The New York Times Jerusalem correspondent David Halbfinger hit a new low yesterday with his article contending that “a new group of Arab thinkers” want to abandon the boycott of Israel. Normally, Halbfinger slants the news from Israel/Palestine; this time he basically just made much of it up.
His article is long by newspaper standards — 25 paragraphs — and accompanied by a couple of photographs. It starts off dramatically, by saying that the new group
has brought together Arab journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars and others who share a view that isolating and demonizing Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade.
This new group, which calls itself the Arab Council for Regional Integration and just held its inaugural meeting in London, may sound plausible, but the devil is in the details. First, Halbfinger reveals that it only has “a few dozen members,” (or scarcely more than the number of paragraphs in his article). But he contends that the small membership “includes more than a few well-known figures in places as far ranging as Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.”
The problem is that genuine Mideast experts barely recognize any of their names. Gregg Carlstrom, who is a correspondent for The Economist based in Cairo, tweeted, “Not to spoil the party here, but aside from Sadat [Anwar Sadat, a nephew of the late Egyptian president of the same name] I’ve never actually heard of these people, nor has anyone I’ve asked.”
There is worse. Halbfinger reports that the little group’s first meeting “received piped-in encouragement from Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. . . ” The reader doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Blair’s full-throated endorsement of the disastrous 2003 U.S./British invasion of Iraq has made him a hated figure in the Mideast, not someone “Arab thinkers” should be taking advice from.
There’s a comical aside. Halbfinger reports that
the group met privately, citing security concerns, but allowed The New York Times to monitor the proceedings. . .
That “allowed to monitor the proceedings” is a nice humorous touch. This tiny conference was actually staged mainly for the benefit of the The New York Times, its prime audience.
Then, buried in the 22nd paragraph, is the real news: Halbfinger does have enough residual integrity to admit that the conference was “funded strictly by American donors,” by a “Washington think tank,” which turns out to be “the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”
By this stage, experienced Mideast watchers are laughing out loud. It was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Israel lobby’s central organization, that set up the Washington Institute, or WINEP. M.J. Rosenberg, who was a lobby insider until his change of heart, says, “I was in the room when AIPAC decided to establish WINEP.” No wonder the new group of “Arab thinkers” could only attract “a few dozen members” to their founding conference.
What’s more, as Rebecca Vilkomerson, the remarkable former Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted with some justified anger on Twitter:
also interesting that a small inaugural meeting of what sounds like at most a few dozen gets coverage in the NYT with the byline of the Jerusalem bureau chief. If only our orgs with tens of thousands of members got that kind of coverage