NPR, the CIA, and the settlers: a detective story
Posted: 30 May 2010

A few weeks back Susie Kneedler highlighted here an National Public Radio report about the recent Israeli military decree allowing the IDF to deport anyone in the West Bank as an “infiltrator” simply for lacking paperwork the Israelis refuse to provide. Kneedler’s critique focused on the “she said/she said” quality of the story, which attempted to balance the terror of a Palestinian woman who can’t get papers against the reassuring platitudes of an Israeli military spokeswoman, and on odd discrepancies between the audio report and the transcript NPR posted.
But it was something else about the piece that caught my eye: The transcript (though not the audio clip) ends with the assertion that “About 365,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.”
As anyone who follows the situation at all closely knows, that 365,000 figure is way off the mark: according to the IDF, the settler population on the West Bank passed 300,000 last year, and though it’s a little harder to pin down official figures on East Jerusalem, virtually everybody agrees that there are about 200,000 settlers there by now. (The most authoritative source I know of on such issues is the Foundation for Middle East Peace, although its population numbers are a couple of years old and therefore a little low, because it waits for the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics to catch up with reality.)
Undercounting the settlers by more than a third is a serious error in its own right, but the real reason it jumped out at me is that less than a year ago I’d waged an epic struggle – if we can apply that phrase to an exchange of e-mails – with NPR over exactly the same issue. On June 12, 2009, All Things Considered ran a story by freelancer Sheera Frenkel about American Christian funding for Jewish settlers, and in that case the transcript (again, not the audio) said “An estimated 250,000 Jewish settlers are living on territory captured by Israel in 1967.” I didn’t notice the transcript until two weeks later, at which time I sent a polite note to NPR ombudsman Lisa Shepard (and tried in vain to cc Frenkel) pointing out, with a link to FMEP, that the actual total for 2007, the latest year for which official data were available then, was 484,862, including the Golan Heights as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Shepard promptly responded that she’d forwarded my message to the corrections department.
But no correction appeared, so two weeks later I wrote again to Shepard, who offered to resubmit my complaint but asked for additional documentation to back it up. I replied with a detailed memo, including links directly to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, a Likudnik think-tank called the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the New York Times, the BBC, and – most satisfying of all – several previous stories by NPR’s own Linda Gradstein. That did the trick, and the next day NPR added the following at the top of the page with Frenkel’s story:

The Web version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Jewish settlers estimated to be living in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The number of settlers living in the West Bank exceeds 270,000, according to Israel’s census of 2007. The number of Jews living in all lands captured by Israel in 1967 – the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem – was estimated to be 460,000 to 480,000 in 2007. The text has been corrected to specify the estimate relevant to the West Bank, which was the focus of the story.

I have no idea where they got the 460,000 figure, but at that point I declared a victory.
So when I saw this month’s figure of 365,000, I was frankly flabbergasted. How can an organization with the resources, experience, and pretensions of NPR fail so consistently to keep straight the elementary – and undisputed – facts about such a critical issue?
I fired off another message to Shepard – in fact, I just restarted our e-mail thread from last year, since its subject line, “factual error” was still on point. She was out of town, but since her autoreply listed a couple of alternative contacts, I tried those. Ten days later, with no correction and no response from anyone, I tried Shepard again, this time adding a quote from and link to a U.S. State Department report published just two months ago:

Approximately 190,000 Israeli citizens, including a small number of Arab citizens of Israel, also lived in East Jerusalem; Israelis in the West Bank numbered approximately 300,000.

This time Shepard replied “You are totally right. I had John Felton, who does the Middle East report look at this, and he thanked you for pointing it out.” (Fenton is a former foreign affairs reporter for Congressional Quarterly, a former foreign editor at NPR, and compiler of a documentary history of the Middle East; in response to complaints from all sides about its Middle East coverage, the network has hired him to produce quarterly assessments of their reporting.)
Even Fenton’s blessing, however, wasn’t enough to get a correction posted. The following week Shepard let me know that an editor was citing the CIA World Factbook as the source for the 365,000 figure. I checked, and lo and behold, that editor was right: the Israel page of the current edition of the CIA reference source indeed reports that there are 187,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and “fewer than 177,000 in East Jerusalem.” In parentheses, these numbers were labeled “July 2010 est.”
Leaving aside the possibility that the CIA knows something the rest of us don’t about what’s going to happen in the next month, I was as certain as ever that those figures were wrong, but I was puzzled about what they meant. In the short term, with the agency supporting NPR, I despaired of getting another correction posted – even with the IDF, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, and Linda Gradstein on my side for a change!
Then I got a middle-of-the-night flash of inspiration: maybe Google could find an explanation. I punched in “187,000” “Israeli settlers” “West Bank” 177,000 “East Jerusalem,” and something strange leapt out at me from the results: the first hit, to the Jewish Virtual Library, had the exact phrase from the CIA World Factbook – but with a parenthetical date of July 2009. The second hit, to a Wikipedia page on “Demographics of the Palestinian Territories,” had the same wording, but with a date of July 2008. At the bottom of the Google page, there was a Google Books result, from a book by Anthony Cordesman and Jennifer Moravitz, citing the usual numbers and a date of July 2004!
Eventually I noticed in the results that the University of Missouri-Saint Louis seemed to keep multiple editions of the annually updated CIA publication on its website. Digging through them, I found the 187,000/177,000 estimate repeated every year back to the 2003 version. The only thing that changed was the parenthetical date of these supposed “estimates”: the Israel page of the 2003 edition says “(February 2003 est.) (July 2003 est.),” while the separate West Bank page in the same edition has the same numbers with date of February 2002 and July 2003. In the 2004-2007 editions, both the Israel and West Bank pages cite a date of July 2004. Since 2008 the agency has apparently revised the date, without modifying the estimate, annually.
So the mystery is solved, in a sense: the CIA, the agency supposedly responsible for providing the government with up-to-date and accurate information on critical foreign issues, hasn’t bothered to update its count of the settlers for seven or eight years. Worse, by regularly changing the date attached to its published estimates, it’s been actively deceiving the public, foisting off old and increasingly inaccurate data as current. It has misled not only NPR, but also countless references sites and pundits like Cordesman, not to mention the tens of thousands of students and others who have turned to them for the truth.
Deeper mysteries remain, however: Has the CIA also relied on these bogus numbers internally and provided them to policymakers? That’s hard to believe, but given the active manipulation of the dates, who can be sure? And what was the motive – was the responsible desk officer just too lazy to look up the Israeli data? Was he or she an Israel booster who somehow imagined that fooling people into thinking that there are only 365,000 settlers, rather than 400,000 or now 500,000, would help the Zionist cause? Also hard to believe, but there must be some explanation.
Meanwhile, I’ve passed all this on to NPR, but I’m still waiting for them to post a correction to their May 11 story. Assuming they get around to doing it someday, maybe then I’ll go after the CIA…

The trap
Posted: 29 May 2010

 Is one state in Palestine/Israel your fallback position? I know what my priorities are. I want all people to be free, I believe in equal opportunity and one man one vote. My ideals were formed early on by concepts such as melting pot, equal rights, and principles set forth in our Constitution. Truth be told, this is why I am not a Zionist. But…(big but) we all have to choose our own battles, and being diametrically opposed to a Zionist state is not the battle on my front burner.
That’s why I support two states. My priority is for all Palestinians to be free and to live in peace in Palestine and if that means in half of Palestine or even a third of Palestine or even less in a viable defendable state of equal rights, geographic contiguity and self determination, fine. The reason I support two states is because it has international support, whereas one state of equal rights and opportunity in all of the currently-apartheid entity of Israel/Palestine meets a very heavy resistance and the charge that this state would essentially ‘destroy Israel.’
So I support two states, but do I believe two states is possible? No I do not. Why? Simple. Because if Israel wanted two states there would be two states by now. I’m really not interested in a debate about whose fault it is that there are not already two states because we’ve all argued that ad nauseum. Suffice it to say, the two states I do support I do not believe will ever come about because of Israel.
This is why I think one state is inevitable. One state is not only my fallback position, it is what I believe is in the best interests of each and every individual. Why? Because I’m an American and this is what I was raised to believe. Way before I ever knew what a Jew was or a Palestinian or even an Arab, or the concept of nationalism or even the meaning of politics. The idea of freedom for anyone and everyone together in our melting pot. Very simple.
I am certainly not motivated by the desire to destroy anyone or any state, which brings me to my point. Zionists in our blogging world are going off the rails. Zionism and the policies of the state of Israel are becoming harder and harder to defend, therefore many are choosing not to defend them but to go on the attack..against me. Against Us. We are their problem.
Oh I know, they acknowledge Israel has turned further and further to the right, they know Lieberman and his party now are the third largest party in Israel and want to transfer the Palestinians far far away. They know Shas has risen and the Minister of Housing (settlements people) is a Shas party member. They know the Radical Settlers are out burning mosques and settling fires to olive trees and the IOF are protecting them (and then some).
They know the IOF has been infiltrated by Religious Fanatics which would make extracting the settlers from the territories virtually impossible without a civil war inside Israel and might require international intervention.
Need I go on? They know. They know all this… and I’m their problem. Why?
Because even tho I support two states, I think what ought to happen, and what will inevitabilty happen is as the window of opportunity closes on two states, not only the world but world Jewry will turn against the Racist Oppressive Apartheid Zionist State of Israel. Not Israel mind you, but the Zionist State of Israel. And I do not think that will be the end of Jews, I think it will mark a resurgence in Jewish social justice, and art and culture will flourish.
Back to my point. I blog at various I/P forumns on the web and I’m noticing a trend gaining momentum. That trend is that those like myself who advocate and support two states and lobby the Prez to clamp down on Netanyahu and advocate for the settlement freeze and negotiations to begin are continually being accused of wanting to destroy Israel. Yesterday someone said to me “I am arguing against those who want Israel to not exist”. Who says that?
Beware, this is the strawman we are up against. That we are out to end Israel’s existence, to destroy Israel, which inevitably will lead to the final death knell of the Jews. That’s what it boils down to, we support the end of the Jews. And that is why these so called ‘Liberal Zionists’ are not out battling the forces of the rightwing Zionist blogosphere advocating transfer and supporting the settlers. Because I’m worse.
Pinch me so I can wake up from this nightmare. Don’t fall for it people. Don’t let them define you as the problem, because we are not the problem. Human Rights Activists are not the problem.
Don’t let them turn the argument into us defending ourselves against this ridiculous aggressive victimhood strawman ad hominem argument. This is a trap. How many times do we have to go on the defensive and say “No no I don’t want to destroy Israel and the Jews”? We want Israel to be a nice place, so they should fix it and direct their energies towards those ruining it. Get off our backs, we are not your problem.

Global flotilla hits NY chocolate shop
Posted: 29 May 2010

As the “Freedom Flotilla” steams toward Gaza City in an attempt to break Israel’s crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip, activists in New York City continue to stage protests calling attention to the fleet of ships and the situation in Gaza.
In New York, six Palestine solidarity activists dropped a banner yesterday inside of the Union Square branch of Israeli chocolate shop Max Brenner that read, “Siege on Gaza Isn’t Sweet: Boycott Brenner.” [photo above]
Here’s the report from New York City Indymedia:

Israel has refused to allow chocolate and sweets, among many other commonplace items, into Gaza, claiming that they present a security threat. Max Brenner is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Strauss Group, Israel’s second-largest food conglomerate, and boasts on its web page of its support and “adoption” of the Golani and Givaati Brigades of the Israeli army. Both the Golani and the Givaati Brigades have historically been associated with numerous violations of human rights.
”We know the chocolate ban is not the most egregious human rights violation,” said banner-dropper Niomke Friedman. “But it illustrates the absurdity of Israel’s claim that the brutal siege on Gaza serves a legitimate security claim.”
The action was part of a wave of solidarity actions taking place around the US and throughout the world as the Free Gaza Coalition’s flotilla of eight boats bearing thousands of tons of eight and over 800 civilian sails toward Gaza. Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak has stated that the Israeli navy will block entry, reinforcing Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza’s waters.
As part of Israel’s brutal three-year long siege on Gaza, many basic items have been denied to Palestinians including canned fruit, jam, and chocolate.
During Israel’s recent massacre in Gaza, a Ha’aretz article reported that the Golani platoon operated “in the sector in which the [Israel Defence Force] has seen the toughest battles with Hamas, the eastern part of Gaza City”. They have also been implicated in massacres in the Jenin and Tul Karm refugee camps and the siege on Yasser Arafat’s Muqata compound in Ramallah.

The Israeli daily Haaretz has a report on the Max Brenner action. You can also view a video of the action here.
The banner drop follows a May 27 action in New York that saw over 100 people take to the streets to demand that the flotilla have safe passage to Gaza to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and to call on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza.
Palestine solidarity activists in New York have planned a march for Tuesday, June 1 “in the event of an Israeli effort to hijack the flotilla,” according to an email message from Gaza Freedom March organizer Felice Gelman.
Gelman’s message said that the march will demand that the U.S. government “act to protect its own peaceful citizens and the citizens of the world from acts of piracy and kidnapping committed with US military aid and the immediate release of the flotilla and its passengers.”
This report originally appeared at the Indypendent, a New York City-based newspaper.

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