Israel first country to have three political parties led by women (& NYT’s careless tweets)

February 17, 2012

* Before she takes up the Jerusalem post in April, the new New York Times bureau chief might want to stop tweeting to Hizbullah and extremist pro-Palestinian websites and read some mainstream histories of Israel and the Middle East

* NY Times travel writer: “Give me Iran [to write about], but Israel is… something I’d never do”

* Unlike some staff at The New York Times, pop superstar Madonna doesn’t have hang-ups about Israel

* Sale of “Western Wall stones” on eBay prompts outcry

Madonna performs at the Super Bowl 2012


There is another dispatch today, here: Mossad thwarts Iranian attempt to kill Barak in Singapore (& Saudi Valentine’s arrests)

(You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also first press “Like” on that page.)



1. Three key Israeli political parties are now headed by women
2. NY Times travel writer: “Give me Iran [to write about], but Israel is… something I’d never do”
3. New NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief unsure whether Israel is an Apartheid state
4. Praising Beinart -- and linking to Hizbullah propaganda
5. Madonna to launch world tour in Israel
6. BBC wins court victory over calls to make public its internal report on Israel coverage
7. The Times of Israel debuts
8. Sale of “Western Wall stones” on eBay prompts outcry

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Israel is the first country in the world, as far as I am aware, to have three major political parties headed by women, after Zahava Gal-On won the leadership of the leftist Meretz party in recent days.

The centrist Kadima party (the Knesset’s largest party with 28 seats) is headed by Tzipi Livni and the left-leaning Labor party is headed by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich (pictured below) after the party ousted Ehud Barak as its leader last year.

The Israeli Supreme Court is also headed by a woman, Dorit Beinisch.

In spite of this, a number of international news outlets have run stories recently on how badly Israeli women are supposedly treated.

For example, the global edition of The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, took up most of one of its four “world news” pages to report on the supposed dire situation of Israeli women. It also ran an op-ed slamming Israel for the plight of its women on the same day. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who as a New York Times reader, may regularly be misinformed about Middle East affairs by the Times’ highly selective coverage, then even compared the situation of women in Israel with that of Iran.

Of course, there is a serious problem within some sections of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish (and Muslim) communities in the way they treat women. But that’s a very small part of the overall picture of the achievements of Israeli women and minorities. But then prominent media such as The New York Times aren’t interested in highlighting the many positive aspects of Israeli society.



The New York Times’s utter distaste for Israel isn’t just confined to the news and opinion sections.

Last month, The New York Times Travel section featured a piece on Jerusalem by Times travel writer Matt Gross (no relation).

Gross said at the start of his piece that “I will go pretty much anywhere, anytime… Wander on horseback into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan? Why not? Spend the night in a sketchy Burmese border town? Sure! Eat my way through Bridgeport, Conn.? Loved it.” But “of the world’s roughly 200 nations, there was only one -- besides Afghanistan and Iraq (which my wife has deemed too dangerous) -- that I had absolutely zero interest in ever visiting: Israel.”

He continues: “For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.”

Some might say that only a disgruntled Jew could show so little interest in visiting Jerusalem, one of the world’s most fascinating, historic and richly diverse cities, and Israel, one of the world’s most interesting countries, with its countless historical, archeological and outstanding natural sites.

For me, the bigger question is, why does The New York Times commission someone with such psychological baggage and identity conflicts to write its travel article on Israel?

It doesn’t, for example, send people with hang-ups about Turkey, India, Russia, Egypt or Kenya to write its travel articles about Istanbul, Mumbai, St. Petersburg, Cairo or Nairobi.



In interviews with the American news websites Politico and the Washington Free Beacon over the last two days, Jodi Rudoren, who will become The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief in April, said she was not able to answer the question of whether Israel was an “Apartheid” state.

(Israel is, of course, not an “Apartheid state”. For example, Israel has a higher proportion of minority members of parliament than Britain and France do.)

Rudoren, who is Jewish, and was formerly The New York Times’s education editor, has come under fire this week for sending out a series of sympathetic tweets to some of Israel’s fiercest detractors.

Many bloggers are asking why exactly she reached out to Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that has called for the end of Israel’s existence. Rudoren wrote that she had “heard good things” about Abunimah. Abunimah advocates boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel and a one-state solution.

Abunimah has relentlessly attacked Rudoren’s predecessor, Ethan Bronner, on the grounds that he was pro-Israel. (I would disagree with that assessment.)



Rudoren is also being criticized for praising Peter Beinart’s forthcoming book “The Crisis of Zionism” on twitter as “terrific.” In recent years Beinart has also become one of Israel’s fiercest, and many would say extremely unfair, critics.

And on Wednesday night, Rudoren, who has been with the Times for more than 13 years (previously writing under her maiden name), promoted a message from a Twitter user whose profile reads: “I dabble in the art of Zionist-busting.” The tweet linked to a website called, “Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid.”

Rudoren also tweeted without comment to an article in a pro-Hizbullah Lebanese newspaper.

Friends of mine who know Rudoren tell me she is not anti-Israel, but just doesn’t know much about the conflict.

Before she takes up the Jerusalem post in April, Rudoren might want to stop tweeting and read some mainstream histories of Israel and the Middle East.

The Times’ outgoing Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, who is a subscriber to this email list, will be returning to the United States, where he will work as a legal affairs reporter for the Times. (Among past dispatches mentioning Bronner, please see here.)

For general past reporting on the Middle East by The New York Times, please see here.



Unlike some staff at The New York Times, pop superstar Madonna doesn’t have hang-ups about Israel. She says that because it is one of her favorite countries, she is planning to launch her world tour there with a show on May 31 at Ramat Gan Stadium near Tel Aviv.

The tour will promote the release of her upcoming album MDNA. (MDNA is an abbreviation of “Madonna”.) The Golden Globe winning artist released a new video “Gimme all your luvin’” this month, and is also promoting her new film W.E.

Last week, Madonna gave the halftime performance during the Super Bowl. She has favored Israel before, closing her 2009 “Sticky and Sweet” tour, which was the fourth-highest grossing tour by any pop band in history, and the highest grossing by a solo artist (taking $408 million in receipts), in Israel.



In a ruling that will disappoint those who believe in press freedom and in holding the publicly-funded BBC up to public scrutiny, the BBC on Wednesday won a claim in Britain’s Supreme Court that backed the BBC’s refusal to make public a 2004 internal BBC report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That report, known as the Balen report, is believed to conclude that the BBC is systematically biased against the state of Israel.

Michael Balen, a senior journalist and editorial adviser at the BBC, had been tasked by the BBC to examine “the quality and impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In 2005 a British-Jewish lawyer, Steven Sugar, made a “freedom of information” request for disclosure of the report under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act.

Sugar died of cancer in January 2011 but his widow, Fiona Paveley, pursued the case, in the interests of public broadcasting, and in the words of a friend of hers “to stop the BBC telling lies about Israel”.

The late Mr. Sugar, who was a subscriber to this email list, said after his earlier success in the House of Lords (a lower court) in BBC v Sugar:

“It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it. I am very pleased that the House of Lords has ruled that such obvious unfairness is not the result of the Act.”

Five supreme court justices, overturning the decision by the House of Lords, unanimously upheld the BBC’s decision not to release the Balen report. Four of the judges, Lord Phillips, Lord Walker, Lord Brown and Lord Mance, dismissed the appeal on the basis that, “even if information is held only partly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of freedom of information requests”.

The fifth justice, Lord Wilson, made the distinction that he would have dismissed it on the basis that, if information is held predominantly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of such freedom of information requests and that the Balen report was held predominantly for those purposes.

The judgment left open the possibility that at some future date when the information is being held only for archival purposes, it might be open for release.

Phillips, the president of the supreme court, said in his decision: “Disclosure of material that is held only in the archives will not be likely to interfere with or inhibit the BBC’s broadcasting functions. It ought to be susceptible to disclosure under the act.”

Tom Gross adds: The BBC remains partisan in its coverage of Israel. As I have outlined in some detail before, Middle East correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen are frequently one-sided. But the BBC no longer has correspondents in the Middle East that broadcast the kind of extreme invective that was common by reporters such as Orla Guerin and Barbara Plett during the periods the Balen report was written.

For more on the BBC’s coverage during this period, please see here.



David Horovitz, the former editor of The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, on Wednesday officially launched a new online newspaper: The Times of Israel.

David tells me that in its first two days web traffic greatly exceeded expectations, in part because the Drudge Report linked to the site.

It seems that other English online papers based in Israel, including The Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Ynet, and Israel Hayom, now face serious competition.

The Times of Israel is expected to adopt a more centrist position than these other papers.


Jerusalem’s Western Wall


Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which (with the Temple Mount above it, is Judaism’s holiest site) has filed a police complaint after the Internet auction site eBay allowed the “fraudulent selling of stones from the holy site”. Rabinowitz also warned that anyone buying the stones from eBay would receive a curse, not a blessing.

The eBay seller says the stones were not taken from the Western Wall itself, but merely picked up on the Western Wall Plaza. They may have crumbled off the wall, or be the stones that worshippers had left in the cracks in the wall. The stones are being offered for $4.99 each, or $9.95 if shipped outside the United States. They are billed as being one square inch in size, and include an “elegant” box in which to store them.

While the seller doesn’t claim that the stones have any special power, he does term them “blessed.”

Rabinowitz said that selling stones from the Wall is forbidden by the Torah, because it violates the religious prohibition against misusing sacred things.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.