Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Israel as “Safe Haven” for Arabs

An interesting bit in today’s Jerusalem Post; Egyptian journalist Nabil Sharaf Eldin argues, in a rather poorly written piece, that as a journalist, he is safer in Israel than in much of the region.  His ultimate point?  That as a journalist who refuses to mince words in respect to Arab regimes, he is unsafe in most, safe only in Israel.  Eldin states: “I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.”

Let me start off by acknowledging two points:

  • He is a journalist that criticizes Syria’s Baath regime, Hezbollah, Libya’s Qaddafi.  Wrong as it may be, it’s somewhat shocking that he thought Syria would just let him in the country in with no fuss.  He strikes me as incredibly naive.
  • His points about Syria and Libya are well-taken.  Both have a long way to go before they can be considered democratic in the most basic sense, and we should by no means ignore their human rights violations, including imprisonment (and in the case of Libya, murder) of journalists.

If Eldin had stopped there; if he had simply been criticizing the restrictions placed on free speech by Arab regimes, I might have condoned the piece, even retweeted it — or perhaps it would have gone unnoticed.  But then he said this:

Failing to find a glimpse of hope across the greater Arab world, we must concede that Israel has become the only “safe haven” where one can be sure of his life and dignity.

Ah yes – Israel as a safe haven.  Unless you’re Jared Malsin, perhaps — Malsin is the American journalist whom Israel deported because he was working for the Palestinian Maan News Agency.  Or if you’re a journalist aboard the Mavi Marmara — their photographs, videos, and documents were seized, with some used by Israeli authorities without permission.  Or if you’re international news agency Al Jazeera, barred by the IDF from covering nonviolent protests in the West Bank.  Or if you’re a Palestinian journalist documenting Israeli violations of the right to assemble — four were attacked by the IDF this past January for covering protests in Burin.  And the list goes on…

Eldin also writes:

Just like the Palestinian Helles family who fled Hamas “jihadists” in Gaza to Israel, I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.

So, I urge you, dear fellow Arab, to visit Israel.

Everything about these two sentences is problematic.  First, there’s the issue of the Helles family; they did indeed flee Gaza to Israel.  A pro-Fatah “clan” (as the media would designate them), 181 members of the Helles family sought refuge in Israel; 80 or so were sent to the West Bank, while 60 were sent back to Gaza.  I’m fuzzy on the details, but then again, I presume that Eldin might be as well — the media alternately reported the Helles clan as having attacked Hamas or been attacked — in either case, it was hardly a humanitarian effort on Israel’s part.

As for the final sentence, the urging of Eldin’s “dear fellow Arabs” to visit Israel, perhaps it’s a nice sentiment, but it appears Eldin is (once again) missing out on some facts: Arabs (and some non-Arabs) who fly to Israel hoping to visit the West Bank (either alone or in addition to a visit to Israel proper) are frequently denied access, either entirely, or by receipt of a Palestinian Authority-only visa.

Israel is, by a number of measures, freer than a number of its neighbors.  But it is neither the region’s “safe haven” nor a true democracy.  Journalists in Israel and the land it occupies are hardly freer than Lebanon.  There is of course so much more to say on the subject, and I’m looking forward to reading whomever writes it.

Note: Of course Israel is promoting Eldin’s piece on its Arabic-language Foreign Ministry site.  Even though they know Arabs will never be able to enter the country in droves as Eldin suggests they ought to.  Because image is everything, right?

21 Comments

  1. This Nabil Sharaf Eldin is known as a some one who sells his “pen ” to who pays more
    he works as correspondent of electronic ” Ielaf ” which belongs to Saudi Osman El Ommeer who is ” near ” the Palace

  2. That guy’s article is a weird piece of (yes!) very bad writing. That he chose The Jerusalem Post to publish it tells the whole story: it reads as if he is presenting his “credentials” to Israel. Looks like he’s seeking to be accredited as an Israeli agent! Apparently, he sees no chance for himself to be recognized by the Egyptian regime, so he went over to the “source” of influence in Egypt!

  3. The double-standard, once again, is unbelievable on this blog.

    Frankly, think the central thesis of the article is very reasonable. And your rant and double standards, once again, reek of anti-sionist sentiment.

    • I’m not sure about the thesis being reasonable. As it’s a very well known and documented facts that Israel is very hostile to journalists in occupied territories. Foreign correspondents were expelled from Gaza in 2008/2009 war. Journalists were abused and their equipment was seized during the illegal raid on the Mavi Marmara in international waters. And I’m sure that within 5 minutes of googling I could find countless more abuses from the IDF and Israeli authorities against journalists covering military actions in the Palestinian territories, occupied of otherwise.

      Good for you for linking to the youtube video. I know that’s where I get my facts from. /Sarcasm

      Also, where’s the double standard? I really don’t see any praise to Arab regimes. All I see is a futile Hasbara effort. Keep practicing and you might get a little convincing.

  4. I am anti-Zionist Samira, in the same way that I am anti-Islamist. I do not believe in theocracies in any form.

    Also, I stated that the central thesis–that Israel is freer–is accurate. You seem to have missed that. But you also choose to ignore the facts.

    • “I am anti-Zionist Samira, in the same way that I am anti-Islamist. I do not believe in theocracies in any form.”

      Be as anti-Zionist as you’d like, Jillian, but at least be anti-Zionist in the correct interpretation of the word. I may be mistaken, but if you are implying that Israel is a theocracy or that Zionism in its mainstream form seeks to establish a state built strictly on Jewish law, you’re in the best case employing a strong hyperbole or, in the worst, in need of another (a first?) visit to Israel. One need only walk on the beach in Tel Aviv for thirty seconds to realize that the menacing Israeli theocracy is either the most poorly administered theocracy in the world or is, more realistically, not actually a theocracy. And even a perfunctory course on Zionism would reveal that, for better or for worse, Zionism is a nationalistic and largely secular movement rather than a theocratic one. But then again, I’m sure your exacting choice of words was merely rhetorical.

      Otherwise, I’m glad that you point out that despite its flaws – which are both numerous and in many cases serious – Israel is still, bar none, the freest and safest place in the Middle East to live – be you a man, woman, straight, gay, beer-drinking, bikini-wearing, club-dancing, Zionist, anti-Zionist, Jew, Christian, or Arab.

      And if you’re all of the above, then you’re really in luck.

  5. Carl,

    I am aware that Israel is not a theocracy in the strict sense of the word, though you must admit it has theocratic (or, depending on how you care to define it, straight-up racist) qualities – instant citizenship only for adherents of Judaism, no civil marriage…you get my point. Nevertheless, my choice of words was rhetorical.

    And yes, I do recognize that, for everyone but the Palestinians living under occupation (and well, Palestinians living in Israel), Israel is the freest place in the Middle East, at least in terms of free expression. Safest? Not really, but that’s a different discussion.

    None of those facts excuse Israel’s human rights violations. It’s a common thing to accuse anti-Zionists of “singling out” Israel, and I admit, I do. But then, Israel is the only country in the Middle East (save for perhaps Iran) to repeatedly reference itself as superior to its neighbors and tout itself as free. Thus, I think my criticism is well-founded, particularly as my tax dollars pay for Israel’s occupation.

  6. I admire people like you.
    I really do.
    I share your opinions about theocracies. I go even farther in condemning all religions that close the mind and try to control every aspect of life.
    I am for gentle ways of becoming a responsible stewards of our planet. I am for systems that assist the weak. That celebrate diversity.
    I will be a loyal reader of your blog.

  7. @Jillian

    That’s either very misguided or plain ignorant of you to think Zionism is (or ever was) a deeply religious movement. Jews, throughout history, have been at the forefront of secularism and Zionism is about giving the Jews of Palestine a homeland as well as provide a refuge for the Jewish diaspora scattered across the world.

    Face it, it’s not like you even pretend to be objective! You just like to trash Israel while giving a free-pass to horrifyingly worse countries (you know…the peaceful Muslims…)

    I am an Arab, I have lived in Israel for a while, and I have never felt freer in any other Muslim country. The society as well as the government are heavily secularized despite what you may think. In fact, I met more secular humanists in the tiny country that is Israel than I cumulatively did in the dozen of Muslim countries I visited.

    Sorry Jillian, but you don’t seem to distinguish between the fundamental difference that is: Jews are an ethnic group these days more than it designates a religion. Religious Jews are pretty much derided by the Jewish community at large. Muslims are a completely different thing. Nobody considers me a Muslim ever since I decided that Allah is a big hoax. How many times do I need to tell you that???

    • Oh Samira. I don’t think Zionism is a deeply religious movement, nor did I ever state that. Nevertheless, it is a discriminatory movement. I’m not placing any blame here on Judaism, either; Judaism, in my experience, can be a rather egalitarian faith, and my feelings toward Israel have nothing to do with my feelings toward Jews or Judaism.

      I don’t know how you can possibly say that I give a “free pass” to other countries in the region. If you think that, you clearly haven’t been following me for long enough.

      I’m glad you feel safe in Israel, and I’m aware that the government and society are heavily secular. You seem to have entirely missed my point, and if I misspoke, my apologies.

      How many times do I need to tell you that???

      Samira, I don’t need you to tell me anything. I’m quite aware of your feelings, as you come to express them on every single post I write. I’m also fully aware that your personal experience is not data — you cannot apply your experience to all Muslims and assume that it will fit.

      All I’ve gotten from your many comments is that you hate Islam and blame societal issues in Muslim countries on the religion. I don’t see how you’re any better than what you’re accusing me of.

  8. @samira:

    > “Nevertheless, it is a discriminatory movement.”

    Of course! All nationalist movements are by definition discriminatory. But do you comment on Mexico discriminating against people from Honduras? Do you comment on Turkey discriminating against Sudanese folks? No…you’re pretty much always after Israel…or, at least, that’s the impression I get.

    > “you cannot apply your experience to all Muslims and assume that it will fit”

    Getting called “nesraniya” in Morocco messed up your moral compass? I am not a Muslim and I think I made that clear. Why do you associate me with Muslims?

    > “All I’ve gotten from your many comments is that you hate Islam”

    Who doesn’t? Did you miss the havoc that cult has caused to (wo)mankind.

    And for the record, I equally hate Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and every other form of mass delusion. It just happens that they have been tamed through a long and arduous process.

    > “and blame societal issues in Muslim countries on the religion”

    Am I supposed to blame it on the weather, on the geography and some grand conspiracy?

    The societal issues I condemn, and that anyone with a functioning brain would find appalling, are straight out of the Quran and the Hadith. In fact, the laws governing these issues in Muslim countries quote the religion. I’m referring to the status of women in inheritance, the treatment of gays, “blasphemy” laws, etc. There is a consensus on that in Muslim countries. Period!

    > “I don’t see how you’re any better than what you’re accusing me of.”

    Because, Mademoiselle, I separate between ethnicity and ideology but you don’t. The way you go after Jews in a systematic manner is disgusting. A “Jew” is a Jew by birth. Sort of the same way a black person is black or a woman is a woman. There is no such thing for Muslims. Try as you may, you’ll never find an rabidly atheist gay punk-rocker that refers to himself as a Muslim. Nor is any Muslim community going to label him a Muslim. For a Jew, it’s different as no matter what beliefs or ideology he holds he shall remain a Jew.

    It’s really not that hard to understand.

    • “There is a consensus on that in Muslim countries. Period!”

      You obviously don’t know the first thing about the endless controversy over every tiny aspect of the laws. A generic statement like that hardly deserves my time debunking it. I’m glad to see that your arguments aren’t religious but why are you criticizing only Islam? Why are you singling it it out? Why are you not out criticizing the Christian evangelicals that were the main cause behind a capital penalty law against homosexuals in Uganda? Or the extremist Jewish rabbis that said it was ok to kill Palestinian toddlers because the might become a threat in the future? Of course I don’t expect you to cover everything that’s wrong in the world in a single (or multiple) comment, but to expect one to do so as well in a blog post is equally ludicrous.

  9. And just to illustrate my point, you go out of your way to avoid giving your opinion on stories that are way more related to what you do. Case in point:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40143564

    Nevermind the medieval plot which reeks of a witch-hunt. Had Israel done the 1/100th of this, you’d be all over it!

    I apologize for having to hammer this point over and over again, but you just don’t seem to get it.

    • Samira,

      This is ridiculous. Almost all of my professional writing has zero relation to Israel (see here: http://jilliancyork.com/work/). I did not comment on the Saudi story because I have been offline for two full days and just checked my email. Tons of media requests on the subject, incidentally.

      As for the story of the PA arresting an atheist blogger, I’ve written about it elsewhere. I tend not to duplicate subjects on my blog (or write about things that I have written for already for work), but you might have a point there.

      Generally speaking, however, I think you’re attributing me some kind of authority that I don’t have. You seem to be suggesting that I have some kind of duty, as a blogger, to write about all instances of discrimination in the world. Rather, I see my “job” as a blogger as writing about what interests me…and so that’s what I do. You only see one small element of my whole life (blogging) and yet you’ve assumed some pretty extreme things about me. What does that say about you? And why so much anger?

      Though I see no need to justify what I choose to write about, to your specific point that I seem to focus more on Israel’s wrongs than on those of other countries in the Middle East, here is my response: Israel is, in my country, untouchable. The U.S. media disproportionately focuses on the evils of Syria, Saudi, Algeria and elsewhere, while putting Israel on a pedestal, while the U.S. government funds Israel despite its continued broken promises re: settlements, etc. Do I believe that Israel is worse than all other countries? Absolutely not. But those countries are often dictatorships and are rarely given a pass (at least by the media), while Israel is touted as “our most loyal ally.” You want to know why I comment? That’s why.

      As for your other comments, it was not at all my intent to imply that you’re a Muslim, Samira. I couldn’t care less, actually. My point, rather, was that you are constantly commenting negatively about Islam, as if your perspective is the only valid one. I understand a lot of your points–honestly, I do. But yours is not the only perspective and your seeming desire to convert me to it is a bit outrageous.

    • Oh also? Saudi didn’t block Facebook. It was a case of bad Western media reporting, but thanks for the tip.

  10. Jillian, don’t get worked up by this hasbara-bot Samira.

    Apparently, while it’s OK for zionists to continually slander muslims and arabs, for you to criticise Israeli policy (not jews) turns you into a proto-nazi jew-hating bitch. Frankly, I just don’t see it.

    No person needs to apologise or make excuses for standing up for Palestinian’s rights. This theory – that you are evil for ‘singling out’ Israel for criticism – falls over under even the most basic examination. It holds that unless you are simultaneously criticising all human rights violations across the globe you have no right to criticise Israel. This is obviously absurd, no human could ever simultaneously battle for human rights in every arena, thus the intention of those who decry the ‘singling out’ of Israel is revealed: it is not to address those criticisms (they can’t, and they know it), but to prohibit them altogether.

    Human progress is not made in one fell swoop, it is made (and unmade) in a series of continuous small battles. Free citizens in a democratic society may choose their own interests and causes. To suggest they may not reeks of fascism. And Samira, while you try to portray J. York (and activists for Palestine) as extremists, you would do well to examine what they propose and advocate. In general it is that Israel should observe the various treaties and laws to which Israel is party as a UN member state. A call for respect of rule-of-law is not extremist, promoting Israel as above-the-law is.

  11. Jillian,

    I am fully aware that in the US, Israel benefits from a strong lobby that a lot of the media don’t dare to cross. But it is far from untouchable. Check out CAMERA one of these days to see the extent of criticism (warranted or not) Israel gets in the US.

    Anyway, you’re right in that I have no right to judge your “work” from its subset that is your blog. But I maintain that Israel is a free society and a safe haven.

    I don’t think it is outrageous to shed light on some issues you may be overlooking or ignoring. But, for better or for worse, Israel is the closest country to a democracy in the region with a highly secularized society. As far as I know, the U.S. government also funds other countries (Egypt comes to mind).

    Also, you have an astonishingly low threshold for using the racism card against anything critical of Islam, and I hope you will remember our little back-and-forth the next time you feel like confusing ideology with ethnicity.

    • “Also, you have an astonishingly low threshold for using the racism card against anything critical of Islam”

      I do? Wow, you really don’t know me at all. In fact, thinking back to the comment thread you’re referring to (an essay on Talk Morocco), I recall explaining to you, again and again, that I was not defending Islam, but defending Muslims from being treated as a monolith.

      Second, Samira, yes, the U.S. government funds Egypt. Egypt is authoritarian. Egyptians do not have a say in the way their government violates human rights, but Israelis sure do.

      I suggest you do a bit more thinking before jumping back in.

  12. @samira:

    > JY: “Nevertheless, it is a discriminatory movement.”

    Samira: Of course! All nationalist movements are by definition discriminatory. But do you comment on Mexico discriminating against people from Honduras? Do you comment on Turkey discriminating against Sudanese folks? No…you’re pretty much always after Israel…or, at least, that’s the impression I get.

    Me: Yes, I do not believe that the Mexicans forcibley or through terror extracted Hondurans from what is Mexico today, set up martial law in Honduras and split families across borders.

    JY: > “All I’ve gotten from your many comments is that you hate Islam”

    Samira: Who doesn’t? Did you miss the havoc that cult has caused to (wo)mankind.
    And for the record, I equally hate Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and every other form of mass delusion. It just happens that they have been tamed through a long and arduous process.

    Me: Yes, so how can you not be worried about loyalty oaths? or Israel terming itself a Jewish, democractic state! Your problem is that anything Islam is automatically bad and anything Jewish is automatically “okay” for some reason – whether it be nationalism, religion, government, etc.

    JY: > “and blame societal issues in Muslim countries on the religion”

    Samira: Am I supposed to blame it on the weather, on the geography and some grand conspiracy? The societal issues I condemn, and that anyone with a functioning brain would find appalling, are straight out of the Quran and the Hadith. In fact, the laws governing these issues in Muslim countries quote the religion. I’m referring to the status of women in inheritance, the treatment of gays, “blasphemy” laws, etc. There is a consensus on that in Muslim countries. Period!

    Me: Religion can be used as an excuse for a variety of things… I do not believe it is the religion per se but rather the lack of education, hope, opportunity, etc. In the middle ages Christianity was used across Europe for much the same purpose and other dictators have used other ideologies to espouse horrible acts. Therefore, in the absence of Islam I do believe that some of these issues (i.e. women’s rights, homosexuality) would still go on, as they do in many parts of sub-saharan africa or southeast asia where religion do not play major roles.

    JY: > “I don’t see how you’re any better than what you’re accusing me of.”

    Samira: Because, Mademoiselle, I separate between ethnicity and ideology but you don’t. The way you go after Jews in a systematic manner is disgusting. A “Jew” is a Jew by birth. Sort of the same way a black person is black or a woman is a woman. There is no such thing for Muslims. Try as you may, you’ll never find an rabidly atheist gay punk-rocker that refers to himself as a Muslim. Nor is any Muslim community going to label him a Muslim. For a Jew, it’s different as no matter what beliefs or ideology he holds he shall remain a Jew. It’s really not that hard to understand.

    Me: This is my main problem with you and many other Israel supporters stance. Just because I hold someone to account, who may be Jewish, for their support of Israel does not mean I have any problem with Judaism. So what I attack is IDEOLOGY in supporting the state of Israel regardless of its actions. However, as a fact, most Jewish people are ardent supporters of Israel so yes I do have issues with those, but by the same token Jewish people from J-Street and such organizations, who may still support Israel as a whole but not the destructive and racist policies, I have no issue with and support them.

    If most Muslims in the world support Al-Qaeda and unwaveringly supported every action it took, then you should (and WOULD I am sure) hold those Muslims to task. If most Egyptians/Iraqis supported the brutal dictatorships under which they live/lived, then yes, hold them to task and ask them to defend their governments actions.

    This comes to the central questions Zionists tend to bring up that also irks me: “Why is Israel always singled out?”

    The reason is simple – North Korea, Iran, Sudan, etc. do not claim to be the most moral country/army in the world. Those countries also have not transplanted themselves onto another peoples land and brutally occupied them in a long occupation. Finally, no country that acts the way Israel does would get such wholesale support from the US government and others internationally. No other country claims it shouldn’t be criticized and no other country so brazenly discredits anything/anybody that says anything critical of it (the response to Goldstone report was disgusting, at best).

    When the US offers Iran 23 free fighter jets, security assurances, $3B of AID, full support at all international organizations TO STOP AN ILLEGAL ACTIVITY then we can start saying that Israel is singled out AND I can assure you more people would be vocally critical of Iran.

    Additionally, I browse this blog every now and then and the claim that Jillian is not critical of Arab regimes is crazy! If anything I have seen less coverage of Israel and more of the censorship that goes on (i.e. Turkey YouTube funny business) in Arab regimes and such.

    Honestly, given the amount you post and how you stick so strongly to message I would not be surprised at all if you were somehow affiliated with a public relations campaign as part of an NGO or government entity.

  13. I have been following this exchange with some interest for a while and feel that I need to contribute to the discussion – if only to point out a few flaws in the arguments leveled at Ms. York.

    1. Samira’s arguments in regard to there being other bad or much worse regimes in the region or in the world for that matter – this is a ridiculous comment. This type of argument basically supposes that because there are equally bad or worse regimes out there in the world, this should exempt Israel from any criticism? Had we done so when South Africa was suffering from apartheid conditions, nothing would ever have changed.

    2. Ms. York in no way gave a pass to other violators. Just because the focus is narrower than some commenters would have hoped for (due to the nature of this type of blog post or an article for that matter), does not imply that a ‘pass’ is given. It simply means that a particular issue is being discussed. And I believe that Ms. York has certainly clarified her position in the exchange that has followed since the posting of this blog post.

    3. Ms. York has very clearly stated (in the post and her subsequent comments), that she is aware that Israel is not a purely theocratic state. She did in deed touch on Israel’s secular aspects. However, like it or not, the subject matter is the negative impact of Zionism, as well as the treatment of journalists that dare to publicly dissent from the official line. Be that in regard to reporting on the manner in which the activists that were part of the Freedom Flotilla were treated/the murders committed by IDF solders, or in regard to the Human Rights violations committed by this government against the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank (that’s my own tidbit here – not part of the post above). Ms. York was also very clear to include in her commentary the treatment of the journalists that were part of the Freedom Flotilla. There is no argument here. The facts simply speak for themselves.

    4. No one person (Samira for example) can use their own experience (and I’m glad that yours was positive) as a benchmark for the treatment of the entire Arab population residing in Israel/Palestine. It is not factual, nor qualitative or quantitative. What this testimony represents is just that – personal testimony. If only all Arabs living in Israel could make those same statements. But that is simply not the case. And we all know it!

    5. I think we need to remind ourselves of the definition of what a ‘democracy’ is. Here are three definitions. A. “Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” B. “A state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/democracy). And C. “A democracy is by far the most challenging form of government – both for politicians and for the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means “rule by the (simple) people”. (http://www.democracy-building.info/definition-democracy.html). I clearly did not spend a lot of time researching the term, but I believe it is evident here that a democracy includes all of the residents of that particular state or country. In Israel this is irrefutably not the case.

    In conclusion I would have to state that one blog or one blog post simply can not be all things to all people. All such blogs have a focus or specific perspective which drives the analysis of the subject matter. That is to be expected. And if you (whoever you are) would like to dispute this, I would invite you to have a look at some of the Israeli state machinery and its global communications. Or why not go on Twitter and have a look at some of the posts by those defending Israel/attacking those that dare to criticize. I have never seen a single sign of these individuals considering the Palestinian perspective, let alone a sign of these people valuing Arab lives – at least not very often. But go out there and have a look. Google should also be able to provide you with ample fodder in your search.

    Whether you like the subject matter of this post or not. Whether you like Ms. York’s perspective in regard to the issues discussed or not. It is clear that she has indeed provided a well thought out piece by providing the readers a rational and measured approach that draws attention to issues not necessarily discussed in western/US/internationl media.

    Congratulations on an excellent blog post Jillian!

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