Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Michael Doran and the Perception of Public Opinion

Michael Doran, former Bush Administration Defense Department and National Security Council official, has a propensity for bad ideas and weak powers of deduction, expressed often in his analysis for the Brookings Institution, where he is a fellow.

Remember he's the guy who, just before the invasion of Iraq, wrote this in the January/February 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs:
What the Bush administration seems to understand better than its critics is that the influence of the United States in the Arab-Israeli arena derives, to no small extent, from its status as the dominant power in the region as a whole -- and that this status, in turn, hinges on maintaining an unassailable American predominance in the Persian Gulf... [D]efeating Saddam would offer the United States a golden opportunity to show the Arab and Muslim worlds that Arab aspirations are best achieved by working in cooperation with Washington. If an American road to a calmer situation in Palestine does in fact exist, it runs through Baghdad.
Doran concluded, "The first order of business for the United States must therefore be to demonstrate forcefully that challenges to its authority in the region will be defeated," adding that "[t]hwarting Saddam's ambitions and continuing to root out bin Laden's henchmen and associates, moreover, will do more than take care of immediate menaces. It will also serve to sober up onlookers with oppositionist ambitions of their own, making them recalculate the odds of defying a power that has demonstrated its intention to remain a permanent and dynamic regional player."

Brilliant, Mike, brilliant.

Following the invasion, Doran argued against international inspectors returning to Iraq to investigate, once and for all, the veracity of WMD allegations. His reasoning? Facts and war crimes don't matter because haters gonna hate regardless. "The many skeptics of U.S. motives fall into two camps: conspiracy theorists and sophisticated opponents of the war," he said in May 2003. "No amount of rational argument will persuade the former, who will react to any evidence of WMD with the claim that Washington planted it—after all, don't American forces today exercise unfettered control of the crime scene? For their part, the sophisticated anti-war forces never disputed the existence of WMD."

Obviously, those wily conspiracy theorists were able to spirit away Saddam's nefarious WMD arsenal in order to prevent the U.S. government's (and the "sophisticated anti-war forces") inevitable vindication.

Clearly no stranger to advocating for American imperialism and intervention in the opinion pages of major publications and an unequivocal champion of Israeli war crimes and militarism at every turn, Doran is really excited about the bombs falling on the defenseless civilians in Gaza.

He's also really happy that Israeli propaganda seems to be working on the American public, which continues to support the continuing massacre unleashed on the besieged and bombarded Palestinians. Today, he gleefully tweeted this:
Ok, first, unless "Republicans" is a synonym for "Americans" (which may be the case if you're Doran), the chart's overarching claim is wholly incorrect. It was misleadingly titled by Statista's media relations manager Niall McCarthy, who originally created and posted the infographic. The word he was looking for was "plurality," not "majority." After all, "more than" doesn't always mean "majority of."

The results of the poll actually show that 40% of Americans blame Hamas more than Israel for the recent round of violence, while half that hold Israel more accountable. Moreover, nearly 30% had no opinion. For their part, voters who self-identify as Democrats were effectively split on the matter.

Regardless, however, and more importantly, this is obviously a useless metric of anything. It's essentially the same as tweeting, "Look, more Americans believe the lies they're told by people like me and a prostrate press than not." Wow, what a revelation.

Naturally, due to ciphers like Bob Schieffer, Jodi Rudoren, Wolf Blitzer, David Gregory, and their mainstream media outlets, the American public is massively disinformed on the reality of the Israeli assault on Gaza. But, for Doran, this is to be celebrated, not challenged. After all, in 2007, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary in Support of Public Diplomacy under Eric Edelman in George W. Bush's Defense Department. In this role, Doran was essentially the Pentagon's minister of propaganda, focusing on "strategic communications" to sell the administration's military policies to the gullible masses.

Of course, one need only review the record of American public opinion on foreign policy issues to know that Doran's tweet is more embarrassing than triumphant. While the public is often not nearly as hawkish as most of the country's elite influentials - think tank pundits, government advisors, editorial boards - media coverage and official messaging is hugely important to crafting public opinion. What Americans "believe" is often not remotely related to what is actually true.

For instance, in January 2003, a poll found that 44% of Americans believed that either "most" or "some" of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi. Actually, not a single one was. In the months preceding the invasion of Iraq, Americans consistently reported their belief that Iraq played a major role in the attacks. A poll conducted the week before the invasion itself showed that 45% of the U.S. public believed Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the September 11 attacks. The next month, that figure has risen to 53%.

In a poll published in September 2003 - nearly six months after the invasion of Iraq - almost 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the attacks.

By 2007, 33% still thought Saddam was "personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. These findings have been relatively consistent ever since.

In 2011, around the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) released a poll finding that 38% of Americans believed that the United States had "found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization." Plus, 15% believed Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the attacks, 26% believed Iraq had WMD before the invasion and 16% even thought that WMD were actually found in Iraq. Obviously, that isn't true, and was even admitted by the U.S. government itself over seven years earlier.

The following year, a Dartmouth survey revealed that "63% of Republicans still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded it in 2003," as reported by Jim Lobe. In April 2013, 28% of American voters still thought Saddam was directly involved in 9/11.

But, facts are rarely important when it comes to such matters.

Such is the power of propaganda.

Imagine the impact that being subjected to decades of constant hasbara has on the American mind. In fact, it's a testament to the waning influence of such propaganda that the numbers cited by Doran aren't even more appalling.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Zionism's Prior Condition: Propaganda

Blood and and discarded belongings are left behind at a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tank shells hit the compound, killing more than a dozen people and wounding dozens more who were seeking shelter.
(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

"Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions...The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation."
- Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, 1965

As Israeli war crimes continue unabated - at the time of this writing, nearly 1100 human beings in the besieged Gaza Strip, the vast majority of whom are civilians, have already been slaughtered by their occupiers; over 6,200 have been wounded - Israeli lies too keep piling up.

Despite what Israeli spokespeople and their dutiful, compliant, and prostrate puppets in the media continue to claim, Hamas was not responsible for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month. Hamas did not break the 2012 ceasefire, Israel did. Hamas is not forcing Palestinians to act as "human shields." Israel is not acting in self-defense when it bombs hospitals, schools, ambulances, mosques, homes, refugee camps, parks, or a zoo. The "terror tunnels" which Israel apparently needs to murder hundreds and hundreds of men, women, and children in order to destroy pose essentially no threat whatsoever to Israeli civilians. The list goes on and on.

Gaza's Shifa Hospital hit by an Israeli strike, July 28, 2014

Israel's ongoing massacre cannot continue without a steady barrage of hasbara - what Zionists, in their Orwellian glory, refer to as "public diplomacy," but which is merely propaganda to justify the indefensible, inexcusable, and unspeakable. That is, the promotion of a 19th century, colonial European ideology of ethnic, religious, and racial superiority, imposed upon an indigenous population through military conquest and a campaign of ethnic cleansing, displacement, dispossession, disenfranchisement, and discrimination.

And yet, though mainstream media outlets are suffused with pro-Israel bias and Israel has legions of willing propagandists trolling the internet to spread Netanyahu's latest talking points, we have heard - especially as the Palestinian death toll keeps rising - that Israel and its advocates are "losing the media war." Politico, Mashable, New York Magazine, analyst Juan Cole, and Britain's Channel 4 have all noted this.

Even the Telegraph's detestable, neoconservative "Defence Editor" Con Coughlin is worried for Israel's image, writing that, "with so much focus on the Palestinian victims of this dreadful conflict, it is hard to see how Israel can turn the propaganda war around in its favour." Coughlin laments, "I fear the answer is that it cannot."

Similarly, in a conversation via Twitter with a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy, Washington Post White House correspondent Scott Wilson was fretful that the Israeli slaughter in Gaza might not be "good for Israel - strategically." For Wilson, as for so many others, Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity are simply image problems, a matter of PR.

Without its propaganda, Israel cannot sustain the support of its benefactors, whether in the war chests of Congress or the war cries of brainwashed and bloodthirsty communities. Without its lies, Israel can't survive. This fact is known not only to professional hasbarists like Michael Oren, Dore Gold, and Mark Regev, but - more importantly - is a vital feature of Zionism, inseparable from the ideology itself.

Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, 1897.

In a little known and rarely-referenced letter written in early 1897, Theodor Herzl, the ostensible founder of political Zionism, made this perfectly clear. During the planning stages of the First Zionist Congress - initially to take place in Munich but eventually held in Basel, Switzerland in late August 1897 - Herzl contacted Willy Bambus, leader of the Berlin Hovevei Zion society (an early Zionist organization committed to Jewish immigration and agricultural settlement in Palestine), for support.

"I want to reach an understanding with the Berlin Zionists," Herzl wrote from Vienna on January 26, 1897. "[I]n the general Zionist conference that I am planning for next summer, we will grow closer to each other." The letter is written in German, Herzl's first language.

Herzl's dream was big and he knew what he needed to achieve it:
But a project of this sort... has one prior condition: propaganda. First we must have propaganda and afterward establish economic projects... [T]ry to win influence at a Berlin daily newspaper... There is no necessity to immediately give the newspaper a Zionist imprint. On the contrary, because of the cowardly suspicions (to my sorrow, of most of the Jews) of Zionism, it would be wiser to keep things innocent... Perhaps you can... purchase a Zionist paper in Berlin, that will not be outwardly noticed as such.
Friendly media coverage? Feigned innocence and impartiality? Sounds familiar.

"Until now Zionism has been silent," Herzl wrote Bambus. "We must free its tongue. This is the first order of business."

Those tongues of Zionism have since wrought over a century of pain and suffering, in the name of entitlement and privilege, to the people of Palestine. It is time to drown out the propaganda with truth.

The final page of Theodor Herzl's handwritten letter to Willy Bambus, January 26, 1897


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Consistency of Official Iranian Commentary, Part III:
On Khamenei's Referendum Rhetoric, Reuters is Wrong

Last week, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a meeting of Iranian university students and, in his first public comments on the ongoing assault on Gaza, spoke of his belief in the necessity of continued Palestinian resistance to Israel aggression, oppression, and occupation.

"Don't the Palestinians have the right to defend their lives and security?" he asked rhetorically, and condemned Western nations like the United States and Great Britain for openly supporting Israel's assault and justifying "crimes that no ordinary person would."

In the right-wing Daily Caller, notorious neocon darling Reza Kahlili noted that Khamenei reiterated the call by his predecessor, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, that "Israel must be destroyed," adding that "until that time with the help of God for this cruel and murderous regime to be destroyed, strong confrontation with steadfast armed resistance is the only solution against this destructive regime."

Yet the Caller omitted a crucial aspect of Khamenei's speech - deliberately replaced by an ellipsis linking the the paraphrased Khomeini quote with Khamenei's endorsement of Palestinian armed struggle - in which the Iranian leader stated that the ideal solution to the current impasse was a democratic vote.

The missing piece, however, was reported by other outlets. "There are logical and practical means to this end, which is for people who live and belong there to pick the government of their choice through a referendum. That would be the end of a usurping fake regime," Khamenei said, according to a translation by Reuters. Until that time, he continued, "while waiting for an end to this cold-blooded murderous regime, mighty armed resistance is the only way to deal with it."

Only through a vote by the indigenous population, Khamenei said, will "the usurper and forged regime" of Israel "be practically annihilated."

Kahlili's report predictably expunged all mention of a referendum, focusing instead on Iranian military capabilities and nuclear negotiations. More troubling, perhaps, is that "The Young Turks," a liberal (some might even say, progressive) news and commentary outlet led by host Cenk Uygur, promoted the Daily Caller line in their own round table discussion of the matter. After hearing a portion of the Kahlili article read aloud verbatim, co-host Ana Kasparian described Khamenei's comments as "extremely violent" and "crazy," while John Iadarola called such statements "depressing."

Reuters also quoted Khamenei as saying, "Israel's annihilation is the only real cure, but that doesn't mean destroying Jews in this region," a statement also ignored by the Daily Caller. With this comment, Reuters editorialized, "Khamenei made clear for the first time that he was talking about the dismantling of the state of Israel, not the death of Jews."

While such clarification is important, the characterization of that distinction as being a new addition to Khamenei's rhetoric is curious. In fact, this is a distinction made often by Iranian officials when discussing this very topic - and Iran's official position toward Israel/Palestine. Cursory research into past statements quickly reveals the consistency of such statements and proves the Reuters claim to be, not only sloppy, but ludicrous.

A similar presumption was made last year in the wake of then-newly-inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's insistence that, "when it comes to the settlement and resolution of regional issues," including the colonization and occupation of Palestine, "we believe that the only path is through the ballot box, through democracy." International news media declared this to be a breakthrough moment, despite the clear fact that Rouhani's immediate predecessor, the much-maligned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had made identical statements throughout his eight-year tenure as president.

"We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt," Ahmadinejad said in comments reported by the New York Times in September 2008. "We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government."

More to the point, however, Khamenei himself has remained remarkably consistent on this issue, and Iran's official prescription, for over two decades.  In an extensive analysis of Khamenei's speeches since 1990, published in the Boston Review in November 2013, well-known Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji - no fan of Iran's theocratic leadership - revealed the truth: Khamenei has long called for a new, inclusive Palestinian government to supersede the current Zionist one, thereby dismantling what is currently known as "Israel" politically, not violently.

For instance, Ganji notes, on April 17, 1991, Khamenei discussed "his solution for the Palestinian problem and said, 'The Islamic Republic's solution is to disband the usurping Zionist regime, forming a government of the Palestinians, and [guaranteeing] peaceful co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in all of Palestine.'" Four months later, on August 19, 1991, Ganji adds, Khamenei stated, "Solving the Palestinian problem entails destroying and eliminating the illegitimate government there, so that the true owners [of the land] can form a new government; Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live side by side... Our view regarding the Palestine issue is clear. We believe the solution is destroying the Israeli regime."

Nearly a decade later, Khamenei's position had not shifted. In a speech to the Basij militia on October 21, 2000, Ganji tells us that Khamenei again laid out his vision for the indigenous people of Palestine to choose their own political path forward. "The solution is for the millions of the Palestinians to return to Palestine, the several millions that live away from home to return to Palestine. The indigenous people of Palestine—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—should hold a referendum to decide what kind of a regime they want. The vast majority are Muslims. There are also Jews and Christians that belong there, as their parents also lived there. They can decide the political system that they favor," he opined.

In March 2002, Khamenei again stated, "Holding a referendum in Palestine among the Palestinians, and all those that became refugees—if, of course, they want to return to Palestine—is a rational solution." In June 2002, he repeated, "The only solution for the Palestine problem is that the true Palestinians, not the usurping and occupying immigrants, those who live in Palestine and those who became refugees, decide the type of government that they want. If asking for the vote of the people of a nation is a solution for those who claim to be democracy advocates, [then] Palestine is also a nation and must decide [its fate]."

On August 19, 2005, Ganji explains, Khamenei held the same line:
The Palestinian problem has only one solution, and that is what we proposed several years ago. Hold a referendum among the indigenous Palestinians, those who live there, or are in refugee camps, or live elsewhere, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jew, and ask them to decide the government that they want. Regardless of whether that government is run by the Muslims, Jews, or Christians, as long as it is the result of people’s direct votes, is acceptable, and will solve the problem. Without it [the referendum] the problem will never be solved.
That Reuters would now claim Khamenei's recent comments about Gaza mark a stark break from the past is absurd. In his Friday prayer sermon on June 20, 2008, Khamenei declared, "No, we have no problems with Jews. We have no problems with Christians, and with adherents of other religions in the world. The usurper is just the Zionist regime. This is the position of our state, and that of our revolution and our people."

Similarly, on September 30, 2011, Khamenei spoke at a conference in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and self-determination, and said, "We neither advocate a classic war between Israel and the Islamic countries, nor throwing the Jewish people into the sea, and neither do we accept mediation by the United Nations or any other international organization. We propose a referendum among the Palestinian people. Similar to any other nation, the Palestinians also have the right to decide their fate and pick the type of government they want."

Addressing the opening assembly of the Non-Aligned Movement on August 30, 2012 in Tehran, Khamenei once again reiterated Iran's "just and entirely democratic solution" to the conflict:
All the Palestinians – both the current citizens of Palestine and those who have been forced to immigrate to other countries but have preserved their Palestinian identity, including Muslims, Christians and Jews – should take part in a carefully supervised and confidence-building referendum and chose the political system of their country, and all the Palestinians who have suffered from years of exile should return to their country and take part in this referendum and then help draft a Constitution and hold elections. Peace will then be established.
Regardless of whether Khamenei's proposals are realistic, idealistic, inevitable or impossible, is irrelevant. That he has consistently called for a referendum to alter the exclusivist and discriminatory political system that controls Palestinian lives and has routinely made distinctions between the Zionist government in Israel specifically and Jewish people in general, is indisputable.

Reuters should get their facts straight.



November 9, 2014 - A series of tweets from the official Twitter account of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei reiterate his long-held belief that a referendum, not genocide or military assault, should determine the future of Israel/Palestine.

But that's not how it's being presented in the media, of course.

For instance, a predictably smug article in Slate, headlined, "Iran’s Khamenei: No Cure for Barbaric Israel but Annihilation," notes that a 9-step table posted online outlines "his plan to destroy Israel." Similarly, Maria Khan of Britain's International Business Times wrote that Khamenei "took to Twitter... to map out precisely how to wipe out Israel off the global map." The right-wing hub for lunatic idiots Newsmax calls the plan "chillingly detailed."

What these articles point out only tangentially and (seemingly) begrudgingly, is that - while Khamenei clearly would like to see a new government preside over the lives of all those living within the borders of historic Palestine - the word "annihilate" is misleading, and deliberately alarmist.

As always, Khamenei insists that the Zionist government in Israel should be removed and replaced by a more representative entity due to its illegitimacy and history of war crimes. He adds,
The only means of bringing Israeli crimes to an end is the elimination of this regime. And of course the elimination of Israel does not mean the massacre of the Jewish people in this region. The Islamic Republic has proposed a practical & logical mechanism for this to international communities.
This "mechanism" - while perhaps unfeasible and unrealistic - and is anything but groundbreaking or newsworthy at this point. It's the same thing Khamenei and other Iranian leaders have been saying for years.

"All the original people of Palestine including Muslims, Christians and Jews wherever they are, whether inside Palestine, in refugee camps in other countries or just anywhere else, take part in a public and organized referendum." Khamenei excludes "Jewish immigrants who have been persuaded into emigration to Palestine" from his proposed voter base.

Until such a political solution is reached, Khamenei promotes the use of "powerful confrontation and resolute and armed resistance" to oppose Israeli occupation and colonization. "The West Bank must be armed like Gaza," the proposal suggests.

Back in July, Khamenei said effectively the exact same thing.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Journalist Speaks Truth to Employer, Demoted from "Contributor" to "Palestinian"

A day after journalist, writer, and frequent MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal harshly criticized that very cable news network during a broadcast of "Ronan Farrow Daily" for its biased and deferential pro-Israel coverage of the current military assault on Gaza, she appeared on "All In with Chris Hayes" to further discuss the matter.

The evidence of anti-Palestinian bias in the mainstream media - including cable news networks - is beyond question, as numerous studies and analyses have shown. A common refrain - heard again last night in Hayes' attempt to defend his employer's coverage of the ongoing Israeli massacre of Palestinians - is that Israeli government officials are more accessible than officials from Palestinian groups. But this claim rests on the assumption that allowing politicians and their spokespeople to repeat honed talking points is the same thing as journalism.

In January 2014, for example, an internal study of the past 11 years of NPR's Israel-Palestine coverage found that its reports and dispatches suffered from significant "imbalance" between Israeli and Palestinian voices. Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos summarized the report, noting that such skewed representation "is to be expected." Why? Here's what he writes:
Israel generates more news in part because its officials are more open and the country is more democratic than in the Palestinian territories. Israel stages more newsworthy "official" events, such as elections, and its economy is far more dynamic. Israel also is an ally of the U.S., and its officials frequently visit. The Gaza Strip in particular is miniscule. NPR's sole correspondent is based in Jerusalem.
Naturally, no mention is ever made in this litany to Israel's crushing occupation and siege of Gaza, the deliberate destruction of its economy and infrastructure, or the fact that Israel is "more democratic" than an isolated and imprisoned enclave much in the same way Apartheid South Africa was ostensibly "more democratic" than the Bantustans created for its inconvenient and unwanted inhabitants.

"I had [Israeli government spokesman] Mark Regev on this program for 16 minutes, alright? That's a very long interview but there was a lot to talk to him about," Hayes told Jebreal last night, after noting that Hamas officials are hard to book for on-air interviews.

While much has been made of Jebreal's truth-telling and Hayes' weak pushback, the chyrons used during Jebreal's interviews have told an even more troubling story.

In all of her appearances on the network over the past two years as MSNBC contributor, Jebreal has routinely been introduced, described, and referred to on-air as either a "journalist" or an "MSNBC contributor," and usually both.

During her appearance on "All In with Chris Hayes," however, which followed her widely-reported condemnation of Israel/Palestine coverage, the chyron describing Jebreal read: "Palestinian Journalist." That kind of description serves to paint her comments automatically as themselves biased and emotional, rather than factual and impartial. It would be as inappropriate as frequent contributor Jonathan Alter being referred to as a "Jewish Journalist."

As such, I tweeted the following:

While she told Max Blumenthal after her interview with Hayes that her "contract is over" with the news channel, Jebreal was nevertheless under the impression that her status at the network was still under negotiation, according to comments she made to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! this morning.

(click to enlarge)



I created the above image and tweeted it out at 10:14AM and 10:21AM today. It was soon retweeted dozens of times, including in a modified tweet by user @SubMedina. From there it went viral, as they say, and has subsequently been retweeted hundreds of times.

The image - though no credit back to me (boohoo) - was included in posts on BuzzFeed, Mediaite, and vaguely referenced in the Washington Post.

In response to Jebreal being referred to - for the very first time on MSNBC - as a "Palestinian Journalist," a clear example of othering, marginalizing her commentary, and presenting her views as agenda-driven and out of the mainstream, MSNBC issued a statement, which explained that, as Jebreal was no longer a contracted contributor to the network (effective "last month"), her title had been updated accordingly.

More specifically, "[a]n MSNBC spokesperson also told BuzzFeed that Jebreal was referred to as 'Palestinian Journalist' because that's how she self-identifies, adding that she was labeled incorrectly as an MSNBC contributor on Monday's Ronan Farrow Daily broadcast due to a production error."

Similarly, MSNBC told TVNewser: "She was labeled incorrectly on Monday's show due to a production error and we corrected that for Tuesday's 'All In' appearance."

This is massively disingenuous and more than a little bit factually incorrect.

Over the past month, when - according to MSNBC - Jebreal had already opted out of renewing her contract with the station, MSNBC producers and on-air hosts still regularly referred to her as a contributor. Just last week, on July 14, Jebreal appeared on "Ronan Farrow Daily" with a familiar chyron:

Farrow himself even introduced her as "MSNBC's own Rula Jebreal."

While it's as yet unclear exactly when Jebreal's contract with MSNBC expired, during her appearances in June she was still being referred to as a contributor, and alternatively with the simple title "Journalist." Here are some examples:

June 1, 2014 on "Melissa Harris-Perry":

June 3, 2014 on "The Reid Report":

June, 7, 2014 on "Melissa Harris-Perry":

June 17, 2014 on "The Reid Report":

Apparently, once an experienced and respected reporter and analyst starts criticizing news coverage of Israel, she goes from being a journalist and just becomes a Palestinian journalist. Somehow this doesn't seem like the best way to counter accusations of pro-Israel bias in the media.

Talking Points Memo reports:
Jebreal said that in her two years as a contributor at MSNBC, she was never labeled a "Palestinian journalist" before Tuesday night. 
"I did not see the title. When they said 'Palestinian journalist,' that was wow to me. I am not a Palestinian journalist. I am a Palestinian woman individually, but I was not hired for two years because I was Palestinian," Jebreal told TPM. "I was hired because I was a foreign policy analyst and I was a journalist. A journalist. We don't call people a 'Jewish lawyer' or a 'black woman from Brooklyn.' That is unacceptable." 
"For me, the point is I am a journalist. So I go wherever I find better opportunity, stronger possibilities, and I am called there as a journalist. I am not called as a 'black woman.' I am not called as a 'Palestinian,'" she added. "I was never called to be hired by MSNBC because I was Palestinian. [I was hired] because of my foreign policy expertise. I talked about Egypt, I talked about Tunisia, I talked about the Arab Spring, I talked about Yemen, about Iraq, about Syria. And suddenly I become the 'Palestinian journalist'?"
Keep it up, MSNBC, you're making this too easy.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Surprising" New Poll on Iran Actually Quite Mundane

Professor Alex Mintz, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), chair of the Annual Herzliya Conference Series and Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya.

A newly-released poll of Iranian public opinion on the country's nuclear program and ongoing multilateral negotiations, the effect of sanctions and future relations with the United States and Israel is being hailed in numerous press reports for providing "unusual," "surprising" and "rarely-seen" insight into the attitudes of ordinary Iranians.

The survey found, for instance, that 40% of Iranians polled would be willing to give up the hypothetical ability of Iran "to produce nuclear weapons in the future" in exchange for the "full removal of sanctions" and that 38% of the Iranian public would support recognizing Israel, "if Israel signs a peace treaty with the Palestinians and withdraws from Palestinian areas."

Researchers also revealed that over 74% of respondents favored the reestablishment of full trade and diplomatic relations with the U.S.

"Such delicate issues are not ordinarily broached by pollsters in Iran, according to experts," writes Jerusalem-based New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner.

But here's the thing: the "experts" Kershner spoke to (whose identify she never reveals) are wrong. Not only are these types of issues routinely addressed in polls of Iranian public opinion, but the many of the answers provided in this latest poll are largely consistent with other similar, and even more professional and methodologically sound, surveys conducted in recent years.

A year ago, for instance, Gallup reported that 41% of Iranian adults would openly disapprove of their government "developing its own nuclear power capabilities for military use." Another Gallup survey from the previous winter showed that, regardless of sanctions, at least 63% of respondents thought Iran should continue to develop its safeguarded, civilian nuclear program.

A 2011 poll by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, a nonprofit research institute, found that "more than 70 percent of Iranians also expressed support for providing full access to weapons inspectors and a guarantee that Iran will not develop or possess nuclear weapons, in return for outside aid and investment," while "77 percent of Iranians favored normal relations and trade with the United States." These findings were consistent with other polls the center had conducted over the previous two years.

Polls in both 2009 and 2012 found similarly overwhelming support (over 85%) for Iran's right to a domestic nuclear energy program, while majorities consistently oppose pursuing atomic weapons.

The International Peace Institute, in collaboration with Charney Research, found in 2010 that 58% of Iranians would accept a two-state accord between Palestinians and Israelis.

A Terror Free Tomorrow poll from as far back as 2007 similarly revealed that 68% of Iranians favored normal relations and trade with the United States. "In return for normal relations," the report found, "a majority [55%] of Iranians favor recognizing Israel and Palestine as independent states, ending Iranian support for any armed groups inside Iraq, and full transparency by Iran to the United States to ensure there are no Iranian endeavors to develop nuclear weapons." The same survey concluded that "80% of Iranians favor Iran providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons in return for outside aid."

Banal Findings

Clearly, the results of the new poll are, in fact, nothing new. Nevertheless, the poll's own researchers have express amazement at what should be mundane conclusions.

For example, in noting that nearly 40% of respondents would effectively support a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, provided a peace accord is agreed on and Israel ends its occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, the pollsters express bewilderment. "This finding is sensational and counter intuitive," the executive summary declares, "given the Iranian leadership's position on Israel during Ahmadinejad's regime."

Again, as seen above, the Iranian public has expressed similar feelings in the past. Furthermore, the Iranian government's official position on Israel and Palestine is far less bellicose than endless alarmist news report and shrill political speeches would have us believe. Iran officially supports a referendum to determine the nature of the government controlling the lives to those who live in Israel and Palestine. Ahmadinejad himself repeated this position in numerous interviews during his tenure as president.

In 2006, Ahmadinejad told The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth, "Our suggestion is very clear: Let the Palestinian people decide their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it is, should be accepted." The next year, he reiterated on CBS News, "Whatever decision they take, everyone should go with that," and at Columbia University, "Whatever they choose as a nation, everybody should accept and respect."

During an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Ahmadinejad was asked directly, "If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?" This was his reply:
Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well. The U.S. administration, European governments. The right to determine their fate by the Palestinians should be respected by all of them.
Surprise over Iranians' willingness to forego any possible militarization of their country's nuclear energy program is also revealing. The poll's executive summary sounds downright triumphant:
As pointed out above, in return for the full removal of sanctions, 40 percent of Iranians are willing to give up the ability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons in the future, in addition to 9 percent who agree to give up the civilian component of the nuclear program, and 5 percent who are willing to give up the entire nuclear program. In other words, 45 percent, are now willing to give up their nuclear military program for the full removal of sanctions, and a majority of Iranians-- more than 54 percent, agree to give up the entire nuclear program, or the civilian component of it, or the ability to produce nuclear military weapons in the future.
What this analysis, if it can even be called that, misses is that Iran has no "nuclear military program" to "give up." It seems as if the researchers conducting this poll are unaware that international intelligence assessments have consistently affirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and that no move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes has ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fact, the IAEA itself has said there is "no concrete proof" Iran's nuclear program "has ever had" a military component.

Also, the Iranian government has consistently and constantly maintained that it has no interest or intention to acquire, let alone stockpile, nuclear weapons. Not only this, but the Iranian leadership has, for more than three decades, forbidden the building of nukes on religious, moral, strategic and legal grounds.

Considering Iranians know that their nation's nuclear program is peaceful and will never be used to produce nuclear weapons, the polling question itself winds up being fundamentally flawed ("would you give up something you're not doing to have all sanctions removed?"), and the responses therefore pretty meaningless ("uh, sure").

In fact, the full results for this question, noted in the poll's executive summary, provide a far more telling Iranian perspective than what led most articles. A mere five percent of those polled said they'd give up the entire nuclear program in return for the complete removal of sanctions against Iran, and only 9.1% said they'd give up "the civilian part of the program," which is the entire program. As the researchers themselves are forced to admit, "Little support is provided to give up the civilian part of this program. Less than 1 in 10 supports such a move."

Basically, a measly 14% of respondents said they'd give up Iran's actual nuclear program - not some phantom weapons program sometime down the line. That's hardly headline-worthy. On the other hand, a whopping 45.7% of respondents replied that they were "not willing to give up any part of the nuclear program," regardless of what sanctions are imposed. This finding was buried in reports on the poll.

It appears that those shocked by the results of the latest poll are merely unfamiliar with past surveys of Iranian opinions, as well as long-standing Iranian government policy. This is perhaps to be expected considering who conducted the poll itself and who has been most interested in reporting its results.

Dishonest, Misleading and Agenda-Driven

The nine-question poll, conducted by telephone between May and June 2014 with fewer than 530 respondents, was carried out by six Iranian-born, Farsi-speaking researchers at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, a private university in a coastal town north of Tel Aviv. The project was led by the institute's dean, Professor Alex Mintz, and Eli Mograbi, an MA student at the Lauder School of Government at the IDC.

The IDC has close connections with the Israeli intelligence and military communities, and hosts the influential annual Herzliya Security Conference on national security, intelligence, military and strategic affairs. The conference is sponsored by the Institute for Policy and Strategy itself.

The findings have been widely reported by Israel-based outlets like The Times of Israel, Ynet and the settler-run Arutz Sheva. These reports, along with Kershner's New York Times piece, all express astonishment at the findings, despite their consistency with past polling.

But what is surprising is the lack of professionalism, overt dishonesty and dubious methodology of the pollsters themselves. As reported by Kershner, the interviewers lied to their Iranian respondents about who they were and where they were calling from. One of the Israeli researchers explained the process:
"He said he would present himself as working on behalf of the research institute, whose name is similar to one in Tehran. Some seemed surprised at the questions, he said, and asked if the pollsters had permission to conduct the survey. “To some, we gave a false number in Tehran and said they could call back if they wanted, to build trust,” he said. Few said they would.
Yes, you read that right. To "build trust," the Israeli poll operatives deliberately hide their identities from their subjects, gave fake corroborating information to cover their tracks and even pretended they were fellow citizens.

"We said we were calling from a research center,” Professor Mintz told Kershner. "Most didn't ask for details. To those who did, we said an institute for policy and strategy. Nobody imagined we were phoning from Israel."

The survey appears to bear more resemblance to a mediocre covert intelligence gathering operation than a legitimate academic research project. It even appears that no margin of error was established. As independent analyst and commentator Richard Silverstein, who first pointed out the many dubious aspects of the polling project, has put it, "No legitimate polling outfit in the U.S. either private or academic would associate themselves with such fraudulent methods."

The Javedanfar Hypocrisy

Meir Javedanfar (Credit: MEEPAS)
Perhaps the shoddiness of the survey should be expected considering that none other than Meir Javedanfar served as an advisor on the project. Javedanfar, a lecturer at Herzliya's IDC whose consistently misinformed, misguided and misleading analysis has never impacted his ubiquity in media reports on Iran, is noted in the survey's press release as having been consulted on the wording of the specific questions to be asked.

In her own Times report, Kershner hid his identity from readers, writing only that "[t]he survey was formulated and translated into Farsi with the help of an Iran expert who made adjustments to make the questions palatable to Iranian ears." It was Silverstein who immediately deduced who the "expert" really was.

Javedanfar's involvement was not benign. A quick review of the actual survey questions asked reveal an even more sinister act of deception on the part of the Israeli pollsters. Silverstein explains:
Keep in mind that the poll was created by an Israeli research center and the polling done by Israelis. Yet here are a few of the questions asked:
Do you agree that our country should establish full trade and diplomatic relations with the U.S.?
Do you agree that our country should recognize Israel if it reaches a peace deal with the Palestinians?
Who is our biggest ally in the middle east [sic]?
Who is our biggest enemy?
The poll-takers continue their deception by invoking the pronoun "our" as if they are Iranians polling Iranians, which they aren't. Further, if you look at the phrasing of the first two questions you'll notice the phrase "do you agree that…" This is an improper way to formulate a poll question unless you want to guarantee a certain result. Asking someone if they agree with a statement you make is a dead-giveaway that yourself believe the statement and by inference, you wish them to agree with you.
The integrity of such a survey should be immediately questioned.

Furthermore, in a perfect example of his own hypocrisy, Javedanfar is on record questioning the findings of a 2013 Gallup public opinion poll when the responses provided by Iranians appeared to support longstanding government policy.

In a February 12, 2013 post on his website, Javedanfar notes that Gallup "found that 63% of Iranian [sic] believe that the nuclear program should continue despite the sanctions." He goes on to raise a virtual eyebrow, writing that while "Gallup is a very credible organization" and he's "sure they did a professional job," he believes "it's a credible question to ask whether those questioned in Iran could say what they really thought."

The notion that Iranian public opinion polls can't possibly be accurate (if they defy Western expectations or wishes) is a tired trope in foreign policy circles. The common refrain is that Iranians are too scared of their own government to provide honest answers over the phone to a pollster. Yet this claim has long been challenged by experienced and professional pollsters who maintain that if the methodology is sound and scientific, the results will be accurate - in Iran or anywhere else. As two researchers pointed out in the Washington Post in 2009, "[T]he integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions." Even an 2003 analysis by the conservative and AIPAC-aligned Washington Institute for Near East Policy argued for the legitimacy of scientific polling in Iran.

In fact, Iranians are known to far more forthcoming with their political views to foreigners - pollsters, journalists, tourists - than many others in the region.

But in Javedanfar's conventional wisdom, Iranians live in a perpetual state of paralyzing fear, never free to speak their mind or tell the truth. After noting authoritarian proclivities of the Iranian government, he wonders:
Now imagine some unknown person calls you in your house. Someone who knows who you are because they have your number but you don't know who they are. They say they are calling to survey your opinion from Gallup, but they could be anybody. They could be the Ministry of Intelligence or IRGC intelligence organization as well. How are you supposed to know? 
They then ask you a question about whether you support continuing with the nuclear program despite the sanctions. At the back of your mind you know that this is something which the regime, the IRGC and the supreme leader has openly backed 
How willing would you be to tell this unknown person that you contradict what is essentially current government policy?
Apparently, only a year later, Javedanfar stopped worrying about these questions and worked on a survey of his own that deliberately deceived its subjects. Does he still think, as he wrote last year, that "there is reason to questions [sic] the accuracy of the findings of this poll based on the fact that those questioned have genuine reason to fear the possible implications of saying what they really think"? Does he believe the IDC poll he helped to create should be automatically dismissed?

Unlike many well-regarded international polling agencies and research organizations, the institution he works for - the IDC Herzliya - is directly involved with Israeli intelligence operations, is home to a hasbara war room dedicated to spreading pro-Israeli propaganda over the internet, the existence of which was recently revealed by Israeli media.

IDC Herzliya's Hasbara War Room during Israel's bombardment of Gaza in July 2014.

It is also no secret that Israeli military intelligence units are actively and eagerly courting Farsi speakers. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that "Iranian-born immigrants to Israel are drafted to its military intelligence units in disproportionately large numbers," and that these "efforts, security sources say, have been stepped up since world powers and Tehran agreed an interim nuclear deal in November."

"Bringing Iranian natives with a command of Farsi into the intelligence corps is a priority," said an Israeli immigration organizer.

Clearly, IDC's Professor Mintz is aware of how this all might look. "This is not about spying or anything," he told Kershner. "We are a research center. We wanted to know what the Iranians think."

Yeah, sure you did.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Bogus Assessments of Iran's ICBM Capability Finally Explode

For years, Israeli politicians and their willing mouthpieces in the American press and punditocracy have maintained that Iran, in addition to feverishly working to build nuclear weapons, will have acquired the ability to affix an atomic bomb to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the United States by the year 2015.

This claim eagerly exploited the boilerplate assessments of U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Air Force intelligence, which not only date back over a decade, but also base their conclusions on unlikely scenarios.

In a recent Pentagon report, however, this assessment has finally changed, putting to rest this common alarmist talking point so often trotted out by those wishing to exaggerate - if not wholly invent - the threat posed to Israel and the United States by Iran.

"An unclassified executive summary of the Annual Report on Military Power of Iran, dated January 2014 and not previously reported, does not -- unlike past years -- offer an assessment of the technical feasibility of Iran's potential to demonstrate an ICBM capable of reaching the United States in 2015," reports Jason Sherman of "Instead, the two-page executive summary states: 'Iran has publicly stated it may launch a space launch vehicle by 2015 that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.'"

The assessment that such a vehicle could be reconfigured to deliver a nuclear warhead is the Pentagon's suggestion, not that of Iran's. To the contrary, Iranian leaders have routinely and explicitly insisted they will never seek to acquire nuclear weapons and are not developing long-range missiles.

This is certainly a break from the long history of Iranian ICBM hysteria. Back in 1993, a CIA estimate delivered to Congress claimed that Iran was "10 to 15 years" away from possessing the capability to "indigenously produce an ICBM" capable of hitting to continental United States. A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, drawn from the conclusions of all 16 American intelligence agencies, similarly assessed Iran would have such long-range missiles by 2010. Three years later, in 1998, a Republican-sponsored commission on ballistic missiles - chaired by none other than then-former and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - concluded that Iran could "produce ballistic missiles with sufficient range to strike the United States" within five years.

Benjamin Netanyahu - then (as now) the Prime Minister of Israel - seized upon this assessment to bolster his own hawkish propaganda. On October 1, 1998, The Washington Times published an article headlined, "Iran's Long-Range Missile Plans Worry Netanyahu: Says U.S. Cities May Be Targeted."

"Iran is pushing ahead with a multibillion-dollar program to develop missiles capable of reaching American cities," the report cited Netanyahu as saying. Such missiles would soon be able "to reach the Eastern seaboard" of the United States, he added.

Similarly, U.S. intelligence assessments have, since 1999, consistently noted that, with the aid of foreign governments, Iran would acquire ICBM capability by 2015. For instance, a National Air Intelligence Center report from 2000 concluded, "With continued foreign assistance, Iran could have an ICBM capable of reaching the United States before 2015." This language was repeated verbatim in every subsequent Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat assessment for the next decade.

While in September 2009, Reuters reported that the most recent "National Intelligence Estimate deemed Tehran unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020," by April 2013, the Pentagon release yet another finding to Congress that read: "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

In February 2012, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon declared that Iran was "getting ready to produce a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers." Just weeks later, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz - a Netanyahu acolyte and frequent Iran hysteric - said that Iran is "working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles." He added that "we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat... to Europe and to the United States of America."

On September 26, 2012, Iran attack enthusiast John Bolton opined, "Tehran is perilously close to achieving nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for worldwide delivery," and called for an immediate military assault to stem the threat.

Later that year, in early December 2012, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on "Iran's Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs," cast doubt on the oft-repeated timeframe, noting, "It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015" and concluding that, in the absence of a deliverable nuclear warhead, "the proliferation of Iranian ballistic missiles is arguably not an imminent significant threat."

Nevertheless, in July 2013, a Pentagon report compiling the findings of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, repeated the claim. "Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force," the report said, adding, "Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

Shortly thereafter, on July 14, 2013, Netanyahu resurrected the claim, telling an obsequious Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" that Iran is busy "building ICBMs to reach the American mainland in a few years." Two and a half months later, before the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu declared that Iran is actively developing "intercontinental ballistic missiles," in order "to carry nuclear warheads," adding that "Iran is building now ICBMs that the United States says could reach this city [New York] in three or four years."

Despite their constant repetition by deceitful intelligence officials, uninformed politicians and agenda-driven journalists, in recent years these conclusions have been routinely dismissed by anyone with any knowledge of the actual intelligence. That Iran, which has never demonstrated any interest nor inclination to pursue ICBM capability, would acquire and test such technology by 2015 is not merely a gross exaggeration, it is an outright impossibility.

In 2001, the U.S. intelligence community revealed the truth behind their own reporting lexicon. The word "could" - so often utilized in alarmist assessments - actually translates to something closer to is unlikely to. "We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical 'could' dates than they are by our projected 'likely' dates," stated a National Intelligence report entitled, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat.

In 2012, Paul Pillar, former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, admitted, "The bottom line is that the intelligence community does not believe [the Iranians] are anywhere close to having an ICBM." A year ago, Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association noted, "Missile expert Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has expressed doubts about whether an operational Iranian ICBM is even likely within the current decade."

Moreover, a November 2013 analysis produced by Elleman revealed that "neither the U.S. nor Israel cite evidence that Iran is actively developing or 'building' ICBMs." He also told journalist Gareth Porter, "I've seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability." In an October 2013 article on this very issue, Porter writes, "Iran has not even displayed, much less tested, a larger version of its existing space launch vehicle that would be a necessary step toward an ICBM, according to David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists." Iran's current vehicle is suitable only for launching a small satellite into orbit, Wright told Porter.

The new Pentagon report is noteworthy for its focus on Iran's space launch vehicle, rather than any hypothetical or exaggerated ICBM work. Thielmann explains, "I would regard that as a significant change of language, meaning that the U.S. intelligence community is losing confidence in their earlier prediction of 2015 which has been very heavily quoted, of course, by friends of missile defense and others wishing to pump up the Iranian threat."

As nuclear negotiations continue to progress in Vienna toward their July 20 deadline, long-standing alarmist talking points about Iran's nuclear energy and defense programs continue to crumble.



December 17, 2014 - Addressing the matter of Iranian missile technology in a new article in Al Monitor, Barbara Slavin quotes Michael Elleman extensively. The entire piece is a good read; here's a relevant excerpt:
The Iranian program has frequently been hyped in the past — by Iranians and non-Iranians. In 1998, a commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld — at the time out of government — declared ominously that Iran “now has the technical capability and resources to demonstrate an ICBM-range ballistic missile … within five years of a decision to proceed.” 
Iranian officials insist they have no intention of building an intercontinental ballistic missile system — which would have a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles) and could reach the United States. Elleman pooh-poohed claims by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Iran was close to acquiring such technology. Elleman said Iran could develop an operational ICBM no earlier than 2020. 
Iran, Elleman said, appears to be focused more on the “tactical benefits of ballistic missiles as opposed to the strategic” benefits accrued by having ICBMs. The Sajjil-2 and a one-stage missile, the Ghadr, which Iran has tested successfully, have sufficient range to hit Israel, which Iran hopes would deter an attack on its nuclear installations, he said.