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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 19, 2009


All of us, regardless of our profession, have an obligation first and foremost to tell the truth. Journalists, columnists, professional observers and commentators bear that responsibility a bit more heavily than do people in other professions. As do politicians.

I am fond of saying that I am an equal opportunity critic. We all have a point of view and that point of view colors our approach to almost every issue we discuss and every action we take. One of the ways I carry out my obligation to tell the truth is by monitoring the actions and words, the deeds and decrees, of world leaders and when I find fault with them, I point that out to the public.

It seems appropriate now, as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and President Barack Obama sit in Washington, DC rehashing the problems of the Middle East to take a long, hard look at why the constant pursuit of a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict flounders in a sea of perpetual failure.

There are many truths in the Middle East and each one is born out of bias - cultural bias, historical bias and religious bias. For almost everyone in the Middle East and involved with the Middle East that bias is more than a predilection for or against, it is a bias that colors their entire approach to events and distorts their ability to critically analyze those events. When it comes to the peace process especially, the distortion can be seen in the Arab and Muslim worlds, in the Israeli and Jewish worlds, and in the Western world.

Journalism, by its very nature, lends information and shapes opinions. A propagandist cannot be objective, a propagandist is blinded by bias. Most journalists in the Arab world, more than in Israel and more than in the West, are propagandists.

In the Arab world there is no real journalism because there cannot be real journalists. They may carry the title "journalist" but in order to survive, they must act like propagandists. In the Arab and Moslem worlds there are nearly no democracies and there is almost no such thing as a free press. It is dangerous to write about or report on certain events on Monday which could get you arrested on Tuesday for writing. In these dictatorships the press, which is government controlled and sponsored, is in many ways a vehicle to control the masses. There are very few exceptions.

The Arab and Moslem worlds feed on conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. About how Jews murder and steal, about how they destroy and gobble up Arab land. The Jewish and Israeli worlds feed off of paranoia and conspiracy theories too, but to a lesser extent.

Israelis and Jews tend to find anti-Semites lurking about and poking their heads everywhere. Looking at the world through the perspective of anti-Semitism is not only disturbing, it drastically narrows your perspective and limits any real learning. As a result, Israelis become incapable of seeing that sometimes they are the unrealistic party in terms of demands and expectations. Thinking that every stand is a Masada, that every stand is the last stand, and that every decision is one of survival can significantly bring creative problem solving to a halt.

History and culture are hard to unlearn. They bear a large part of the responsibility for the conspiracy addicted Middle East and for the conspiracy lore that has invaded the thinking of Western democracies involved with the Middle East. It will take formal re-education programs to change the foundations upon which these biases are grounded, and that process takes time.

For the here and now, there is a way. To forge a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict it is only necessary to deal with a small handful of issues. Neither side must love the other - that will never happen. Both sides must agree only to abide by the other, to agree not to kill each other and to stop those others who want to kill them. It will not solve all the problems of the Middle East, but it will bring about peaceful coexistence.

The West has its own bias about the Middle East. Western leaders and by extension Western journalists believe that the panacea for the entire Middle East is the resolution of the conflict between the Israeli and the Palestinians. That is simply delusional. It is an erroneous conclusion based on exclusively Western thought, perception and deep misunderstanding. The problem is much larger than Israelis and Palestinians. The problems between Shiites and Sunnis will remain whether or not the Palestinians live in peace with Israel, but the West has yet to reflect on that truth. And yes, the US presidential election was also impacted by bias and conspiracy theory. The United States is not totally immune.

Without a thoughtful critical press, without insightful view without a truthful approach there can never really be progress. Like everyone else, I too have a bias, but I can say in all honesty that I try to see the varied truths and untruths of all sides.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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