Thursday, August 26, 2010

The PRIMER Fairness Doctrine

On August 19, The Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut) published an error-filled, misleading anti-Israel missive written by Rod Lopez-Fabrega.

I immediately composed a response and posted it on the PRIMER blog. It may be viewed at I submitted it to The Hour, which published it on August 22 as an op-ed with the title "Israel falsely accused of distractor's sins."

On August 26, PRIMER received the following message from Lopez-Fabrega:

Mr. Stein:  The Hour has not see fit to print my response to your Op-Ed to them of 8/22/10 in which you reference my questions about the undue influence Israel lobbies have on the U.S. Government. Therefore, I send it to you directly here. With all due respect to you and to Israel, I suggest this question requires a cogent answer, and your readers need to see a different point of view if you are to be considered fair and balanced.

Note: We actually would have preferred to include Lopez-Fabrega's original letter, both to be fair and to give context to our post, but because of copyright concerns, PRIMER generally refrains from fully posting items from newspapers without the consent of the authors. We have thus informed Lopez-Fabrega and asked for his permission. Assuming he gives his permission, we will post his original letter shortly.

The following is the letter Lopez-Fabrega sent us but which has not yet been published in The Hour. We follow it with some of our own comments and will be happy to air additional comments of Lopez-Fabrega.

To the Editor of The Hour:

I thank Mr. Alan Stein, president of PRIMER-CT (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting) for his measured and non-hysterical rebuttal of my letter to the Hour ("Israel American Public Affairs Committee"--8/19/10).  However, I find it interesting that Stein has limited his rhetorical measurements on the one hand to a comparison of the relative amounts of American taxpayers' funds given to Israel versus amounts given to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and on the other hand to justifying why, "‚Ķsupporters of the American-Israel partnership exercise their Constitutional right to try to influence our government while ignoring the pervasive influence of the Arab oil states."

Regarding his reference to the American-Israel partnership, an explanation is needed as to why he believes an influence lobby for a foreign government can be considered to be in partnership with the United States Government. To his apportionment of our taxpayer dollars, I would say that he is quite correct: this many dollars to arm Israel, this many to arm Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia.  How in the world have we gotten ourselves in such a fix? We have bought and are paying for a perilously precarious and uncertain balance of racial, religious  and geographic disputes that are thousands of years old. Why? Are we back to the OIL question or is it just our "God-given responsibility" to exert our benevolent hegemony over the Middle East? Or as Christian Zionists would have it, is the real agenda to gain millions of converts in preparation for the arrival of The Rapture, and a Biblical God destroys all non-Christians?

As to Stein's defense of Israel's enormous influence on the United States government through the actions of influence peddling agencies such as his own, all  designed to ensure Israel's primary position in our hegemonic equation for the Middle East, I would simply counter with a few informed opinions of recent years:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, wrote, "Over the years Israel has been the beneficiary of privileged - indeed, highly preferential - financial assistance, out of all proportion to what the United States extends to any other country. The massive aid to Israel is in effect a huge entitlement that enriches the relatively prosperous Israelis at the cost of the American taxpayer. Money being fungible, that aid also pays for the very settlements that America opposes and that impede the peace process.."

Former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck wrote that, "Opinions differ on the long-term costs and benefits for both nations, but the lobby's views of Israel's interests have become the basis of U.S. Middle East policies."

Michael Scheuer, a former senior official at the C.I.A. and now a terrorism analyst for CBS News, said to National Public Radio that Israel, has engaged in one of the most successful campaigns to influence public opinion in the United States ever conducted by a foreign government.

In a measured response, Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT said, "There are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC [or the Lobby generally], such as the oil companies, the arms industry and other special interests whose lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races."

Madeleine Albright in May 2006 noted America's special relationship with Israel and said, "Clearly the U.S. has linked itself to Israel in many ways". She equally acknowledged, "there is no doubt that there is a very strong Israeli lobby", and she spoke of the resistance she encountered from the lobby over airplane sales to Saudi Arabia in 1978, during her tenure on the National Security Council in the Carter administration. Albright noted "the difficulties in dealing with the Middle East process is the fact not so much of any lobby, but that it is a very difficult issue that involves the division of land, religion."

As long ago as Oct 2009, Jon Stewart's comedy news show The Daily Show was reportedly under fire from pro-Israeli groups for giving airtime to two pro-Palestinian figures, activist Mustafa Barghouti and human rights activist Anna Baltzer, author of  "A Witness in Palestine", who explained the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of the Palestinian side. As reported by bloggers, the show "was overwhelmed with angry emails and phone calls prior to the appearance, and up until the last minute it seemed like they might cancel.."

There are other cautious comments regarding Israel's influence on the United States government and, as might be expected, a torrent of often vituperative rebuttals in print. Then there is the preponderance of motion pictures extolling the undeniable miracle Israel has achieved in converting barren land into a working country-with little attention to centuries-old productive Palestinian farms and orchards that have been wiped out in the process.

Finally, it is noted that Mr. Stein has published his response to my letter very prominently in his site,  but did not see fit to print my letter in order to expose his readers to another point of view.

We will refer to specific points made by Lopez-Fabrega and comment on them.

Lopez-Fabrega asks why we limited our "rhetorical measurement."

Basically, lack of time and space. Our response was already far longer than a typical letter (the format in which it was submitted) and stretching the limit for the length of an op-ed. To respond to all the inaccuracies in Lopez-Fabrega's letter would have taken volumes, so we tried to restrict ourselves to the most blatant errors and distortions in Lopez-Fabrega's letter.

We are doing the same with these comments on the above letter.

Lopez-Fabrega writes "an explanation is needed as to why he believes an influence lobby for a foreign government can be considered to be in partnership with the United States Government."

In doing so, he apparently demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the role of AIPAC. This perhaps explains many of his other misrepresentations. As they say in the computer biz, "garbage in, garbage out."

In contrast to the Saudi lobby, AIPAC is definitely not "an influence lobby for a foreign government." AIPAC is a lobby of Americans, lobbying for what they believe is America's interest: a strong partnership between America and its only real friend and reliable ally in the Middle East.

The Saudi lobby is a far different creature. It consists of mercenaries bought and paid for by immense Saudi oil money, lobbying for a foreign government and often against American interests.

Lopez-Fabrega quotes opinions of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Edward Peck, Michael Scheuer and Noam Chomsky, but those are opinions voiced by highly biased individuals, some being irrationally and viscerally anti-Israel, and virtually worthless. They do not represent fact and, based on the sources, are best disregarded by intelligent people.

Indeed, rather than the views of the supporters of Israel becoming "the basis of U.S. Middle East policies," it has been the enormous Arab oil lobby that has distorted American policy.

We again refer readers to the documented evidence in Steven Emerson's "The American House of Saud" and Mitchell Bard's "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East," pointing out the Saudi lobby is just that, foreign and trying to further the interests of a foreign and in many ways alien nation, whereas AIPAC is an American lobby trying to further American interests.

Lopez-Fabrega refers to resistance to military sales to Saudi Arabia, but completely misses the real lesson: All those sales were approved, despite quite reasonable opposition from supporters of Israel concerned about the threat the represented.

This example demonstrates that it is the Arab oil lobby which is the truly powerful, distorting American foreign policy.

It's also worth noting that in some of those sales, Israel's supporters were assured restrictions were being imposed to ensure they would not pose a threat to Israel, but once the weapons were delivered those restrictions were generally ignored by the Saudis.

Those weapons also did nothing to protect the Saudis from real threats. When they were finally faced with a real threat from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, we sent in American soldiers to protect the Saudis.

Lopez-Fabrega refers to criticism when Jon Stewart gave airtime to Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer, whom Lopez-Fabrega inaccurately describes as pro-Palestinian and a human rights activist. (They are really just anti-Israel and have certainly shown no interest in the human rights of Israelis violated by Arab terrorists.)

He is apparently unhappy that supporters of Israel would exercise their right to criticize Stewart for doing something that was not just unbalance, but out of character for his show.

One wonders whether he has ever expressed displeasure at the repeated instances of anti-Israel fanatics acting, often violently, to prevent Israelis and supporters of Israel from speaking.

Lopez-Fabrega refers to "cautious comments regarding Israel’s influence on the United States government" but a "torrent of often vituperative rebuttals in print."

The reality is virtually the reverse.

There is plenty of both unfair and vociferous railing against alleged Israeli influence, which generally elicits little response with any response generally being quite reasoned.

In contrast, there is hardly anything said about the vast influence of the "American House of Saud."

Lopez-Fabrega refers to "centuries-old productive Palestinian farms and orchards" allegedly wiped out in the process of Israel's miraculous redevelopment of the Land of Milk and Honey.

The Zionist reclamation of Eretz Yisrael generally involved land legally purchased, often at exorbitant prices, from absentee owners and was often the worst land around. There was certainly no policy of wiping out farms and orchards. (Incidentally, at the time, the Arabs living there did not consider themselves Palestinians, a term then generally understood to refer to Jews and one which was not generally applied to Arabs until after 1967.)

It's interesting, in a very sad way, that one of the widespread tactics of the Palestinian Arabs during their first intifada was to set fire to trees planted by Israel, destroying vast expanses of forest created by Israel out of what had been wasteland.

Lopez-Fabrega concludes: "Finally, it is noted that Mr. Stein has published his response to my letter very prominently in his site,  but did not see fit to print my letter in order to expose his readers to another point of view."

As we noted earlier, it was not a case of not seeing fit to print his letter, but of being cautious about copyright issues. His original letter will be posted here if he gives permission.

While anti-Israel fanatics put a tremendous amount of resources into preventing the free speech of supporters of Israel (the term "lawfare" is sometimes used to describe this widespread phenomenon), it is extremely rare and out of the mainstream for supporters of Israel to do anything to try to keep the anti-Israel activists from having their say. We generally trust that if the facts are put forth, intelligent people will recognize the fundamental differences between Israel and its enemies, including the fact that Israel is a Western-oriented democracy sharing our core American values and repeatedly going the extra mile to try to achieve peace, while its enemies have repeatedly rejected peace and even the so-called "moderates" like Mahmoud Abbas have not abandoned the dream of destroying Israel.

Finally, we again note we have tried to be brief and have addressed only a portion of the misrepresentations and distortions in Lopez-Fabrega's letter.

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