“Al Miskin” is a new Middle East Report column that keeps one eye focused on how the major media cover the Middle East, and the other looking out for choice items that the arbiters of information have buried. Readers should send Al things they would like to see in print: confidential memos that need some fresh air and sunlight; outrageous clips; new political jokes from the Middle East; and all pertinent gossip and scandal.
Readers of the New York Times have long wondered how that newspaper’s editors decide when it is appropriate to criticize Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. Here is how it works. Just like the “program trading” of big Wall Street institutional investors, the Times utilizes computerized casualty returns to trigger the appropriate remorse rate. When Israeli soldiers kill ten Palestinians within a two-week period, the newspaper’s word processors automatically churn out an editorial gently chiding Israel for excessive use of force. When the death toll reaches 30, a tougher (but still eminently judicious) editorial comes forth. At 75 deaths the Times criticizes the occupation sharply, blaming it all on Shamir and the PLO and strongly praising Peres for his willingness to return part of the West Bank to King Hussein. At each stage, of course, any Israeli deaths automatically lower the tone of editorial criticism of Israel by some equivalent amount. The Times’ editorial mechanism is also programmed to get the newspaper safely out of the market just before bull turns into bear. When the threshold of 150 deaths (by the official Israeli count, of course) is crossed, the Times cuts back on coverage, in this way avoiding the crash that would surely come with too much consistency and principle.
The recent shift in mood at the Times was wonderfully manifested in the appointment of Joel Brinkley as bureau chief in Israel. Apparently John Kifner’s stories were too intelligent, and so the order went out sending him off to Pakistan. Rumor has it that Brinkley was at first so out of touch with the new party line that he had to be told that the term “terrorist” is no longer an acceptable synonym for “Palestinian nationalist.” But Brinkley quickly demonstrated his firm grasp of the situation in a May 29 story on what he describes as a rather pathetic Peace Now rally in the West Bank: “Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, a small Arab town down the road, managed to slip in and offered to speak. But under the army ban [on Palestinian participation], Peace Now had to say no. So virtually the only Palestinian who came to the rally left angry.” Unfortunately for Brinkley, Ariel is not a “small Arab town” but rather the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and Ron Nachman is a leader of the settlement lobby. Maybe Brinkley’s description of Nachman as a “Palestinian” was his way of hinting that he favors a secular democratic state.
Tree lovers will be excited to hear that one can now contribute to the Jewish National Fund by calling its toll-free telephone number line; credit cards are accepted. Proceeds will go for afforestation work “throughout the Jewish state.” Anyone who is curious about the JNF’s activities in the Occupied Territories or has other impertinent questions should call 1-800-542-TREE.
Newswatch is thinking of sponsoring a contest. The grand prize is the winner’s choice of any house or co-op advertised in the back pages of the Sunday New York Times magazine, to be awarded to the reader who comes closest to predicting how many times columnist and former editor-in-chief A. M. Rosenthal will use the phrase “the PLO’s death-to-Israel covenant” (or some variant thereof) on the Times op-ed page during the remainder of 1988.
The occupation’s chickens are coming home to roost. Israeli authorities have shut down the left-wing Jewish-Arab newspaper Derekh Hanitzotz/Tariq al-Sharara — the first time a Hebrew-language newspaper has been banned in Israel. One of the editors (a Palestinian) has been given six months administrative detention and four others (all Israeli Jews) are in custody; so far, two have been charged with membership in a terrorist organization (the DFLP). The defendants face prison sentences of five to 15 years. The government has also decided to try Michael Warshawski, the director of the Alternative Information Center, which was shut down by the police in February 1987 for providing assistance to illegal Palestinian organizations. And an Israeli court recently convicted Reuven Kaminer and three other Israeli peace activists who met with PLO officials in Rumania in 1986 of violating a “treason” law forbidding such contacts. The defendants are appealing the verdict.
According to Brig. Gen. (Reserves) Yehuda Halevy, world president of the Israel Bond Organization, Israel bonds are the third most widely held security in the United States, exceeded only by US savings bonds and AT&T common stock. One third of the bonds sold in the US each year are purchased by non-Jews, including labor unions, university endowments and pension funds. High yields would not seem to be the reason for their popularity: A $500 bond returns only $900 after 15 years, and a $25,000 investment pays just over 8 percent, with a 12-year maturity. Last year, over $600 million worth of bonds were sold worldwide.