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Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Associate Editor

Whatís below the surface is more frightening that whatís above.

Despite the common perception that Fox News is in the pocket of American conservatives, the reality is that billionaire Saudi princes are more influential than, say, George Will. A few weeks ago, Middle East Online ran a story out of Dubai in the suddenly hot United Arab Emirates in which Saudi Prince al-Walid bin Talal, who has shares in Fox, talked about watching Fox coverage of last yearís rioting in France. The prince was taken aback by a banner on the Fox screen: ìMuslim riots.î

The prince said, ìI picked up the phone and called [Rupert] Murdoch,î letting the Fox majority owner know that ìthese are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty.îìWithin 30 minutes,î bragged the prince, ìthe title was changed from ëMuslim riotsí to ëcivil riots.í îOn Feb. 13, almost a month after being abducted by a gang, Ilan Halimi, a Jewish store clerk in Paris, was found hooded and tied to a tree, torture marks all over his body. Flammable liquid had been poured over his body and ignited. Pieces of his flesh, fingers and ears were cut off.

Syndicated columnist Mark Stein asked, ìCan you take a wild guessî at the gangís religion?

His abductors called Halimiís family and recited verses from the Quran ó not that that has anything to do with it ó while in the background Halimi screamed from being tortured.

Many in the media were disinclined to identify the perpetrators for who they were. This is akin to reporting about lynchings in the old South and deciding it was an irrelevant coincidence that the guy in the hood was always one color and the guy hanging from the tree was another.

As Nidra Poller wrote in The Wall Street Journal, ìone detail was consistently played down by the investigators and missing from the early media reporting on the killingî ó that this victim, like other similar victims, were Jewish. And hereís another detail played down or missing: ìMost members of the gang who allegedly carried out the crime are Muslims [who] live in the very sort of neighborhoods that went up in flames during three weeks of nationwide rioting last fall,î rioting that many journalists had us believe were ìcivilî rather than Islamic.Neither Le Figaro (Paris) and the Observer (London) both didnít mention that Halimi was a Jew. Over in the UAE, the Gulf News headlined, ìRace may have been motive in Paris kidnap,î though Halimi, a Sephardic Jew, and his Arab killers were the exact same race. The Gulf News identified the victim of an ìunspeakable barbarityî as Jewish, but did not mention until the very last paragraph of a fair-sized story that the killers were led ìby an Ivory Coast immigrant with a Muslim nameî who ìalso attacked non-Jews,î just so you donít get the wrong idea that Halimiís Jewishness had anything to do with it.Letís also not get the idea that Israel particularly cared about this, either. Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post (Feb. 24) wrote that even though the killers had links to Hamas, ìthere has been absolutely no official Israeli reactionî to Halimi, and the Israeli Embassy in Paris ìonly publicly expressed its condolences to the Halimi family on February 23, 10 days after Ilan was found.î

It was only on that date that The New York Times covered the story. The Washington Post checked in with a good story on Feb. 25. The Israeli media picked up their coverage as the story developed. But the French media, wrote Glick, ìnoted that the Israeli media have not given the story prominent coverage. Halimiís murder has not appeared on the front pages of the papers or at the top of the television or radio broadcasts.îJewish trouble in France is not a modern phenomenon. Garrison Keillorís ìThe Writerís Almanac,î on PBS, recently discussed how the greatest artists disagreed about French-Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus when he was on trial for treason in 1894. Among the artists for Dreyfus: Proust, Mallarme, Manet, Pissarro and Monet. Among those against: CÈzanne, Rodin, Renoir, Degas, Rimboud and Jules Verne.n

And now some good news. Despite the constant harping from those who think Israelís problems are the result of poor hasbara (media relations or, dare we say it, media manipulation), the fact remains that the American media, the greatest in the world, are thoroughly and deeply concerned about Israel and far more sophisticated about Israel than whatever most of the hasbara dealers are selling.

Many of the respected and influential publications in the U.S. are ìon board.î David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker was interviewed in Haaretz (Feb.9) while he was in Israel, spending his ìvacationî writing ìLetter From The West Bankî (Feb. 27) for his publication. According to Haaretz, when it comes to international affairs, ìIsrael is the second subject, after Russia, that interests Remnick ó and to a large extent The New Yorker, as well.î

Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, recently sent out an e-mail letter to subscribers in which he wrote, ìThe New Republic has been obsessed with the Jewish State ever since the magazine was founded in 1914.îA Gallup Poll (Feb. 14) found 59 percent of Americans sympathize with Israel but those who follow world affairs ìvery closely,î meaning they are more likely to read American magazines and The New York Times, are even more likely to sympathize with Israel (66 percent).On television, new data from the Tyndall Report, an organization that tallies the minutes allotted to each story on the network evening news, found that Israelís ongoing conflict with the Palestinians was the fifth most reported foreign news story (145 minutes) in 2005, after Iraq (1,636), the tsunami aftermath (250), the death of Pope John Paul II (246) and the London mass transit bombings (221). Despite the trend of foreign news coverage waning, coverage of Israel was up 25 minutes over 2004. Other than the tsunami freak of nature, no story from Asia, Africa or South America cracked Tyndallís top 20 stories of 2005.In the week of Jan. 23-27, the Hamas election got more network coverage (36 minutes) than Hurricane Katrina aftermath (26) or Justice Samuel Alitoís nomination before the Senate (11). About Hamas, Martin Fletcher of NBC clearly reported, ìHamas wants a Palestinian state instead of Israel.îOverall, when it comes to the American media, Israel is sitting pretty. n

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