One of my commentators, 'g', after complaining to the Sydney Morning Herald about the failure of its columnist Paul Sheehan to disclose that his November 2008 trip to Israel was sponsored by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, received an email from letters editor Mike Ticher informing him/her that Sheehan would be "addressing the issue in next week's column." (See my 13/1/09 post Oriana Fallaci Meets Israeli PR at the SMH & g's comment following my 16/1/09 post Sleepless in Sderot, Legless in Gaza)
A disclosure of sorts duly emerged in Sheehan's column of 19/1/09, Obama is walking a high wire. To find it one had first to wade through the following sludge: Barak Obama is eminently qualified for the presidency because he displays "intellectual adroitness, from his choice of cabinet to his choice of words. Even his choice of TV show..." Which can only mean that, if you can put together a cabinet that Dick Cheney approves of*, string a few words together (unlike Bush), and enjoy a TV show about "dysfunctional" black Americans, you've got the makings of an American president that Sheehan would approve of. All this, however, is just by way of getting to the real subject of the column - the Middle East conflict.
[*Cheney has described Obama's national security team as "a pretty good team."]
Sheehan opines that "it is of some concern that [Obama] will make the Middle East his priority, in particular the Arab-Jewish schism." Why this should be concerning he doesn't say. Then there's that nonsense about "the Arab-Jewish schism." I certainly wasn't aware that there was once a religion, X, which split into Arabs (an ethnic descriptor) and Jews (a religious descriptor), but that's Sheehan for you. He goes on: "The Israeli-Palestinian divide has done little to enhance the reputation of Congress or American presidents for the last 60 years." Hm. Reading Sheehan is often like reading tea leaves in the dark, and about as useful. He seems to be saying that Congress/American presidents have always come out the worst for wear as far as the Middle East conflict is concerned. If so, the logical thing would suely be to acknowledge the reason for this state of affairs - the Israel Lobby's stranglehold on US policy in the Middle East. But Sheehan's not going there, of course.
"Here," he rambles on, "I have found another significant detail about the new president. Last year, in Chicago, Obama spent 2 hours being briefed by Khaled Abu Toameh. He listened, he wrote a lot of notes', Toameh told me." Toameh who? "For years Toameh has repeatedly antagonised and embarrassed the Israeli Government, and the Fatah and Hamas parties in the Palestinian territories, by exposing lies and brutal acts on all sides." The Israeli Government, really? Let's check out Toameh's latest (2/1/09) antagonisings and embarrassings of the Israeli Government, shall we? "In recent weeks, Hamas and its supporters did almost everything to drag Israel into a new round of violence. By refusing to extend the unofficial [!?] cease-fire with Israel that expired 2 weeks ago, Hamas paved the way for the massive IDF operation designed to halt the rocket attacks on Israel. The Palestinians who are now shouting and crying because of the Israeli offensive should direct their anger first and foremost toward the 'elected' [!!?] government of Hamas. Tragically, the Palestinians who voted for Hamas and those who continue to rally behind the movement are responsible for the ongoing violence. They had a chance to revolt against Hamas, but chose to either remain silent or continue siding with the movement." (Hamas & the Palestinians, hudsonny.org) The man's a veritable scourge! You couldn't possibly get anything more antagonising and embarrassing for Israel than that, now could you?
Toameh who? "Toameh is a Palestinian Muslim who lives in East Jerusalem. He works as the Palestinian affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, is an authority on Fatah and Hamas, and is widely sought as a consultant by foreign media." Yes, this fearless antagoniser and embarrasser of Israel works for the rightwing Jerusalem Post, and is much sought after by the right people, like those over at the Hudson New York thinktank (hudsonny.com), for example, which recruits "moderate Muslims" to, among other things, "counter lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence critics of religious extremism, and combat States which train children to be suicide killers." At Hudson-NY, you'll be pleased to know that Toameh rubs shoulders with other much sought after antagonisers and embarrassers of Israel such as Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis, Douglas Feith and Irshad Manji.
Now according to Sheehan, Toameh reckons Israel, the US and the EU "have been deluded about the growing strength and pragmatism of Hamas." Back to those tealeaves in the dark. Does this mean that Toameh thinks Hamas is a pragmatic organization, but the 3 amigos don't believe it is, or that he thinks Hamas is not pragmatic but the 3 amigos believe it is? And you'd better give a rat's arse what Toameh thinks, folks, because, according to Sheehan, "everything [Toameh] predicted has come to pass." And what, dear reader, has this prophet and scourge of Israel predicted? Sheehan doesn't say. But, hey, the fact that, according to Sheehan, Obama "has gone outside the policy makers, think-tankers, lobbyists and armchair experts" and listened to "someone who inhabits the dangerous territory between... sworn enemies" gives us a real "insight" into the man. Oh? And who, I wonder, brought them together? Hudson-NY?
Ah, at last: "I had a briefing with Toameh in November, though can claim no credit for finding him. It was part of a study tour for Australian journalists to Israel, sponsored by the Jewish Board of Deputies which was omitted from my column last week." Why was it omitted? And who, pray tell, omitted it? Questions! Questions!
But it's not so much the forced, buried, glancing nature of Sheehan's disclosure that concerns me - that was utterly predictable. No, something else has been omitted here. You see, Sheehan's met the prohet and scourge before on a previous trip to Israel in 2006, a trip, which, if sponsored by the JBOD, is a fact he also failed to disclose at the time. That trip yielded 2 pro-Israel columns, the second of which, A sovereign Palestine? No chance (1/1/07), introduced us to a "prominent Palestinian moderate, Khaled Abu Toameh... who writes for The Jerusalem Post." Toameh back then was also music to Sheehan's ears: he blamed Israel's annexationist West Bank wall on, wait for it, "Yasser Arafat's intifada," and called Fatah a "mafia" and a "monster." Hamas, by contrast, Toameh thought "much less corrupt, much more competent, and more pragmatic." Aha! So the prophet and scourge had ruled, in 2006, that Hamas was PRAGMATIC? But hold on! In Sheehan's 12/1/09 column, It's too easy just to blame Jews, he's written that "Hamas is, above all, about jihad." So, who's right, the prophet and scourge, or the SMH's "armchair expert"? Is Hamas a pragmatic organization to be preferred over its corrupt and incompetent Fatah rival (Toameh), or is it just another jihadi arm of Al-Qaidah (Sheehan)? Questions! Questions!
Finally, one last bolt of blinding insight from Toameh out of Sheehan ("At the time [11/08], Toameh described Gaza as 'a frightening situation'. And that was well before Israel's military offensive.") and that, as Peter Cundall (a man who knew good manure when he saw it) used to say, is your lot for the week.
The SMH, slip, slip, slip-sliding away...