Obama’s Middle East Visit as a Case Study in Media Manipulation

Written by Barry Rubin

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When President Barack Obama arrived in Israel, March 20, for his visit he said it was “no accident” that he went there as his second term’s’ first overseas obama-visit to Israeltrip.

Question: Who was the first foreign leader Obama called when his first term began? Answer: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

So is this juxtaposition also “no accident.” I have written that this trip symbolizes Obama giving up the idea of pressuring Israel on the “peace process” issue and explained in detail why that is true. Everyone else seems to be predicting that Obama is being nice right now to lower the boom on Israel either during this trip or afterward. I haven’t seen a single other article that agrees with my assessment. I stand by my assessment.

It is all the more amusing how one establishment writer portrayed my analysis. She made me into the spokesman for a large bloc and distorted the whole point. And that tells us a lot about how the Middle East and Obama’s policies are distorted by the ruling establishment and misunderstood by the opposition.

Here’s what Slate has to say about me:

“The anti-Obama peace-process skeptics can’t help but gloat. As Barry Rubin, a conservative, pro-Israel American pundit put it on his Facebook page: “I think we have just won a huge victory … Obama has admitted defeat on trying to bully, manipulate, or pressure Israel.’”

This is a very revealing sentence in several respects:

But you see the problem is stereotyped approaches. Zacharia and company are looking at things in terms of Obama always doing good. Conservatives tend to look at things as Obama always doing bad. What’s rejected by Zacharia and her type is trying to figure out what’s actually happening.

I think the typical analysis among both Obama’s supporters and critics is to say what  Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the best writers on the region, told Haaretz:

”The Obama of the first term did not come to Israel and demanded a settlement freeze. The Obama of the second term is coming to Israel so he could be in the position to demand a settlement freeze in the future.”

Some who say that like it; some who say that don’t like it. But it seems to be what everyone but me is saying. Yet I believe Obama has learned something and I also believe that the Palestinian Authority and Arab states–many of which are now ruled by Islamists–will never give Obama an incentive to press Israel.

–As for Zacharia, here’s what I wrote about her here six months ago:

“The elite currently in power in the Western mass media will never comprehend the Middle East. There is a problem with bias, for sure, but the big issue is the impenetrable ignorance of the very people entrusted with explaining the region to others. They insist on imposing their own misconceptions on the situation while ignoring the evidence.”

Yep, same thing as now.

“Consider Janine Zacharia. What a distinguished resume: Jerusalem bureau chief and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post (2009-2011), chief diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News (2005-2009), and before that five years working for the Jerusalem Post in Washington, D.C., and another five years working for Reuters and other publications from Jerusalem. Right now she’s a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in communications.

“Surely, such a person must understand the region’s issues, and if anyone isn’t going to have an anti-Israel bias in the mass media it would be her. And she isn’t anti-Israel in a conscious, political sense. Indeed, she obviously views herself as sympathetic. Rather, her assumptions make her type of views inevitably anti-Israel and, more broadly, inevitably destructive of U.S. interests on other issues.”

I think I tried to characterize her fairly rather than using a stereotype. But here’s the best part:

Here’s her article in Slate. The title is “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed.” Not why this response is the best of a set of difficult options; not why the world should support Israel; not why Hamas should be removed from power with international support but why Israel is wrong and stupid to fight. “Doomed” is a strong word.”

You see! Again, no sense of context or what’s really going on, just two teams playing a game and she knows which team she is on.

“The subhead — adapted from Zacharia’s text — is “Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bomb Hamas militants will leave Israel more isolated, insecure, and alone.” Not the decision of Israel’s unanimous leadership including first and foremost its military and defense experts but that of a prime minister who now plays a role for the American media most closely approximated to that held by former President George W. Bush.”

Now think about it. Six months ago she wrote an article saying that Israel was being defeated and was badly isolated. I wrote the opposite. I was right. Obama is in Israel saying nice things and not pressuring Israel. Nobody is pressuring Israel. And Israel isn’t insecure, or at least to the extent that is true it is largely due to White House policies.

Oh, and this is rich. She concludes that the American media hate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as much as Bush. True, but that’s through the work of people like her.

So I was right; Zacharia and Obama were wrong (you can see all the quotes about how he was going to solve the conflict) but this point must either be concealed from the American readers or explained away so as to make them more firmly believe all the wrong ideas they have believed up to now.

It’s a great teachable moment but another example about how the left-wing media refuses to teach.

 Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist forPajamasMedia. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)



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