Haaretz: going into economic as well as journalistic abyss

“Nightmare on Schocken Street”? Via Israellycool’s survey of English-language Israeli news sites, a fascinating article (in Hebrew) about the ever-increasing financial woes of Haaretz (which sees itself as a Hebrew-language New York Times). A few highlights in translation:

  • Over just the last two years, the paper (which had about 70,000 subscribers in 2012) lost one-third of its readership, and dropped out of the top 3 newspapers. 
  • I once dismissed somebody as “exaggerating” when he claimed “only 2% of Israelis read Haaretz”: turns out it was only a mild exaggeration, as Haaretz readership did drop to 4.8% of the population (down from 7% in the first half of 2012)
  • Several rounds of layoffs took place, and staff were notified most recently that either a bigger wave of layoffs would take place or there would be salary cuts across the board
  • In the last month alone, the disgusting anti-IDF slanders of especially Gideon Levy have caused 2,000 of their remaining subscribers to cancel the newspaper. 
  • In order to attract more readers, the paper changed its editorial line (read: became more radical) in the last two years to reach new audiences. Not only was this strategy a complete failure, but it made things worse
  • The harshest blow came as the owners of Israel Hayom took over the printing press of the ailing Maariv, and promptly started printing Israel Hayom there rather than outsource the printing to Haaretz’s printing press

Despite all this, publisher Amos Schocken (3rd generation of the family after the founder, Zalman Schocken and his son, Gershon Schocken) continues to claim that subscriptions actually “are at an all-time high”. A page from the playbook of Baghdad Bob? Aviv Horowitz (in Hebrew) has another explanation: that Schocken counts the sum of print and online subscriptions. He also points out that the online subscriptions sell for about one-seventh of the price of a print subscription.

 

If you know how to “read between the lies” Haaretz can still offer some good journalism on occasion. And I would much rather have a Haaretz as a sane, critical left-wing voice (however much I disagree with them) than radicalize itself into irrelevance and bankruptcy. However, it seems that the Schocken family decided they:

“Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme

Ain’t nothing I’d rather do

Going down, party time

My friends are gonna be there too…”

 

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On “proportionality” in war

Most people that throw around the accusation of “disproportionate response” refer to some vague conception of approximate parity in casualties and means. In fact, as I noted yesterday, international law has its own definition of “disproportionality”, which is both quite specific and rather different from the use in common parlance. (Just like “insanity” for legal purposes is not some vague term for crazy behavior but a term of art with a precise definition.)

Humanitarian law expert Prof. Laurie Blank, on the Volokh Conspiracy group-blog, gives a long expose on the meaning of “disproportionality”, following her earlier op-ed elsewhere. (H/t: commenter “VultureTX” at an Elder of Ziyon piece on proportionality in the Gaza War.)

[…] proportionality is more than just a principle; it is a methodology for assessing lawfulness in advance through careful consideration of both the value of the military advantage and the likelihood of civilian casualties. The principle tells us what we are trying to achieve — a balance between military needs and humanitarian concerns that minimizes civilian harm as much as possible. […] As I note in my earlier piece, “Asymmetries and Proportionalities,” assessing the legality of an attack that results in civilian casualties must be done prospectively, based on the information the commander knew or should have known at the time of the attack. The standard is “reasonableness” — whether a reasonable commander in the same position would determine, based on the information available at the time, that the expected civilian casualties would be excessive in light of the anticipated military advantage.

Key to this assessment is not whether the court, the media, or anyone else thinks the decision was right or would have actually made the very same decision. Nor is it whether any resulting casualties seemed or even were excessive afterwards. The controlling factor in assessing proportionality after an attack is whether the commander’s determination—that the likely civilian casualties in that operation would not be excessive—was reasonable. This reasonableness assessment can only be made with a full understanding of the situation and all relevant information at the time of the attack — and, just as important — an awareness of what is considered to be reasonable in light of general practice.

International tribunals have rarely undertaken this analysis. This may well be simply because they have no lack of much easier and obvious cases. Their dockets can easily be filled to overflowing with the staggering number of deliberate crimes against civilians […] The difficulty in translating the proportionality rule from the operational dynamic of the battlefield and the fog of war to the evidence-bound confines of the courtroom is certainly another factor. The few instances of adjudication, however, consistently reinforce both the prospective approach and reasonableness as the touchstones of the analysis. Responsible militaries, for their part, investigate and review every incident involving civilian casualties to determine whether further investigation or prosecution is warranted—and simply to improve training and implementation to mitigate civilian harm in future missions. Both internal and international inquiries have often explored, or attempted to explore, proportionality with respect to specific incidents.

Elder of Ziyon quotes a specific example in jurisprudence: a NATO attack on a Serbian TV station in which 16 people died. (The station was off the air for about a day.)

NATO Headquarters justified the bombing with two arguments; firstly, that it was necessary “to disrupt and degrade the command, control and communications network” of the Yugoslav Armed Forces, and secondly, that the RTS headquarters was a dual-use object which “was making an important contribution to the propaganda war which orchestrated the campaign against the population of Kosovo”. The BBC reported that the station was targeted because of its role in Belgrade’s propaganda campaign; RTS had been broadcasting Serb nationalist propaganda, which demonised ethnic minorities and legitimised Serb atrocities against them.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled on the question:

It first questioned whether the station was a legitimate military target, and it decided that if it was used for command and control then it was, if it was only used for propaganda it wasn’t. It then goes on:

77. Assuming the station was a legitimate objective, the civilian casualties were unfortunately high but do not appear to be clearly disproportionate.[…]

79. On the basis of the above analysis and on the information currently available to it, the committee recommends that the OTP not commence an investigation related to the bombing of the Serbian TV and Radio Station.

In short: an attack on a propaganda TV station that may have had a dual use and that takes it off the air for one lousy day in exchange for 16 people getting killed is not considered “disproportionate” under international law. You can figure out for yourself what this ruling implies (a fortiori/קל וחומר) for IDF attacks on rocket launchers, arms caches, and infiltration tunnels, or targeted assassination of senior terrorists.

Back to Prof. Blank:

[A] note about another rule of proportionality. The international law governing when states may use force in self-defense (the jus ad bellum) also has a requirement of proportionality, but it is quite distinct (and serves a different purpose) from the law of war rule of proportionality discussed above. This jus ad bellum rule of proportionality mandates that a state acting in self-defense in response to an armed attack can only use force that is proportionate to the needs and goals of repelling or deterring the attack. This is not a “tit-for-tat” requirement, however, limiting the state acting in self-defense to only what its attackers did. There is no obligation of symmetry between the original attack and the force used in self-defense; indeed, the force needed to repel an attack may well be disproportionate relative to the the original attack, in order to stop it and deter continuing attacks. What it must be, instead, is proportionate to the ends of stopping and deterring the original attack and further attacks.

Go and read the whole thing.

An unexpected voice of common sense from Belgium on Israel-Gaza

In the past I have been witheringly critical of the hypocrisy and moral preening of most of the the Euro press and politicians when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict— of which Belgium is a poster boy.

The present round is no exception, except that the Orwellian spectacle of “progressive” (and often soi-disant “anticlerical”) pols choosing the side of an ultra-reactionary theocratic dictatorship against a liberal Western democracy makes the irony ever sweeter 😉

However, I was pleasantly surprised by an op-ed on the Belgian state TV site by Mark Geleyn, the retired director-general of Belgium’s foreign ministry (and past ambassador to Germany and to Israel). The original is in Dutch, while a machine translation can be viewed here. Some highlights translated by me (as closely to the original as possible):

Israel had no other choice

Of course the Israeli conduct of war was “not proportional”. Perhaps Israel should instead have fired rockets indiscriminately [into Gaza], or build tunnels to carry out terror attacks in Gaza, or kidnap inhabitants? A defense that remains “proportional” with the aggression is not a deterrent. Only a defense that deters and drives up the price for aggression is credible.

Note that, speaking to an audience of critics, he invokes proportionality as the common person understands the concept — which is not the same as the definition in the international law of war (which defines disproportionality by the much more restrictive standard of “clearly excessive response”) But let’s continue

Last June Hamas had hit rock bottom. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood had been ousted and the border with Egypt was shut again. In Syria, Assad kicked the political leader of Hamas, Khaled  Meshal, out of the country. The Saudis and Jordanians distanced themselves. The only remaining allies were Turkey, where president Erdogan is trying to curry favor with islamist voters, and Qatar, which is basically not a state at all but a family with a whole lot of money.

In Gaza itself Hamas lost support among the population. Under the circumstances, the Hamas leadership consented to forming a coalition with the Palestinian Authority of  president Abbas. A humiliating step for Hamas, in the hopen that Abbas would at least pay the salaries of 40,000 Gazan civil servants. This did not happen.

No money, no allies, little support from the people. In the Arab world that always leaves you one more option: attack Israel. This is what Saddam Hussein did in 1991 […] and now Hamas did too, with Iranian rockets aimed at Israeli population centers.

Israel deliberately set limited objectives for its operation in response. It did not aim for the destruction of Hamas, which would entail reoccupation of Gaza, but instead for the elimination of the terriër infrastructire. That however involved destruction of residential areas from which rockets were fired and where the tunnels started through which attack squads were sent into Israel. This destruction took a toll in dead and injured. In the course of the operation became clear how extensive and complex the network of attack tunnels was, what the imported cement for ‘residential construction’ had [actually] been used for, and for which purposes the Gaza leadership applied their inventiveness and creativity.

Is there no way out of this ever-repeating cycle of murderous rockets and harsh counterattacks, which has been turning in all its ruthlessness since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005?

Arab governments and Israel all know that a political way out only can consist of lifting the blockade, economic growth, and weakening Hamas.

There are already numerous scenarios, blueprints, and road maps in that direction. All demand that Hamas stops the rocket attacks on Israel, destroys the attack tunnels, and is disarmed. In return Israel and Egypt would phase out their blockade and gradually open border crossings. The international community would then lend its support to reconstruction. These blueprints have been making the rounds for years between Jerusalem, Washington, Cairo, the Palestinian Authority, Gaza and the EU countries.

The trouble is: Hamas does not think in terms of growth, prosperity, and political compromise. It is not an NGO, even though it does welfare work among the poor of Gaza. Hamas is a terror organization and its aim the destruction of Israel.

[…]

After rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, after the threat to air traffic over Israel and after a rocket impact near [the] Dimona [nuclear research center] all initiative for a partial withdrawal from the West Bank [can be expected to be] put in the fridge. The course of the Syrian civil war, the evolution [ahem] in Iraq, and possible upheavals in Jordan clamor for attention.

Israel will only be willing to consider very pragmatic measures, and for that it looks first to Egypt. [..]

The US Secretary of State Kerry humiliated Cairo and Israel, after Hamas refused the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, by going off to negotiate with Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, for a new truce that Hamas would accept. With that, he made a move in the direction of recognition of Hamas and exacerbated the rupture between Cairo and Ankara, which had been avoided in 2009 and 2012.

[…]

As usual, there are demonstrations in many European cities in support of the Palestinian cause. [Demonstrating] is of course their right.

But most of these demonstrations, whether by Arab youth or by “native” intellectuals and “policy influencers”, turn out to degenerate over and over into selective manifestations against Israel, Zionism, and Jews. The same protestors didn’t make a peep during the fighting in Libya, where 30,000 people died in the past two years. Is there going to be a UN investigation about these atrocities? And where were the demonstrations against well over 100,000 dead in Syria?

Nor do I hear of demonstrations, not even of op-eds, against the maltreatment and expulsion of 10,000 Christians from Mosul in Iraq, after the takeover by the Islamist ISIS. […]

Is the “enemy image” [more freely: bête noire] Israel still necessary to arouse indignation against alleged injustice in the world?

 

Political tactical idiot of the day: Obama on Netanyahu

… and the winner is “duh smartest prezident evah”, Barack Hussein 0bama.

In this interview with that other sophomore [lit.: “wise fool”], Thomas Friedman, 0bama wishes aloud Netanyahu would have much weaker poll numbers (like his, presumably?) so he would be more “accommodating” concerning a “peace deal” with the “Palestinians”.

Here the “deep” (in the hole) “thinker” (of himself) reveals that not only does he have a very shallow understanding of the region, but that he is a pathetically poor political tactician.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, 0bama’s premise that a territorial deal between Israel and the Abbas regime were desirable and feasible.

For better or worse, Ariel Sharon z”l could bulldozer through the 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza not because he had weak poll number, but because they were rock-solid. The people to his Left backed him from opposition, the people to his Right had nowhere realistic to go, and the controversial and (in many ways) heart-rending move was accomplished without bloodshed only because of the respect and confidence the old warrior commanded.

After the old warrior was felled by first a CVA, then a massive brain hemorrhage that left him only technically alive, he was replaced by the hapless Ehud Olmert. We all know how that ended (the recent coda involved Olmert going to the hoosegow).

Also remember, the person who successfully “disengaged” France from Algeria — Charles de Gaulle — likewise did so from a position of tremendous political strength. Even so, it nearly got him assassinated several times (which inspired one of the greatest thriller novels ever written).

If 0bama seriously thinks that lower poll numbers will make Bibi more likely to make a territorial deal, then I have known vegetable sellers in the Carmel open-air market in Tel-Aviv with more practical intelligence than 0bama has. Then again, I was never convinced he was some sort of genius, or even particularly bright.

NYT discovers Hamas manipulation of casualty figures, buries lede [UPDATE: BBC head of statistics concurs] [UPDATE 2: more new statistics]

Brian of London reports that Judi Rudoren of the NYTimes finally is onto what he and other bloggers have been saying for weeks:

The Times analysis, looking at 1,431 names, shows that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent ofGaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.

Typically, this is buried in the last paragraph of the piece. Brian adds:

So basically, ignoring minor details like the fact that they’re starting their age bracket at 20 (we have a Hamas terrorist in hospital in Israel who is 16 who crawled through a tunnel to kill kids), they’ve come to the same conclusion Dave and our dedicated reader came to weeks ago.

The talk of 80% civilian casualties is complete rubbish and was easily verifiable as rubbish just from looking at Al Jazeera weeks ago. And the NYT actually had people in Gaza!

And as Israeli sources are talking about 900+ dead terrorists, something is going to collapse, just like it always does after months of the lying press repeating Hamas’s PR machine propaganda.

And as I blogged earlier, TIME magazine (!) reminds us that on a previous occasion, HamAss was forced to walk back their own mendacious statistics, at least for Arab media consumption:

We have seen this before. A similar dispute over casualty figures occurred during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. The Israelis contended that the majority of the fatalities were combatants; the Palestinians claimed they were civilians. The media and international organizations tended to side with the Palestinians. The UN’s own investigatory commission headed by Richard Goldstone, which produced the Goldstone Report, cited PCHR’s figures along with other Palestinian groups providing similar figures. Over a year later, after the news media had moved on, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad enumerated Hamas fatalities at 600 to 700, a figure close to the Israeli estimate of 709 and about three times higher than the figure of 236 combatants provided by PCHR in 2009 and cited in the Goldstone Report. Initially, playing to the international audience, it was important for Hamas to reinforce the image of Israel’s military action as indiscriminate and disproportionate by emphasizing the high number of civilians and low number of Hamas combatants among the fatalities. However, later on, Hamas had to deal with the flip side of the issue: that Hamas’s own constituency, the Gazan population, felt they had been abandoned by the Hamas government, which had made no effort to shelter them.

But none are so blind as those who would not see. At any case, as sharply critical as I have been about the NYT on, basically, everything: even a half-hearted beginning of searching for the true facts must be applauded.

UPDATE: via the Times of Israel liveblog, BBC Head of Statistics Anthony Reuben is skeptical of Hamas claims  too:

So there were 216 members of armed groups killed, and another 725 men who were civilians. Among civilians, more than three times as many men were killed as women, while three times as many civilian men were killed as fighters. […I]f the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.

UPDATE 2: Another report from the Times of Israel.

Israellycool (still ahead of the MSM) updated their analysis to the August 6, 2014 fatalities list, and point to an interesting additional coincidence:

Another point to consider is Gaza has a natural death rate of 3.09/1000, meaning that over a year, from every 1000 people, 3.09 die. So if you upscale that to the 1.8 million there that are 5562 dying from natural causes. Which is around 15 people/per day, or about 450 people for the entire operation. If you look the number of casualties whose age is unknown (male 252 & female 67), and the total unidentified 128, that sums up to 447 casualties. Although this proves nothing, I can’t help but feel suspicious when I see these numbers matching up so well. It would be a clever way to increase the casualty count, with even the most eagle eyed missing it. 

The Palestinians as mascots in the Thomas Sowell sense

We are all familiar with the scapegoat (Lev. 16:10): a person or group on which all problems including the weather are blamed, and which can then be “cast into the desert”. Jews and/or Israel often find themselves cast in this role; but anybody who has ever worked in a corporate of military setting has seen this happen to some manager or other.

In many cases, the bad things the scapegoat is accused for aren’t just factually wrong, but logically incoherent and/or physically impossible. (And yes, I’ve seen this in US politics on my own side — fodder for another post.) In many cases, if the scapegoat didn’t exist somebody would have to invent it.

But the scapegoat has a mirror image: that which Thomas Sowell in his many writings terms a  “mascot”. In short, a mascot is an “oppressed” group whose cause one champions, not because one cares for the members of the group as people but because “identification” with them can be worn as a badge of moral superiority and as a moral cudgel to beat one’s rivals or opponents over the head with. [Remember: unlike competition for money/capitalism which can be a positive-sum game and often is, competition for status or influence is intrinsically a zero-sum game. This is one of the things that makes status battles so vicious.]

“Palestinians” are a classic example of a Sowellian “mascot”. Consider these words he wrote about another mascot group:

These and other groups, here and abroad, are treated as mascots of the self-congratulatory elites.

These elites are able to indulge themselves in non-judgmental permissiveness toward those selected as mascots, while cracking down with heavy-handed, nanny-state control on others.

The effect of all this on the mascots themselves is not a big concern of the elites. Mascots symbolize something for others. The actual fate of the mascots themselves seldom matters much to their supposed benefactors.

So long as the elites have control of the public purse, they can subsidize self-destructive behavior on the part of the mascots.

And so long as the elites [are personally insulated from the consequences of indulging them] they needn’t worry[…].

Other people who [cannot escape the consequences] can simply be called “racists” for objecting to what the indulgence of the mascots is doing […] or what the violence of the mascots is doing to others […].

One can basically apply them verbatim to the mindless identification of certain “progressive” (regressive would be more accurate) parts of Western society with the “Palestinian cause”, even when it expresses itself in a group as cartoonishly evil and darkly reactionary as Hamas. Somehow the deeply unsympathetic character of the “oppressed” group one champions serves even better to convince people of the purity of one’s heart. (Read Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-mauing the flak catchers” for a late ’60s version of the same phenomenon.) 

If these idiot poseurs were actually interested in helping the actual people involved, they’d be cheering on those trying to remove the Hamass mafia regime that has been cynically using them as cannon fodder and human shields while funneling the international aid given them to their own pockets and to terror activities. They would be out there urging placing a completely demilitarized Gaza Strip under some competent authority other than Hamass. (“But they were democratically elected!” “So were several of the vilest dictatorships in history — one man, one vote, once.”)

Besides:  these same people claim to be moved to pity by the (well-orchestrated) terrible media imagery coming from Gaza, while a laundry list’s worth of current humanitarian catastrophes that make Gaza look like chump change are ignored or merely given lip service. 

With the Arab countries (considering the admiration for the symbolic rather than the concrete in Arab culture) “mascotry” is also at work, but mixed in here with cynical power politics. The Arab countries that in the past gave loud lip service to the cause of the “Palestinian refugees” did (with one notable exception) everything they could to prevent the absorption of said refugees in their own country. (Jordan was the exception — which lead to the attempted takeover of the country and the Black September of 1970.) For the Arab regimes the existence of the “Palestinian Problem” is politically expedient as a popular distraction from their own corruption and dysfunctionality: as the French expression goes, “if it did not exist they would have to invent it” (s’il n’existait pas il fallait l’inventer).

What all have in common is that all are using the “Palestinians” for their own ends: narcissistic supply, political distraction, bureaucratic empire building… 

Of course, mascots can outlive their political usefulness — and precisely that has happened with Hamas in a large part of the Arab world, as its ruling regimes awoke to the realization that radical Islamism is as much of a threat to their own regimes as to the West or Israel. Egypt’s strongman of course has a long-standing score to settle with the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is but a regional branch) — but the rest of the Arab world is finally realizing it has a loose cannon on its hands. (Tellingly, aside from Qatar which always tries to have it all ways, the two remaining Hamas allies are both non-Arab Muslim countries.)

Finally, the toxic agency known as the UNRWA (for a primer, see The Trouble with UNRWA and The UNRWA-Terror Connection at the Times of Israel) ostensibly exists to “help” the (4th- and 5th-generation) “refugees”, but in fact does all it can to perpetuate the problem. For them the “Palestinians” are not just mascots but a meal ticket: solve the problem and this separate agency would be out of a job.