Friday, March 30, 2007

Times-UK editor needs to learn English

Gerard Baker, US editor for the Times of London, writes about Barack Obama:
Of much more interest is the flak that the Democratic senator is taking for some remarks he made about the Middle East. Hillary Clinton, his main opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination in next year’s election, has seized upon them as proof that the senator cannot be trusted with US national security nor as a true friend of Israel.

What exactly, was the young senator’s offence? Did he, in an unguarded moment of adolescent radicalism, say something nice about Yassir Arafat? Did he call on Israel to give back the occupied territories?

Here, for the record, is precisely what he said, in a speech in Iowa a few weeks ago: “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The response to this little aside, the shower of invective heaped on Mr Obama from all sides of the political arena, is instructive and depressing. In American political debate, saying something sympathetic about the Palestinians is evidently now deemed unsayable. Even as mild and neutral an observation as noting that Palestinians are “suffering” is considered a gaffe somewhat akin to expressing a kindly word for KGB pensioners.

The potential political penalties for such dangerous talk are well demonstrated by Mr Obama’s own rather pitiful response to the incident. Under pressure for his remarks, his spokesman “clarified” them, saying that what Mr Obama meant was that Palestinians were suffering because of the cruelties of their own, Hamas-dominated leadership. Phew! Thank goodness he cleared that one up. We thought for a horrible moment he might have been offering just the minutest criticism of Israeli policy.
One would expect a British editor to have a slightly better command of the English language than is demonstrated here. One would also expect the United States editor of a major newspaper to understand the US a bit better.

Somehow, he interprets the statement "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" as "The Palestinian Arab people are suffering." Of course, the first statement is an absurd lie and the second statement is 100% accurate. Yet this paragon of the editorial page cannot seem to distinguish between the two.

For a presidential candidate to say something so stupid is, of course, noteworthy. Perhaps it was disproportionately criticized, especially by Hillary, but somehow I think that Mr. Baker would have been somewhat upset if a major presidential candidate had in decades past declared that "Nobody is suffering more than the Irish people" or "Nobody is suffering more than the Falkland Islanders." In fact, I think that Mr. Baker would be a bit upset if Obama had said that no one is suffering more than Israelis, and he would not have misinterpreted that statement as being just an expression of sympathy for terror victims.

Mr. Baker might be amazed to see that people do criticize Israel every day in the US. He may be astonished that the current Secretary of State is heavily pushing for a Palestinian Arab state and pressuring Israel towards final-status negotiations even with an entity that wants to see Israel destroyed.

But this is nothing that a little remedial English and history cannot solve for the esteemed editor.