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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s always Sunny in Hebron


2009

I have but one question for Rob Eshman. It seems that in the economic hardships ahead, which will include loss of funds to send your children to college, loss of retirement IRAs, loss of homes, loss of jobs and other Depression or near-Depression hardships, Eshman finds comfort in the hopes that relationships with fellow Jews will be like meat and money in these hard times (“2009,” Dec. 12).

Having been born in the heart of the Depression, I cannot share his rosy Ralph Waldo Emerson philosophy. So, Eshman, here is the question I have for you: Brother can you spare a dime?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Peace House

Sunny Sassoon is dead wrong when he characterizes the extremist settlers who were evicted from the Palestinian house they were occupying as “heroes,” (“Peace House Expulsions Show Need for Sensitivity,” Dec. 12). Those settlers were not heroes — they broke Israeli law and put all 6.5 million Jewish Israelis at risk.

Regardless of the controversy over who has legal title to the house, the settlers broke Israeli law by moving in without government permission. By moving in, they placed a requirement on the army to protect them and added to the friction between Israel and the Palestinians, thus putting all Israelis at risk.

Once evicted, the settlers, to use Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s word, they carried out a “pogrom” on the Palestinians by marauding through Arab Hebron — by far the larger part of the city — torching houses and cars, shooting and stoning and even defacing mosques and Muslim cemeteries, not only in Hebron but elsewhere in the West Bank, as well, for a day or two afterward.

No Sassoon, those settlers were not heroes; they were terrorists, and their actions undermined the rule of law in Israel and put all Israelis at risk.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

Moral Crime

Allowing unimpeded movement in and out of Gaza would provide free passes to terrorists theologically committed to murdering Jews and destroying Israel. Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel’s existence. Its commitment to destroy it is the very reason why it broke from Fatah and took over Gaza. Territorial compromises won’t satisfy Hamas. Read its charter — http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm.

It’s therefore baffling that anyone claiming to care about human lives would suggest “lifting the siege” of Gaza, since the result would be tantamount to sanctioning the murder of innocent Israelis. Where are the calls for Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to sovereignty?

The key to co-existence is held by Hamas and its supporters. Allowing free movement of those committed to your destruction is not only a logical absurdity; it would be a moral crime against the Jewish people, as is the media bias against Israel.

Dan Calic
San Ramon

Fit to Neuter

Marty Kaplan dismisses a complaint that a factual reporting is compromised when the same reporter prints a follow-up editorial favoring one party (“All the News That’s Fit to Neuter,” Dec. 5). Kaplan’s concern over so-called “factual reporting” significantly applies to the BBC’s reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the BBC overlooks the Arab Muslim imperative of an Arab Muslim Middle East (as in the genocide of non-Muslim blacks in Darfur and the attempted genocide of Jews in Israel). Each Palestinian atrocity is “balanced” with reporting a prior Israeli retaliation or a justification by a terrorist identified as a combatant.

It was Clark Clifford and Harry Truman’s response to England’s despicable betrayal of the Balfour Declaration, when it prevented survivors of the Holocaust to go to the only place they were welcome, cum a boycott of arms leaving the Jewish minority to be slaughtered by genocidal Arabs, that influenced the U.S.A.’s recognition of Israel.

When English academics passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics, U.S. academics squelched the boycott. Correspondingly, PBS television must make it clear to the English government-owned BBC that America will not be the sounding board for English anti-Semitism.

Charles Berger
Los Angeles

Museum of Tolerance

I find it appalling that the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which previously said that it would not build on a site were it known that it was a cemetery, continues to build a Center for Human Dignity, despite more than 150 skeletons being dug up at the cemetery under the center’s supervision (“Protests Over Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Spread,” Dec. 12).

And the claim about Muslims being silent for the past 50 years is just plain wrong. Israel imposed martial law from 1949 to 1966. During that time, any signs of nationalism among Palestinians were crushed.

But Muslims in Israel did legally oppose the designation of waqf land as absentee property in the 1960s, lobbied to rebuild and maintain the Ma’manullah graves after the 1967 War, protested the desecration of the graves in the ’70s and ’80s, and have been opposing the building of the Center for Human Dignity on the cemetery land.

This issue is not about politics or victory. It is about respect and fair treatment of the living and dead — something taught in both Judaism and Islam.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
CAIR-Greater Los Angeles Area

Firsthand accounts bring WWII London ‘Blitz’ to life


There is no shortage of books, historical and fictional, on the bombing of London during World War II. Peter Stansky’s new book, “The First Day of the Blitz,” combines history, political commentary and firsthand testimony in a compelling account.

The “Blitz,” misnamed for its expected quick knockout blow to Britain, officially started at 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, 1940. The bombing was extensive and lasted for 56 of the next 57 days. Over the course of the war, 40 percent of London’s housing stock was made uninhabitable.

Stansky’s book focuses on the first day, when the complacency of the Phony War (a preceding time of relative calm and frequently ignored air raid sirens) was replaced by shock, then terror, then resolve.

One of the first accounts details a recurring theme, the importance of afternoon tea:

“It must have been about 4 o’clock, because my mother had made afternoon tea … in the little silver-edged tray, complete with cups and saucers, a small matching china jug with milk and a teapot under its cosy.”

When the bombing started, they took refuge in a cupboard under the stairs.

“The air of the parlour condensed and became opaque as if turned instantaneously to a red-brown fog, the floor heaved unbelievably, the [wall] leaned and rocked as though it had become flexible and … the slates from the roof came pouring down, crashing through the roof of the glass conservatory with huge clatter, smashing all the glass and piling brokenly into the room….

“[As the bombing subsided], everything was covered with a heavy brown dust, which lay so thickly on the floor that it concealed the carpet. The little china milk jug was lying on its side, and the spilt milk lay in a rivulet dripping over the edge of the table to a white pool in that thick layer of dust below.

“My mother made an instinctive movement to pick up the jug and staunch the flow of milk, but realised how useless it was. What normally would have been a serious accident spoiling the carpet, was tiny in this new scale of destruction.”

At the Anti-Defamation League, we have many programs designed to teach about the Holocaust, and we know how well personal testimony and artifacts — a survivor’s story, an excerpted diary, a single shoe — attest to the human condition and bring history lessons to life. For me, Stansky’s book was especially close to home, as my mother and father lived through the Blitz, and their stories were part of the fabric of my childhood.

Reading Stansky’s book brought back memories of my mother’s experiences, both sad and funny — seeing a postman blown into the air; spending an air raid crouched under the heavy dining room table, where her older relatives sat telling jokes and playing cards, and just getting on with everyday life. I pored through the stories of this book as I would read my mother’s own diary. I was so eager to get to the next firsthand account, I often had to stop and re-read Stansky’s historic conclusions.

Stansky gives conflicting evidence of Britain’s preparedness, noting on one hand, the remarkable volunteer efforts of the air raid wardens, and on the other, the misplaced micromanagement of the British government (distributing postcards so people could write relatives of their safety and free up telephone lines, yet withholding blankets so people would not be “tempted to stay too long” in the shelters).

Stansky addresses the “myth of the Blitz” — that the British people behaved calmly, the country was unified by patriotism, and the experience led to a vast expansion of social services from “cradle to grave” in post-war times. There was truth to the myth, but it was an oversimplification.

The British resolved not to dwell on the situation (those who did were called “bomb bores”), but there was a nationalist strain to their patriotism. “[T]hey had little interest in including all who might claim to be British. This was most notable, ironically, in the case of Jews, some of whom were as badly blitzed as anyone.”

Stansky makes note of the presence of anti-Semitism, quoting rumors that Jews were hoarding prime space in the shelters, and including a report that anti-Semitism arose “not so much on account of a marked difference between Jews and Cockneys, but because the latter, seeking a scapegoat as an outlet for emotional disturbances, pick on the traditional and nearest one.”

Finally, Stansky draws parallels to modern terrorism, equating the qualities of Londoners in the days following Sept. 7, 1940, to those of New Yorkers in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. “Both days, 61 years apart, were marked by death and destruction, but they also provided evidence of our ability to survive as human beings.”

Not everyone will have the personal draw to the material that I did, but any student of history will enjoy “The First Day of the Blitz” as much for its social and political commentary as its compilation of great stories. I recommend it with a cup of afternoon tea.

Amanda Susskind is regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League.


Is Israel Spy Claim a Neocon Backlash?


Hours after CBS News first reported that federal officials were investigating a possible Israeli "mole" at the Pentagon, the first analysis hit the wires claiming that the emerging scandal wouldn’t damage U.S.-Israel relations.

It was quick journalistic work, but it wasn’t worth the bytes it was written on. The plain fact is, the scandal will affect Jewish and pro-Israel interests in myriad ways — even if the federal investigation fizzles and no charges are brought. And any proof that Israel was spying on the Pentagon, with the cooperation of the pro-Israel lobby, would be devastating both for Israel and for the Jewish community here.

At the very least, the fast-moving controversy highlights the many gray areas created when two close allies share military and strategic information through a web of formal and informal contacts.

Jewish leaders believe the leaks that produced the CBS story and the exaggerated talk of a mole may have been triggered by the bitter struggle between administration neoconservatives — many of them Jewish, many in the top ranks of the Pentagon organization chart — and the traditional conservatives and military and intelligence professionals who fear the neocons have led America into a military debacle in Iraq and want to do the same in Iran.

In particular, these forces have been critical of Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, a hawk’s hawk and the boss of the man at the epicenter of the controversy, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin.

This week, unnamed officials told reporters that the premature revelations had compromised their investigations, and that Franklin’s status remained "murky." But, on Tuesday, there were reports federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., the site of a number of recent high-profile spy and terror prosecutions, were nearing a decision on legal action.

But even if the investigation produces no arrests and no evidence American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) went beyond the bounds of legal lobbying, it has the potential to cause damage to Israel, to Jewish interests here and to U.S.-Israel relations.

The accusation of a "mole" — that term made sensational headlines, but it wasn’t borne out by later reporting — plays into the ongoing belief by many on both ends of the political spectrum that a cabal of Jewish neoconservatives led America into a destructive war in Iraq, not because of America’s interests — but Israel’s.

The charge lacks credibility for several reasons, including President Bush’s obvious determination to topple Saddam Hussein from the earliest days of his administration and the fact that Israel never considered Iraq its most dangerous enemy.

But it has been persistent and damaging, and it is bound to gain new currency with this week’s barrage of news stories, some of which implied that pro-Israel neocons improperly gave Israel input into U.S. decision making on Iraq, as well as Iran. As the story spun out in the press, the Iraq references faded, but they are unlikely to be forgotten by those eager to blame the Jewish state and its American friends.

The scandal will refocus attention on a group of Jewish neoconservatives who have been polarizing figures both inside and outside government circles, including Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

The charges, even if unsubstantiated, could impede the widespread military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem — ties that are even more important as the allies fight the terrorist forces that have targeted both nations. At the political level, there may be little impact, but the taint of even discredited spy charges could sow suspicions and fears that will make day-to-day cooperation at the working level more difficult.

The charges will also have a chilling effect on countless Jews serving in important government positions.

The new spy scandal is also bad news for the one American jailed for spying for Israel: Pollard, now in his 19th year of incarceration. This week’s stories will re-energize the military and intelligence officials who have worked so hard to prevent his release and make this president and the next one even warier about the political fallout from a Pollard pardon.

There is also the potential human tragedy of a non-Jew who cares about Israel whose reputation and career could be destroyed by a trial in the press, not the courts. It may turn out that Larry Franklin simply "mishandled" government documents in the course of routine, perfectly acceptable contacts with Israeli representatives — a far cry from espionage.

If there is evidence of improper actions by pro-Israel lobbyists and by Israeli officials, the results could badly undercut the good work done by years’ worth of pro-Israel activism and fan the fires of anti-Semitism based on the fallacious charge that Israel distorts U.S. policy to serve its own interests.

But even if the charges are quickly revealed as overblown, the fact that they have exploded in the middle of an emotionally charged presidential campaign and as protests proliferate over the Iraq war could adversely affect the Jewish community and Israel. Jewish leaders are worried — and they are right to be.

Faults and Failures


Last February, the head of the Mossad lost his cell phone. He left it in his car — that’s right, the head of Israel’s renowned top secret spy agency left his cell phone in his car. When he returned, he found someone had bashed his windows and stolen it. On it were the numbers of, well, everyone on whom Israel’s security and defense relies.

“The robbers reportedly broke into the car when it was parked in Tel Aviv and could easily have planted a bomb had they wanted,” Israeli Army Radio reported.

Mossad chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan contacted his cellular service company and had the phone’s memory erased, so in the end all he suffered was embarrassment and of course the royal pain of reprogramming a new cell.

I recall this story as the nation awaits the report of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission. This is the bipartisan effort President George W. Bush’s White House initially opposed, but eventually chartered under pressure from the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The committee has already made public certain pieces of the report, and has made clear that we should expect no shocking, other-foot-dropping revelations when the full report is released July 21.

Open societies thrive on open inquiry. Saudi Arabia held no public independent hearings into why so many Sept. 11 hijackers devolved from its soil. But Israel’s intelligence community has regularly been the subject of commissions, reports, restructuring and open criticism.

The most well-known example is the Agranat Inquiry Commission, which investigated why Israel was caught by surprise by Arab armies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“For the nation as a whole, the major instrument of therapy was an inquiry commission,” writes Abraham Rabinovich in his recent and gripping, “The Yom Kippur War” (Schocken, 2004). It was clear to then-Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that only such a commission could “restore public confidence in the government and the army” — even though both leaders knew full well their own necks were at stake, too. Within three weeks of the cease-fire, the five-member commission began its work. Within the year, its findings called for six high-level resignations, including that of Eli Zeira as chief of intelligence.

There is no indication that the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation will be anywhere near as far-reaching, or as finger-pointing. For postwar Israelis, accountability was therapeutic. For post-Sept. 11 Americans, the language of therapy has replaced actual accountability. Former CIA Director George Tenet left his post even as the president heaped him with praises. Analysts whose analysis was clearly wrong, politicians whose reactions were clearly lethargic — we are told they all tried their best or did their darndest. Listening to the president and many Democrats as well, I began to wonder what they were protecting: our country or George Tenet’s self-esteem?

The Agranat Commission did not seek vengeance, nor did it make innocents of wrongdoers.

Beyond assigning blame, Agranat also sought structural changes in the Israeli intelligence community. Such will also be the main focus of the 9/11 Commission.

“The system is broken,” Rep. Jane Harman (D-El Segundo) told me, emphatically, when I met her a month ago at her field office.

Harman, a centrist Democrat, is a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and helped spearhead all House actions in response to the Sept. 11 attacks as ranking member on the panel’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Speaking of the intelligence failures that led up to our invasion of Iraq, she said, “Having now carefully studied the intelligence the intelligence was wrong…. This was a screw up, yes.”

The same system helped keep us in the dark about Sept. 11. “Sept. 11 was a failure to connect the dots,” Harmon said. “With Iraq and WMD, there were too few dots connected to the wrong conclusion.”

Harmon said she supports what is expected to be a centerpiece of the 9/11 report: the appointment of a director of national intelligence, who will coordinate intelligence gatherings from some 15 different agencies with a combined budget of more than $30 billion.

Interestingly enough, Israel’s Agranat Commission called for just such a post, as have numerous Israeli commissions and reports looking into the country’s intelligence lapses over the years. The most recent recommendation came this year in the Steinetz Report, which investigated the failure of Israeli intelligence to accurately assess Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons and missile delivery systems.

But Israel has never followed through on this recommendation, and there’s no indication that the American public will clamor for that change now.

“Israeli national security decision making could probably benefit from the presence of such an adviser,” wrote security analyst Yossi Alpher, “But at the end of the day, no intelligence service is immune to failure.”

Harmon and others will have to convince us how adding more names to a flow chart will make us safer. Without a stronger culture of accountability — people made to feel bad, even, yes, fired — I doubt it will. Meanwhile, I keep thinking of that top-security cell phone, and how even the best intelligence experts can leave us a car window away from disaster.

Grass-Roots Level Campaign Coverage


When I was covering big shot political campaigns for the Los Angeles Times, I was treated like a big shot.

I sampled barrages of press releases, announcements of events, hot gossip, position papers, parties and invitations. I had many opportunities to interview candidates. The fact that I worked for the Times made me especially popular. Life was sweet on the campaign plane and in the restaurants and bars where the exclusive club of political reporters and campaign aides hung out.

That is not what happens since I have become a part-time political columnist for The Jewish Journal. Now, nobody writes, nobody calls.

I’m not going to reminisce about great days gone by. Rather, I’d thought I’d write about life as a community journalist and how it gives me a much better idea of voter sentiment than the drearily conventional, corporately cautious political reporting and analysis on television and in the newspapers.

I read or skim four newspapers a day. Working at home, I often flip on my desk-side television set to check on the news. In other words, I’m a news junkie.

The election analysis is all the same. For days, the political press was almost totally occupied with Sen. John Kerry’s choice for the vice presidential candidate. When Sen. John Edwards was selected, everyone I saw or read had the same take: Terrific speaker; inexperienced; shady trial lawyer; fighter for the forgotten.

It was as if the journalists were afraid to stray off the beaten track or leave the reporting pack to have an original thought. Today’s political reporting is a compendium of conventional wisdom. The motto of the press corps is: “On one hand…. And on the other….”

And the conventional wisdom is often wrong. President Ford was not clumsy. Al Gore was not a compulsive truth stretcher. Nor is President Bush the fun-loving wisecracker we read about in reports flowing from his 2000 campaign press plane.

Yet that’s how they were portrayed, and pretty soon erroneous conventional wisdom was accepted as if it were true, doing irreparable damage to Ford and Gore.

Since insiders no longer bother to spin me, I’m a free man.

The other day, for example, I wanted to do a story about Kerry’s presidential campaign. Lacking the usual sources, I checked out the California For Kerry Web site.

I saw that volunteers would be manning tables for Kerry in the San Fernando Valley in the next few days, distributing campaign literature and registering voters in a practice called “tabling.”

That sounded promising. The San Fernando Valley is prime country for a Jewish community journalist. Parts of the Valley have substantial Jewish populations. And there’s a feel of the grassroots about politics in the Valley. It’s not like the Westside, where Democratic politics are now limited to celebrities and other rich people throwing and attending high priced fundraisers.

I e-mailed Beverlee Stone-Goodman, who was to run a table at a Target in Sherman Oaks. She replied that Target had “received word from the corporate office that they will no longer be allowed to have any kind of solicitation on their premises, including the Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas.” She suggested I contact Agi Kessler, house-party coordinator for Valley for Kerry. Kessler steered me to a table operating at the Promenade in Woodland Hills, adjacent to the AMC theaters: “This is a particularly good location because they are showing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.'”

It was a great idea. The volunteers at the table gave me a nugget of news. Theatergoers were heading directly from “Fahrenheit” to the table to register and pick up pamphlets. The Saturday before the movie opened, the volunteers registered six. On the Saturday after the opening, they signed up 35. “One man changed his registration from Republican to Democratic after seeing the movie,” said Corinne Schnur of Topanga, who, along with Joan Campbell of Woodland Hills, took time out for an interview.

I also got a sense of Kerry’s great problem: Too many Democrats dislike Bush more than they like Kerry. As one volunteer at the Promenade told me, “I’d vote for Peter Rabbit before Bush.”

At the Kerry booth at the Studio City farmers market a day later, Chris Long, a special-ed teacher at North Hollywood High School, said “the number of people stopping by has increased every Sunday since October.” Like the Promenade volunteers, he said, “we get a lot stopping by who say ‘anybody but Bush.'” I wondered if Michael Moore would energize more hard-core liberal Democrats than Kerry. I also doubt that dislike of Bush is enough to win Kerry the presidency.

Granted, visits to a mall and a farmers market are not a scientific way to gauge how the election is going. But I drove home from the farmers market on the Fourth of July with the feeling that I had gotten at least a hint of how real people, including those from my community, felt about the Kerry campaign.

I think I’ll cover the presidential campaign from the San Fernando Valley.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of
each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a
political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for
three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Anti-Semitism Acts Climb in Holland


Anti-Semitic acts in Holland rose significantly in 2002, but few cases were serious, according to a new report.

Written by the University of Leiden and the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, the report, presented in Amsterdam last week, also noted a marked decrease in violence directed against Muslims and Muslim targets. Likewise, violence from the extreme right dropped to 264 registered cases from 317.

Jews didn’t fare so well, however. Anti-Semitic incidents rose to 60 in 2002, up from 41 in 2001. About half of the cases were related to soccer games. Dutch fans — especially opponents of Amsterdam’s Ajax club, which for various reasons is identified in the public mind with Jews — often shout things like, "Hamas, Hamas, hang the Jews in the gas."

According to the researchers, immigrant youths in Holland were less involved in anti-Semitic attacks than in the past. In 2001, immigrant youths were responsible for about 20 percent of the anti-Semitic incidents, but the figure dropped to just 5 percent in 2002, with most of the attacks carried out by non-Muslim Dutch, particularly at anti-Israel protests.

The Jewish community didn’t react to the report. The community generally believes the report’s methodology is flawed. For example, it doesn’t include incidents at school, where many Dutch Jews think anti-Semitism is becoming a problem.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), the Dutch equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League, renewed a request to the government to follow anti-Semitism more closely. The last time CIDI asked a few months ago, its request was rebuffed. The government has not yet responded to the most recent request.

Most of the incidents included in the report aren’t too serious, the researchers said. Apart from the shouts at soccer games, Jewish organizations receive threatening letters on an occasional basis.

Also, pro-Palestinian demonstrators at political rallies often express anti-Jewish statements, and anti-Semitism can be found on some Dutch Web sites. However, there were nine cases of physical harassment, such as beatings on the street of people who were obviously Jewish.

Since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, many Jews have opted not to show visible signs of their Jewishness. Many remove their yarmulkes in public, for example.

Experts say there probably are more anti-Semitic incidents than are registered with police, because most incidents remain unreported. Also, it’s not clear whether the decrease in anti-Semitic incidents by immigrant youths is real or not.

The Anne Frank Foundation, which co-authored the report, has no means of investigating material that is not written in Dutch. Moroccan newspapers and Arabic textbooks used in Islamic day schools or after-school religious classes are not monitored in Holland, and the foundation also doesn’t monitor mosque religious leaders.

During the past year, school curricula and religious leaders made headlines in Holland for their overtly anti-Semitic statements.

New Standards for Fair Coverage at NPR


As the world turns its focus once again to events in the Middle East, this is an opportune time for National Public Radio (NPR) and all media outlets to examine the way in which we cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to talk to our listeners about the steps we take to ensure objective and accurate coverage.

Like most leading American media outlets, NPR’s coverage of the Middle East is closely scrutinized by listeners across the political spectrum. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most emotionally charged subjects in the world today, and we recognize that our coverage will never please all people, all of the time — nor should that be our goal. Our goal should be to produce the most comprehensive, balanced and accurate reporting on this difficult matter, a goal we strive toward with each story.

As a primary source of news for almost 21 million Americans each week, NPR News works tirelessly to adhere to stringent standards of excellence in all our news reporting, including coverage of the Middle East. NPR has earned every major award for American journalism, including 41 George Foster Peabody and 18 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards. Recently, our seven-part series, "The Mideast: A Century of Conflict," received the Overseas Press Club Award and the National Headliner Award for distinguished reporting.

NPR, a listener-supported network, seeks transparency and values feedback from our listeners and our member stations. We are proud of our reporting, but we also recognize that no news organization is perfect. And, as with any organization, we are constantly working to improve our reporting and to communicate more openly with our listeners.

Toward that end, NPR has undertaken a number of initiatives as part of an ongoing effort to help our listeners understand our reporting, as well as to help NPR understand the ideas and thoughts of our listeners. Some of these initiatives are already under way, while others are currently being implemented.

First, NPR has developed a document titled, "Middle East Reporting Guidelines," which establishes standards for our coverage and terminology. The guidelines are a blueprint for our reporters and editors; they explicitly discuss the way NPR sources and attributes events and people, the manner in which we lead into reports ("intros"), the language we use when questioning interviewees, the balance of commentaries between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices and the terminology we use when reporting on this very complex topic.

We encourage listeners and all interested parties to read these guidelines on our Web site (www.npr.org).

Second, for listeners to have an informed opinion on our coverage, it is important that they have access to all of NPR’s stories in their entirety. That’s why we post on our Web site all stories dealing with conflict in the Middle East. These stories show that our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unique in its comprehensiveness and scope.

Third, NPR has begun conducting formal self-assessments of our Middle East coverage every six months. The purpose of these self-assessments is to help us evaluate and improve our coverage.

In our most recent report, we found that in 60 Middle East-related pieces that aired on NPR in the first three months of 2003, Israeli voices were heard 65 times and Palestinians (and other Arabs) were heard 49 times. In addition, Israelis were quoted (but no tape played) 61 times and Palestinians (or Arabs) were quoted 57 times. Self-assessments will continue regularly and will be posted on our Web site.

Fourth, we have added a section to our Web site that allows listeners to submit story ideas on the Middle East. While there is no guarantee that these will result in news stories, this Web page provides an additional avenue for listeners to present their own ideas on potential Middle East stories.

Fifth, NPR employs the nation’s only radio network ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, as the listeners’ advocate. A veteran news director, Dvorkin receives more than 45,000 inquiries annually about our coverage. Approximately half of them express a broad range of opinions on our Middle East coverage.

As our ombudsman, Dvorkin is an independent voice, free to evaluate and critique our reporting as he deems appropriate. His columns, including his independent evaluations of NPR reporting, can be found on our Web site.

Sixth, NPR executives have met with numerous representatives from both the Jewish and Arab American communities during the past several months to better comprehend the diverse perspectives about the Middle East conflict. We will continue this outreach effort to community leaders and will hold regularly scheduled meetings in our corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

Additionally, I have personally traveled to Israel and made more than 40 trips across the United States to meet with listeners and discuss the rigorous standards of our internal editorial practices.

Seventh, NPR is currently organizing a series of symposiums in major cities across the nation to create an open dialogue on the issues of accuracy, fairness and balance in reporting on highly emotional and contentious topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Participants will include NPR News representatives, our member stations, journalists and academics.

We are dedicated to increased transparency and communication between NPR and listeners. Honest and open dialogue is a cherished right and the cornerstone for a thriving and vital democracy. I can personally assure you NPR will always take that first step toward opening the doors of communication, and we will continue to live up to the high journalistic standards we set for ourselves as a news-gathering organization.


Kevin Klose is president and chief executive officer of NPR. Prior to joining NPR in 1998, Klose was an editor and national and foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He has also served as director of U.S. International Broadcasting, overseeing the U.S. government’s global radio and television news services, and as president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Thinking Twice About War


On a single day during Passover 1986, most of Israel’s major dailies ran oddly identical front-page stories describing a secret negotiation, recently collapsed, between Israel and Iraq. Iraq, it was said, had approached Israeli representatives in New York, asking that Jerusalem switch its covert support from Iran to Iraq in the war between them. In return, Iraq would exchange ambassadors with Israel after it won the war. Israel reportedly demanded recognition now, not later, and then ended the contacts abruptly after Washington caught wind of them.

Nothing further was reported. Israeli officials questioned about it responded, even years later, with studied, bristling silence. But in the spring of 2000, during not-so-secret Israeli-Palestinian talks leading up to Camp David, Israeli papers again reported Iraq-Israel contacts. Baghdad was said to be offering to absorb 300,000 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon if Israel would speak for Iraq in Washington and help soften American hostility. This time, Israel reportedly backed away even without being told.

No, the stories aren’t confirmed, but there is a telling logic to them. They echo something we’ve known all along about Saddam Hussein but often forget: that he is a cynical, power-hungry tyrant who believes in nothing — not even in anti-Zionism. The butcher of Baghdad is capable of virtually anything, including cozying up to Israel one day and attacking it the next.

Alas, America’s mostly one-sided public debate over Hussein has generated more heat than light in recent months. He’s been called a reckless adventurer, a wily survivor, a cynical tyrant, a ruthless fanatic. He can’t be all that. A wily survivor isn’t reckless, and a cynic isn’t fanatical. In fact, the Iraqi tyrant is an opportunistic thug who will do whatever suits his purposes, if he thinks he can get away with it. Above all, he’s a survivor.

The Washington hawks demanding war with Baghdad depict Hussein as something different: a dedicated extremist who’s committed to defeating Israel and the West, whatever the cost. There are forces in the region who fit that description, but their address isn’t Baghdad. It’s Tehran.

America’s attention has been riveted for months on Hussein and his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, which may have yielded, according to current Israeli intelligence, some stocks of chemicals, some rudimentary biological weapons and very few usable launchers. All the while, Iran has been working unhindered on building a nuclear bomb. This week, it reportedly brought two new nuclear facilities online, a heavy water plant and a nuclear fuel plant. Iran’s mullahs say they wouldn’t mind starting a nuclear war with Israel. They might survive and Israel wouldn’t. Anyway, survival isn’t their thing. They’re holy warriors. Iran is where Israel’s nightmares take shape.

It’s true that Hussein is a very bad guy. He’s gassed his own people and attacked two of his neighbors. The world would be a better place without him. But the same could be said of a host of dictators past and present who have threatened neighbors and massacred their own populations, sometimes over our objections, sometimes with our financial backing.

So why Hussein? The fact is, some folks just want action, and with communism gone, Baghdad may just be a handy new target.

They’re not wrong to want him gone. But an American attack isn’t necessarily wise. It could splinter Iraq, vastly strengthen Iran and cripple Turkey. Worse, it could bring a catastrophic attack on Israel, leaving thousands dead and inviting an Israeli reply that might spell nuclear winter. Would that make the world a better place?

War hawks point to Munich 1938, when the free world faced a tyrant and blinked. But Hitler was explicitly bent on conquering the world and eradicating entire populations, and as head of a great industrial power he had the means to do so. Hussein is more like Stalin circa 1946, a corrupt thug terrorizing the cowed populace of a backward nation.

After defeating Hitler, the West looked east and properly decided Stalin was best contained, not crushed. That was the approach the Clinton administration took in 1993 with its "dual containment" policy — albeit inadequately enforced — toward Iraq and Iran.

If there’s now a case to be made for abandoning patience and risking world cataclysm, we’re waiting to hear it. So is the rest of the world, beginning with our European allies and the moderate Arab states. They have at least as much at stake as we do in stabilizing the Middle East and avoiding nuclear Armageddon.

On Statistics and Heroes


The current conflagration in Israel and the territories is now two years old. News of each explosion in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv alarms me and fills me with a dread that does not retreat until I hear on the phone the voices of my friends in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Countless times now I have woken my friends in the middle of the Israeli night. I confirm their voices, and then my dread recedes into statistics.

We’ve been inundated by the numbers of dead and wounded in the second Palestinian uprising. Charts show us dips and rises in casualties on a weekly and monthly basis. Media reports follow a strange and similar pattern: the incident itself, followed by eyewitness accounts, followed by politicians commenting on either the tragedy or inevitability of such a thing. And weaving them together is an ongoing debate over whether this particular incident was based on retaliation or revenge, whether it was preemptive or responsive.

Innately I know that each statistic reflects a human life and grieving families and friends on both sides of the conflict; without my knowing the deceased and their families, the statistics let me quantify loss.

And then suddenly, on July 31 everything changed. Janis Coulter was one of nine killed at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The two-year loss of life for me is now qualified.

Because Janis was my friend and my colleague. Because Janis took my position when I left the Hebrew University. Because Janis and I had an e-mail correspondence and saw each other at meetings and conventions. Because Janis was a convert to Judaism and I was born a Jew, and in many ways, I think, she was more passionate about her Judaism than I am. Because if you play the what-if game, if I had kept my job with the Hebrew University, that could very well have been me on the campus on July 31.

Janis and I shared a particular realm that connects so many of us: alumni of the Hebrew University’s program for international students. A passion for Israel. A love of Jerusalem. A desire that goes well beyond the definition of work, encouraging students to breathe in an experience something similar to what we have known.

Jerusalem: It’s an ungraspable city. The beauty, pain, joy and melancholy in Jerusalem defy description or containment or words. Yet, we know the feeling when we are there. It’s not a secret, it’s there for all who breathe it in, but that feeling simply does not leave Jerusalem.

In some ways, both horrific and comforting, Janis has not left Jerusalem. Her spirit is now part of the life of an indefinable Jerusalem.

In other ways, Janis is very much part of my life here. Over the course of the weekend preceding her memorial service in Boston, Janis’ boss and I spent time with the Coulter family. In the two years prior to losing her own life, Janis lost her uncle, her brother-in-law and her mother. Despite this — or maybe because of this — the Coulters have an extraordinary, humane resilience. The Coulters have taught me how to breathe with, and through, the loss of Janis. The Coulters have become my local Jerusalem — I know the feeling I have when with them, but I can’t readily describe it to you.

In his novel “Continental Drift,” Russell Banks writes, “We must cross deserts alone and often perish along the way, we must move to where we can start our lives over, and when we get there, we must keep knocking at the gate, shouting and pounding with our fists, until those who happen to be keepers of the gate are also moved to admire and open the gate. We are the planet, fully as much as water, earth, fire and air are the planet, and if the planet survives, it will only be through heroism. Not occasional heroism, a remarkable instance of it here and there, but constant heroism, systematic heroism, heroism as governing principle.”

I embrace the memory of Janis Coulter. Now, especially now, I think of her not as a martyr, not as a sacrifice, but as a hero — a woman whose passion, smile, work and life so unpretentiously embodied heroism as governing principle.


Hal Klopper is director of Tel Aviv University’s office of academic affairs in New
York.