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Americans denied fair debate on Israel
By Ray Hanania
IN the past few months, two major academic organizations voted to boycott Israel over Israel’s discriminatory policies against Christian and Muslim Arabs.
The boycotts by the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Studies Associations (ASA) don’t distinguish between Israel and the occupation, but they reflect growing criticism of Israel’s war against civil rights. The boycotts have created anguish for Israel and have sparked a massive campaign in Congress and in the American news media to excoriate Israel’s critics as “anti-Semitic.” Oh the agony of having to witness Israel being criticized in America!
Members of Congress are hysterical. They spend more time defending Israel than representing the interests of American taxpayers because they are rewarded generously by Israel’s powerful Political Action Committees (PACs) to keep Americans in the dark.
Criticism of those who criticize Israel is amplified by the one-sided, biased (prejudiced) mainstream American news media. It doesn’t matter if you are or are not Jewish. If you stand up and defend Israel blindly, your journalism career with benefit. It’s just the opposite for columnists like me who criticize Israeli policies. But then, I am American Arab.
The fact is most columnists who write about the Arab-Israeli conflict for America’s largest newspapers are pro-Israel and Jewish, too. It’s also a fact that you jeopardize your career if you dare to criticize Israel. Most columns critical of Israel are rejected by the media.
In the war of words, there are many Jewish American columnists who defend Israel and criticize the Arabs. There is not one Arab columnist writing on a regular basis for a major American newspaper who criticizes Israel the way Israel’s supporters attack the Arabs.
Arab journalists who get close to the top walk on eggshells. If they dare to write anything too critical of Israel, they are out. We’ve seen what happens to Arab journalists who get close to the media pinnacle.
Octavia Nasr was fired from CNN for expressing condolences in a 140-character posting on Twitter on the death of a moderate leader of Hezbollah. Helen Thomas was fired by the Hearst Newspapers and censured by the Society of Professional Journalists for telling a pro-Israel Internet blogger that Israel should end its occupation of the Palestinians.
There is no defense for Israel’s conduct. Killing innocent civilians including women and children is wrong. Israel’s explanation is simple.
Those women and children are collateral damage in Israel’s war against terrorism. If a person, whom Israel designates as a “terrorist,” runs into a home, Israel doesn’t send soldiers to arrest, charge or prosecute in a courtroom. Israel just blows up the house with women and children inside. Can you imagine the outrage if Chicago police blew up the homes of suspected criminals instead of prosecuting them in the court system, and innocent women and children were killed in the process? It is intolerable everywhere, except when it comes to Israel.
But rather than debate that response, Israel’s defenders just attack the critics personally, in much the same way that extremist Islamic activists attack Arab moderates, especially Christian Arabs like me.
Pro-Israel columnists don’t mind using their powers at the top of American journalism to harshly condemn those who criticize Israel’s failure to abide by the rule of law. I feel sorry for newspaper columnists like Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Goldberg and Richard Cohen. They have to compromise their professional ethics every day to defend Israel against these critics.
But it’s easy for them. Their columns reach hundreds of millions of American readers, who wouldn’t know the difference between a Palestinian and a Pakistani or an Iranian and an Indian. We are all dark-skinned foreigners and “guilty until proven innocent” of terrorism. And very few of their colleagues take them to task for their biased views.
When the ASA announced its boycott against Israeli institutions, Krauthammer blasted the ASA as “anti-Semitic.” Cohen was clever, calling them anti-Semitic in a backhanded way, but referring to them as “asinine.” The New York Post’s Goldberg didn’t have to call them “anti-Semitic;” he’s done it so many times before in his endless pro-Israel blah, blah, blah. Friedman, who makes a fortune from pro-Israel books and speeches at Israeli academic institutions, called the boycotters “anti-Semitic.” He’s the least objectionable of the four.
Ironically, most write about other topics, often with balance, clarity and insight. But when it comes to Israel, they toss their professionalism out the window and they take on the role of Israel’s flacks, defending a foreign country at the expense of free speech and open debate.
Imagine. Four of Israel’s highest profile champions at four of the largest newspapers in America all unleashing their partisan rage against Israel’s critics at the same time. What makes their actions most disturbing is that they all happen to be Jewish, and they should know better than to loosely throw around accusations of anti-Semitism. It undermines the fight against real anti-Semitism and against bigotry and discrimination, too.
Yet, not one American newspaper has the courage – or journalistic integrity – to publish a column from an American Arab that offers the other side. And the fact that they don’t isn’t even considered a problem.
I disagree with the boycotters who extend the boycott calls beyond the West Bank occupation. I recognize Israel’s right to exist in the context of peace, which so far has not been reached. I oppose violence in any form. I oppose hate and racism and believe that democracy and free speech are essential to knowledge.
I oppose a boycott against Israel, supporting only a boycott against the settlers and any products Israel exploits from the occupied territories. The mainstream American newspapers don’t care, however, because I also challenge Israel’s government policies.
The news media demands loyalty to Israel above and beyond objectivity, fairness and opinions that provide insight. But shilling for a foreign government is not real journalism.
– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania
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Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com