Note: This post contains what some may regard as more than their minimum daily requirement of sarcasm. Personally, I regard this as healthy facetiousness towards deserving recipients. But if you are facetiousness-sensitive (or have any other relevant allergies), by all means, skip this post. I don’t get paid by the reader (or, come to think of it, any other way).
The April 27th edition of the Forward featured a story entitled “Al Jazeera Gathering Draws a Full Minyan To Heart of Arab World,” which appears below with minimal deletions of mine, including removal of the last names of the Jewish participants:
Doha, Qatar – Some participants at the third-annual forum of the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera were sorry they didn’t bring matzo with them — had they known how many fellow Jews were attending the media conference, they would have made a Passover Seder.
“We could have used the hotel wine to fill our cups,” Mark L. said only half-jokingly. A professor of Middle East studies at University of California in Irvine, L. was one of several Jewish participants who attended the invitation-only conference in Doha, organized by Al Jazeera.
Ethan Z., whose wife is a Reform rabbi, said that he had originally planned to hold a Seder in Doha. “I told my wife, and she wrote me a two-page Haggadah,” he said, shortly after speaking on a panel on Internet and the media. “But I didn’t bring the matzo.”
The Jewish participants were by no means relegated to the sidelines.
New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh gave the keynote address; LeVine and International Herald Tribune executive editor Michael Oreskes were panelists, and David Marash, the Washington bureau anchor of Al Jazeera English, logged a stint as a moderator.
The relatively high number of Jewish academics, journalists and media experts who attended the event stood in stark contrast to the view in some circles that the network is anti-Jewish and anti-Western. Some critics have gone so far to brand it “Osama Bin-Laden’s TV Network,” a name which Al Jazeera executives say comes from the Bush administration and conservative American television commentators.
The general atmosphere at the event was open and friendly among Arab and Western participants. “If there is any antisemitism lurking around here, it hasn’t been directed at me,” said Danny [S.] in a heavy New York accent. “They make a distinction between U.S. or Israeli policy and religion.”
[Mr. S.], vice president of Globalvision, a documentary film production company, said that he attended the event because “in the post-9/11 world it is imperative to understand what people think and this forum provides the opportunity to mingle, discuss and even to get into arguments.”
Like many other participants, his main criticisms were that few women participated and panel discussions were not engaging enough. Indeed, whether dressed in sharp suits and ties or starched white floor-length dishdashas and white head coverings, the well-heeled forum panelists mostly agreed with each other. If anything, it appeared that some of the Al Jazeera moderators were avoiding conflict. . . .
“To be here with the media makers and icons of the Western world as they converge with those of the Arab world is really inspiring,” said Nora [F.], as she sat around a round table where she shared a buffet lunch with a number of American and Arab journalists. A 28-year-old producer at Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, Calif., a left-wing radio network that tends to be fiercely critical of American foreign policy, [Ms. F.] said that the forum was “building a bridge between the Western and Arab media and confronting the prejudices in the so-called ‘War on Terror.’”
“There is no problem with Jews here,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic-daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a regular commentator on Middle East affairs who opposes American support for Israel as long as it occupies Palestinian territory.
In general, Al Jazeera officials took the same line, insisting that the network does not make distinctions based on race, religion or gender. When asked by e-mail to provide contact details for Jewish employees to be interviewed for this story, Lana Khachan, the senior spokesperson at Al Jazeera English refused. “We are not interested in pursuing a story based on our staff’s religion,” Khachan wrote back. “We have over 900 highly experienced staff based [around the world]. We have qualified people on board of all nationalities and religions each employed for their merit. The staff comprises of more than 30 different nationalities 45 ethnicities, enabling Al Jazeera English to provide a unique grassroots perspective on important world events and report on the untold stories from the under-reported regions of the world.”
Several of the top employees at the network’s English operation are Jewish: Marash and his wife Amy work in the Washington bureau with an Israeli-American producer, and former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian moderates the televised monthly Doha Debates.
Al Jazeera has been harshly criticized in the West for providing airtime to terrorists like Osama bin Laden, but it notes that American networks borrowed that material. It was also the first Arabic network to give Israelis air time. “Al Jazeera was seriously attacked by Arabs — Islamist, nationalist, and even governments like Saudi Arabia — for inviting Israeli journalists and government officials to present their point of view,” Atwan said.
Despite the network’s declared dedication to openness, not one member of the Israeli media was present at the forum, even though the Israeli YES satellite carrier pushed BBC Prime off air to make room for Al Jazeera English, which already boasts of having 500,000 homes viewing in Israel. The absence of Israelis was particularly noticeable given the theme of this year’s event: “Media and the Middle East, Beyond the Headlines.”
“I don’t know the reasons no Israeli journalists attended, but I think there is a general attitude of talking about peace with Israel but not talking to Israel,” said Yoav Stern, the Arab Affairs correspondent of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz
To my mind, there are two stories here: One, the way in which Al Jazeera manipulated these willing or clueless dupes into serving as trophy Jews for their anti-Zionist — read: anti-Jewish — cause. Second, the way in which the Forward abdicated any sense of journalistic acumen or sophistication and largely reported the story straightfowardly, just as Al Jazeera would have wanted, with barely a glimmer of recognition of the PR coup being engineered here. A double dupe: Al Jazeera 2, the usefully idiotic Jews 0.
Now, I take a back seat to no one in my abhorrence of the outrage committed by a handful of chareidi-outfitted individuals who attended Ahmedinejad’s Holocaust denial conference in Teheran some months back. But I ask the reader to bear in mind that episode, and the intense, worldwide and Jewish coverage it garnered, for comparative purposes, as we briefly parse this more recent, almost entirely ignored (or when reported, as here, irresponsibly so) episode of Jews shilling for another reprehensible, cunning enemy of the Jews.
First there are the cutesy opening references to a “full minyan,” a Pesach Seder and the really neat two-page Haggadah that a Reform rebbetzin whipped up for her hubby. All so adorable — as if this was nothing more sinister than a CAJE conference in the Bay Area, rather than an elaborate ploy by “bin Laden’s network” in Qatar. Oh, I forgot, Al Jazeera says that name “comes from the Bush administration and conservative American television commentators,” which, of course, for most of the Forward’s readers means it can’t possibly be true.
And lest you suspicious types (and probably closet anti-Muslim bigots) think the invited Jews (talk about a chosen People!) were just so much window dressing, we’re told that, to the contrary, they “were by no means relegated to the sidelines.” See there!
But there’s more: the reporter notes perspicaciously that the “relatively high number of Jewish academics, journalists and media experts who attended the event stood in stark contrast to the view in some circles that the network is anti-Jewish and anti-Western.” Now, let’s think about this: could it just be that those aren’t two irreconcilable propositions, i.e., that the network actually is — as “some circles” (you know who you are) claim — both anti-Jewish and anti-Western, and still saw fit to invite Jews; anti-Semites do that sometimes, you know.
In fact, taking our (paranoid?) musings one step further, could it just be that the reason the network invited so many Jews is precisely because it is anti-Jewish and anti-Western and thought such invitations useful to mask those attitudes (with Exhibit A being a certain Jewish newspaper article of April 27)? Just a thought.
But wait, it simply can’t be true that Al Jazeera hates Jews because the reporter quotes one of Al Jazeera’s hand-picked Jews, Danny S. as telling us so, opining most earnestly that “if there’s any anti-Semitism lurking around here, it hasn’t been directed at me.” Mr. S. is most likely a very sophisticated fellow, being vice-president of Globalvision and stuff, which sounds like something real big, and he apparently suspected initially that Al Jazeera might have invited this minyan of merry Jews to come thousands of miles to this high-profile confab to be browbeaten, harangued, spit upon, ejected, and maybe even subjected to a bissel torture, and yet — wonder of wonders — he hasn’t seen any of that directed towards him. The reason for all the good vibes flowing in Doha? Because, you see, “[t]hey make a distinction between U.S. or Israeli policy and religion.” Have you heard that one before? Apparently, the Forward’s reporter hasn’t. How fast can you say Tony Judt or Mearsheimer and Walt?
In fact, Mr. S. tells us he was positively looking forward to “[getting] into arguments” with his hosts, but likely to his chagrin, the reporter notes that “the well-heeled forum panelists mostly agreed with each other. If anything, it appeared that some of the Al Jazeera moderators were avoiding conflict. . .” Those Al Jazeera guys are just so peace-loving, so agreeable, so eager to please, just so . . . peachy!
And just in case you needed any further proof that the Al Jazeera-niks (hey, I wonder if they’d like to start using that phrase; maybe right after they send out those refrigerator magnets with the Al Jazeera logo and licht bentchen times for Qatar and Boro Park) are, like, cool with Jews, two further pieces of evidence are presented.
One is a statement by Abdel Bari Atwan, an Arabic-language newspaper editor, that “[t]here is no problem with Jews here.” Hey, it doesn’t get any more clearcut than that. So his name is Abdel, not Murray; what are you, prejudiced or something?
Second, 28-year-old Nora F., a producer for a left-wing radio network, observed that “[t]o be here with the media makers and icons of the Western world as they converge with those of the Arab world is really inspiring.” She obviously really liked it there, and, after all, who wouldn’t relish the chance to sit with world icons of all sorts. Inspiring, indeed. And you know you can count on Ms. F. for a reality-based assessment of things, seeing as she refers to something called the ” ‘so-called War on Terror’,” which she probably saw mentioned on a bumper sticker on Air Force One.
At one point, it seemed as if the reporter was ready to do some real reportage, rather than softball pitching, when she noted that “[w]hen asked by e-mail to provide contact details for Jewish employees to be interviewed for this story, Lana Khachan, the senior spokesperson at Al Jazeera English refused.” But she then followed up with both a lengthy defensive explanation from an Al Jazeera frontman and her reference to the fact that “[s]everal of the top employees at the network’s English operation are Jewish” (which was confusing, since, if she knows of these Jewish employees, why didn’t she indeed interview them, which was why she asked Al Jazeera for names to begin with).
Only at the story’s very end does the reporter let on that something might be amiss in Al Jazeera-land, writing that “[d]espite the network’s declared dedication to openness, not one member of the Israeli media was present at the forum . . . . The absence of Israelis was particularly noticeable given the theme of this year’s event: ‘Media and the Middle East, Beyond the Headlines.'” But then again, she doesn’t say no Israeli journalists were invited, just that none attended; so perhaps, it’s those rejectionist Israelis who are the culprits.
I don’t think there’s any point in trying to decide whether the dupes at this conference or at the one in Teheran are more morally reprehensible than the other; both groups are outrageous for giving cover and encouragement to sworn enemies of our people. But in one particular way, I think the former are more dangerous, and this article demonstrates why. The torrent of Jewish opprobrium loosed upon the Teheran contingent showed that whatever PR mileage Ahmedinejad may have gotten out of his little charade in other quarters, the Jews weren’t taken in. This puff piece, however, in a national Jewish newspaper, shows that the same unfortunately can’t be said of what happened in Qatar.