The Missing Context
September 1, 2001
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A front-page dispatch in today's New York Times reports from Durban, South Africa, on a United Nations anti-racism conference that has turned into an Israel-bashing fiasco.
One glaring problem with this story is that the Times manages to go on for about 1200 words on the question of Israel's supposed racism without a single quote from an Israeli.
Another problem is the missing context. The Times reports that Yasser Arafat condemned Israel as racist "after the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he had brokered an agreement to eliminate language in conference documents that the Bush administration considered offensive."
The Times also reports that "Hoping to break the diplomatic impasse, several black American members of Congress met privately with Mr. Arafat. The meeting was arranged by Mr. Jackson, who persuaded Mr. Shaath to write his conciliatory statement this morning. But while the Palestinians were meeting with Representatives John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, and Sheila Jackson-Lee, Democrat of Texas, Mr. Arafat learned of clashes between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Hebron. In an interview late tonight, Mr. Arafat repeatedly refused to say he endorsed the language of compromise used by Mr. Shaath."
To read this, you'd think that Rep. Conyers and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were representing Israeli interests at the meeting, or even representing the overwhelmingly pro-Israel sentiments in the U.S. Congress. In fact, Rep. Conyers is one of Israel's bitterest enemies in the Congress. When the House voted recently 411-4 to urge the U.N. to provide Israel with videotape showing the aftermath of a Hezbollah kidnapping, Mr. Conyers was one of the four who voted against it. When the House voted 408-3 recently that the proposed condemnation of Zionism as racism will "undermine the goals and objectives" of the Durban conference, Mr. Conyers was one of the three congressmen voting against the resolution. When the House voted 392-22 in 1998 on the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill strongly supported by the pro-Israel lobby, Mr. Conyers was one of the 22 votes opposed. Mr. Conyers also recently wrote a letter to President George W. Bush asking him to investigate the use of American weapons by Israel against the Palestinian Arabs.
Ms. Jackson-Lee's record is less clear-cut but still troubling. She has been a leader of the effort to weaken the sanctions against Iraq, and she was instrumental in arranging a handshake between then-President Bill Clinton and the Nation of Islam's southwest regional minister, the Rev. Robert Muhammad. According to a report in the Final Call newspaper, Rev. Muhammad at that meeting suggested that Mr. Clinton include the Rev. Louis Farrakhan on his race relations commission. Rev. Farrakhan, of course, has trafficked in foul anti-Semitic propaganda and has been embraced in anti-Israel capitals from Teheran to Tripoli.
In any event, for the Times to report that Mr. Conyers and Ms. Jackson-Lee interceded on behalf of Israel without noting or even alluding to any of this background is just strange.
Then there is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Leaving aside the "Hymietown" episode, for which Rev. Jackson has apologized, there is still the fact that Mr. Jackson has a record of backing anti-Israel language in fights over the Democratic Party platform. Even as the Times portrays him as Israel's defender at Durban, Rev. Jackson is still propagating myths and ideas harmful to Israel, as when he asserts in the Times that he sought to meet with Mr. Arafat to "make the case that at a global conference on racism xenophobia and racial discrimination that his legitimate concern of the killings and the occupation could not be resolved." What is "legitimate" about Mr. Arafat's concern about "the occupation"? At this point, the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs -- more than 90 percent -- live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The "occupation" is in effect over. Had Mr. Arafat accepted the exceedingly generous terms offered by Prime Minister Barak at Camp David, the "occupation" would be more than in effect over; it would be totally over.
Rev. Jackson proceeds to call for America to act "as an honest broker to break the cycle of violence." Israel's friends in America reject the moral equivalence and neutrality inherent in honest-brokerism and think that America should support Israel, which shares our values of freedom and democracy and which is not the aggressor in this conflict.
The whole report is really a Times masterpiece -- Rev. Jackson, Mr. Conyers and Ms. Jackson-Lee are portrayed as the pro-Israel crowd trying to prevail on Yasser Arafat to moderate his views. Smartertimes.com doesn't know what happened in that Durban meeting, but it wouldn't be surprising if a talk with these three led directly to Mr. Arafat's rejection of the supposed compromise. The views and statements of the three would certainly give the Palestinian Arabs a distorted view of the position of the Congress and the American public, which has been solidly supportive of Israel.
Lost on Labor: A New York Times report on labor this morning says, "The report, issued by the International Labor Organization, found that Americans added nearly a full week to their work year during the 1990's, climbing to 1,979 hours on average last year, up 36 hours from 1990." The article helpfully explains, "That means Americans who are employed are putting in nearly 49 1/2 weeks a year on the job." Well, it's nice to see the Times showing off its long-division skills, but the statistic "means" nothing of the sort. It "means" that only if you assume a 40-hour work week, which is a fiction for many full-time American workers.
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