By June Neal ~
Alan Stein once said he felt like Diogenes, who wandered ancient Greece looking for an honest man. Except Stein’s quest has been for honest newspaper coverage of Israel. After more than seven years as president of PRIMER CT, (Promoting Responsibility In Middle East Reporting), he’s still looking.
PRIMER is a volunteer organization dedicated to challenging and correcting the media’s bias against Israel. It was created by Sid Laibson, who Stein says remains “its heart and soul.”
Stein, who with his wife Marsha will soon leave their home in West Hartford to make aliyah, stepped down as president of the organization at its annual meeting on June 19. Mark Fishman of Fairfield, a New Haven-based business bankruptcy attorney who previously served as PRIMER’s treasurer, was unanimously elected to the post.
“Israel is fighting for her life in two wars: the ongoing terrorist attacks and the global campaign to delegitimize her, to declare her birth certificate null and void,” says Stein, who recently retired as professor of mathematics at UConn.
He charges much of Connecticut’s media with abdicating their responsibility to do their own reporting. “They rely on syndicated columnists and extremely biased wire services such as the Associated Press or the Hearst Corporation. Add to the mix some biased local columnists and letters.”
Stein sees a David and Goliath analogy, given the power and scope of the wire services. “The AP feeds 1400 papers in the U.S, and lurches from distortion to lies to selective coverage of Israel. For example, on June 21, The Day ran a large AP photo of the funeral of a Palestinian killed in an Israeli air strike. But Hamas has been bombarding Israel with scores of rockets for days and they wrote nothing — until an Arab was killed. With the exception of the Jewish Ledger, neither the wires nor the local press adhere to their own code of ethics when covering Israel.”
Stein says the media’s arsenal includes revisionism, outright lies, omission of facts and adopting the language of Israel’s enemies: calling disputed territories “occupied land” or referring to ancient Jewish holy sites by Arabic names.
Yet Stein believes PRIMER has made progress. “There was a long period during which The Day declined to print our letters. They kept moving the goal post, claiming a policy of limiting publication to those living in their circulation area, while publishing anti-Israel letters from out-of-area residents. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.”
He points to the Courant as historically one of the most egregiously biased papers, with heavy reliance on slanted AP stories and columns by Bessy Reyna “full of extreme bias, and blatant factual errors, all supported by irresponsible, even unethical editorial participation.”
“As just one example, Reyna blamed Israel for planning 1,600 new housing units in ‘occupied East Jerusalem’ and usurping Islamic holy sites.”
Stein and PRIMER’s executive board laid down the facts to the Courant’s editors. “First there is no place named ‘East Jerusalem.’ And the construction wouldn’t even be in eastern Jerusalem, it would be in northern Jerusalem. Next, there was no ‘new settlement’; it was simply additional apartments in the long established neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, which already contained about 20,000 residents. Indeed, Israel hadn’t built any new ‘settlements’ since the start of the failed Oslo Process in 1993.”
As for the holy sites, Stein says “What Reyna referred to as the ‘Ibrahimi Mosque’ is actually the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It has had some significance to Muslims, but its holiness to Jews predates that by millennia. And what she called the ‘Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah’ is really Rachel’s Tomb, similarly revered by Jews for millennia.”
Stein says even when a letter is accepted “you get 200 words, while the columnist publishes thousands. You can’t play a fair game when the other side owns the ball.”
Stein points also to the “sins of omission.”
“On June 14, 2012, The Israel Project reported: ‘Terrorists in Hamas-run Gaza this morning fired yet another mortar shell into southern Israel, the 362nd projectile this year.’ But we saw no mention of that in any Connecticut newspaper. Indeed, articles usually refer to the border with Gaza as relatively quiet. Imagine Connecticut journalists referring to the border with Massachusetts as ‘relatively quiet’ if an average of two projectiles a day, rockets and mortars, were being launched into Connecticut.”
Stein says the media bias against Israel is antithetical to an informed society. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and a nation that shares our American values. For Israel to be maligned, for America not to know the truth, is a dangerous deficit.”
“All PRIMER asks for is fairness,” Stein affirms. “We don’t have to distort or lie to promote Israel; conversely, it’s almost impossible to make a case against Israel without playing fast and loose with the truth.”
Stein has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Waterbury; editor of Chavurah, its monthly newspaper; secretary of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut and vice president of Beth El Synagogue in West Hartford, which last month gave him its Shem Tov Award.
Stein will continue contributing to PRIMER, but Fishman feels a real loss. “Alan devotes enormous time and energy to Israel and the American-Israeli relationship. He doesn’t seek any recognition for himself. Rather, his involvement comes from his understanding that supporting Israel is the right thing to do.”
Stein says the organization is in great hands. “Mark will be an exceptional president. He’s been involved with the organization for 10 years, is a terrific analyst and extraordinarily knowledgeable.”
Diogenes wandered with his lamp, never reaching his goal. Stein travels with his trusty laptop, and envisions, if not honest media coverage of Israel, at least progress.
June S. Neal is a freelance writer living in Florida.