Posts Tagged ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’

A Failure of Skepticism on Reddit

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Back during the 2008 campaign, one of the things that most infuriated me was the emails that went around with all sorts of claims about Obama that referred to outside authorities such as Snopes or Obama’s memoirs. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) People forwarded these items, but never took the time to check out these basic claims. As FactCheck.org observed at the time:

Such attacks usually can be disproved with less effort than it takes to forward them to others.

Now, of course political debate has always been about framing events and pushing one’s agenda – about creating stories and propaganda to demonize your enemy and rile up your supporters. And there have always been lies, and every other sort of assault on the truth. There have always been fringe movements that require their supporters to believe elaborate constructions of lies built into conspiracy theories. But beginning with the rise of Obama in the spring of 2008, the Republican Party itself has become such a fringe group – as it has mainly stopped engaging in more honest political dialogue such as ideological arguments and good-faith disputes over facts. America’s political debate has turned into lies and efforts to combat these lies. (For the prime example, see the primal scream of outrage that was the health care debate. Hereherehere.)

How a propaganda source lies or frames issues tells us a lot about how its creators view their audience. As Jason Zengerle has sagely noted, the fictional world that Republican media is selling of grand conspiracies and ominous music demonstrates that they see their audience primarily as consumers who want entertainment. Is this season of 24 over? Then check out Fox News for the same adrenaline rush. Or read a Vince Flynn novel. Either way, you’ll get stories of grand conspiracies by terrorists with weak liberals being saved by brave conservatives. Thus Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and much of the rest of the Republican media establishment started out as and still describe themselves as “entertainers” rather than journalists.  Then, of course, as I’ve observed in the past, TownHall.com just presumes its readers are gullible, lazy idiots – sending them get-rich-quick-schemes (See here and here.) in addition to their political lies. (See here, here, and here.) The creators of the smear emails clearly similarly saw their audience as gullible and unlikely to check the sources they cited in support, even as they made the most outrageous claims. What all three of these propaganda sources have in common is that they don’t expect their audience to fact check their smears, but expect them to act on them and spread them to others. They do not expect their audience to be skeptical, but to simply accept and promote the smears.

I was reminded of this by another smear that got spread – this time via reddit. (Probably other sites too – but reddit is the only one I pay attention to.) I normally see reddit as made up of rather skeptical individuals. But a few times, as a whole, the reddit community seems to have bought whole various smears and propaganda efforts – usually when they were both (1) emotional and (2) fit into some preconceived bias, usually a bias against the establishment media. Thus, when Russia invaded Georgia almost two years ago, reddit promoted various Russian propaganda claims and demoted any support for Georgia – despite the fact that atrocities were being committed by both sides and Russia’s actions clearly violated international law. When I challenged people on this, the most common reaction was to say that they were just trying to balance the mainstream media which was very pro-Georgia.

Another example of this occurred on reddit last week – as headlines were voted up reaching the top of reddit claiming:

Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs

Israel apparently harvested Palestinian organs without telling anyone.

Israel harvested organs off dead Palestinians, says former head of Israel’s Abu Kabir forensic institute

Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs–without permission or consent

Philip Weiss on organ thefts: “I say it’s further evidence of this great challenge in Jewish history, learning respect for the other”

Anyone who followed up and read beyond the headline of the piece in the Guardian that most of these stories linked to would have found that an Israeli doctor had admitted that Israeli hospitals had harvested organs from patients “including Palestinians” who died in their hospitals, as they did not have a policy which required them to get permission.* Shortly thereafter, the Guardian followed up and said:

The Guardian has admitted it erred in using the headline “Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs” . “That headline did not match the article, which made clear that the organs were not taken only from Palestinians.”

This headline got much less attention. Even more interesting than those too lazy to read the article were those who claimed vindication for the Swedish newspaper that had previously reported that Israel had been killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs:

Will Netanyahu/Israel apologize for the baseless attacks calling Sweden anti-Semitic regarding the truth about Israeli organ harvesting?

Remember the Israeli outrage over alleged organ harvesting, and how that could never have happened? Yeah, well, about that…

Israeli Organ Harvesting. The New “Blood Libel”? I dare you to read this and say there is absolutely nothing to this story.

Yet the Guardian story by Ian Black specifically addressed the Swedish story:

Channel 2 TV reported that in the 1990s, specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives…

However, there was no evidence that Israel had killed Palestinians to take their organs, as the Swedish paper reported.

Reading through the comments on these posts, you will find quite a bit of blatant anti-Semitism, as well as people disputing and disparaging these anti-Semitic comments. But should it be called anti-Semitism when people were so willing to jump to the conclusion that in fact Israel had some program which sought to harvest Palestinian organs? I’m not sure. But it is disturbing – almost as disturbing as those many right wingers fooled into thinking Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya (and that Snopes confirmed it!)

I expect better from reddit. I expect people to be skeptical. When I read a story that says that Obama is a secret Muslim, that Israel is killing Palestinians to harvest their organs, that the health care legislation will create death panels and kill babies, I regard it with as much skepticism as when I am told that if I subscribe to this or that newsletter, I will make $1 million in less than a year. Before I vote up or forward an email or invest in a stock, I check the sources. This isn’t unreasonable – and redditors are usually decent about this – which is what made this story so bothersome.

* These headlines are as misleading as a headline on November 5, 2009 would be claiming that “McCain receives third largest vote total in American history!” without mentioning the guy who won.

Shin Bet Refuses to Assist in Providing Security to President Carter

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Jimmy Carter

[digg-reddit-me]Reuters is reporting that in an absolutely outrageous and despicable move,1 Israel’s internal security service has refused to provide assistance to the Secret Service guarding President Jimmy Carter in Israel after he met with the leaders of Hamas.

I didn’t think that Mr. Carter should have been meeting with Hamas on principle as they have never renounced terrorism. I can see why Mr. Carter believes someone must talk with them, but I think Mr. Carter’s meeting would only serve – at this time – to give the group international legitimacy. Of course, I would not refer to Israel’s difficult situation as “apartheid” either. Mr. Carter has his own opinions, and although I trust his intentions, I think his actions and words in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are ill-advised.

But despite these actions, it is difficult to believe this story is true – that a close ally would refuse to assist a former American president’s security detail. According to the Reuters piece:

Another source described the snub as an “unprecedented” breach between the Israeli Shin Bet and the U.S. Secret Service, which protects all current and former U.S. presidents, as well as Israeli leaders when they visit the United States.

Carter included the southern Israeli town of Sderot on his itinerary. The area is often hit by rockets from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and one of the sources described the lack of Shin Bet assistance there as particularly “problematic”.

Although the Bush administration opposed Mr. Carter’s meeting with Hamas, the president must take action regarding this refusal to assist in providing security to a former president. The Israeli government’s behavior is unacceptable for an ally – let alone one of our closest allies.

This is an issue on which all Americans should unite. Israel has every right to criticize President Carter and to denounce him; but as an ally of the United States, they should not be messing with his security. That is far – very far – over the line.

I think this is an issue on which all of us – from Bill O’Reilly to Michael Moore – can agree.

In the spirit of the web and political engagement, how can we make our position known, take some action to affect the situation?

Updated: Some reactions around the blogosphere:

Ed Morissey over at Hot Air is sympathetic to the Israelis but critical:

It gives the State Department a little more leverage about Carter’s trip. They could use the danger into which Carter would lead the Secret Service as a means to ask the Department of Homeland Security to refuse to allow them to accompany Carter. Carter could choose to go without the Secret Service, but without Israeli security, it would present a huge risk — and if he did go and got killed, it would be an explosive issue for the Bush administration.

Quite frankly, although I understand the Israeli’s action, I think it sets a bad precedent. Cooperation in security should not be predicated on agreement of political policies. Jimmy Carter may be the worst ex-president in American history, but he is still our ex-president, and the Secret Service detail that accompanies him deserves Israeli cooperation. The snub from the political class is well-deserved, but the Israelis should consider how Americans will view them if their refusal to cooperate on security leads to American deaths on this trip.

Over at LiveJournal some random guy who has one of the top Sphere links suggests that the United States arrest Mr. Carter for meeting with foreign governments against the interests of the United States pursuant to the Logan Act. Regarding security, he says:

Let Hamas help protect their friend.

Charming.

(more…)

  1. Redacted because on re-reading the rhetoric was overheated and unnecessary. []
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