Learning from Iraqi Good Samaritans

Just a few days ago, I returned from a short trip into Iraq with a small group of Christian peacemakers. Most of us had been to the country before, but under varying circumstances: I was on a combat deployment in 2004; Greg Barrett, our organizer, went as a journalist in the run-up to the invasion in 2003; and four were part of a peace team protesting the bombing campaign during that same period.

Shane Claiborne, Cliff Kindy, Weldon Nisly, and Peggy Gish were leaving Iraq in March 2003 when one of their vehicles was involved in an accident, leaving Cliff and Weldon with life-threatening injuries. Had it not been for a few Iraqi Good Samaritans, they may have never made it out alive.

Off the Mark?

Robert Hirschfield was wrong about media coverage of Israel and about the media watchdog organization CAMERA (“Peering Through the Wall,” November 2009). But if you’re trying to sell the patently false idea that the U.S. media treats Israel with “kid gloves,” it surely can’t hurt to simultaneously sling mud at the organization that has demonstrated otherwise.

First, there is the absurdly false charge that CAMERA is “pro-occupation.” We are nonpartisan, and take no position with regard to ultimate solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. No less disingenuous is the author’s caricature that CAMERA “attacks” reporters “it determines to have been insufficiently positive about Israeli policies.” In fact, we encourage journalists to abide by the journalistic codes of ethics that responsible media organizations have aspired to follow ever since the American Society of Newspaper Editors penned its “Canons of Journalism” in the mid-1920s. Foremost among these ethical guidelines is accuracy, something CAMERA’s research staff focuses on extensively and raises in cordial discussions with editors at major media organizations worldwide. These discussions often yield important corrections, which only help the media’s accuracy and credibility.

As to the wider argument of the article, anyone who reads the mainstream American press—not to mention Sojourners—realizes there is no shortage of criticism of Israel. And anyone who reads CAMERA’s Web site understands that many of these criticisms are overzealous, biased, and inaccurate.

Gilead Ini
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Boston, Massachusetts

Robert Hirschfield responds:

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Peering Through the Wall

When Israel launched its attacks on Gaza last December, Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, Israel’s prestigious daily, “Once again Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law, and wisdom.”

Such bold critique is not unusual in the Israeli media. Haaretz stands at the epicenter of dissent, with stories by writers such as Amira Hass and Levy that attack the government for its seizures of Palestinian lands, its savaging of Palestinian civilians, and its battlefield brutalities.

“There is no pressure on Haaretz,” Levy said in a phone interview from Israel. “Not even from the government. Here and there, people cancel their subscriptions, but nothing more than that. Haaretz would not surrender to that kind of pressure.”

The general lack of respect for official sensibilities was clearly illustrated in a November 2003 interview in Yediot Aharonot, a daily tabloid and the most widely circulated paper in Israel, with four former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security apparatus, its own FBI. Each interviewee condemned the occupation in voices that sounded more like Gideon Levy’s than J. Edgar Hoover’s.

Avraham Shalom, for instance, was quoted in the right-leaning paper as saying, “We are behaving disgracefully. Yes, there is no other word for it. Disgracefully. We totally debase the Palestinian individual … Nobody can take this. We too would not take it if it were done to us.” Ami Ayalon, another former Shin Bet head, agreed. “Much of what we are doing today [in the Territories] is immoral, some of it patently immoral.”

Israel is a country that takes its schizophrenic democracy seriously. It may deny the people it occupies their basic human rights, but it manages not to let that be an impediment to the functioning of its democratic institutions.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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