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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Conspiracies

I am not an advocate of conspiracy theories. Practically none of them stand up to the slightest fact-checking, not to mention human nature - the chances that elaborate secrets can be kept hidden for long periods of time in an open society is next to nil.

On the other hand, there are occasionally situations where a smaller set of actors, with similar agendas, will happily cooperate on an enterprise and keep their cooperation hidden in order to maximize the effect of their efforts.

Yesterday we saw this happen - twice.

It is no secret that most of the world regards Jewish people living in the ancient land of Israel that coincides with territories won in a defensive war against Jordan as perhaps an example of ultimate evil, and therefore ethnically cleansing these people from the homes they have lived in (often for generations) is not only moral but obligatory. The set of circumstances that made the idea of a Judenrein Judea and Samaria a worldwide moral imperative is a combination of Israeli government stupidity and a brilliant Arab anti-Israel strategy, but nonetheless it is there and even well-meaning people have bought into the idea that somehow the settlements are the obstacle to peace - conveniently forgetting that there was certainly no peace in the anomalous 19 years before 1967, there was no peace in the years before 1948, and there would not be a permanent peace after another Arab state is established as long as Israel exists. They also tend to forget or ignore that the idea that a Palestinian Arab state must include essentially100% of the West Bank and must include Jerusalem is a wholly artificial construct that is only given currency by its repetition, not by any objective facts.

Binyamin Netanyahu's schedule to meet with President Obama was known for a number of weeks. His traditional support for settlements is also well-known - both for its explicitness in the past as well as for its tepidness in the present. His visit in America is a tempting time to release "new information" that is skewed for the single purpose not of illuminating truths but of facilitating the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

The most obvious one was from B'Tselem. They released another of their reports that claim that some percentage of settlement land is privately owned by Arabs. They've released these in the past, and the facts are usually found to be quite inaccurate in the following months, but the reports make a splash when they occur.

What was interesting about the B'Tselem press release was that it was released on Monday but "embargoed" until Netanyahu was already in Washington:


     Date: Mon, 5 Jul 2010 16:55:55 +0200

     From: "Sarit Michaeli" <Saritm@btselem.org>

  Subject: Press release - embargo tomorrow, 6 July -  Official data: 

One-fifth of settlements' built-up area is private Palestinian land

Press release - Not for publication until 6:00 A.M. on 6 July 2010

Army and Civil Administration data:

One-fifth of settlements' built-up area is private Palestinian land

Settlements control 42 percent of West Bank land area
Even more interesting is that news organizations - who are trained to scoop the competition - were more than willing to go along with the embargo and not to release the B'Tselem details until it would make the most "splash."

Embargoed press releases are common for product announcements, but for a purported news story they have only one purpose, and it has nothing to do with news and everything to do with advancing a political agenda. You know that if Apple would embargo a news story about the features of its latest gizmo, the details would be leaked immediately - yet the media by and large held off in order to adhere to the agenda that they share with B'Tselem.

Another example was from a more respected institution, the New York Times. They published an astonishingly long article about the US tax-exempt status of various West Bank Jewish institutions:

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.
Items that are meant to save Jewish lives from Arab terror are defined by the New York Times as legally, and by implication morally, "questionable."

This article must have taken weeks or months to put together (even though it is hardly news - the facts were well-known and anti-Zionists have been harping on this for years, ignoring the many other charities with tax-exempt status that are not congruent with official US government policy.) Yet the NYT also obviously timed the article to be published on this same day.

This is not how an organization dedicated to reporting the news acts - it is how an agenda-driven organization acts. Ignoring the dubious premise of the article itself, it betrays the thinking of an organization that is serving as a political actor, not as an unbiased source for news.

And this is more than troubling, no matter how you feel about settlements.