Third Rail of “Progressive” Journalism: Covering apolitical and ordinary events in Jerusalem without ideological blinders

I was invited, along with a group of journalists, to take a test run on Jerusalem’s Light Rail Project, which was preceded by a presentation by officials from the Jerusalem Transportation Authority responsible for its implementation. 

While, as most Israelis know, the project is well behind schedule and over budget (another indication that Jerusalem is a normal municipality with all the requisite bureaucratic and administrative red tape and inefficiencies), when the first phase of the Light Rail is completed (maybe by late August), as well as subsequent phases which are to expand service to additional parts of the city, it will likely solve many of Jerusalem’s traffic issues, and offer a much more efficient way to travel around the city.  

Dubbed the ‘Red Line’, it will initially have 23 stations and is planned to run from Pisgat Ze’ev in the northeast, south along Road 1 (intercity) to Jaffa Road (Rehov Yaffo). From there, it is planned to run along Jaffa Road westward to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, and continue to the southwest, crossing the Chords Bridge along Herzl Boulevard to the Beit HaKerem neighborhood, and finishing just beyond Mount Herzl next to Bayit VeGan.

As you can see by the map below, it the first line will run through the East part of the city, and serve Arab neighborhoods, such as Shu’afat, and the Project planners noted that they consulted with, and gained the approval of, resident associations there – many of which will benefit by the increased ease of access to the center of town, and a rise in property values – which, according to Rail planners, has already occurred.

As media events in Israel go, this was, for most journalists covering the story, quite non-controversial, and the smooth, quiet ride we took on the modern rail car, on a small section of the route which runs through the center from Yaffo to the road along the Arab section of the Old City, was a quite pleasant experience.

However, during the Q&A session after the presentation, both by transportation officials, and then later, in our group’s meeting with Jerusalem’s Mayor, Nir Barkat, two American journalists – one from National Public Radio (NPR) and the other from the New York Times – noted Mahmoud Abbas’s opposition to the project (Abbas actually tried to initiate a boycott of the European companies involved with its construction) and asked whether the fact that the route runs though the East part of the city (serving Arab neighborhoods) was an impediment to peace.

Indeed, anti-Israel NGOs have gone even further than Abbas – with the Swedish NGO Diakonia characterizing the Light Rail Project as a “Violation of Humanitarian International Law.”

What they were parroting, of course, was the specious argument that any Jewish presence in “East” Jerusalem was illegal, the myth of “historically Arab” East Jerusalem, and the belief that only the only possible way peace could be achieved would be to divide the city – with Israel retaining the West part, and the Palestinian State including the East.

As we noted earlier, polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem DO NOT want to divide the city as part of a peace agreement.

More broadly, while listening the NYT and NPR correspondents question Mayor Barkat on the political implications of the Light Rail Project, I began wondering what the reaction would be if the Arab neighborhoods were excluded from the Rail’s route.  Is there any question that the narrative would have been one of racism and discrimination against Jerusalem’s Arabs?

Further, would it be preferable if the city were to delay addressing such major municipal problems until a peace agreement is one day achieved?

I’d challenge reporters (such as Harriet Sherwood and the Americans I encountered on the Light Rail tour) who insist on inserting politics into every aspect of life in Jerusalem to move beyond their comfortable ideological boundaries, and challenge their preconceived conclusions, by talking to average Arab, Jewish, and Christian residents of this incredibly diverse, vibrant, and largely successful city – as I suspect they’d learn that (despite the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict) the daily concerns of Jerusalemites are not much different than those who live in New York or London.

A familiar narrative of the mainstream media about Palestinians who voted for Hamas in 2006 was that their decision to vote for the Palestinian Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was not based on ideology, nor did it represent an embrace of the terrorist group’s anti-Semitic charter but, rather, was merely a rejection of the corrupt Fatah, and motivated by a simple desire, as all people in the world have, to improve their quality of lives.

Interestingly, the assumption of the universality of Western progressive values (which Richard Landes refers to as cognitive egocentrism) by such journalists is often strangely absent when reporting on, and imputing values to, Israelis.

As Jonathan Spyer noted, those who are obsessively critical of Israel see the country not as it is, but often as “a [mythical] place of uninterrupted darkness and horror, in which every human interaction is ugly, crude, racist, brutal.”

As a resident of the city, I can attest to the fact that the mythical Jerusalem which the Guardian, NYT, and NPR often conjure has almost no resemblance to the real, complex, layered and unimaginably dynamic reality of everyday life here.

17 replies »

  1. I trust your readers will follow up your link to the dioakonia article:
    diakonia makes it clear that the annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal. No talk of “the myth of “historically Arab” East Jerusalem” or of polls of arab opinion changes this basic fact.
    diakonia also points out that the railway’s prime purpose is to create stronger links between East and West Jerusalem and between illegal settlements and West Jerusalem. The benefits to a small number of arab commuters are entirely incidental. Since the annexation is illegal “any other project undertaken in the occupied territory by the occupying power for the sole purpose of serving settlers, such as building roads or transportation networks, like the Jerusalem light railway, are to be considered illegal as they facilitate and encourage the settlement enterprise.”

    • “diakonia makes it clear that the annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal.”

      Diakonia doesn’t make the rules. Neither does the Marxist kangaroo court in The Hague.

      “…and between illegal settlements…”

      There are no illegal settlements in Palestine except those of the Arab settlers. Jews are the indigenous Palestinians; by definition, they cannot be settlers anywhere in Palestine.

  2. A familiar narrative of the mainstream media about Palestinians who voted for Hamas in 2006 was that their decision to vote for the Palestinian Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was not based on ideology, nor did it represent an embrace of the terrorist group’s anti-Semitic charter but, rather, was merely a rejection of the corrupt Fatah, and motivated by a simple desire, as all people in the world have, to improve their quality of lives.

    But this was one of the principal findings of an exhaustive survey conducted by Dr. Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Another important reason was the disappointment that Fatah failed to complete the Oslo process and achieve a final agreement.

    Oh, wait a minute ….. Dr. Shikaki is an Arab (never mind that he teaches at Brandeis) so he is by definition an anti-semitic terrorist, and I shouldn’t forget that everyone in the world hates us and we should always act like “nebechs” ….

    • MTC, I don’t know where you find such CW straw men. When have we ever posted a piece which suggests that all Arabs are, by definition, antisemites? We have never made an essentialist argument, but have merely cited (on several occasions) that, based on very credible polling data by Pew Global, over 95% of Arabs surveyed in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories hold unfavorable attitudes towards Jews (and not merely Israelis). If you want to take issue with methodology of such polls, fine. But, I really find it dispiriting that the very serious issue of Arab anti-Semitism can’t be discussed frankly. (If you’re interested, open the following link and go to page 23.)

    • “…not based on ideology, … but, rather, was merely a rejection of the corrupt Fatah, and motivated by a simple desire, as all people in the world have, to improve their quality of lives.”

      They don’t teach history these days. If they did, people would know this isn’t an either-or situation, and then they wouldn’t say things like that.

      Of the Germans who voted the Nazi regime, some did so only for ideological reasons and some did it solely for getting out the Depression, but the majority were just fine with a combo: A regime that would both get Germany out of the Depression and solve the Jewish Problem.

      I have no doubt the Arab settler-colonist land-thieves in Palestine want to improve the quality of their lives; I also have no doubt that, in their plan toward achieving that goal, the quality or even mere continuation of Jewish lives is not even for a fraction of a second taken into consideration.

      They want to raise the quality of their lives by stealing what’s ours—everything we have built on this land by the sweat of our brows for over a century. And, since we Israeli Jews are the obstacle that stand in the way of raising the quality of their lives… well… figure out the rest of the logic yourself.

  3. The light rail project was the subject of one or two Guardian articles a couple of years ago claiming that it was all an evil Zionist plot to connect Pisgat Ze’ev to the rest of the city.

    Well, its not an evil Zionist plot, and it will achieve that goal, since Pisgat Ze’ev will never be given to the Palestinians if they ever do get a state on the WB, but the primary function was and is and remains to relieve the horrendous traffic congestion and pollution In Jerusalem.

    It is only the warped minds of the irreconcilable Israel bashers that can turn a “green” project into an act of aggression. The fact that it will serve the Arab neighborhoods as well as the Jewish ones and improve the quality of life and reduce impacts to the environment is of no consequence to those blinded by their own hatred.

  4. This is the same NPR whose senior executive, the aptly named Ron Schiller was videod in a sting operation.

    He was happy to take donations from the Muslim Brotherhood, and nodded in agreement when it was suggested that “Jews control the media”.

    I’m surprised they dare show their faces in Israel, but then I guess these libtards have no shame.

  5. So much schadenfreude these days.

    CiFWatchers may remember the glee and enthusiasm that the Guardian’s BDS crowd exhibited when a French company was forced to withdraw support for the Jerusalem light rail project.

    Well, what goes around, in a sense comes around – Siemens has delivered a knockout blow to Britain’s remaining train manufacturer:

    Bombardier: end of the line for railway works

    By awarding the Thameslink contract to a German firm, the government has delivered a mortal blow to Britain’s train industry

    Bombardier is actually a Canadian company. Even though Siemens has announced that it will still manufacture in Britain, one cannot feel just a little satisfaction at seeing the global center of the BDS movement get a dose of somewhat similar medicine.

    • AKUS you might feel a little satisfaction but, I doubt that the 1,400 who are to lose their jobs at the Bombardier works in Derby feel any satisfaction at all. How many of these do you think support the BDS campaign or even know what BDS stands for?
      As for Siemens those with a memory or knowledge of history will know of their shocking record during WWII. Perhaps you would like to reflect on this before you have anymore feelings of satisfaction, little or otherwise.

      • WW II is over, and the degree of anti-Semitism in England, and the support for Israel’s enemies, is too much like Germany in the 1930’s for me to feel anything other than that is is a bit of sauce for the gander. Germany has consistently made efforts to avoid a repeat of its past, as Britain slides inexorably to become more like Germany was w.r.t the Jews and now Israel, which, of course, did not exist in the 1930’s.

        Is it not true that one of organizations most viciously attacking Israel is the TUC, and is not very likely that these workers belong to that organization?