Employees work inside the office of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network in Jerusalem. August 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Al Jazeera threatens legal action over Israel’s plans to close its Jerusalem bureau


Al Jazeera threatened to take legal action to remain in its Jerusalem bureau following Israel’s decision to close it down.

The Qatar-based news network, which is based in the same building as Israel’s Government Press Office, criticized the shutdown as “undemocratic” in a statement Monday.

“Al Jazeera stresses that it will closely watch the developments that may result from the Israeli decision and will take the necessary legal measures towards it,” the statement said.  “Al Jazeera will continue to cover the events of the occupied Palestinian territories professionally and accurately, according to the standards set by international agencies.”

Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, a Druze lawmaker for the ruling Likud Party, on Sunday announced plans to revoke the media credentials of Al Jazeera TV journalists, close the Jerusalem office, and remove the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.

The actions would require legislation and legal action, according to reports.

The channel, which has about 30 employees in Israel in both its Arabic and English channels, according to Reuters, already is blocked in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain.

Israeli officials have accused Al Jazeera of bias against the Jewish state.

“We have identified media outlets that do not serve freedom of speech but endanger the security of Israel’s citizens, and the main instrument has been Al Jazeera,” Kara said Sunday. He also said the network “caused us to lose the lives of the best of our sons.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence in Jerusalem, including over the Temple Mount.

Al Jazeera was the first Arab news outlet to interview Israeli military and government officials.

Workers at the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on June 13. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Netanyahu eyeing way to shut down Al Jazeera in Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would seek to pass a law to shut down the Jerusalem bureau of Al Jazeera if law enforcement will not do so after his multiple requests.

“The Al Jazeera network does not stop inciting to violence on the Temple Mount issue,” Netanyahu posted Wednesday in Hebrew on his Facebook page, referring to the Qatar-based network’s coverage of recent unrest surrounding the Jerusalem site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

“I have on multiple occasions demanded that law enforcement shut down the Al Jazeera bureau in Jerusalem,” he said. “If this can’t be done because of legalisms, I will work to pass the required laws to expel Al Jazeera from Israel.”

It’s not clear what incitement specifically Netanyahu is referring to. Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israel has been irksome to Israel, but the nation’s officials have also appreciated it as a vehicle open to relaying the Israeli point of view to the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia in recent weeks has led a bid to isolate Qatar, a small Gulf state that often strikes out a foreign policy independent of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. One of the Saudi demands has been the shutdown of Al Jazeera, which has given voice to Arab restiveness since the Arab Spring roiled the region in 2011. Netanyahu in recent years has been seeking closer and more open cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s iconoclastic approach has meant it is more open to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, but it also has meant that it is the Gulf Arab state with the most open ties with Israel.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) on April 21. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders just defended Israel on Al Jazeera. Here’s why that’s a big deal.


In an appearance on Al Jazeera, Bernie Sanders defended Israel’s right to exist, rejected BDS as a tactic and assailed the United Nations for singling out the country for condemnation.

The Vermont senator’s interview Wednesday on the Qatar-based network, known for its often hypercritical coverage of Israel, was consistent with a style that Americans came to know last year during his run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination: Sanders does not modify his messaging for his audience.

Sanders, despite his defeat in the primaries to Hillary Clinton, who went on to lose to Donald Trump, remains the standard-bearer of the American left. His robust rejection of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is evidence that a firewall remains on the American left against more radical expressions of Israel criticism that have gained traction overseas.

The interviewer, Dena Takruri, challenged Sanders for joining every other U.S. senator last month in signing a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging him to remedy the body’s “anti-Israel agenda.”

Takruri asked why Sanders was “effectively trying to shield [Israel] from criticism.” Sanders interrupted, “No, no, no, no, no, I don’t accept that,” saying “there are many problems with Israel” and he would continue to “be critical of a lot of what Israel does.”

“On the other hand, to see Israel attacked over and over again for human rights violations which may be true, when you have countries like Saudi Arabia or Syria, Saudi Arabia – I’m not quite sure if a woman can even drive a car today,” Sanders said.

“So I think the thrust of that letter is not to say that Israel does not have human rights issues — it does — but to say how come it’s only Israel when you have other countries where women are treated as third-class citizens, where in Egypt, I don’t know how many thousands of people now lingering in jail, so that’s the point of that, not to defend Israel but to say why only Israel, you want to talk about human rights, let’s talk about human rights,” he said.

Asked by Takruri whether he “respected” BDS as a legitimate nonviolent protest movement, Sanders said, “No, I don’t.” The senator suggested in his reply that the tactic was counterproductive as a means of bringing the sides to peace talks.

“People will do what they want to do, but I think our job as a nation is to do everything humanly possible to bring Israel and the Palestinians and the entire Middle East to the degree that we can together, but no, I’m not a supporter of that,” he said.

“What must be done is that the United States of America is to have a Middle East policy which is even-handed, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity and does our best to bring them to the table.”

Sanders also rejected Takruri’s assertion that the two-state solution is almost dead and said he would not embrace a one-state solution.

“I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the State of Israel and I support Israel’s right to exist,” he said. “I think if there is the political will to make it happen and if there is good faith on both sides I do think it’s possible, and I think there has not been good faith, certainly on this Israeli government and I have my doubts about parts of the Palestinian leadership as well.”

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, was critical of conventional pro-Israel postures during the campaign, but also defended the state.

He told MSNBC last year that anti-Semitism was a factor driving the BDS movement, yet in a debate in the New York primary – with its critical mass of Jewish voters – Sanders chided Clinton for barely mentioning Palestinians in her speech earlier the same year to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

During the campaign, he hired as his Jewish outreach staffer Simone Zimmerman, who founded IfNotNow, which protests mainstream U.S. Jewish silence on Israel’s occupation. Although Sanders fired Zimmerman after her vulgar postings on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to light, the very hiring was a signal that there was now a political home for young Jews who embraced the idea of Israel but were willing to robustly protest its government’s actions.

Sanders also named prominent Israel critics to the Democrats platform-drafting committee, yet when their Israel-critical language was rejected, he nonetheless robustly endorsed the platform because it met his other demands on economic inequality. He described himself at a meeting in New York’s Harlem neighborhood as a “strong defender of Israel” and for the first time spoke warmly about the time he spent in Israel in the 1960s on a kibbutz.

Democrats in recent years have grown increasingly critical of Israel, a result in part of the parlous relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, and the fraught tone of the debate in 2015 over the Iran nuclear agreement.

But the tense tone of the Al Jazeera interview and Sanders’ refusal to accept anti-Israel pieties commonplace among progressives here and overseas suggests the resistance among Democrats to more radical expressions of Israel criticism. Democratic lawmakers, for instance, continue to join Republicans in overwhelmingly approving anti-BDS legislation on the state and federal levels.

Palestinian terrorism and Muslim hypocrisy: An open letter from a Muslim woman


While millions of children got out of bed on the morning of June 30 excited to be on summer vacation, one child did not. A young Israeli girl, 13-year-old Hallel Yaffe Ariel, was brutally murdered in her own bed by a 17-year-old Palestinian terrorist. He broke into her house and stabbed her to death.

Another life lost to senseless violence. Another poor soul taken too early from this world. But few Muslims in this world will be mourning her death because Hallel was an Israeli Jew.

Read more at Times of Israel.


Nadiya Al-Noor is a Muslim interfaith activist with a focus on Jewish and Muslim communities, and she actively supports peace between Israel and the Palestinians. She is a graduate student at Binghamton University in upstate New York, studying public administration. This essay originally appeared in TimesofIsrael.com. Reprinted with permission.

Why Europe is so woefully unprepared for the new refugee crisis


No time is a good time for an epic humanitarian crisis. But Europe today seems woefully unprepared for the human wave from the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa and lands reaching all the way to Afghanistan.

I was overseas for much of the last few weeks and had a chance to watch Al Jazeera and BBC coverage. In the early phase of this mass movement of people, great pains were made to depict them as migrants, not refugees, who had the legal right to relocate to Europe.

All that changed with the horrific revelations of dozens of these “migrants” found suffocated in a truck in Austria, hundreds more perishing at sea, and the photo of a dead boy from Syria, who drowned along with his mother.

It is not only the huge numbers that cause the crisis, although the mention by Chancellor Angela Merkel of 800,000 potential refugees being absorbed into Germany sent shockwaves across the political and social landscape of the continent.

It is not only security concerns, though European Intelligence agencies must be alarmed at the thought of taking in thousands of unvetted refugees from the ground zero of terrorism and sectarian violence when they are already staggering under the burden of some 8,000 European citizens trained by al-Qaida and ISIS in the Middle East who returned home poised to unleash more terrorist attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.

It is not only about the lack of political will and social cohesion. For even as French, British and German leaders talk about evenly distributing the burden, others such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have made it brutally clear that they want no part of the migrant/refugee wave; they simply want them gone. If it means constructing barbed-wire fences, posting a phalanx of police at the central train station in Budapest and duping refugees to board trains to camps, so be it.

Of course, when we see people so desperate to escape their homes that they knowingly put themselves and their children in harm’s way, when we see the lifeless body of a drowned child, we Jews are reminded of another era in Europe.

Why then is Europe so unprepared for this challenge?

It is precisely because the European Union (EU) has failed to evolve into a true “union.”

It has failed to articulate what 21st-century European social values are.

It never has addressed the failure to integrate the millions of Muslims already living in Europe.

Its foreign policy has failed to stem the killings and dislocation of Bashar Assad’s Syria. It has failed to stop ISIS.

It attempted to stop Libyans from leaving their country by removing Muammar Gadhafi. The results? The disintegration of a country and even more boat people perishing in the Mediterranean.

But are Europeans exclusively to blame for all of this? What about the United States? Tragically, the policies of “leading from behind” and “no boots on the ground” may mean fewer Americans in harm’s way in the Middle East, but the leadership vacuum has left millions of innocent people to fend for themselves with corrupt and dangerous governments who can’t even pick up the garbage.

There is one other gaping hole in the leadership of the EU: 70 years after the Shoah, rabid anti-Semitism and hate for the Jewish state infect an estimated 150 million Europeans. Seven decades after the defeat of Nazism, European governments and nongovernmental organizations have been silent over the ethnic cleansing, murder and serial rape of tens of thousands of Christians and other minorities across the Middle East.

It seems that Europe’s elite may have learned to mark their calendar to remember dead Jews one day a year, but too many have failed to internalize or apply any lessons from the Nazi era as to how to treat living Jews and other minorities.

There are no easy solutions to this crisis, but as Jews who come to pray for the wellbeing and safety of the entire world on Rosh Hashanah, we must find ways to do our share to help all legitimate refugees, be they Christian, Muslims or Yazidis.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Al Jazeera America denies being anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-U.S.


Al Jazeera America denied allegations by a former employee who said that the news channel overlooked anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American misconduct.

“Al Jazeera America does not tolerate any discriminatory conduct and we take great pride in the diversity of our organization and its leadership,” CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said in a statement Monday, USA Today reported. “The recent attacks on us as being anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American are absurd. Al Jazeera America’s values are based on the highest ethical standards and professionalism. Integrity and respect guide our conduct internally and externally.”

The former employee, Matthew Luke, filed a $15 million lawsuit last week against the company for being fired after complaining about the conduct of his boss, Osman Mahmud. Luke alleges that Mahmud made derogatory comments about Israel, women and the United States.

Three female executives have quit since Luke filed his charges. The latest was the senior vice president of outreach, Marcy McGinnis, who resigned on Monday. The executive vice president of human resources, Diana Lee, and executive vice president of communications, Dawn Bridges, stepped down last week.

Al Jazeera America, which is funded by the government of Qatar, reportedly will fight Luke’s charges.

Luke, who was the supervisor of media and archive management, claims that among other things, Mahmud once said that supporters of Israel “should die a fiery death in hell.”

Mahmud, who oversees broadcast operations and technology at the network, denied the charges in an interview with the Washington Post.bodyp

Fired Al Jazeera America employee sues network alleging anti-Semitism


A fired Al Jazeera America employee is suing the network alleging a hostile work environment that included “discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks.”

According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court, Matthew Luke was fired in February 10 days after he complained about the behavior of his supervisor, Osman Mahmud, to human resources. Luke worked as Al Jazeera America’s supervisor of media and archive management beginning in May 2013, before the news channel had formally launched. It has been on the air for 20 months.

Luke’s attorneys are seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for the company’s alleged retaliation against Luke for complaining about Mahmud.

The lawsuit accuses Mahmud, who oversaw Broadcast Operations and Technology at the network, of making remarks deemed anti-Semitic such as “whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell,” and expressing a desire to replace an Israeli cameraman with a Palestinian one, as well as excluding women from emails and meetings, the TVNewser website reported. Mahmud, the suit says, also replaced female employees with male ones and filled positions with men of Middle Eastern descent.

Mahmud, who began as a news editor at the network, rose to his supervisory position because he was well connected with Al Jazeera America’s backers, the suit claims.

Al Jazeera in response to the suit said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Israeli envoy: Jordan king blasting Israel to appease his Arab allies


Israel’s ambassador to Jordan suggested that King Abdullah’s recent allegation that Israel kills Arab children en masse stems from pressure by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.

Ambassador Daniel Nevo offered the commentary in an interview that aired Friday on Army Radio. Abdullah leveled the accusation at Israel earlier this week during his meeting with Jordanian lawmakers.

“If, as we are fighting radical Islamist groups as a coalition, they are slaughtering children in Gaza and Jerusalem every five minutes, then it’s impossible,” said Abdullah II of Jordan, who usually employs less inflammatory language when speaking about Israel.

Nevo would not comment directly on the king’s statement but spoke generally about the monarch’s predicament as one of Israel’s closest allies in the region.

“The king is being attacked by countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Egypt on how the Israelis allegedly are disrespecting him,” Nevo told Army Radio when asked to comment on Abdullah’s use of harsh language. “They don’t see the whole picture.” He added: “The violence at the Temple Mount puts Abdullah II in an embarrassing situation each time anew.”

The 20-year anniversary of peace with Israel, which will occur next week, will not be noted or celebrated in Jordan, according to Army Radio. “People on the Jordanian street, they don’t watch Israeli television. They watch Al Jazeera. So how do you expect him to celebrate the anniversary?” Nevo asked.

Nevo noted that on the economic front the two countries are strengthening relations. He pointed to the signing last month of a deal to make Israel Jordan’s primary supplier of gas, as well as a deal signed several months before that for the joint operation of a desalinization plant in Aqaba.

Palestinian leader Arafat was murdered with polonium, widow says


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said on Wednesday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband's corpse.

“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she told Reuters in Paris.

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital's Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat's grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Suha Arafat after the Swiss forensic team handed over its report to her lawyers and Palestinian officials in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies, although she noted that Israel had branded him an obstacle to peace.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had foes among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which had besieged him in his Ramallah headquarters for the final two and a half years of his life.

“President Arafat passed away as a victim of an organized terrorist assassination perpetrated by a state, that is Israel, which was looking to get rid of him,” Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The publishing of the results by the Swiss institute confirms his poisoning by polonium and this means that Israel carried it out.”

The Israeli government has denied any role in his death, noting that he was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle. It made no comment on the new findings.

An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.

That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat. Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for testing after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.

“SMOKING GUN”

The head of the Russian forensics institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by the Interfax news agency last month as saying no trace of polonium had been found on the body specimens examined in Moscow, but his Federal Medico-Biological Agency later denied he had made any official comment on its findings.

The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly or shared any findings with Suha Arafat's legal team. A spokeswoman for the French prosecutor's office said the investigating magistrates had received no expert reports so far.

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute's report would be translated from English into French and handed over to the three magistrates who are investigating the case.

Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss tests, said the findings from Arafat's body confirmed last year's results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear, toothbrush and clothing.

“In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Barclay told Reuters. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.

“What we have got is the smoking gun – the thing that caused his illness and was given to him with malice.”

The Swiss scientists' report, posted in full on Al Jazeera's website, was more cautious. It concluded: “Taking into account the analytical limitations aforementioned, mostly time lapse since death and the nature and quality of the specimens, the results moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210.”

Al Jazeera said the levels of polonium found in Arafat's ribs, pelvis and in soil that absorbed his remains were at least 18 times higher than normal.

The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

The British government refused to hold a public inquiry into his death after ministers withheld some material which could have shed light on Russia's suspected involvement.

Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat's body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.

While many countries could have been the source, someone in Arafat's immediate entourage must have slipped a miniscule dose of the deadly isotope probably as a powder into his drink, food, eye drops or toothpaste, he said.

BRIEF RECOVERY

Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of acute gastroenteritis with diarrhea and vomiting. At first Palestinian officials said he was suffering from influenza.

He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell into a coma shortly after his arrival at the Percy military hospital in the suburb of Clamart, where he died on November 11.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.

Barclay said no one would have thought to look for polonium as a possible poison until the Litvinenko case, which occurred two years after Arafat's death.

Some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died of polonium poisoning, pointing to a brief recovery during his illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive exposure. They also noted he did not lose all his hair. But Barclay said neither fact was inconsistent with the findings.

Since polonium loses 50 percent of its radioactivity every four months, the traces in Arafat's corpse would have faded so far as to have become untraceable if the tests had been conducted a couple of years later, the scientist said.

“A tiny amount of polonium the size of a flake of dandruff would be enough to kill 50 people if it was dissolved in water and they drank it,” he added.

The Al Jazeera investigation was spearheaded by investigative journalist Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. Secret Service bodyguard who became friendly with Arafat and was suspicious of the manner of his death.

Suha Arafat called for an investigation inside the Muqata Palestinian government headquarters and said she and her student daughter, Zahwa Arafat, would pursue the case through the courts in France and elsewhere until the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Hani al-Hassan, a former aide, said in 2003 that he had witnessed 13 assassination attempts on Arafat's life, dating back to his years on the run as PLO leader. Arafat claimed to have survived 40 attempts on his life.

Arafat narrowly escaped an Israeli air strike on his headquarters in Tunisia in 1985. He had just gone out jogging when the bombers attacked, killing 73 people.

He escaped another attempt on his life when Israeli warplanes came close to killing him during the 182 invasion of Beirut when they hit one of the buildings they suspected he was using as his headquarters but he was not there. In December 2001, Arafat was rushed to safety just before Israeli helicopters bombarded his compound in Ramallah with rockets.

Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Crispian Balmer and Ralph Boulton

Al Jazeera buys Gore’s Current TV, terms undisclosed


Al Jazeera said on Wednesday it will buy Current TV, the struggling cable channel founded by Al Gore and partners, in a move that will boost the Qatar-based broadcaster's footprint in the United States.

Terms were undisclosed, but analysts estimated the deal could be worth as much as $500 million.

Al Jazeera said it would start a new U.S.-based news channel with the acquisition, which will make it available in more than 40 million U.S. households, up from 4.7 million prior to the deal.

The deal brings Al Jazeera, which operates under the patronage of the emir of Qatar and his family, into closer competition with American news channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

But the award-winning channel that is seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries faces hurdles with U.S. distributors and viewers, television industry analysts said.

Current, a liberal channel which has battled low viewership, had been distributed in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service.

One of its distributors, Time Warner Cable, which accounted for about 12 million of those homes, announced late Wednesday it was terminating its carriage deal.

“Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement.

Reuters reported in April Time Warner Cable was considering dropping Current if it did not reach certain ratings thresholds .

A spokesperson would not elaborate. Current is also distributed by Comcast Corp and DirecTV, with 22.4 million and 19.8 million subscribers, respectively.

Comcast or DirecTV were either unavailable or declined comment. Dish Network Corp also declined comment.

Both Comcast and DirecTV also hold equity stakes of more than 5 percent in Current, according to public filings.

Current said Gore, its chairman, and co-founder Joel Hyatt, the chief executive officer, will remain on the advisory board.

PARANOIA ABOUT AL JAZEERA

Analysts said Al Jazeera would have to overcome a significant image problem in the United States, where many viewers remember its stridently anti-war reporting of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Al Jazeera has deeper pockets. The downside is the politics. People in America associate Al Jazeera with the Muslim world or the Arab world or the Islam world and they have problems with that,” said Jimmy Schaeffler, pay TV consultant at The Carmel Group.

“They have psychological, political and emotional concerns and that will work against them.”

“There's a fair amount of paranoia when it comes to Al Jazeera,” said Robert Thompson, professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Al Jazeera has only been shown in a handful of cities. It said its new U.S.-based news channel would be separate from Al Jazeera English, and would provide both domestic and international news for American audiences.

The new channel would air in 2013 and would be headquartered in New York City. In addition to existing bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Al Jazeera would open more bureaus and would double its U.S.-based staff to more than 300 employees.

Current was co-founded in 2005 but never caught on. It shifted to a more liberal format from 2011, but ratings continued to disappoint, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media, who pegged its average daily audience under 50,000 viewers and the value of a deal at $400 million to $500 million.

In late October, Current confirmed it was considering selling itself and had hired JP Morgan and the Raine Group to assess options.

Thompson said the deal came at a challenging time for the cable industry.

“Launching a cable network in the U.S. in the second decade of the 21st century is not an easy thing to do. Even Oprah Winfrey has struggled in significant ways,” he said.

Disputes between pay TV distributors and cable networks have risen lately. Time Warner Cable also dropped arts-focused cable channel Ovation over its low ratings and the high costs of carrying the network.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad says election, not war, solution for Syria


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said a national dialogue leading to elections was the way towards a solution to Syria's crisis, in remarks broadcast on Tuesday.

He told Al Jazeera television that war was not the way forward, adding: “There is another way to find a solution, it is national, mutual understanding in order for there to be elections in the future.”

The interview was translated from Persian into Arabic by Al Jazeera.

Iran is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling an uprising against his rule. Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old revolt, which has grown into a full-scale civil war.

“Syria's case is very complex and at the same time is a very important one,” Ahmadinejad said. “Should I follow those demanding war? I don't think the language of war is a good language.

“There must be a different way to solve problems … I have opposed war, but those who want things to be settled through dialogue are a minority and perhaps the majority are in favour of going ahead in the context of war.”

Ahmadinejad, who made similar comments in a separate news conference in Tehran, said Iran had long had good relations with Syria. He said Tehran had built dams, roads and power stations in Syria and Iranian pilgrims were frequent visitors to the Arab country.

New tests find Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned


Traces of the poisonous element polonium have been found in the belongings of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, a Swiss institute said on Wednesday, and a television report said his widow had demanded his body be exhumed for further tests.

Arafat died at a hospital in France in 2004, after a sudden illness which baffled doctors. Many Palestinians have long suspected he was poisoned.

Darcy Christen, spokesman for the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, told Reuters on Tuesday it had found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210 in Arafat’s belongings.

But he stressed that clinical symptoms described in Arafat’s medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210 and that conclusions could not be drawn as to whether the Palestinian leader was poisoned or not.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel said the institute had tested Arafat’s personal effects, given them by his widow.

Its documentary said they showed that his clothes, toothbrush and kaffiyeh headscarf contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element.

“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” Francois Bochud, director of the institute, said in the documentary.

Bochud said the only way to confirm the findings would be to exhume Arafat’s body to test it for polonium-210.

“But we have to do it quite fast because polonium is decaying, so if we wait too long, for sure, any possible proof will disappear,” he told Al Jazeera.

Polonium was found to have caused the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, and he was assumed to have been deliberately poisoned.

Arafat’s widow Suha said she would ask for Arafat’s body – buried in the West Bank town of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian self-rule authority – to be exhumed.

Speaking at the end of the documentary, aired on Al Jazeera’s English and Arabic channels, she said: “We have to go further and exhume Yasser Arafat’s body to reveal the truth to all the Muslim and Arab world.”

Arafat led the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s fight against Israel from the 1960s but signed a peace agreement with the Jewish state in 1993 establishing Palestinian self-rule areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

His mysterious death came four years into a Palestinian uprising, after years of talks with Israel failed to lead to a Palestinian state. French doctors who treated Arafat in his final days could not establish the cause of death.

French officials refused to give details of his condition, citing privacy laws, fueling a host of rumors and theories over the nature of his illness.

Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Hammond; editing by Andrew Roche

Sarkozy to networks: Don’t broadcast Merah footage


French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on television networks not to broadcast video footage shot by Mohammed Merah during his attacks on soldiers and on a Jewish school in Toulouse.

The edited footage was sent on a USB flash drive to Al Jazeera in Paris. Al Jazeera sent the drive to police on Monday, Reuters reported.

The package reportedly was mailed to Al Jazeera on March 21, the day that police began their siege of Merah’s Toulouse apartment. Merah was killed following a 30-hour standoff when police stormed his apartment. He was shot in the head while jumping out a window.

A letter accompanying the footage said that Merah had acted on behalf of al-Qaida, The Associated Press reported.

Al Jazeera reportedly is deciding whether to air the footage.

Al Jazeera says won’t air French gunman video


Al Jazeera television said on Tuesday it would not broadcast video footage of three deadly shootings in southern France filmed by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman using a camera strapped to his body.

The Qatar-based news network also said it was declining all requests from other media outlets for copies of the footage.

The French government, and the CSA broadcast regulator, had urged television channels to refrain from running video clips that gunman Mohamed Merah told police he had filmed as he shot dead three Jewish children, a rabbi and three soldiers.

France is still reeling from the gruesome nature of the attacks, which saw Merah grab one little girl by the hair as he shot her at point-blank range in one of three shooting sprees before he was killed by police last week.

“In accordance with Al Jazeera’s Code of Ethics, given the video does not add any information that is not already in the public domain, its news channels will not be broadcasting any of its contents,” a spokesman for the network said in a statement.

The spokesman said Al Jazeera had passed the video footage on to the French police to help with their investigation.

Al Jazeera received a memory stick at its Paris bureau late on Monday that had been mailed anonymously from Toulouse last week, as police laid siege to Merah’s apartment.

It contained footage of the three shootings in chronological order, edited together with Islamic chants and readings from the Koran, Al Jazeera’s Paris bureau chief Zied Tarrouche told BFM TV. Staff sent a copy of the film to the network’s headquarters in Doha for management to decide how to proceed.

Merah, 23, told police negotiators last week during a more than 30-hour siege at his home that he had filmed his killings in the city of Toulouse and nearby Montauban. A fourth soldier he shot is alive but in critical condition.

Coming a month before an election where Sarkozy is battling a Socialist challenger to win a second term, the killings shone a spotlight on tensions in multi-ethnic city suburbs and raised questions over possible intelligence lapses.

Sarkozy, whose handling of the crisis has been praised by the public, wants a crackdown on people frequenting radical websites. He has also said he will block some Muslim preachers from coming to France for an Islamic conference next month.

On Tuesday, Sarkozy said he had asked the DCRI domestic intelligence service to work with the DGSE foreign intelligence service to make “extensive” checks on people posing a security risk and vowed to speed up deportations in public order cases.

“Extremists play with our administrative formalities, our duty is to be more efficient,” Sarkozy said.

KILLINGS LOW IN VOTER SURVEYS

Merah, who had attended an Islamist training camp in Pakistan, used a stolen scooter and a Colt .45 pistol to carry out his attacks over eight days before being cornered by police and eventually shot dead after a dramatic siege.

Tarrouche said the video was difficult to watch. “You hear the voice of the person who carried out the killings. You also hear the victims’ cries,” he said. “My feelings are those of any human being who sees horrible things.”

Sarkozy said it should not be aired. “I call on executives of all TV stations that may have the images in their possession not to broadcast them under any pretext out of respect for the victims and for France,” he said, after meeting police chiefs.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the film could have a dangerous effect on people inclined to radicalism, telling Radio Classique: “This incitement to violence, to murder, on minds that are often fragile or deranged, is absolutely detestable.”

Four anti-terrorist judges are heading the investigation into France’s worst attack by a radical Islamist in years and are probing Merah’s elder brother, Abdelkader, as an accomplice.

Abdelkader, 29 and already known to security services for having helped smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007, will remain in jail for the duration of an inquiry that could last months before a decision on whether to send him to trial.

Police believe Mohamed operated largely as a lone wolf although he may have had logistical and ideological support from his brother and possibly others.

Investigators have begun looking for a possible additional accomplice involved in the theft of the scooter Merah used, a police source said. They also believe someone else rather than the gunman himself posted the memory stick to Al Jazeera.

The gunman’s family has decided to have him buried in Algeria, his parents’ native country, to avoid a grave in France being attacked or becoming a place of pilgrimage for extremists, an official of the Paris mosque said.

French media said the brothers’ Algerian father planned to take legal action against the French government over his son’s death. Sarkozy said he was “outraged”.

“Does this man have to be reminded that his son filmed his crimes and took diabolical care to send these ghastly images to a television station?” the president asked.

Three opinion polls on Tuesday showed Sarkozy is narrowing the gap behind Socialist Francois Hollande as the April 22 first-round vote approaches, although pollsters expect the focus to return to economic issues soon.

A survey by pollster BVA found only 8 percent of respondents said security fears would affect their vote, far behind economic issues including purchasing power for 42 percent of respondents and unemployment for 30 percent.

The same survey found that 51 percent of voters thought the Toulouse killings would have a major impact on the overall vote, but only 17 percent thought it would impact their own vote.

Additional reporting by Patrick Vignal, Leigh Thomas and Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris and Regan Doherty in Doha; Editing by Paul Taylor

Footage filmed by French gunman sent to Al Jazeera says police source


Video footage filmed by the French gunman Mohamed Merah during his bloody shooting spree has been sent to the Al Jazeera television network in Paris, a police source said on Monday.

Al Jazeera received a computer memory drive containing a montage of footage accompanied by Islamist war songs, and sent the package on to police on Monday, the source close to the investigation told Reuters.

An Al Jazeera employee contacted by Reuters confirmed the report.

The package was dated Wednesday, March 21, the day that police surrounded Merah in his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse after a massive manhunt, according to a report in the Parisian daily newspaper.

French special forces shot the young Islamist the following day after a 30-hour siege.

“Investigators are trying to find out whether the letter was posted Tuesday night by Mohamed Merah himself or by an accomplice Wednesday morning,” the newspaper wrote.

Merah, who said he was inspired by al Qaeda, admitted to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi in a spate of shootings that sent shockwaves through France.

The Paris prosecutor in charge of the case said last week that the Merah had filmed each of the shootings.

Reporting By Gerard Bon; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Israel convicts Al Jazeera reporter over Hamas contacts


The Kabul bureau chief of the Arabic-language Al Jazeera network was convicted of conspiring with Hamas to commit a crime against Israel.

Samir Allawi was arrested by Israel Aug. 9 while crossing from the West Bank to Jordan on his way back to Afghanistan. He had spent three weeks visiting his family in a West Bank town near Nablus.

Under a plea bargain, Allawi was convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime against the State of Israel over his contact with and service to Hamas. As part of the deal, he was released from prison and will pay a $1,400 fine.

Allawi told Israel’s Shin Bet security service that he was recruited by Hamas in Pakistan in 1993, and served as part of a group that supervises Hamas institutions and directs their activities.

He served in various capacities in Hamas and offered to use his position as an Al Jazeera reporter to further Hamas’ goals.

Israel arrests Al Jazeera bureau chief


Israel is holding in custody the Kabul bureau chief for the Arabic language Al Jazeera network on accusations that he is affiliated with the terrorist Hamas group.

Samir Allawi reportedly was arrested last week while crossing from the West Bank to Jordan on his way back to Afghanistan. He had spent three weeks visiting his family in a West Bank town near Nablus

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement issued Monday called on Israel to clarify why it is holding Allawi.

Israel authorities say they are holding Allawi on a “security-related arrest.” On Tuesday, Israel extended Allawi’s remand for seven days. The journalist reportedly testified Monday in front of a West Bank military court.

Report: Rebels reject Gadhafi’s offer for deal to step down


Al Jazeera television said Libyan rebels rejected an offer by Muammar Gadhafi on Monday to hold a parliament meeting to work out a deal under which he would step down.

Al Jazeera said sources from the rebel interim council told its correspondent in Benghazi that the offer was rejected because it would have amounted to an “honorable” exit for Gadhafi and would offend his victims.

According to the report, Gadhafi wanted guarantees of personal safety for him and his family as well as a pledge that they not be put on trial.

The Al Jazeera document dump and you


Map making seems to be an increasingly popular pastime in the Middle East these days.

The Palestinians claim they prepared their mapped vision of the two-state solution but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to look at it. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is reportedly preparing maps that will give Palestinians an interim state on land they already control but no more. Now a leading Washington think tank has unveiled a series of maps detailing proposals for drawing Israeli-Palestinian borders.

The central question in all this cartography is what to do about nearly 300,000 Israelis living in some 120 West Bank settlements.

Documents released Jan. 23 by Al Jazeera show Israelis and Palestinians may have made more progress toward an agreement — at least with the prior Israeli government — than previously known, but the reality is the peace process is comatose, and each side is conditioning resumption of talks on terms it knows are unacceptable to the other.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu until Israel freezes all settlement construction, which the prime minister has rejected by sanctioning a new building spree.

The Al Jazeera documents revealed Abbas appears much more flexible on that issue in private than in public, and that may land him in big trouble with the Palestinian public to which he has made unrealistically maximalist promises not only on settlements but also on refugees, borders, Jerusalem and security.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) has published a report (see it at jewishjournal.com) by senior fellow David Makovsky detailing three scenarios for redrawing borders to allow Israel to retain the maximum number of settlers in a minimum number of settlements along with 1:1 land swaps that would give Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank.

“Territory is not the only issue on the peace agenda,” said Makovsky, “but a breakthrough on this issue may open the door to progress on the others.”

He estimated it could cost nearly $1 million per family to relocate settlers to inside Israel’s new borders based on the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and on a family size of 5.3 (more for smaller families).

Any West Bank withdrawal will be more complex and more traumatic than the one in Gaza that saw radical rabbis ordering their followers to resist and IDF soldiers to disobey the orders of their commanders.

In September 2005, Israel evacuated 8,500 settlers from Gaza, plus another 500 from the northern West Bank, at a cost of $2 billion. Five and a half years later, an estimated 70 percent still do not have permanent housing.

West Bank evacuation for civilians will cost between $11 billion and $24 billion, depending on the extent of the land swap and the number of people affected. The cost of the army and the overall redeployment will be billions more.

Guess who’s expected to foot the bill. You. The American taxpayer. That could create a problem. Current U.S. law prohibits spending American aid beyond the 1967 border; it was written specifically to prevent using foreign aid for settlements.

Netanyahu recently forced the United States to withdraw an offer of $3.5 billion in advanced stealth planes and other equipment in return for a 90-day settlement freeze when he insisted on deal-killing conditions. Meanwhile, senior U.S. diplomats are in Israel discussing security needs in the event of a peace agreement.

Makovsky briefed top Israeli, Palestinian and American officials on the report but declined to characterize their responses.

The WINEP scenarios envision removing most West Bank settlements (77 to 88 out of 120) but only a minority of settlers (60,000 to 94,000 out of 300,000). That’s because most settlers live in the major settlement blocs near the 1967 border, which are expected to be annexed to Israel in a peace agreement.

In a land-for-land deal, each side gets something tangible, Makovsky said. It is “not realistic” for Palestinians to demand all settlers be removed.

The Washington Institute report does not deal with the nearly 200,000 Jews who live in East Jerusalem.

Some in Congress may question why Americans taxpayers should help foot the bill to remove settlements every president has said never should have been built in the first place.

On top of that, American taxpayers will be expected to increase the hundreds of millions already going to help the Palestinian build their state. Arab leaders will be expected to chip in, but so far they’ve been more generous with pledges than checks.

I’m not arguing against withdrawal. To the contrary, I think it is long overdue and in the vital interest of Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

But it may not be realistic to think Congress and the administration, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls and intense pressure to curb spending, will serve as the new ATM for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The longer both the Palestinians and Israelis delay, the higher the price tag of peace.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Complaint filed over Al Jazeera producer’s security check


After a pregnant Al Jazeera producer was asked to remove her bra during a security check, the Foreign Press Association in Israel is threatening to boycott news briefings.

Najwan Simri Diab underwent a security check Tuesday in order to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annual briefing with the foreign press in Jerusalem.

She said she was taken aside and asked first to remove her coat and her shirt, and then her bra, or she would not be permitted to attend the event.

Diab, who grew up in an Arab village in northern Israel and now lives in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem, has an official government press card and was invited to the event. She has worked for Al Jazeera in Israel for the past eight years and has attended the briefing in previous years.

Diab told Ynet that Arab journalists were singled out for a more rigorous security check.

On Wednesday, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera filed a complaint with Israel’s Government Press Office and the Foreign Press association over the security check.

The Foreign Press Association released a statement Wednesday about the incident, saying that “The Foreign Press Association is outraged over the treatment members received at the hands of Israeli security personnel during Tuesday night’s invitation-only gathering with the prime minister. While we appreciate the need for security, it is not remotely acceptable to invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them undress at the door.”

The Shin Bet responded in a statement.

“All those invited to the event were checked in keeping with the accepted security procedures for such an event,” the Israeli security service said. “Three journalists refused to be checked under these procedures and chose not to take part in the event.”

Al Jazeera Gaza coverage earns Emmy nomination


The Al Jazeera English news channel was nominated for an International Emmy for its coverage of the Gaza War.

The Emmy nominations were announced Wednesday by the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Al Jazeera received a nod in the news category for its coverage of both sides of Israel’s monthlong war against Hamas that began in December 2008.

Its competition in the category is Sky News, for its coverage of Pakistan; Russian Television, for its coverage of a visit by President Obama; Brazil’s TV Globo, for coverage of a blackout that affected 60 million people.

Al-Jazeera and the glorification of barbarity


I have often wondered why some of the best thinkers of our time refuse to believe in human progress. After all, there was a time when tens of
thousands of ordinary citizens flocked to the gates of the Roman Coliseum to enjoy the sight of wild beasts tearing human beings to pieces. Today, such a sight would evoke revulsion and disbelief.

Of course, inhumanity still exists, but it is no longer laudable or fashionable in the public sphere. With the exception of exhibition killings by jihadist recruiters, cruelty is no longer a catalyst of mass arousal. Even the Nazis tried to hide their deeds from the eyes of history. Be it for fear or shame, the trend is clear: The norms of civilized society are moving forward, and it is those norms, not their exceptions, that shape the minds of our youngsters and invigorate our hopes for a better world.

All this was true until about four weeks ago, when the royal procession of Samir Kuntar brought barbarism back to the public square. Kuntar is the killer who smashed the head of a 4-year-old girl with his rifle butt in 1979 after killing her father before her eyes. The mother, hiding in a crawl space, accidentally suffocated her 2-year-old child while trying to keep her from giving away their hiding place.

Kuntar was tried, convicted and sentenced to 542 years in prison and never expressed any remorse. He was released by Israel on July 26 in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006.

As anticipated, Hezbollah’s mass celebration in Beirut in the presence of its leader, Hassan Nassralla, evoked a chivalrous scene from a fairy tale gone awry. One by one, the whole Lebanese leadership stepped up to “brother Kuntar” to shake the hand and kiss the cheeks of that archsymbol of barbarity. There was Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, President Michel Sulayman, even the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — a whole nation bowed down to a moral deformity in a Hezbollah’s fatigue and a “Heil Hitler” salute.

The focus of my attention naturally turned to Al-Jazeera because, with its outreach of 50 million viewers from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, this pan-Arab satellite channel is considered the conscience and future of the Arab world.

“What would they tell their children?” I thought. “How would they present a Lebanon — once the crown jewel of the Arab world — kneeling before a child-killing psychopath?”

A chill went down my spine when British-accented announcers introduced Al-Jazeera’s English channel correspondent Rula Amin in Abeih, Kuntar’s home village, and translated the wisdom of Kuntar’s words from the original Arabic. Imagine a voice cast in an impeccable Oxford accent articulating in obvious empathy: “He has returned to a hero’s welcome…. After 29 years in [an] Israeli prison, Samir Kuntar spent his first day of freedom vowing to continue to fight against Israel. He says he hopes to see the enemy again very soon.”

Shakespeare, Milton and Churchill must be turning in their graves, I thought, hearing their cherished English language at the service of a homecoming tribute to a child murderer. The book by Isaac Newton that I always keep on my shelf lowered its eyes in shame when the translator read: “Kuntar is a hero; he is a freedom fighter,” and my favorite John Locke’s, “A Treatise of Humane Understanding” turned purple as another translator, sounding exactly like Sir David Frost, consummated the festival with: “At this time yesterday I was in the hands of the enemy, but today I am eager to meet them again, and I pray to God that I will be able to meet them very soon.”

It was not the content, mind you, only that dissonance between the cultured respectability of an Oxford accent, with its emphasis and intonation, and the unmistaken sympathy with the newly anointed hero of inhumanity, and the alarming signals my brain kept sending me: “This is how civilized people used to speak in the old days.”

Thank God, I thought, we Americans speak in a different accent; no child would grow up to tell us: “I recognize your accent from Kuntar’s celebration in Abeih.” And I quietly prayed that my mother tongue, Hebrew, would never crawl to such lows.

Then came Kuntar’s birthday party, initiated and choreographed by Al-Jazeera’s bureau in Beirut and aired on Al-Jazeera TV July 19 (translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute). There was orchestral music, a huge birthday cake and infinite admiration by Bin Jiddo, Al-Jazeera bureau chief and master of ceremony, announcing: “Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you. You deserve even more than this…. Happy birthday, brother Samir.”

How amateurish was the Coliseum in Rome compared with modern-day satellite rituals of death and brutality. Imagine millions of living rooms watching their new role model, child-killer Kuntar, lowering a huge butcher knife onto his birthday cake to the sound of fireworks and male chorus: “This is the sword of the Arabs, Samir. Don’t cut the picture, cut on the side.”

Imagine millions of schoolchildren and educators receiving a lesson in moral philosophy from their new master: “To be honest,” Kuntar says, “our operation had both civilian and military targets…. There are no civilian targets, it’s ‘civilian’ in quotation marks. The Zionists themselves define the Israeli as a soldier who is on leave for 11 months every year.”

Imagine millions of democracy-hungry Arabs watching their most trusted TV station presenting a lesson in practical democracy, while the orchestra in the background is waiting for the next tune. Kuntar says, “[The assassination of Sadat] was a most wonderful operation…. It was a wonderful historical moment, which I hope will recur in similar cases.”

In a previous op-ed (New York Times, January 2007) I wrote: “It is important to extend a hand to the network because it can become a force for good. As Al-Jazeera on the whole feels the heat of world media attention, we can hope that it will learn to harness its popularity in the service of humanity, progress and moderation.”

Most analysts in the West felt that way in 2007: “Al-Jazeera is democracy in its infancy” was the prevailing mantra, and “you don’t slap an infant on the wrist before it learns to stand on its feet.”

That was in 2007, when we were still hopeful that the station’s lopsided reporting and anti-Western rhetoric could somehow be mitigated through professional dialogue. These hopes have all but dissipated this past year, when the station has committed itself unconditionally and unabashedly to the service of Hamas and Hezbollah. Today, we have much deeper concerns with Al-Jazeera — it is no longer a clash with journalistic standards but a clash with the norms of civilized society.

Why my friends in the mainstream media kept (and keep) silent about the Kuntarization of Al-Jazeera is a puzzle that I find hard to reconcile. Why the Wall Street Journal was the only major newspaper to allow discussion (Opinion, Aug. 16) of the ongoing Kuntarization of Arab society still challenges my understanding. Our charming infant is smashing windows now and poisoning pets in the neighborhood — a slap on the wrist is perhaps way overdue.

On Aug. 6, after the Israeli Government Press Office suspended services to the network for staging Kuntar’s birthday party, Al-Jazeera’s general director, Khanfar Wadah, admitted in a letter quoted in the newspaper, Ha’aretz, that “elements of the programme violated Al-Jazeera’s Code of Ethics” (Ha’aretz, Aug. 6). The letter did not specify though what items of Al-Jazeera’s code of ethics Wadah considered violated. Some regard this gesture to be an “apology” — it is not. An apology spells out the offense and outlines corrective actions.

Al-Jazeera owes a definitive public apology to be aired at least as broadly as Kuntar’s birthday party, not only to Israel but primarily to its viewers in the Arab world for attempting to turn their children into the likes of Kuntar; to the journalism community, for robbing the profession of its nobleness; and, most urgently, to us, citizens of this planet, for re-legitimizing barbarity in the public square.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son, which promotes dialogue and understanding.

VIDEO: Arabic-speaking Israeli prof tells Al-Jazeera: ‘Jerusalem is ours for 3000 years!’


On Al-Jazeera TV, Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University asserts—in Arabic—that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for over 3000 years. 

Available here for the first time with English subtitles.

Middle Ages and 21st Century Clashing


The following are excerpts from an interview with Wafa Sultan, an Arab American psychologist from Los Angeles. It aired on Al Jazeera TV on Feb. 21, 2006.

Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.

It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete….

Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?

WS: Yes, that is what I mean….

Host: Who came up with the concept of a clash of civilizations? Was it not Samuel Huntington? It was not Bin Laden. I would like to discuss this issue, if you don’t mind….

WS: The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: “I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.”

When the Muslims divided the people into Muslim and non-Muslims and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war.

In order to stop this war, they must re-examine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels. My colleague has said that he never offends other people’s beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names they did not choose for themselves?

Once he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the “People of the Book” and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians “those who incur Allah’s wrath.”

Who told you they are People of the Book? They are not the People of the Book; they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking.

What gives you the right to call them “those who incur Allah’s wrath” or those who have gone astray, and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?

I am not a Christian, a Muslim or Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ right to believe in it.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: ( a teacher at Al-Azhar University) Are you a heretic?

WS: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural.

Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.

WS: These are personal matters that do not concern you…. Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern, whether they believe that the Messiah is God, son of Mary — or that Satan is God, son of Mary.

Let people have their beliefs…. The Jews have come from the tragedy [of the Holocaust] and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not their crying and yelling.

Humanity owes most of the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. Fifteen million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge.

We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.

The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a mosque, kill a Muslim or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies.

This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind before they demand that humankind respect them.

Translation from Arabic is courtesy of MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute.

 

In ‘Control’


Gullibility cuts both ways.

I try to remember this as I reflect on "Control Room," a fascinating documentary on the Arab news channel Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera broadcasts out of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar to more than 40 million Arabic-speaking viewers around the world.

Its many critics in the West say the station inflames Arab anger against America and Israel by presented skewed coverage of the war in Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Its defenders say Al Jazeera is the first truly independent news channel in the Arab world, and its popularity is based on its accuracy and high journalistic standards.

Since I don’t watch the channel and don’t speak Arabic, I find it frustratingly difficult to write off Al Jazeera as a broadcaster of lies and propaganda, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld does at one point in the documentary.

Everyone was telling "Control Room" director Jahane Noujaim what to think about Al Jazeera, so the young filmmaker set out to find out for herself. Noujaim grew up shuttling between Egypt and the United States before attending Harvard University. She helped make "The War Room" and "Start-up.com," then set about doing her own documentary on something near and dear to her heart: the clash between the West and Islam.

The movie opens by following the editors and reporters of Al Jazeera during the days leading up the Iraq War. She filmed mostly at Central Command, where the U.S. military conveniently set up its headquarters just 10 miles from Al Jazeera’s offices. The film’s main characters are quickly and sharply drawn: Samir Khader, a knowing, perpetually exhausted senior producer; Hassan Ibrahim, a Falstaffian, Sudanese-born correspondent; and U.S. Marine Lt. Josh Rushing, a young, earnest information officer who becomes our surrogate as he tries to understand and influence the Arab journalists around him.

Early on, these men spar in almost theoretical terms over who is more misguided. "Saddam Hussein has killed more Muslims than anyone in the world," Rushing tells Ibrahim early on, accusing the network of bias "and Al Jazeera is protecting him."

Khader shoots back: "The American media were hijacked by some people within the administration to be used for their own agenda."

As the horrible reality of war plays out on Al Jazeera screens, the men grow less glib and more pained. Rushing watches Al Jazeera footage of horribly maimed Iraqi civilians and dead U.S. soldiers — stuff never shown on any American network.

"It makes me hate war," the suddenly deflated Marine says, "but it doesn’t make me believe we’re in a world where you can live without it yet."

Ibrahim reacts to yet another shrill Arab protest with an exasperated sigh: "If an underground pipe breaks in the center of Doha, it will be blamed on the Israelis instead of our own incompetence."

For an 84-minute documentary about foreign-language media, this is compelling and emotional material, raising as many questions as it answers.

To help me sort them out, I sat down with Noujaim and Ibrahim while they were in Los Angeles this week promoting the movie. Ibrahim told me his English wife spent years in Jersualem and speaks fluent Hebrew. I asked Ibrahim, who said he attended grade school with Osama bin Laden, if he was raised Muslim.

"I describe myself as a Muslim Jew for Jesus," he said with a laugh.

Ibrahim may be the most palatable face of Al Jazeera, or he might be the most accurate spokesman of its ethos — again, I don’t know. But the affable journalist defended his work in almost missionary terms. Arab governments blackball companies from advertising on the station because they consider it seditious, he said. For one, almost every major Israeli official except Ariel Sharon has appeared on the news and interview programs, which irks Arab rulers. The station airs plenty of footage of Palestinian dead and wounded, but it also shows and interviews Israeli victims of Palestinian terror — though admittedly less. It may not be perfectly balanced, but it is revolutionary in the Arab world, where the media is almost wholly government controlled.

"People ask me, ‘Is it true you have a team of Israeli agents working on the third floor, telling you what to report,’" Ibrahim told me, winding up to a big laugh. "I tell them the team is actually on the fourth floor. Except that Al Jazeera is in a one-story building."

"It pisses me off," he continued. "In the Arab world we use scapegoats a lot, and Israelis are now it. But we are starting to take responsibility for our actions, and the fact is that we have a bunch of corrupt regimes that need to be removed, not just reformed."

Al Jazeera, he said, is part of the mission. For every instance where I pointed to skewed coverage of Iraq or Israel, he countered. During the Daniel Pearl tragedy, he said, the network refused to air the murderers’ gruesome footage.

"He was loved by a lot of us guys," Ibrahim said. "People [at Al Jazeera] shed tears over Daniel Pearl."

I find it plausible that Al Jazeera itself embodies the contradictions at the heart of the drama of the Arab world. Its best journalists want reform and openness, a sense of belonging to the larger world, while others want to use it to further a narrow Islamist agenda

Middle East expert Jennifer Bryson, who does know of such things, wrote that, "Al Jazeera usually lives up to its own high standards for factual reporting, and it fosters important discussions within the Arab world."

"Control Room" should foster important discussion in our world as well.

"Control Room" plays for one week beginning Friday, June 18 at The Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.

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