US media’s baffling silence on Mideast meet

‘One would think America’s so-called free press would spare a few minutes or paragraphs to an alternative view’

A well-attended conference was held earlier this month at the prestigious National Press Club in Washington, one block from the White House, featuring 15 prominent speakers — among them American Arabs, American Jews and Israelis, who discussed ‘The Israel lobby: Is it good for the US? Is it good for Israel?’ The last panel of three speakers focused on: ‘Is there an Iraq-Iran continuum?’

But the nine-hour session was not — repeat — not reported in the US media, including the Washington Post, New York Times or any other national newspaper as well as the television network known as C-Span — a private, non-profit cable network, despite the fact that several prominent journalists and former Congressmen and United Nations officials were participating.

The conference was organised by Washington-based Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA). The last-mentioned being an eight-issue-a-year magazine founded in 1982 by the American Educational Trust (AEI), which was established by retired foreign service officers “to provide the American public with balanced and accurate information concerning US relations with Middle Eastern states”.

The magazine’s masthead stresses that “as a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, it endorses UN Security Council Resolution 242’s land-for-peace formula, supported by nine successive US presidents”.

Delinda C. Hanley, WRMEA’s news editor, recalled in an email that last March, the American press “blanketed America with speeches from the annual meeting of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), not to mention Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Capitol Hill. “But,” she continued, “you would think our ‘free press’ would spare a few minutes or paragraphs to an alternative view ... seeking to shine a light on the Israel lobby’s shady activities.” She wondered whether Israel’s “watchdogs” like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other Israeli lobbyists “outraged at last year’s events convinced C-Span and other journalists to stay away? Was it ‘behind-the-scenes’ censorship that created a news blackout?”

The first speaker and one of the conference organisers, Grant Smith, the director of IRrmep, maintained that 60.7 per cent of Americans do not currently support the level of aid to Israel — $3 billion (Dh11 billion) a year — labelling it “as either much too much, or too much aid”, and that “68 per cent of Americans believe that resolutions condemning Palestinians do not represent American views and the majority of Americans do not take one side over the other regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”. His point is that “it takes large amounts of money and political clout to pass legislation in the midst of public opposition”.

Former US Congressman Nick Rahal (Democrat-West Virginia), protesting the recent performance of Netanyahu in US Congress over the talks with Iran, declared: “The message we are sending is that we trust the prime minister of another country before we trust the leader of our own — what is that [we are] saying to other countries? We can’t be trusted!”

Rahal added that the “unconditional support for Israel and the blank-cheque mentality is not in America’s national interest. If it were, why would we need such a well-organised and well-oiled special interest group to pressure Congress?”

Former UN Special Rapporteur in the Middle East, Richard Falk, focused on the “weakening and discrediting” efforts in the Palestine-Israel conflict, complaining that despite recent US tensions with the Israeli prime minister over his speech before Congress, he quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry as bragging that “we have intervened on Israel’s behalf a couple of hundred times in over 75 forums within the UN”.

He went on: “The UN has increasingly been neutralised in any effort to produce sustainable peace that is just for both people. It is the UN that failed the Palestinian people when the British gave up their colonial mandate and dumped the future of Palestine into the hands of the UN. Over 65 years, it failed to realise the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people that every other major people on the globe achieved.”

Gideon Levy, a long-time columnist for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, came up with the unexpected as he spoke “in desperation of a society that had lost all connection with the world”. He dropped his bombshell thus: “We have to face reality and reality is that there is no chance from within the Israeli society. No way ... The only hope is for an international intervention, and the only hope is from this place, from Washington, from the United States, from the European Union. Only from there. Because Israeli society is today by far too brainwashed. Life in Israel [is] by far too good. Israel, let’s face it, [is] a society which lives in denial, totally disconnected from reality. Would it be a private person, I would recommend either medication or hospitalisation. Because people who lose connection to reality might be very dangerous to themselves or to society. And the Israeli society lost connection with reality, it lost connection with the reality in its backyard, it totally [lost] connection with international environment.”

Levy went on to denounce the role of the Israeli lobby in producing this mess. He concluded his remarks by denouncing the two-state solution. “I truly believe the two-state solution is dead. I think that this train [has] left the station. I think that all those who talk about the two-state solution do so deliberately only to gain more time in order to base the occupation even deeper and deeper.” He failed to offer any suggestion for the future, however, recognising that “Israeli society has surrounded itself with shields, with walls, not just physical walls but also mental walls”.

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com

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