Officials are meeting this week in Geneva and Brussels to plan the 2009 U.N. Conference Against Racism, a sequel to the infamous 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, which turned into an anti-Israel frenzy. When it comes to Israel-bashing cloaked in tolerance, the U.N. may be the innovators. But the practice has subtle practitioners in America's press — albeit possibly more misguided than malicious.
So I thought after watching "God's Warriors," a three-part series hosted by Christiane Amanpour on religious extremism in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity that first aired last week on CNN. The initial segment, "God's Jewish Warriors," bends over backwards to shoehorn religious Jewish settlers and their supporters into the role of extremists who are every bit as threatening to world peace as Muslim jihadists and their supporters.
The moral equivalency begins with the opening sequence, in which an Orthodox Jewish woman appears on-screen saying, "God promised we would return to this land" and a Muslim woman appears saying, "This is the ultimate sacrifice, to give your soul as a gift to God the creator, and the country." Next comes a shot of Jerry Falwell saying, "I would like to see America become the nation under God again" and then Ms. Amanpour narrating, "They say, ‘God is the answer.' But their battle to save the world has caused anger, division, and fear."
Thus the message is that Jewish and Christian religious fundamentalism are as threatening to world peace as Muslim extremism of the variety voiced by the woman who romanticizes jihad martyrdom. Ms. Amanpour goes on to cherry pick and distort facts in order to impose this idea. And while religious Christians are at times condescended to — talking to two idealistic, politically Conservative coeds at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, she sounds a bit like she is interviewing patients in a psych ward — her real venom is reserved for Jewish settlers on the West Bank and their supporters. Much of "God's Jewish Warriors" concerns the settlers, who are depicted as lawbreakers and wreckers of world traquility. In reality, the issue of whether or not the territories on which they live, which were captured in a defensive war, are "illegally occupied" is highly controversial. But that doesn't worry Ms. Amanpour. In a section entitled, "God's Jewish Warriors Create Facts on the Ground," she interviews lawyer Theodore Meron, who says such settlements are "illegal," but fails to interview anyone who has a different perspective.
Next comes "Jewish Settlers Turn to Terror," in which she interviews a settler who has been in an Israeli prison for many years for perpetrating terrorism against Arabs. As the director of Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, Andrea Levin, put it, "Because Jewish terrorism is practically nonexistent, [Amanpour] had to go back to the 1980s to find a Jewish [terrorist] underground."
Since a significant portion of the segment is devoted to Jewish terrorism, one could get the impression that it is somewhat common, instead of a freakishly rare phenomenon that, when it occurs, is almost universally condemned by Jews worldwide.
Ms. Amanpour interviews figures like John Mearsheimer, coauthor of a dubious study accusing Israel-supporters of exerting disproportionate influence on American foreign policy, and Jimmy Carter, while failing to include the relevant background that both men's work on this subject is highly controversial at best, and in many circles has been discredited. In the case of Mr. Carter, his recent book was so error-laden and perceived as biased that 14 members of an advisory board to the Carter Center quit in protest.
Ms. Amanpour reserves her most naked disdain for the settlers' U.S. supporters, such as Shani and Dov Hikind, who fundraise to build parks and endow schools. Presented as "The Power Couple," shots of them posing for photos and dancing are accompanied by Ms. Amanpour's narration, "6,000 miles from Israel's settlements, in the heart of Manhattan, defiance of international law comes dressed in diamonds. … Here Shani and Dov Hikind, two of God's Jewish American warriors, are a whirlwind of shmooze."
These astonishing sentences echo themes ubiquitous in "God's Jewish Warriors" — that the settlers and their supporters defy the law, and that Israel supporters undermine American foreign policy. Intentionally or not, this show plays on some of the most pernicious, age-old stereotypes about Jews, going out of the way, for instance, to incorporate references to money. "For the Hikinds … house hunting in the occupied territories is more than a real estate investment." At one point Ms. Amanpour does interview former AIPAC head Morris Amitay, who says, "To the extent that the pro-Israel community has been successful, it is because of the strength of its arguments." Whereupon the brief interview ends.
Nowhere are these arguments — concerning Israel as America's strong democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel's dedication to upholding human rights, Israel's vital role as a refuge for Jews worldwide, Israel's right to self-defense — explored. Nor is there mention, despite the show's obsessive referencing of money, that AIPAC gives no money to politicians' campaigns, choosing instead to focus on education and getting out the pro-Israel vote.
Perhaps even worse than Ms. Amanpour's one-sided presentation of complex issues is her tendency to stereotype, particularly the settlers' supporters in America. Surely she would never depict Arab-Americans who care about ordinary Palestinians as a unified bloc of terror-supporters. So why does she depict settlers and their supporters as a bloc of people who undermine world peace?
That Ms. Amanpour conducts this presentation wearing the mantle of tolerance is a stinging irony.
Ms. Robinson, an independent journalist, blogs at politicalmavens.com.