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ICG Risk Blog - [ A note on sources to the forthcoming "No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 4 ]

A note on sources to the forthcoming "No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 4


I like to say that "Truth, beauty and contact lenses are all in the eye of the beholder." Given the contentious nature of the subject, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its interaction with the Christian Right and subsequent effects on US foreign policy, much effort has been spent in source selection which, of course, will mean nothing to the fringes on either side. This note is directed at the middle where discourse remains possible. There is so much bias and venom masquerading as fact. The pro-Israeli HonestReporting is often not, but it is only modestly apologetic in comparison to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), the velocity of whose text barely holds onto a claim of legitimacy in presenting an Israeli issue. In opposition, there is the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) and FrontPage which I place in orbit between HR and CAMERA. Moving right, Jew Watch claims it is "NOT a hate site" but while it is largely devoid of doggerel, its texts push too great a slant. Farther to the right are those who decry the Holohuggers and Holocaustomaniacs. There is much worse. That said, a bad or dubious site can post a solid item. Attention is required as one good paragraph does not guarantee that another will follow it. For this note I have tried to stay in the center of the flock.

I habitually try to run articles back to original source, or close as possible, along the way looking for what gets replicated where or in some cases distorted or oddly excerpted in some manner (which is a good indicator of the site's interests or bias). A good example was the furor made over Thomas Stauffer's estimation of the cost of conflict of US policy in the Middle East which was disputed by pro-Israeli sources. Stauffer made his initial comments under US Army War College auspices at a conference at the University of Maine but that presentation seemed to be obscure, ultimately yielding only one HTML copy on the web, with a PDF mirror at an appalling anti-Semitic site. That led to more developed items in Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) and the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES). When HonestReporting criticized Stauffer, I was on solid ground to interpret and dismiss.

A very dear Jewish friend, arguably one of the kindest people on the planet, had sent me that very 2002 HonestReporting item in rebuttal to a private list note on Stauffer, noting that, "Yes, HonestReporting is biased towards Israel but still represents very good data… I know which side of the table I support, but I have to admit I have not verified the facts." My reply at the time (2002) was:

While I cannot speak to HonestReporting, I think that the general press and government response is far more biased [in favor of Israel] than you might be comfortable in addressing -- and I certainly do not infer any infernal cabal. [AIPAC] has been, and remains, a supremely effective organization that has affected Congress and other public bodies far in relation to its size. Interestingly VOA is more balanced in its reporting as, even though it is owned by State, it has fiercely protected its independence lest it be written off by its overseas listeners as a US agitprop organ.

One's filters will obscure potentially averse data when one's chair is firmly fixed at the table. I hope that my chair, if I have one, has no fixed point save for protecting US national interests.

One must also be extremely wary of Greeks bearing gifts in the form of foreign language translations. Speaking neither Hebrew or Arabic, like many others, I am at the mercy of those who, as I like to say, translate, transliterate or transmogrify the original according to their skill or biases. A recent example is Rima Barakat's comparison of translations by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) which then get quoted as gospel by affiliated groups. This is not a new issue as the Guardian took up the issue of MEMRI's veracity in 2002, allowing MEMRI to rebut. Your mileage may vary, but over the years my original opinion of MEMRI has shifted much closer to that of the Guardian.

And then there are the 'battle of the quotes.' Take Sharon's purported exchange with Peres reported on Kol Yisrael (Israel radio) in Hebrew, reported by the Independent Palestinian Information Network A subsidiary of PalVision Ltd., in which an exasperated Sharon tells a concerned Peres in Cabinet session that "every time we do something you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear, don't worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it." CAMERA presents an aggressive but unsatisfactory rebuttal. What is not on offer are pertinent cabinet transcripts.

I lean to the opinion that a refusal by Israel to produce transcripts for the cabinet session indicates something to hide and therefore the translation has currency. Had it not occurred, an official transcript would likely be presented to clear the matter. We have, I believe, a similar matter closer to home; Bush43 addressed the Council for National Policy (CNP) (also here), a group that Kevin Phillips calls "the most powerful group you've never heard of."

CNP is media-averse in the extreme down to its membership list, its selection of guests and its practices, but there is an extremely strong vein of religious and political conservatism. "Mr. Bush addressed the group in fall 1999 to solicit support for his campaign, stirring a dispute when news of his speech leaked and Democrats demanded he release a tape recording. He did not." And has not as of this writing. My suspicions are always elevated in such cases.

Next: AIPAC 1

Gordon Housworth

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