Rattling The Cage: 2.5 cheers for CNN

If Israel is intolerant of radical Jewish violence as the Right claims, why does such violence reoccur?

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I found CNN's documentary God's Warriors disappointing. In six hours, it didn't make any new points about Jewish, Islamic or Christian fundamentalist politics, and didn't connect or compare the three except to say that they're all fanatical. I think Christiane Amanpour's narration - although not the footage - understated the magnitude of the problem of Muslim terrorism. She said it was limited to the "extreme fringe" of the world's Muslims, "a tiny minority," "a few." If only this were true. These are my main criticisms; I could raise a couple of other objections, but they're niggling. Yet if I think of God's Warriors as a whole, I wouldn't say it's an unfair or distorted documentary by any means. It's not anti-Jewish and pro-Muslim, as the Jewish Right is claiming. It's not an "abomination," as CAMERA calls it, or a "brazen lie," as columnist Jonathan S. Tobin wrote in The Jerusalem Post. These sorts of reactions say a lot more about the Jewish Right than they do about CNN or Christiane Amanpour. Self-declared advocates for Israel say they want objectivity in journalism, yet their idea of objectivity is what more genuinely objective observers would call "pro-Israel spin." Reading the right-wing Jewish reactions to God's Warriors, you would never imagine that the Jewish segment opens with a Hebron settler, Tsipi Schissel, describing tearfully and graphically how a Palestinian terrorist stabbed her father to death, or that Schissel's story was illustrated with photos of her as a little girl with her father. THE POINT, made at the very beginning, was to humanize her for the viewers, and to show that the settlers' fanaticism is fueled by Palestinian terror. This latter point was made even in the documentary's passage about Baruch Goldstein, which featured his friend Meir Lapid recounting how, a few months before the Hebron massacre, Goldstein had tried vainly to save the lives of Lapid's father and brother, who had been shot by Palestinians. "They died in his hands," Lapid tells Amanpour. She asks him what effect he thinks it had on Goldstein. "I think it killed him," he replies. Where's the anti-Semitism, the malicious distortion, the abomination? In all, God's Warriors gives much more attention to Israeli victims of Palestinian terror than to Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation. There is one scene that humanizes a Palestinian terrorist with his mother's recollection of how he cradled a Palestinian girl shot dead by Israeli soldiers, and how he "stopped laughing" afterward. But the segment also shows photos of the four Israeli women the young terrorist killed, with Amanpour describing the victims as "a nurse, a woman returning home from the dentist, and two mothers of young children." There's only fleeting footage of Palestinians and other Muslims crying over their dead at the hands of Israel or the US, while the screen is filled with the wreckage and bloody bodies from suicide bombings and the smoke-engulfed World Trade Center on 9/11. ALTHOUGH here and there in her narration Amanpour tried to diminish the scale of Muslim terrorism, the pictures she was showing told the true, and much more powerful, story. Behind footage of Muslim terror around the world, culminating with the images of 9/11, Amanpour says: "There is probably nothing more frightening and symbolic of Islamic extremism than the suicide attack. It is the weapon of choice for terrorists in Israel... in Iraq... in Indonesia... in England... and in the United States." For all the right-wing Jewish complaints that God's Warriors sets up a "moral equivalency" between Muslim terror and Jewish terror, anyone who's been awake for the last six years cannot watch this documentary and come away thinking there's no difference between the two. The Jewish segment focuses on the religious settler movement and its assassins. The Muslim segment focuses on Iran and al-Qaida. CNN's audience, or at least the great majority of it, knows very well which warriors are the global threat, and which warriors aren't. ONE OF the reasons it knows is because CNN has been telling its audience this for the last six years. For CNN, as for every other mainstream news medium in the world, militant Islam has been one of the two leading stories of the post-9/11 world, the other being George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Compared to Iran and al-Qaida, the Jewish settlers have been a minor item - except during the Gaza disengagement, when the Gush Katif evacuees actually got sympathetic international coverage. Since 9/11, CNN has not given anything like equal time to Jewish, Islamic and Christian fanaticism, but instead has given a giant majority of time to the Islamic strain. And searching YouTube, I find that Amanpour did a two-hour documentary titled In the Footsteps of Bin Laden, which I seriously doubt was anti-Jewish or pro-Muslim. I also came across a 10-minute CNN news segment on Obsession, a documentary that compares modern Islamism with Nazism, and I see the CNN anchorwoman telling the filmmakers at the end, "I can't thank you enough... The movie left many of us speechless. We appreciate what you've done." What more do CAMERA, Honest Reporting.com and the rest of the "Israel advocates" want? I'll tell you what they want: They want no criticism of Israel whatsoever, and this is their main beef against God's Warriors - that it didn't make clear that in Israel, unlike in the Muslim world, religious terrorists are the exception rather than the rule, that Israel, unlike the Muslim world, cracks down on its extremists. THIS IS the "wild weed" theory that the Jewish Right has been promulgating for decades, and will promulgate for decades to come as instances of violence by Israeli fanatics continue. The "wild weed" theory is the brazen lie; if Israel was as intolerant of radical Jewish violence as the Jewish Right claims, why does such violence keep happening - against Palestinians, against Israeli soldiers, against leftist demonstrators who dare approach the settlements? Why does the threat of settler violence hang over any consideration of a future Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank? What Christiane Amanpour should have said is that the Muslim warriors are an incomparably greater menace to the world than their Jewish counterparts, but that within Israel and the West Bank, the Jewish warriors are one awful menace. That would have given the documentary some perspective. Unfortunately, I don't think it would have reduced the amount of right-wing Jewish hate mail she's getting by one bit. Postscript: Evelyn Gordon was right last week in arguing that Israel should take in substantial numbers of refugees from Darfur, and that it's extremely dangerous for any Sudanese refugees to be sent back to Egypt. But she was wrong in arguing that Israel should not offer sanctuary to refugees from southern Sudan because it is supposedly safe for them now to go home. The fact that 157,000 refugees have returned to southern Sudan since the truce of 2005 only shows that while southern Sudan remains a hell on earth, it is now somewhat less of a hell on earth than the refugee camps in Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Central African Republic, where those 157,000 refugees had been living. The several hundred southern Sudanese refugees who came to Israel, usually sitting for many months in prison, have been threatened with prosecution by Sudan's interior minister if they return home. He accuses them of collaborating in an Israeli plot to defame Sudan. Obviously, they can't go home, and they can't go back to Egypt, either. They are not "economic immigrants." If Israel can take in many more Darfurians, as Gordon rightly insists, it can also take in the several hundred southern Sudanese currently in Israel. Until something changes, they have no place else to go.