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Lecture Hop: Reporting on Reporting

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning Arab-Israeli journalist and correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, delivered a presentation last night to a crowd of a little less than 50 students in Lerner Cinema. On a lecture tour sponsored by Hasbara Fellowships, Abu Toameh had also recently spoken at other colleges in the northeast including UPenn, Harvard, and Brown. Here, he was sponsored by LionPac, the Pro-Israel Progressives, and the Republicans.

Playfully identifying himself as an Israeli-Arab-Muslim-Palestinian living in Jerusalem, Abu Toameh described his long career as a journalist, which interestingly began at a newspaper sponsored by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). During his studies at Hebrew University, he decided to leave the PLO-sponsored papers and become a “real journalist” by joining the international and Israeli media. His feelings on the issue were quite clear, as he spent the first half of his presentation sharply criticizing the restrictions on media in the Palestinian Authority, citing both the direct lack of free press as well as poor security for journalists. Stating that foreign journalists face no restrictions while working inside Israel, he celebrated his freedom at the Jerusalem Post to write, he said, whatever he wants.

During the second half of his presentation, Abu Toameh gave a basic account of political developments in Palestine, familiar to those who keep up with Israeli-Palestinian current events. For those who don’t: Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, the largest political party in the PLO, failed to satisfy popular demands for political transparency, accountability, and liberalization. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud ‘Abbas did not deliver on similar promises. Frustrated Palestinians subsequently elected Hamas, which capitalized on popular unrest by running under the banner “Change and Reform.” Fatah continually challenged Hamas’ parliamentary victory in 2006 until the parties’ unity government failed and the two factions fell into civil war; during the power struggle, Hamas overturned Fatah forces in Gaza in the summer of 2007 and seized control.

Abu Toameh was highly critical of the United States and international community’s support of Fatah, condemning the party as corrupt while also arguing that this alliance would drive more Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas. Characterizing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s perception of the conflict as one between “good guys and bad guys,” Abu Toameh asserted that it was simply a fight between “bad guys and bad guys,” fighting not over freedom and good governance but rather money and power, and his disdain for Fatah was clear and apparent.

In light of his biting criticism of Palestinian politicians and his strong support for Israeli foreign policy, perhaps the most interesting element of Abu Toameh’s presentation was his prescription for dealing with Hamas and his penchant for realpolitik. Ruling out the possibility of a re-occupation of Gaza citing his perception of its failure over the past 40 years, he criticized the Israeli government’s refusal to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political organization with the power to negotiate. “Why does Israel need Hamas’ recognition? …I’d say, ‘Ok, Hamas. To hell with you. But if you want some sort of security agreement or a ceasefire, I’m prepared to do it.’” Finally, during the Q&A, one audience member softballed him a question along the lines of “As a journalist, do you run into politically-charged language?” Abu Toameh stumbled with the question, apparently as entrapped by the same tendencies that the audience member had possibly hoped the speaker would deconstruct. At another time he noted, “But I don’t understand why in the United States a suicide bomber who blows himself up in downtown Baghdad is called an insurgent or militant. I don’t understand these terms. A terrorist is a terrorist; a soldier is a soldier. It is very easy.”

Often, I felt that the criticisms Abu Toameh faced as a Palestinian journalist working for an Israeli media outlet too heavily informed his understanding of the larger Arab world. For example, he passionately stated that Israeli reporters critical of the state are celebrated while their Arab counterparts are labeled traitors for questioning their own governments. On our way out, I asked Abu Toameh about his thoughts on Al-Jazeera, the widely popular Arabic news station based in Qatar known for its criticism not only of American foreign policy but also of the authoritarian regimes in the region. He replied that he was concerned about the station’s growing popularity because, according to him, it pushes an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. I would reply something like this: I acknowledge that Al-Jazeera, like any other news station, presents very biased information; however, when even Al-Qaeda sympathizers have denounced the station for portraying Osama Bin Laden in a poor light, it was careless of Abu Toameh to simply toss Al-Jazeera on the amorphous pile of all that is “Islamic fundamentalist” and to disregard the station’s mild pan-Arabist nostalgia.

Josh Mathew

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15 Comments

  • Wow says:

    @Wow He spoke at both Brown and Brown? That’s a lot of traveling!

  • wtf says:

    @wtf Why are the Republicans co-sponsoring stuff with the Pro-Israel Progressives?

    1. vaginal secretion says:

      @vaginal secretion Republicans are pro-Israel because all the crazy Christians believe that there needs to be a Jewish state, so when the Rapture occurs, the Jews will have a central place to meet to be slaughtered.

  • Lame says:

    @Lame More pro-Israel propaganda. Zero criticism of Israel’s role in this, and their own political quagmires.

  • Aha! says:

    @Aha! So all the Republicans in this school are crazy Christians. That explains it for sure.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Walid Shoebat, Khalid Abu Toameh, David Horowitz, and Alan Dershowitz seem to be on some sort Islamophobic lazy-Susan.

    Shoebat was invited by LionPAC in 2004, GOP in 2006. Toameh by LionPAC in 2006, and by LionPAC/GOP/Pros in 2008. Horowitz by GOP in 2005 and 2007. Dershowitz by LionPAC in 2005 and by Pros/LionPAC in 2006.

    1. hang on says:

      @hang on i maybe understand horowitz and shoebat, and if you want to push your luck a lot, dershowitz is clearly one sided. But how on earth is Toameh Islamaphobic? The guys a self-proclaimed Muslim Palestinian who believes in a two state solution and, while critical of corrupt Palestinian governments never condemns Islam except in its radical, fundamentalist form which I rather hope you would condemn as well. Please lets not throw around incendiary rhetoric just because we’re talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Thanks.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I think that what Sakib was trying to say was that Israel = Islamophobia. For some reason, the correct equations still seem to elude some people.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous http://www.obsessionthemovie.com/media_kit_interview.php

    He co-stars w/ Shoebat, Dershowitz, Daniel Pipes and Nonie Darwish in “Obsession”.

    Khaled Abu Toameh: “The phenomenon of suicide bombing is fuelled by the religious Islamic belief in the glory of martyrdom.” (Feb 05 J. Post) Mind you, suicide attack was a technique originating in Russia (with the assassination of Alexander II), some would say popularized by the Japanese in WWII (also used by the Germans against key bridges), employed by the Viet Minh against French colonialists, introduced to the Middle East by the Japanese Red Army in a 1972 suicide attack in Tel Aviv, perfected in Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tigers in the 1980s, before becoming widespread in the Middle East in 1993. To say it is somehow intrinsic to Islam or unique to Muslim society is pretty offensive.

    Moreover, yeah, Abu Toameh is no Horowitz/Dershowitz/Shoebat (although that’s the company he keeps) but I was trying to comment more on the recycling of at least somewhat vitriolic, anti-Islam ranting speakers.

  • asdf says:

    @asdf Sakib, since I didn’t see you at the lecture I’m not sure how you know what was said. But I can tell you that the speech didn’t even rub up against vitriolic. He spoke primarily about the Palestinian government’s continual failure to its people. He also spoke about the moderate Palestinian voice that is silenced (yes, muslims can be moderate!); he talked about the US and Israel’s misguided policies (yes, Israel makes mistakes!), and he talked openly about Hamas being a terrorist organization – vitriol in the flesh.

    Are you more outraged by the very small percentage of radical Muslims that have co-opted the faith or by the people who criticize them? It certainly seems like its the latter although I would hope that’s not the case

  • Wrong says:

    @Wrong Al Jazeera is not critical of regimes in the region, it is only mildly critical of some regimes, particularly ones who do not finance al jazeera.

    1. Right says:

      @Right So all the regimes except that of Qatar…where the station’s based.

      You made a good point.

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