Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jeffrey Heller, propagandist

What is the distinction between persuasion and propaganda?  We all use the former on a daily basis to influence and win others to our point of view.  There's obviously nothing unethical about that.  The propagandist however, goes one step further.  He uses specific rhetorical tricks -- lies, half-truths, omissions, emotionally-charged language -- to short circuit the critical faculties of his audience, to deceive and manipulate them into adopting his message.  That's unethical, particularly so when it's done by a professional journalist who commits to a policy of "integrity, independence and freedom from bias".

It's also what Reuters correspondents writing on the Middle East conflict do regularly.

Take this story by Reuters Jerusalem Editor-in-Charge Jeffrey Heller about today's upcoming speech before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Here are some of the rhetorical devices Heller uses to compel his readers to accept and adopt his (Heller's) anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian political plank:
"I will outline a vision for a secure Israeli-Palestinian peace," the right-wing Israeli leader said on Monday about his planned address to a joint meeting of Congress [...]
Heller characterizes Netanyahu as "right-wing", conjuring up images of a politician with extremist views.  Neither Heller nor anyone else at Reuters ever refer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nor other Palestinian leaders as "right-wing".  Indeed, Abbas is routinely referred to as a "moderate".  This of a man who is on record as stating: “At this present juncture, I am opposed to armed struggle because we cannot succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different".
Obama drew Israeli anger a day earlier when he said a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those areas and East Jerusalem [...]
The phrase "occupied West Bank" is used so often by Reuters, we refer to it as a propaganda mantra.  As we've noted many times, the territory described does not belong to any sovereign state and cannot therefore, under the Geneva Conventions, be considered "occupied".  Moreover, the appellation "West Bank" was assigned to the territory by the Jordanian Arabs following their invasion and conquest in 1948-49.  As such, it is an Arab ethnocentric name which celebrates the ethnic cleansing of the ancient Jewish community that had been living in the region.  The Judeo-Israeli appellation for the territory is Judea and Samaria, a name Reuters correspondents are enjoined to provide as per their handbook of ethical guidelines.  That propagandists like Heller consistently ignore their responsibility in this respect is evidence of their intent to deceive their audience.
Peace talks are frozen, largely over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu have offered a concrete plan to try to revive them [...]
Heller puts the onus for suspended peace talks solely on the US (Obama) and Israel (Netanyahu).  There is no suggestion whatsoever of the Palestinians offering "a concrete plan to try to revive them".  In fact, Heller gives Palestinian President Abbas a complete pass on the stalemate, failing even to mention that it is he (Abbas) who has repeatedly refused to sit down with Israel in negotiations.  
[US Congressman] Cantor was referring to a unity deal last month between Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas, an Islamist group viewed by the United States as a terrorist organisation [...]
Hamas is not simply "viewed by the United States as a terrorist organisation".  It is also officially declared as such by nearly the entire free world including Canada and the European Union.  Heller is attempting here to downplay the widespread recognition of this reality.
Speculation had been high in Israel that Netanyahu would offer new ideas on peacemaking to try to display flexibility and rally opposition to the Palestinians' plan to ask the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state in September.
In his AIPAC address, Netanyahu reiterated his demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, a step they fear could impinge on their claim of a right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced by the Israeli-Arab conflict [...]
So you see, Netanyahu is inflexible and demanding, and the Palestinians fearful.
AIPAC's dominant voice in advocating for Israel has been challenged by J Street, a pro-Israel lobby founded in 2009.
J Street leaders have said the group provides a way for liberal American Jews critical of Israeli government policies to support the Jewish state.
Unlike AIPAC, the group supports President Obama's demand that Israel cease settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, while calling on the Palestinians to end incitement and violence [...]
Here, Heller is lobbying for the lobby group J Street.  While Heller asserts, sans evidence, that J Street is "pro-Israel" and describes a few of its political positions, he pointedly fails to report on a key position of its leadership, that is, if the Palestinian Arabs and Arab states will not make peace with Israel, then perhaps Israel "ain't a very good idea".  This too, just a bit unlike AIPAC.

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