Israeli soldier guilty…or not!

For the first time since 2004, a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Palestinian who had earlier participated in the stabbing of another soldier in the West Bank community of Hebron last March. The conviction of sergeant Elor Azarya was applauded by military leaders who are trying to maintain discipline through a code of ethics, but the big story is the remarkable reaction of an Israeli public that thinks Azarya should not even have been charged. He wouldn’t have had another Palestinian not videotaped the shooting and made the video public. Watch for yourself as Azaria first helps put the slightly injured soldier into an ambulance, then pulls his rifle, and kills the helpless man on the ground.

Azarya’s supporters said he fired in self-defense. Right. Military commanders, however, said his actions were unbecoming of a soldier.

Azarya will be sentenced on January 15th, but he is likely to be pardoned, given the protests by Israelis and statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have one army that is the basis for our existence. IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above all disputes,” he said. But making no direct mention of the military court, he said: “I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria.”

This incredible turn of events reveals the extent of anger and hatred towards Palestinians from people who honestly believe the man that Azarya killed “deserved to die” as a terrorist. That the execution was extrajudicial matters not one bit to this mob. But this also reveals how deeply Israeli hasbara has penetrated the very souls of the people who call Israel home and the impossibility of peace in the face of that narrative.

I repeat to my American journalist colleagues that Israel is home to the most remarkable laboratory for the study of human nature and the manufacture of consent that exists in the Twenty-First Century. It is a textbook case of the conflict between narratives in the quest for political advantage and historical validation, and the justified violence of such a conflict. It is not as simple – nor is it as complicated – as you might think, and I challenge reporters everywhere to do their jobs in covering the truth of the region.

Trust me; you have no idea based on what’s published in the American press.

ISIS: Enemy or Frenemy?

I have long been confused about the terror organization that calls itself ISIS. Something stinks to high heaven about this group, and it has nothing to do with its public image and/or its terror campaigns. Nothing makes sense about it, and despite attempts by many to explain the group to us, its behavior just doesn’t match up. So let’s ask a few questions.

Why is ISIS missing its core target?Here’s a cartoon by an Arab political cartoonist that’s been around for about two years. The original cartoon (top) lacks the ISIS label and the Star of David on the terrorist’s headgear, but the rest of the two are identical. The one in English was just recently posted on social media, one presumes, to make a point. As the cartoon illustrates, terror has struck everywhere over the past two years except the stated target of terrorist organized crime. Why is this?

I’m sure that many will point out that Israel has its own terror problems with Palestinians, but that argument is irrelevant as it relates to organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These groups are getting the vast preponderance of media coverage worldwide. Besides, the terror that Israel deals with directly is internally incited and very different. The best Israel can do with ISIS is publicly align itself with those who are cleaning up terror’s aftermath by stating their shared suffering. After all, an Arab is an Arab and a Muslim is a Muslim, so it’s all the same, right? Well, no.

So why is it that these terror organizations, whose sworn enemy is Israel, constantly direct their terror elsewhere? It’s a question you must ask yourself as you study global politics.

Another argument could be made that these groups are actually targeting “the West” or “Western values.” This, too, is irrelevant in light of the most recent spate of attacks, which are against Muslims and Muslim targets. A highly speculative CNN article today on the bombings in Saudi Arabia – especially the one at the holy city of Medina – describes ISIS’ activity over the last month.

While there has been no claim of responsibility so far for the Saudi attacks, analysts believe that, like a number of other attacks this Ramadan, they could be the work of ISIS or its sympathizers.

For the vast majority of Muslims, the holy month is a time for fasting, prayer and good actions, but Islamist terror groups see it as an especially auspicious time to launch attacks.

ISIS, facing the loss of its territory in Iraq, had called on its followers to launch attacks this Ramadan, and the response has been a string of deadly incidents around the world.

As well as the attacks in Baghdad, Istanbul, Dhaka and Saudi Arabia, extremists have struck in Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon.

Last month, a gunman killed 49 in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; an attacker killed a police commander and his partner in France and four Israelis were killed at a Tel Aviv market.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks, and authorities believe other perpetrators were inspired by the terror group.

The article cites “analysts” and “authorities” without identifying them, and don’t even get me started on lobbing the Tel Aviv deaths in with the bunch. The point is that ISIS is targeting Muslims, and that makes no sense whatsoever in light of the global fear of destroying the West and Israel. The cartoon nails it beautifully, and the whole thing makes me suspicious.

We cannot look away from what was happening in the Middle East when ISIS first burst on the scene. Let’s go back and review all that for a moment. Remember the beheadings and Jihadi John? The first 75 beheadings were Syrian soldiers. That took place on July 25, 2014. I remember that these videos and the ones that followed were very well-produced for television and that the group used “teaser” promotional announcements to advise what was coming next. For a group angry with “the West,” it sure borrowed from our know-how in the TV production practices it used.

But there’s something very important about that date, because Israel was being bombarded with negative worldwide attention for its inhuman activity in Gaza, where IDF war planes and troops killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children. Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” began on July 8, 2014. Ground troops were added on July 17, 2014. As the world watched in horror, pressure from governments, charities, rights organizations, and many others began to threaten the moral high ground that Israel claimed in the annihilation of Gaza. But the heinous videos from ISIS – just one week later – immediately took the pressure off Israel by putting the focus back on so-called “Islamic terrorism.” Each ISIS event seemed worse than the one before, including burning a Jordanian military pilot alive. The group augmented its horrendous behavior by destroying sacred antiquities, and suddenly the horror of Gaza was but a distant memory.

Convenient? Coincidence? “God?”

And so we have to ask ourselves, “What gives?” Who’s telling the truth, if there really is any to tell? Why are all these bombings aimed away from the core target of organized terror? Will we ever truly know whose fingerprints are on the business and organizational plans of ISIS?

I wouldn’t count on it.

IDF Sergeant charged with manslaughter

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

This is important, because it’s the first time in ten years that the Israelis have issued the charge in a killing that took place during field operations. According to Haaretz, Elor Azraya is being charged in the death of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif on a street in Hebron. In a report here on the shooting, I showed frame-by-frame how Sergeant Azraya raised his weapon and executed al-Sharif as the Palestinian, barely conscious, lay bleeding on the street.

Haaretz reported that “Sgt E,” as they referenced Azraya, was heard prior to the shooting to say that al-Sharif “deserved to die” for taking part in the stabbing of another IDF soldier.

The shooting by Sgt. E. was filmed by a volunteer with the human rights group B’Tselem, and the film made wide rounds on social and mainstream media. The pathology report later confirmed that it was Sgt. E.’s shot caused Sharif’s death …

The killing lit a political firestorm with many Israelis hailing Azraya a hero. A major rally in his defense is scheduled for today.

A report from the Chinese news service Xinhua contains quotes from the indictment:

“The soldier took several steps towards the terrorist, aimed at his head and fired a single bullet from short range,” according to the indictment.

“The defendant did this in contradiction with the rules of engagement and without operational justification,” the indictment added.

Initially, the prosecutors said the 19-year-old soldier was investigated for murder, but they later changed that to manslaughter.

This case is one of the most egregious examples of extrajudicial execution ever caught on tape, and the Israeli government is acting according. An indictment, however, is a long way from an execution.

It’s time for the press to grow a spine

bigjsmallIt’s amazing to me that for all of the studied, intelligent, imaginative, and articulate journalism observers we have among us today that none of them – not one – will touch the living, breathing J-Lab that is the Middle East. Here we have a daily demonstration of all that’s wrong with humanity along with a press that embraces narrative rather than facts. What do we do with it? Absolutely nothing.

That it is too complex and multi-dimensional to study is a convenient but unforgivable excuse. It’s all there; everything, but what it needs is some really courageous aggregating, filtering, and analyzing. In other words, serious reporting, the kind of which is completely lacking on the matter today, and that includes the New York Times, which embraces only one of the narratives. Instead, most journalists act only on fear: of being wrong, of being on the wrong “side,” of alienating important others, of showing bias, of the appearance of impropriety, of being called “anti-semitic,” of being called out by peers, and of many other things, both religious and secular.

For all the talk we talk about journalists being truth seekers, the reality is we’re afraid of what we might find here, and so we simply ignore the situation entirely. All this accomplishes is to advance the status quo, which is violent and ugly and has been so for decades. One-state solution? Two-state solution? Solution to “what” is the question. What’s the problem that needs solving? Is this really something that journalists of today can ignore forever?

And it’s damned important for us to study and report about it, for to do nothing is to look the other way as false history is being written about both sides. We’re talking about the cradle of Western Civilization, folks, and what could be more important than that? Moreover, the situation is a perfect laboratory for studying everything related to the core concepts of professional journalism.

Here are 10 examples:

  • It’s way more than a simple “he said/she said.”
  • Actual human beings are being sacrificed and killed.
  • It’s a war of narratives about history.
  • It’s filled with social media participation.
  • It’s a U.S. story, because the we’re involved up to our necks.
  • It’s a checkerboard of international politics.
  • It’s overflowing with emotion and drama.
  • It’s a study in human nature at work.
  • It cries out for a kind of deconstruction that only an involved press can provide.
  • It demands at least the spirit of objectivity.

We may occasionally get into reporting about one or more of the above, but nobody is looking at how all of this is intertwined in the story of human conflict and resolution. Is that too big a story? I don’t think so. In fact, I think the human race is not only ready for it but is begging for the opportunity to participate somehow in undoing the manipulation that makes us all feel so powerless. Journalism should be our servant in this noble task, but its self-absorption prevents it from reporting on the very people they work so hard to rub elbows with. Journalism is the one institution of all that cannot and must not allow assumptions to substitute for truth.

This is life! Why are we so consumed by surface stuff when technology has given us the ability to see with our own eyes, connect with all sides in an open conflict, and make sense where we never could before?

It’s a matter of shame for an institution that used to be important and necessary.

Fox News: A Most Dangerous Cancer

For years, I have quietly criticized Fox News for their deliberate pressing of the agenda of the Right. Today, I’m prepared to publicly and loudly call Fox News THE most dangerous cancer on Western Civilization and perhaps the whole world. I believe deeply that all of my conservative friends need to examine the matter and their own hearts. You don’t realize what’s happening, perhaps because you believe their propaganda, but more likely because you simply trust they are speaking for you. You support the Right. They are the mouthpiece of the Right. Fair enough.

I believe in point-of-view journalism. I produced The 700 Club in the early 80s, so I’m familiar with slanted news. It’s okay, but your bias must be stated up front. Fox doesn’t do this, and the problem I have is the degree the disinformation has reached, whether it’s deliberate or not.

Last night, Shep Smith described the video of the Jordanian pilot being murdered. The banner beneath him said "Islamic State Execution." This is a deliberate, inaccurate and highly inflammatory phrase, and it comes from an ignorance so profound that it’s really difficult to comprehend. I don’t care what name this organized crime group goes by, to repeat the phrase "Islamic State" requires a person or organization with so little knowledge of history, the Islamic faith, and contemporary manipulation that it truly boggles the mind.

Moreover, here’s a quote from Bret Briar during his dinner-hour "special" report: "Tonight, we are going to show you some of the images ISIS has put out. The images are brutal. They are graphic. They are upsetting. You may want to turn away. You may want to have the children leave the room. Right now. But the reason we are showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism. And to label it as such. We feel you need to see it."

Again, these criminals, as the King of Jordan said earlier this week, are NOT Islamic, so their deeds CAN NOT be described as "Islamic terrorism." They cannot be, people! And again, this is ignorance gone to seed. I refuse to believe that it’s deliberate, for if it is, it’s a conspiracy so deep and widespread as to defy anybody’s logic OR common sense. I have family in Jordan that believes otherwise, so I have to keep an open mind.

But here’s why I think Fox News is a dangerous cancer: If this continues, we will find ourselves plunged into World War III in the place where war originated, and how do you think that’s going to go?

Fox News is war mongering, and I despise it.