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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 1993, Page 29

Israel's U.S. Influence Network

CAMERA and FLAME: Pressuring U.S. Media

By Mitchell Kaidy

In 1982, Israel's carefully groomed public image was badly buffeted by televised footage of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the bombing and shelling of defenseless civilians in Beirut, and, finally, the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra-Shatila refugee camp. Recognizing what was happening to U.S. public perceptions of the Jewish state, some pro-Israel Americans went into action, laying the groundwork for the birth of two media-specific organizations.

That was 11 years ago, and those activists consisted mostly of irregulars spontaneously seeking to limit damage in the print media. By now, things are different. Better organized and financed, and more focused and sophisticated, the former irregulars now counter or suppress criticism of Israeli policies by maligning the critics with a ruthlessness that is unprecedented in American political life.

The first pressure group spawned by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a non-profit, tax-exempt educational/charitable organization incorporated in Massachusetts. It claims 20,000 members in local chapters, some on university campuses, across the nation.

CAMERA, in turn, spun off FLAME (Facts and Logic About the Middle East). Its address is a San Francisco post office box. It places expensive ads in politically sympathetic periodicals such as the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, Harper's and Commentary, and sometimes in journalistic publications.

FLAME ads have dealt with Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories, the status of Jerusalem, the $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees requested by Israel, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula for Middle East peace. Although FLAME revises and distorts history, as in its claim that "six Arab armies" confronted Jewish settlers in 1948, and that the Six-Day War of June 1967 was started by Arabs, it is temperate compared to CAMERA.

Boston-based CAMERA describes itself as a "non-denominational, educational media-watch group dedicated to the promotion of fair and balanced coverage of the Middle East." For years it has waged polemical war on National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (television) and their local affiliates, and, more recently, Cable News Network (CNN). Through its local chapters, CAMERA also confronts newspapers over their Middle East editorials. In self published Media Alerts, as well as articles in Commentary magazine, published by the American Jewish Committee, CAMERA regularly characterizes reports or editorials with which it disagrees as "news manipulation," "unprincipled journalism," or "outright falsehood."

The Attack on NPR

After years of vilification, CAMERA last year gained access to National Public Radio's archives, a feat without journalistic parallel, except perhaps The Washington Post's 1982 surrender to Israeli partisans who monitored its news operation during the invasion of Lebanon.

After examining NPR's files, CAMERA announced that scripts of 39 radio programs about the Middle East showed that the views of 43 Arabs and only 22 Israelis had been broadcast. CAMERA didn't report the approximate time allotted to each interviewee, nor did it professionally evaluate the commentaries' timeliness and news value, preferring instead to imply bias on the basis of simple arithmetic.

Last fall, CAMERA devoted four pages of its Media Report to NPR's alleged "pro-Arab bias" and an attack on NPR's Jerusalem reporter, Linda Gradstein, an Israeli national. The attack, entitled "A Study in News Manipulation," has been repeated twice in early 1993.

"CAMERA has long argued that National Public Radio offers biased coverage of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict," the CAMERA report states. "More particularly, CAMERA has maintained that the issues considered in the stories, the issues ignored by NPR, and the perspectives and rhetorical slant of NPR stories consistently fail to take account of Israeli concerns and Israeli perception of events. Rather, coverage is skewed toward the perspectives of Israel's enemies.''

CAMERA was particularly choleric over Gradstein's expression of her private view, in an interview she granted to her alumni publication in Jerusalem, that the Arabs now are ready for peace and that Israel should negotiate with the PLO about a Palestinian state. The point that CAMERA did not acknowledge in its attack was that Gradstein's views were private, and meant for a miniscule audience rather than dissemination throughout the United States on NPR broadcasts. Nor did CAMERA credibly establish that Gradstein's private views colored her professional objectivity in any way.

Instead, in June 1992, CAMERA representatives met with NPR officials to demand "strict NPR monitoring of their own journalists" and "prohibition against reporters employing NPR as a vehicle for advancing personal political views." The CAMERA representatives also presented NPR with a list of demands that included:

"An end to the practice of quoting both left-wing and right-wing Israeli groups" (thus leaving Israeli government officials as virtually the only acceptable sources in Israel).

"An end to broadcasting Palestinian allegations of Israeli wrongdoing without . . . verification" (but not the reverse).

"A policy of treating the suffering and deaths of Israelis with the same sympathetic attention as those of Palestinians."

Besides NPR reporting from Israel and Israeli-occupied territories, CAMERA also singled out for criticism two specific NPR programs. They were: "Talk of the Nation" and "Fresh Air,'' which have presented a variety of viewpoints, ranging from those of Palestinian-American Edward Said to vehemently pro-Israel radio host Ze'ev Chafetz. Notwithstanding the fact that the preponderance of those interviewed on the programs attacked were Jewish, and some were Israeli, CAMERA remains choleric.

The Attack on Public Television

The sustained attacks on public television reveal CAMERA's carousel-like contradictions. Three weeks before many Public Broadcasting Service stations aired as part of the "Frontline" series a film entitled "Journey to the Occupied Lands," CAMERA's local chapters were mobilized to protest.

National CAMERA had mailed them a highly critical alert denouncing the program even before it was screened. What was the basis for CAMERA's clairvoyant truculence? It had recognized the names of the program's "biased" producers, and had evaluated negatively a program flyer, which it considered to be anti-Israel.

Many members wrote or telephoned their protests to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on the day the film was shown. Despite CAMERA's orchestrated protest campaign, however, stations that aired "Journey" reported audience response ran six-to-one in favor of the program.

CAMERA's disregard for even the theoretical norms of American journalism was revealed by its astonishingly contradictory stands in the cases of two films presented by some public television stations. One, "Days of Rage," presented the viewpoints of young Palestinians in the first months of the intifada. The other, "Israel: A Nation is Born," is a new series presented by former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

CAMERA was among pro-Israel groups that successfully persuaded most stations that carried "Days of Rage" to enclose it in a "wrap-around" program that enabled critics to discuss the film and to present opposing viewpoints. When the same "wraparound" procedure was suggested for public television stations electing to present "Israel: A Nation Is Born," however, CAMERA opposed it.

Battered by the criticisms of groups like CAMERA, and threats by Jewish groups to organize a boycott against donations to individual public television stations, WNET in New York and some other stations agreed to what station KQED in San Francisco called "unprecedented" rules laid down by the producers of the film about Israel. The producers ruled that it could not be presented in a "wrap-around" setting, that it had to be shown in prime time, and that the producer could veto whatever was scheduled before and after their film. CAMERA found nothing offensive when such conditions were added to a film which presented a purely Israeli point of view.

CAMERA's attack on CNN was launched in the pages of Commentary, the monthly magazine recently described by Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn as "a hospice of ordure." Object of the attack was a CNN program entitled "The Israel Connection," written by Kathy Slobogin and Mark Feldstein and presented in April 1991, immediately after the ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The program's writers foresaw a declining strategic role for Israel in the post-Gulf war era. In response, CAMERA national president Andrea Levin charged that the CNN program “misrepresented by inaccurate reporting and distorted images” the post-Gulf war Israeli-American relationship.

Levin characterized the program as “a particularly insidious distortion of the record,” a “calculated effort to advance a political agenda” and “a fully coherent landscape of falsehood.” Decrying the “cumulative effect of misinformation on public sentiment,” Levin wrote in herCommentary article: “The egregious anti-Israel bias in popular magazines, student journals, campus newspapers and many other publications reinforces the drumbeat of coverage in the mass media.”

No Gray Areas

For its part, CAMERA depicts Middle East issues in black and white, with no gray areas of doubts or complexity. According to CAMERA, Muslims are the villains, because they are Muslim; they hate Jews because they are Jewish. Have historians therefore been consistently wrong in concluding that Islam, which honors many Hebrew prophets, has been more tolerant of Jews than Christians have been? CAMERA thinks so.

Under the headline “Publishing Houses, Media Promote Bogus Mideast History,” CAMERA advances the views of historian Bernard Lewis, who wrote in 1986: “The rewriting of the past is usually undertaken to achieve specific political aims. By depicting the great Arab Islamic expansion in the seventh century as a war of liberation rather than of conquest, the Arabs can free themselves of the charge, even in the distant past, of imperialism.”

Lewis, whose son Michael is chief of “opposition research” for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s principal Washington lobby, is right on one point: Over many centuries, most Western and Eastern historians have credited the Muslim empire in the Iberian Peninsula with having brought cultural enlightenment and tolerance rather than violence to Europe. And that knowledge rankles revisionist Zionists.

Levin urges CAMERA supporters to “make a point to visit bookstores...and to note the lineup of books and periodicals available on the Middle East.” If they find works by Noam Chomsky or Edward Said “posing as Middle East experts,” they should “talk to the manager.” Then CAMERA’s newsletter recommends 309 books, including those by Fouad Ajami, Joan Peters, and Edward Alexander. The latter was skewered by Nation columnist Cockburn as one of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane’s “ushers, a parlor terrorist licking the boots of a real one.”

Levin takes a page out of Joan Peters’ widely disparaged book, From Time Immemorial, when she states that “the mass of today’s Palestinian Arabs are descendants of immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries.” Among publications, Levin indicts the National Geographic, Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, Webster’s New World Encyclopedia and even the Encyclopedia Britannica for “unabashed inventions,” and “mutilations of fact.” She offers no documentation or authority for these attacks.

CAMERA promotes even more aggressive tactics against university libraries. The publication “CAMERA on CAMPUS” has advocated that students scour campus libraries for “offensive” books, and pressure universities to remove them.