”
Weiss asks the EU ambassador here, Lars Faaborg-Andersen: “If Israel would change its policy, all this would go away?” The ambassador replies: “Yes. It is about Israeli policies. If the settlement business continue[s] to expand, Israel will be facing increasing isolation.”
The piece presents Tzipi Livni as the country’s would-be savior. She says the current negotiations with the Palestinians (in which she represents Israel, along with Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molho) are holding back the boycott’s expansion, but that “if there is a crisis [in the talks], everything will break loose.” She says she is “shouting at people to wake up.”
Weiss: “What does this all mean? What is it going to be like here? South Africa?”
Livni: “Yes. I spoke with some of the Jews who are living n South Africa now. They say, ‘We thought we had time. We thought we could deal with this. We thought we didn’t need the world so much for everything. And it happens all at once.’”
Sixteen minutes of prime time on Israel’s all-popular TV news show on Saturday night, the end of the week in this country. Bracing stuff. A wrench thrown into the national denial machine – and by Channel 2. Definitely a sign of progress – and of life. Another reminder of why this country is worth fighting for – which, for many of us Israeli boycott-supporters, if not necessarily most of us, is what the boycott, strange as it may sound, is all about.
The role of corporate media is to serve powerful business interest and advertisers; serving the public good ain’t really a serious consideration.
New data from the US is both disturbing and unsurprising and shows even more reason why alternative and indy media must grow in power (via IPS):
If people outside the United States are looking for answers why Americans often seem so clueless about the world outside their borders, they could start with what the three major U.S. television networks offered their viewers in the way of news during 2013.
Syria and celebrities dominated foreign coverage by ABC, NBC, and CBS – whose combined evening news broadcasts are the single most important media source of information about national and international events for most Americans. Vast portions of the globe went almost entirely ignored, according to the latest annual review by the authoritative Tyndall Report.
Latin America, most of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia apart from Afghanistan, and virtually all of East Asia – despite growing tensions between China and Washington’s closest regional ally, Japan – were virtually absent from weeknight news programmes of ABC, NBC, and CBS last year, according to the report, which has tracked the three networks’ evening news coverage continuously since 1988.
Out of nearly 15,000 minutes of Monday-through-Friday evening news coverage by the three networks, the Syrian civil war and the debate over possible U.S. intervention claimed 519 minutes, or about 3.5 percent of total air time, according to the report.
That made the Syrian conflict and the U.S. policy response the year’s single-most-covered event. It was followed by coverage of the terrorist bombing by two Chechnya-born brothers that killed three people at the finish line of last April’s Boston Marathon (432 minutes); the debate over the federal budget (405 minutes); and the flawed rollout of the healthcare reform law, or Obamacare (338 minutes).
The next biggest international story was the death in December of former South African President Nelson Mandela (186 minutes); the July ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and its aftermath; the coverage of Pope Francis I (157 minutes, not including an additional 121 minutes devoted to Pope Benedict’s retirement and the Cardinals’ conclave that resulted in Francis’ succession); and the birth of Prince George, the latest addition to the British royal family (131 minutes).
The continued fighting in Afghanistan came in just behind the new prince at 121 minutes for the entire year.
The strong showings by the papal succession, Mandela’s death, and Prince George’s birth all demonstrated the rise of “celebrity journalism” in news coverage, Andrew Tyndall, the report’s publisher, told IPS. He added that “a minor celebrity like Oscar Pistorius (the South African so-called “Bladerunner” track star accused of murdering his girlfriend) attracted more coverage [by the TV networks – 51 minutes] than all the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the  months before Mandela’s death.”
An average of about 21 million U.S. residents watch the network news on any given evening. While the cable news channels – CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC – often get more public attention, their audience is actually many times smaller, according to media-watchers.
“In 2012, more than four times as many people watched the three network newscasts than watched the highest-rated show on the three cable channels during prime time,” Emily Guskin, a research analyst for the Pew Research Centre’s Journalism Project, told IPS.
As in other recent years, news about the weather – especially its extremes and the damage they wrought – received a lot of attention on the network news, although, also consistent with past performance, the possible relationship between extreme weather and climate change was rarely, if ever, drawn by reporters or anchors.
Last year’s tornado season, severe winter weather, drought and wild forest fires in the western states constituted three of the top six stories of the year, according to the report. Along with the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, those four topics reaped nearly 900 minutes of coverage on the three networks, or about six percent of the entire year’s coverage.
“A major flaw in the television news journalism is its inability to translate anecdotes of extreme weather into the overarching concept of climate change,” noted Tyndall. “As long as these events are presented as meteorological and not climatic, then they will be covered as local and domestic, not global.
“An exception in 2013 was Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines,” he noted. That event captured 83 minutes of coverage among the three networks, making it the single biggest story by far out of Asia for the year.
By comparison, the growing tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea – which many foreign-policy analysts here rate as one of the most alarming events of the past year if, for no other reason, than the U.S. is committed by treaty to militarily defend Japan’s territory – received a mere eight minutes of coverage.
Two other major U.S. foreign policy challenges received more coverage. North Korea and the volatile tenure of its young leader, Kim Jong-un, received a total of 87 minutes, including 10 minutes to visiting basketball veteran Dennis Rodman, of coverage during 2013.
Events in Iran, including the election of President Hassan Rouhani and negotiations over its nuclear programme, received a total of 104 minutes of coverage between the three networks over the course of the year, nearly as much attention as was given the British royals.
Libya received 64 minutes of coverage, but virtually all of it was devoted to the domestic controversy over responsibility for the September 2012 killings of the U.S. ambassador and three other officials there. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the civil war and humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic received no coverage at all.
As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict which Secretary of State John Kerry has made a top priority along with a nuclear deal with Iran, it received only 16 minutes of coverage in 2013. “Palestine has virtually disappeared from the news agenda,” noted Tyndall.
My weekly Guardian column is published below:
The sight of Australian citizens associated with the WikiLeaks party sitting and chatting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad during their recent “solidarity mission”, along with their comments about the regime, is a damning indictment on a party that ran a dismal election campaign in 2013 and has never bothered to explain its subsequent collapse.
For WikiLeaks supporters such as myself (I have been backing the group since 2006), this latest PR exercise is nothing more than an act of stunning political bastardry. It does nothing to push for true peace in Syria, and essentially amounts to a propaganda coup for a brutal dictatorship. It’s also a slap in the face to the WikiLeaks backers who are still expecting answers about why the party imploded without public review or reflection.
The problem isn’t meeting Assad himself. He’s the (unelected) leader of Syria and an essential part of any resolution of the conflict, still supported by many Syrians who fear Islamic fundamentalism. Saudi Arabian-backed extremism across the Middle East, implicitly supported by the Western powers now focused on Assad’s butchery, is spreading sectarian carnage by pitting Sunni against Shia, leading to the death of thousands. Syrian civilians are suffering the full brunt of this madness. Saudi funding for Syrian “rebels” – in essence backing Al-Qaida terrorism – is repeating the playbook used against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, enriching militants in a battle that will inevitably come back to bite the Saudis and their Western allies.
A third way is, for the time being, out of sight. And in this context, it’s hard to see how the WikiLeaks party can judiciously show solidarity to Syria’s besieged people.
When the WikiLeaks party delegation returned to Australia, various members expressed their views about the trip. Activist Jamal Daoud, who wrote in 2012 that he supported Assad, blogged that he had heard while in Syria that “the alternative to the regime is total chaos.” Although acknowledging that meetings were held with both regime and rebel representatives, Daoud clearly believes that the regime remaining in place is the ideal outcome.
John Shipton, chief executive of the party and the father of Julian Assange, spoke to ABC Radio in Melbourne to defend the mission. He mouthed the talking points of the regime itself – that they’re fighting terrorism in cities and towns across the country – and claimed that the WikiLeaks party is planning to set up an office in Damascus in 2014. “We’ll continue to expose the truth to the Australian people and to our international audience”, he said. Shipton added that as the delegation walked around Damascus, they found “a lot of support for the government” – which is undoubtedly true, but likely to be similar to journalists being taken around by minders from Saddam Hussein in Iraq and finding nearly universal backing for the dictator.
Sydney University academic Tim Anderson – who wrote in 2007 that Cuba is a democracy and the US is not, ignoring the lack of an open press and the Castro brothers’ authoritarian ruling in the process – also defended his participation in the mission after The Australian newspaper attacked him. He went on to state: “forget the absurd myth of a single man [Assad] ‘killing his own people’. That line is designed to pull the wool over our eyes. This is a ‘regime change’ exercise that went wrong, because Syria resisted.”
It is deeply problematic that Anderson and other side players downplay or brush aside the gross abuses committed by the regime, which have occurred both during the war and during Bashar and his father Hafez’s decades-long rule.
Considering how the mainstream media will spin such a trip must be a major consideration when talking about “truth” in a modern, complex war. How support for a peaceful resolution practically occurs when facts on the ground are notoriously difficult to assess should be the heart of the matter. Instead, it appears that the WikiLeaks party was caught up in an inevitable maelstrom of their own naive making. If you visit Syria and are pictured meeting Assad, you should make damn sure you’re on the front foot to rebut the likely criticisms and provide a cogent and detailed rebuttal to what you saw, and why a few WikiLeaks party members from Australia can make any difference to the war. You should also know that any “solidarity mission” to Syria will be used by either side as a way to bolster their claims and defend their own crimes, of which there have been plenty by all sides.
Moral and political clarity is vital – which is why, for example, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was rightly condemned in my view after he voiced support for Iran and Syria in the process of opposing “US imperialism“, and refused to oppose human rights abuses in both nations. Equally, being a supporter of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination shouldn’t automatically lead to backing Fatah or Hamas, two groups with a documented record of abusing their own citizens.
The situation in Syria is dire, with dirty hands on all sides. As it stands, the solution is not with the Baath party, nor the Al-Qaida-aligned rebels – but this is a decision for the Syrian people to decide. Encouraging a peaceful settlement and negotiations must be the goal. The WikiLeaks organisation remains an essential tool in holding governments to account, but its Australian-based party’s visit to Syria exposes the dangers of believing that the “enemy’s enemy is my friend”. It is not.
Any thinking Jew (and/or human being) has major issues with the ways in which Israel occupies the Palestinians. It’s something I’ve written about and struggled with for years.
Al-Jazeera journalist Matthew Cassel (a visitor to Australia in 2011 and we shared a stage talking about the Arab revolutions) has produced a moving, telling, revealing and beautiful two-part documentary about these issues. Essential viewing:
A fascinating town hall meeting filmed in New York that covers Israel/Palestine, Cuba, Libya, foreign policy and morality: