“Alternative Facts”? Sure, I’ve heard of those!

alt-factsI just liked this headline from The Guardian

When Kellyanne Conway used this phrase this week, my first thought was that if she had any sense she would have said that it was a “different interpretation of facts.”  And then it occurred to me, “Hey, we have plenty of ‘alternative facts’ reported about us in Israel.”

A few weeks ago 4 soldiers were run over by a truck driver on purpose in a targeted attack.  Here’s what the BBC first reported.

bbcScreenshot from my computer

There is actually nothing untrue in this headline.  A truck driver was shot.  It happened in Jerusalem.  There were allegations that he hit people and injured them.  And the Israeli media reported it.

But do you see the problem here?  It’s the arrangement and presentation of the facts.

Does it feel different when you see the headline this way?  Here’s their later post.

bbc3
Screenshot from my computer

Still true, but now you understand who the victims are and who the perpetrator is and that it was an attack – not an alleged attack according to others.

I’m an editor.  I work with words for a living and it matters how facts are framed.  For instance:

Four young soldiers murdered in vicious truck ramming attack.

Four killed by truck.

Truck driver runs over four soldiers.

Terrorist shot in his truck after he killed four soldiers.

Truck driver shot after fatal accident kills four.

All of these sentences have the same facts, but you feel differently about each because of how those interpretations are framed.  And yet none of them is a lie.

The most shocking example of different interpretations of facts I’ve heard of was in 2007 when a master’s student won an award for a research thesis that looked into the question of why IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinian women.  Her conclusion – hold on to your socks – it’s because IDF soldiers are racists and dehumanize Palestinian women so they wouldn’t even want to rape them.  Let me repeat.  She WON AN AWARD for this work and Hebrew University stood behind the decision.  (Here’s an analysis of the paper done by a professor at Haifa University. Here’s a shorter article about it.)

That’s an alternative fact if ever I’ve heard one.

I’m not defending Kellyanne Conway.  I’m not defending journalists who write news stories with their own biases and agendas.  And I’m not defending the academic world.

I’m appealing to you, dear reader, to be aware.  Read multiple news sources.  Read news you don’t agree with (in moderation if you have high blood pressure).  Watch out for fake news.  Analyze and deconstruct what you read and hear.  More than anything else, hold people accountable for the words they use and how they use them.

More on history and truth from my blog:

The truth about history.

How history will remember.

UNESCO rewrites history.

The Silent Treatment

When I read The Great Brain as a kid, I remember being surprised by the punishment that the parents gave to their kids.  This was late 1800s Utah and spanking was perfectly normal.  Not for these kids.  These parents gave “the silent treatment” for a specified length of time. The author described it as the worst of all possible punishments.  At least with a spanking, it was over and done with.  The silent treatment made the kids feel invisible.  Oftentimes, the kids would cry with relief when the silent treatment was over because they felt like they were returned to the land of the living.

ScreenHunter_03 Jan. 23 19.46

This week Israel’s newspapers were filled with the news of a woman who was stabbed to death in her home, in front of at least one of her six children (four were her natural children and two were adopted).  She was a nurse who was learning Arabic to better communicate with her colleagues and patients.  By all accounts she was an amazing person.

And then I saw a surprising headline that asked why Dafna Meir’s murder was not reported in the international media.  We all know that “if it bleeds, it leads.”  There was plenty of blood.  We saw the pictures.  Check.  The victim is sympathetic – a mother, a wife, a nurse. Check.  It was a pretty dramatic story.  She was stabbed in front of one of her children and the manhunt went on for quite a while.  Check.

I went to Google and typed in her name and went to the news tab.  Page after page of Israeli newspapers or Jewish newspapers around the world reported the story.  But no major international news organization was reporting it.  I found one small German paper that reported it in full, but I couldn’t determine if it was a Jewish paper or not.  But it was true.  The international media ignored her.

Dafna Meir lived in Otniel, which is a small town in Judea and Samaria (you could read that also as a “settlement in the West Bank”).  She was a religious Jew.  The 15-year-old Palestinian that stabbed her was on the run (meaning that no Palestinian was injured in this attack).  So if you believe that the simplest explanation is the most likely, then we are faced with an anti-Semitic media ignoring any news that doesn’t fit into their narrative and agenda.  (Here is a very good article about this.)

The next day – while Dafna’s murderer was still at large and her funeral was taking place – a pregnant woman was stabbed by a Palestinian in her store in Tekoa (another small town in Judea and Samaria / another settlement in the West Bank).  She was not killed and the Palestinian was arrested.  Now the international media paid attention.  The attack in Tekoa and that other thing that happened the day before “represent a shift in the recent surge of violence.

The Meir family has publicly stated that they harbor no hatred against Palestinians. A Palestinian friend, who is apparently a relative of the murderer, paid a condolence call and was welcomed by the family.  Unfortunately, this bit of the story does not play into the “cycle of violence” narrative that the New York Times has put together to explain why murder in the settlements is understandable.

Conspiracy of Silence

While the simplest answer may often be the right one, some things still bother me.  How does every single editor of every major news outlet in the world decide that this story – a mother murdered in her home in front of her child – get ignored?  Can it really be that every single major international news organization blindly accepts that a woman murdered in her home is just the price she paid for living in that neighborhood and moreover that she should be ignored because she doesn’t fit the narrative that has been dictated by a certain political agenda embraced by the paper?  Did every single international journalist really shelve their humanity to serve a political agenda?

Many journalists claim to try to bring justice to underprivileged and underrepresented people.  They claim to want to shed light on the truth.  They are presented as “brave” and “unrelenting” in their pursuit of the story.  Today, I am reminded of the bitter and all too accurate pun:

If vegetarians eat vegetables, then what do humanitarians eat?

The international media’s deafening conspiracy of silence is the worst kind of punishment they can deliver.  With their silence, they ensure that Dafna Meir doesn’t exist and that their fixed narrative is unshaken.

I hope that all of us together can demand more from journalists.  Or perhaps call out the lazy and hypocritical ones.  We may even eventually find the invisible hand directing the narrative, the one that ensures that no one thinks for themselves or asks questions.

But for now, as a start, I will not be silent.

Lorax

New Year’s Special

Happy New Year!  Here in Israel people celebrate it, but not like they do elsewhere in the world.  Israelis like any opportunity to throw a party and have a good time, so December 31 – called Sylvester in Hebrew (after a pope, if you can believe it) – is a convenient time for that to happen.  Israel also has the influence of immigrants from the former Soviet Republics.  New Year in the Soviet Union looks like secular Christmas – decorated trees, Grandfather Frost who brings presents, and spending time with friends and family.  But Noviy God is Noviy God and if you ask a person from the former Soviet Union they will absolutely insist that it has nothing to do with Christmas.  Apparently this year, they went all out for Noviy God.

svityaz-noviy-god-2015

Not Christmas, Noviy God.

January 1 is not a day off.  If being at the office on Christmas and dating documents 25 December is weird, being at the office and writing 1 January seems almost criminal.  But there it is.  New Year in Israel was in September.  The first of January is just new page on the calendar.

Last night the weather was not cooperating.  Torrential rain would be an understatement.  The trees outside my house were nearly blowing sideways.  There are rumors that there might be snow in the next few days too.  And yet, I was able to hear all the revelers throughout the night.  Why they would want to be out in this weather is beyond me.  I quietly rang in the New Year with a toast for good health, much happiness, and great success in 2016!

Question of the week

What is the flaw in our society that ensures only outrageous campaigns get attention?

On Christmas Eve last week I went to a lecture about the influences Palestinian youth are subjected to that are likely inspiring them to attack Jews with knives.  The short answer is that Palestinian society under the direction of the Palestinian Authority honors “martyrs,” creates children’s programming broadcast on state television giving praise to 5-year-olds with aspirations to use knives to kill Jews, and hammers home the message that Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes.  There are literally thousands of other examples of this kind of messaging in Palestinian society.

Any person in their right mind would see these things and be horrified and call it what it is: emotional and psychological child abuse.  And yet it goes on and no one talks about it.  The speaker is well-informed, intellectual, and has sound, extensive documentation of every claim and the organization has the ear of members of the Israeli government and the US government, among others, and there is hardly a whisper of condemnation.

At the same time, a debate was raging in Israeli society about a “provocative” (their word) campaign done by a Zionist organization calling attention to the fact that certain NGOs in Israel are funded by foreign governments.  The video is disturbing, no doubt, and they name names calling certain members of these NGOs “moles” or “foreign agents.”

The debate spread like wildfire over every media outlet.  Every news program discussed the “provocative” campaign and then began to question the facts.  Everyone had to have an opinion about the proposed law (to require NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to make it known and for their representatives who come to the Knesset to visibly identify themselves as members of these organizations).  There were even those who agreed that one targeted organization was in fact harming Israel’s image abroad and was disingenuous about its stated goals, but still were upset by the “provocative” campaign.

The targeted organization, by the way, was not suddenly the victim of a provocative campaign.  Another organization wrote a well-documented report showing that a large portion of the money this organization receives is from foreign governments, including a consortium managed in Ramallah of funds from foreign governments.  That report has been out for months and I believe there was even a press release.  But no one discussed it.  No one thought about it.  No one asked any questions.

I’m deliberately not naming organizations because the issues they raise are far bigger than a simple blog post could cover.  The point of this is to ask the question:  If the facts are out there, why do we need to have over-the-top, shock-and-awe campaigns to get any response from anyone?  Have we really slipped into a sex-sells, if-it-bleeds-it-leads global society?

On the other hand, if we want to get anything done and “go viral” do we have to bend with the fickle winds of the internet and make every issue bigger, stronger, faster, more outrageous, more outlandish, wilder, crazier, more shocking, and push the limits beyond their stretching point?  Is this what debate looks like today?

Here’s my (political) wish for 2016:  At least once in 2016, let’s move toward reasoned debate using facts and speaking with our inside voices while turning our backs on the circus that media has become.  Let’s lead by example. Each one of us can reward, at least once next year, calm, rational debate.

Happy New Year!  The best is yet to come!

A little this. A little that.

In terms of violence, the past week was horrible.  So instead of leading with the horrible, let’s celebrate something positive and beautiful that came out of senseless tragedy: a gigantic, wonderful wedding and everyone is invited.

Last Friday, before Paris, two people were killed on the road south of Jerusalem.  The bride’s father and her brother were on their way to celebrate with the groom on the Shabbat before the wedding.  Instead of a wedding, there was double funeral and the bride’s mother and her siblings were in the hospital.  What did the bride and groom choose to do?  They chose life.  They moved their wedding date to November 26, rented out the international convention center in Jerusalem and invited everyone in Israel to join them in celebrating their wedding.  (*Cultural aside for those cynics out there: A wedding is a celebration for the whole community and a guest’s job is to make the bride and groom happy. So it’s not about the big wedding.  It’s about giving everyone a reason to rejoice.)

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 21 15.52

Here’s their public message and invitation.

And then there was Paris

There are plenty of people much smarter and more eloquent than me that said many things about Paris.  (My favorite was John Oliver’s extensive use of the f-word, because that really is what we are all thinking – even though it might not be considered “eloquent”).

As I read the news in Israel, I noticed one line that probably everyone else thought was superfluous, but I thought was good evidence of choosing life.  In the stadium, France was competing against Germany in a friendly football match (soccer game) and even though they heard explosions, they finished the match.  France won 2–0.

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 20 22.15

Football not terror.

Then I was really disappointed

A few days after Paris, social media started to pile up with accusations:

  • Why only Paris?  What about Beirut?  Any Lebanese flags on Facebook photos?  How about the airplane downed in Sinai?  What about all those Russians?  Why hasn’t the media reported on anything other than Paris?
  • Israel has terrorism and innocent civilians are getting stabbed, shot, and run over every day.  Yet Israel is the aggressor?  How would you like it if the attacks in Paris were reported as “8 Muslims killed in Paris”?

As to the first, I read two interesting articles that said that said all the other violence was reported, but that readers ignored it.  On top of that, coordinated terrorist violence in Paris is not the norm and because Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, people can relate to it more than, let’s say, Beirut, Sinai, or, as of yesterday, Nigeria and Mali.
(Article 1 and Article 2)

As to the second, while having some truth to it, I find it cold, callous, and in short, stomping on the people of Paris.  There is a time and place for accusations of media bias, the few days after an attack is not one of them.  We don’t have all the facts, human beings are in shock and grieving, so let’s bring up media bias?  Way to set an example of showing humanity and choosing life.

Expanding the logic of the two articles in light of Thursday’s attacks in Israel where 5 people died including an 18-year-old American, it would be disheartening to think that the world finds violence in Israel normal and that they cannot relate to Tel Aviv as a city or Israelis as people.

I’m working on my own theory.  In two words: underdog and anti-hero.  I’ll expand on this in another post.

Jonathan Pollard

He was released from prison on Thursday after serving 30 years of a life sentence for espionage (read: spying for Israel).  To some people in Israel and the US this is a Very Big Deal. They’ve been campaigning for his release for a long time saying that the sentence was wildly excessive.  Now they want him to be allowed to come to Israel – he was granted Israeli citizenship 20 years ago – but his parole requires him to stay in the US for 5 years and wear an ankle monitor.  I think the real story and all the various details will never be fully known.  We’ll have to see what happens.

Pacman in Jerusalem

In good news of people who come to Israel even during these violent times: Manny Pacquiao, world boxing champion.  What’s his favorite city?  Jerusalem! (Of course!)

ScreenHunter_03 Nov. 21 16.03

Screen capture from Manny Pacquiao’s Facebook page.


 

Happy Thanksgiving!  Let’s all be grateful for our blessings and give thanks!

THANK YOU!

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

If last week was bad, this week was worse.  Tuesday was a terrible day.  A glance at Facebook told me that two nearly simultaneous attacks took place in Jerusalem and two stabbings in Ra’anana (a suburb of Tel Aviv).  This is the age of instant images so there was almost immediate video and photos of the attacks.  Most of it was too graphic for me to watch.  Other days were not much better.

There is simply too much going on for me to process in any coherent way, but I would like to refer you to one article that analyzes the situation concisely and accurately.  Yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

For my part, I can share my thoughts as someone who lives in Jerusalem.  I’m cautious.  I don’t go out unnecessarily.  However, I am not walking around in a paranoid frenzy.  I see people out and about.  They’re smiling.  Traffic still backs up on a particular road in my neighborhood and people still get annoyed about it and honk their horns.  Life is going on, just a bit more cautiously.

The problem with these attacks is that they are random.  You never know who might attack or when something might happen.  The sales of pepper spray are off the charts.  Self-defense courses are springing open.  Videos of what to do in case of a knife attack are available on the internet.  I’ve taken a self-defense course (before I went to Thailand) and my study of Tai Chi, believe it or not, helps me to feel a little bit more secure.

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

At the same time we’re hearing news of terrible things going on, I’m also seeing news of friends getting married, getting engaged, having happy moments with their children, sharing good times with friends.  People go out on purpose to show they are not afraid.  Life is still precious and with glasses clinking, To Life!

The political stuff

Two political points – I won’t ramble on too much about this, but I think they are important.

If you see a headline that says “Man stabs several people in the street,” you might think that the guy probably had a psychotic break.  If you see that headline a few more times and come to “Wave of stabbings occurring day after day,” you might start to wonder where the police are and what the heck is going on.  It’s a crime wave and something needs to be done.

If the headline is then “Palestinian stabs Jew,” the first thought should not be “Oh, well, alright then, he’s probably enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation/etc.”  If the stabbings in the earlier headline are troubling, the new designations should not change the shock and horror of the violence.  (“Jew stabs Palestinian” is equally horrifying and also not excused by rage over the situation.)

The worst is “Israeli police kill man after attempted stabbing.”  That is a headline with an agenda.  It is a true headline, but fails to mention the part where a Palestinian was the one trying to stab the police officer.  If the majority of people read only headlines, then Israel does indeed look like a violent police state.  In the screen capture below, the reporter also said that the guy was unarmed, but in stills, it is very clear that he has a knife in his hand.

Point #1: Read the article.  The headline is probably misleading.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn't change the headline.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn’t change the headline.

You might have heard about the 13-year-old boy who was mentioned by Mahmoud Abbas as a child executed in cold blood by the Israelis while he was alive and well in an Israeli hospital.  Besides the politics of that situation (we’d be here all day for that), I wonder why no one seems to be asking why a 13-year-old boy is stabbing another 13-year-old boy.

Where is the outcry about using this kid as a child soldier?  Who put the knife in his hand?  Is a 13-year-old legitimately enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation?  And if he is brainwashed to hate Jews, isn’t that a form of emotional and psychological abuse?  Who advocates for him?  Where are his human rights?

This is one kid in one situation.  I hope he is not a model for the next generation.  Palestinian activists point their fingers at Israel, blame Israel for the situation and claim that Palestinian lives are miserable, but I wonder why these same activists don’t take a nuanced approach and start asking who puts knives into children’s hands, sends them out to shed blood and encourages them to risk being shot by Israeli police.

Point #2:  The situation is complicated and there are no easy answers.  Look at the big picture.  

Let’s all have a Shabbat Shalom!  We could really use it.

Bringing guns to a knife fight

It seemed like every time I looked at Facebook this week, I saw another attack.  In the last few days there have been a significant number of knife attacks in Jerusalem and in other places around the country (Tel Aviv, Afula, Kiryat Gat, Hebron, and others).  There are a lot of people smarter and better informed than I am to answer the questions of: Why now? Is it because of the Temple Mount?  Is it because of the settlements? How should Netanyahu be handling the situation?

I don’t have those answers.  What I can do is share my thoughts on the situation as I see it and how it affects my day to day life.

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. (From the StandWithUs Facebook page.)

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
(From the StandWithUs Facebook page.)

I can honestly say that it’s scary.  But I don’t want to live my life paralyzed in fear.  I am, and will continue to be, cautious and aware of my surroundings. But in the same way that people don’t stop driving because of road rage or drive-by shootings, I’m going to go about my daily life.  I was going to have some visitors from the US and I would have gone into the Old City with them if they had decided to come.  In the end they canceled and I completely understand.  Meanwhile, this week I’ve been hearing a lot of sirens and there’s a helicopter circling regularly.

When you hear the word “stabbing,” it’s hard to imagine what that actually means.  We see it on TV and in the movies and in that imaginary world, it seems like a very survivable injury.  But then I thought about the last time I cut my finger cutting vegetables.  Sure.  It’s a tiny thing in comparison.  Then I tried to magnify the pain 100-fold or 1,000-fold.  I read a short piece written by a knife attack survivor.  She had been stabbed 13 times.  Besides the pain, the most disturbing part of her account was her description of the attacker.  What kind of dissociative state would you have to be in to plunge a knife into another human being 13 times?

Then there are the “rocks” being thrown at cars.  What’s a “rock” anyhow?  It’s not the rock that you send skipping across the water.  Make a fist.  It’s not a rock that size either.  In some cases, “rocks” are cinder blocks, the kind that you build houses with.  But not all rock-throwers are throwing cinder blocks; they’re heavy.  “Rocks” are generally about the size of a beer bottle.  Along with those rocks are actual glass bottles filled with gasoline and lit on fire.  This week I saw a video of an acquaintance of mine minutes after rocks had been thrown at his car.

When this new wave of violence got started, our prime minister was in New York making a powerful speech in the UN and there didn’t really seem to be a policy in place.  The IDF was trying to keep a lid on a simmering pot, not very successfully.  And then, after a particularly bad day, the mayor of Jerusalem made a statement on the radio:  People with gun licenses and training should start carrying their weapons.

Say what now?

You can read his statement again, I’ll wait.  At first, I thought it was a mistake, but then it was reported in the English news and then it was backed up by the deputy minister of defense.  With the wave of knife and other violence, those people with gun licenses and training should carry their weapons and consider it a form of reserve duty.  (Nope, I’m not kidding:  HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

The mayor's converted hand gun. (Screen capture from the Times of Israel.)

The mayor’s converted hand gun and his license.
(Screen capture from the Times of Israel.)

To be fair, most men and many women serve in the military and have gun training.  It’s also not very easy to get a gun license in Israel.  On top of that, the number of Israel’s civilian gun accidents is quite low.  Israel has not turned into a Wild West town with a bunch of trigger-happy vigilantes.  I remember when a terrorist used a tractor to ram into bus in Jerusalem it was a quick-thinking, armed citizen (along with others) who shot the terrorist and saved lives.  I’m sure there are other examples.

I titled this post “Bringing guns to a knife fight” in part for the shock value, but that is actually what’s going on here right now.  The police and the army are not able to protect the citizens and we have to count on each other in these awful times.  I’m disappointed in and angry at the government and their inability to protect citizens, but one thing I know for sure is that when Israel gets attacked, we all stand together.

P.S.  I don’t want to post something about the media and the false picture they are painting outside of Israel, however, the “best” example is the BBC.

P.P.S . Things may get worse by the time I post this, but I want to leave you with a different image: As I write this, I have my door open so that I can hear the Greek music at the café across the street.  A few minutes ago, I heard rumbling engines and horns honking.  It was a motorcycle club on their Harleys flying Israeli flags and the honking was a show of support.  That is Israel.

Let’s prove Hobbes wrong

One of the things I dislike about the media is the idea of “if it bleeds, it leads.”  Reading the news in any country, one might think that Thomas Hobbes was right, life really is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  I actually wanted to write about Sukkot, the Christians who are visiting Israel right now for the Feast of the Tabernacles, the parade that marched through the streets of Jerusalem showing love for Israel and making a joyful noise, and the fact that I have had what I consider one “perfect day” after another.

And then my Facebook wall filled up with the news of two national tragedies.  I was troubled.

Tragedy 1:  Students were shot in class.  Christians seemed to be the targets.

Tragedy 2:  A Jewish couple was shot in their car travelling on a highway.  Their four children were in the back seats.

People died, but that’s not the story.  Eventually, we will hear about the victims, but the filler of the stories will be the politics.  Sides will be taken and the people who died and their families will be footnotes in some other story that other people are telling.

Where is the humanity?

One story took place in Oregon.  It will be about gun laws and probably about mental illness and societal breakdown.  The other story took place here – even naming the location is political.  That story will be about place and the question of terrorism versus “justified” rage.  In one story, the victims will fade into the background, wallpaper for a story about a guy who lost it and went on a rampage (I suppose).  In the other story, the victims will be either glorified or it will be suggested that they “deserved it” because of where they chose to live.

And again I ask, where is the humanity?  Human beings lost their lives today.  Families were shattered.  The race to find out how to spin the story to suit a particular narrative is beyond distasteful, it’s disgusting.

You probably know which story took place where.  But I purposefully didn’t point it out.  The reason is that I would like you, dear reader, to consider your response if you didn’t know where the stories took place.

I hope you would have the same reaction to both tragedies.  People were murdered in cold blood.  The victims were killed by gunmen who didn’t agree with their beliefs.  They were not fighting a war.  They were human beings going to school and driving on a road.  If we haven’t totally lost our humanity, the politics should not matter.

I especially want to applaud the local sheriff in Oregon, John Hanlin, who said that he will not say the name of the shooter.  The victims – may their memories be a blessing – deserve better than to be forever linked with their killer.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of these tragedies.  The hole in their lives will never be filled by the politics.  Let us also find our own humanity and in some small way prove Hobbes wrong.

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 02 19.06

Life doesn’t have be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  Together, let’s try to reject the bleeding leads.  Let’s celebrate life.  Live joyfully.  Love, or at least respect, one another.  It’s possible, but we will have to find our humanity first.