Monthly Archives: August 2016

Guardian writer claims Google excluding Palestine to please customers.

maps

The Guardian’s weapon of choice on Monday against the Jewish state was maps with Petter Hellström, a PhD candidate at the Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, claiming, in the Science section, that Google “chose not to mark Palestine on their maps…to stay impartial in the eyes of customers and the surrounding society…their fellow westerners.”

Once again this article would have been more at home in the opinion section.

Hellström complains that Google’s Map of Israel shows Israeli population centre Ma’ale Adumin on the West Bank but not “not even major (Palestinian) ones like Gaza City, Khan Yunis or Nablus”.

He then reproduces two maps of North America from 1614 and 1729 which he claims “made the colonists visible at the expense of the indigenous population” and which he calls “instruments of colonial legitimisation”, the obvious inference being that Google is doing the same to the Palestinians.

He also reproduces an Israeli government map which doesn’t delineate the West Bank and Gaza as separate from Israel while accepting that the Palestinians do the same with their maps but giving the Palestinian action a more innocent gloss:

“Palestinian maps often label the whole country as Palestine – effectively a refusal to acknowledge the development since 1948.”

Hellström then invokes anti-Zionist Israeli historian Meron Benvenisti who “described the process with which the Israeli state Hebraized the place-names of the country they had conquered”.

Hellström quotes Benvenisti:

“The Hebrew map of Israel constitutes one stratum in my consciousness, underlaid by the stratum of the previous Arab map.”

Hellström also invokes that ambiguous 173 year old phrase originated by Christian evangelicals ” a land without a people for a people without a land” but which Hellström attributes more directly to “the architects of Israel.” The phrase is now commonly employed as an epithet against Israel’s supporters.

Hellström took his cue from the Forum of Palestinian Journalists when they “accused Google of removing Palestine from their maps.”

His main concern is “whether Palestine and its people exist at all” and is under the impression that there was once a country called Palestine because “It is there on old paper maps, of the Holy Land, of the Roman and Ottoman empires, of the British mandate.”

But it was the “British Mandate for Palestine”, merely an administrative name. And on Ottoman maps Palestine was subsumed as a part of southern Syria.

Meanwhile, Palestine’s current status is as a UN non-member observer state having failed to join the international body as a full member state.

Irrespective of all the above I was bemused anyway because when you play around with Google maps of Israel and Palestine and zoom in closer then Palestinian population centres do appear.

Furthermore, Google’s map for Palestine has a sidebar showing Wikipedia’s definition of Palestine’s current UN status. Google, itself, even puts Palestine’s capital at “East Jerusalem” instead of the, arguably, more accurate Ramallah.

Here’s the link to Google’s map of Palestine.

I wrote to Hellström for clarification of his criticism. His response (which I publish in full below at his request if I was going to quote from it) was that Israeli population centres are disproportionately represented, that the Google sidebar is, depending on your device and settings, not necessarily always available, and that the content of Wikipedia is not stable.

He has a point to the extent that Google’s map of Palestine isn’t labelled. There is an argument that it could be labelled “Palestinian territories” or, “administered Palestinian territories” with delineated Areas A, B and C or, even, “non-member observer state”. Some might prefer “Judea and Samaria”.

It would just be inaccurate to refer to it as Palestine.

Hellström’s article could, quite validly, have gone down this road of discussion, but by directly implicating Israel and its creation in all this and suggesting that Google might have some financial agenda is to go down a far more sinister route.

Petter Hellström’s response to my email (23rd August 2016):

Dear Richard,

Many thanks for your e-mail. I am only happy to clarify what I wanted to say in the article; the short online format is not always helpful to give full disclosure of an argument.

First, it is not my main contention that the name of Palestine is absent from Google Maps. My argument is rather that this absence – like the relative absence of Palestinian place names – is significant, that it can tell us something, and that it matters.

If you search for Israel on Google Maps, the map centres on the State of Israel. It displays Israeli place-names, both in Israel proper and on the West Bank (Ma’ale Adumin), but no Palestinian place names, even as several Palestinian urban centres are significantly larger than the Israeli urban centres labelled (most striking is the labelling of Yotvata, pop. 700,while Gaza City, pop. 515,556, is not labelled; but even on the Palestinian territories there is a preference for Israeli urban centres, since only Ma’ale Adumin is labelled on the West Bank, although significantly smaller than several of the adjacent Palestinian urban centres). Since 19 August, in response to criticism, Google Maps also labels the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (even as it is not clear what status they enjoy). As you zoom in on the region, Palestinian place names start to appear along more Israeli place names. However, their respective representation is still disproportionate (Israeli urban centres show up at a much lower resolution than Palestinian urban centres of comparable size).

Now, if you search for Palestine on Google Maps, as you did, the map centres instead on the West Bank (you are in fact shown the same map image as if you searched for the West Bank). This map image is consequently of higher resolution, and thus more place names are shown, both in Israel and on the Palestinian territories. Their disproportionate representation is still apparent (the map image is, in fact, the same as the one you get if you first search for Israel, zoom in, and move the centre from Israel proper to the West Bank).

The Google Maps interface sometimes shows – depending on your settings and your device – a sidebar with a link to Wikipedia. It is Wikipedia, not Google Maps, that describes Palestine as ”a de jure sovereign state in the Middle East that is recognized by 136 UN members and since 2012 has a status of a non-member observer state” and which states East Jerusalem as its capital. The content of Wikipedia is not stable but changing depending on contributors. As far as I know, Google exerts no power over it, they merely provide the link. If you search for Jerusalem on Google Maps, it is clearly stated as located in Israel, not as in Israel and in Palestine.

In conclusion, Google Maps shows Israel but not Palestine, although both are states recognised by the UN as well as by most of the world’s independent states (Palestine is presently recognised by 136 and Israel by 161 UN member states). Moreover, and importantly, Google Maps shows Israeli presence in Israel and the Palestinian territories disproportionately more than it represents Palestinian presence.

Having said all this, it was not the purpose of my article to pass judgment on Google or to suggest how they should produce their maps in the future. Others are more willing to do this. My objective was rather to say that Palestine’s absence on Google Maps, like the relative absence of Palestinians, has precedents in the history of cartography; my example was New England, both because I thought it would speak to an Anglophone and predominantly British and American audience, but also because Harley made his argument about New England in reference to Israeli policies). My objective was also to say that history shows us that cartographic omission matters, especially when a state or country is in military occupation of another people, whose lands it is confiscating.

I hope this clarifies my argument. Again I thank you for your polite e-mail.

If you publish my reply on your blog or in any other forum, I would appreciate that you publish it in its entirety, rather than using only parts of it.

Best regards,

Petter Hellström

(This blog post also published at UKMediaWatch)

The Guardian provides a platform for Daniel Barenboim to slam Israel.

Last week Aditya Chakrabortty interviewed Israeli, or to be more accurate Israeli and Palestinian, conductor Daniel Barenboim for the Classical music section of the Guardian.

In his article headlined “Daniel Barenboim on ageing, mistakes and why Israel and Iran are twin brothers” Chakrabortty included political views which would have been more at home in an opinion piece than the Classical music section.

Barenboim conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a mix of Israeli and Arab musicians, which played at the London Proms last week prompting a 5 star review by the Guardian’s Andrew Clements. The review was delightfully free of politics.

Barenboim’s interview with Chakrabortty  goes into how and why the Orchestra came together in the first place, the perfectionist that Barenboim is, how hard he works his musicians and questions whether the Orchestra is actually achieving anything positive.

Then the interview enters its gratuitous political mode. After describing the insults Barenboim received after playing Wagner, the Nazis’ favourite composer, in Israel Chakrabortty writes

“For his part, the musician has called the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank “immoral” and backed a boycott of the Israeli government.”

I fail to see any connection between playing Wagner in Israel and what happens in Gaza and the West Bank but, for the record, Gaza is certainly not occupied after Israel withdrew in 2005. The European Court of Human Rights has said so and even Hamas, which is in full control of Gaza, admits it. Hamas has even been showing off how nice Gaza actually is.

I will give Barenboim the benefit of the doubt that he may have been referring, in error, to Israel’s legal naval blockade of Gaza but even then ships can dock at Ashdod and have goods transferred overland to Gaza after security checks.

And what did Barenboim mean when he “backed a boycott of the Israeli government”? This is the government Israelis voted in. Barenboim is proposing boycotting their democratic decision.

Chakrabortty writes that Barenboim holds “both Israeli and Palestinian nationalities” so why is Barenboim not calling for a boycott of the Palestinian government with its incitement against Jews via its Prime-Minister and official television outlet?

For Israel’s enemies “a boycott of the Israeli government” actually means a boycott of anyone who receives Israeli government support, which is why so few Israeli artists have visited the UK in recent years after the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011, Israel’s national theatre company in 2012 and Israel’s youth dance company also in 2012 had their London performances viciously interrupted by anti-Israel protesters.

Does Barenboim support these disruptions?

The interview then discusses Barenboim’s attempts to take his Orchestra to Tehran. Barenboim states:

“The Iranian government still denies the Holocaust – so you can’t take them seriously. And the Israeli government spreads rumours and disinformation about Iran – because it needs to for the creation of panic. I find these theological states – and in this respect Israel and Iran are twin brothers – very, very dangerous.”

Again, what is the connection? How can Barenboim seriously equate Holocaust denial from a government that hangs gays and Israeli government politics?

Let me provide the following possible explanation.

Anyone that plays Wagner at Israel’s premier music festival in Jerusalem and, in doing so, causes so much hurt and pain to Holocaust survivors will have no qualms selling out Israel in such a way to the Guardian.

(Also published at UKMediaWatch)

Guardian highlights film in which Palestinians play Anne Frank.

Henry Barnes, site editor of theguardian.com/film, recently wrote about Anne Frank: Then and Now “starring Palestinian girls reading from the German-born Jew’s diary” which, quoting Deadline.com, Barnes described as a “clandestine cultural breakthrough” because it was secretly shown in Iran.

According to Barnes it “was filmed during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. The film is split between an educational documentary about Frank’s time hiding from the Nazis in occupied Holland and excerpts from the diary acted by two Israelis and eight Palestinian girls, one of whom performs in front of the rubble from an Israeli airstrike.”

The main aim of Croatian director Jakov Sedlar seems to be to “help spread information about the events of the Holocaust in Iran” and Arab countries.

This is a noble aim but why use Palestinian actors in Gaza? Why not just show, for example, Son of Saul which is the most explicit portrayal of the Holocaust imaginable.

Anyone viewing Anne Frank: Then and Now without any knowledge of the Holocaust will be left with the strong impression that the Palestinians are going through the same as the Jews did under the Nazis. The title of the film strongly implies that also.

My experience is that for anti-Israel activists one of their main planks of activism is comparing the Palestinians to the Jews in Nazi Germany and invoking Anne Frank. This tactic is, sadly, ubiquitous.

One of the worst examples was at an event attended by now Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP and the then Labour shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter MP where Love Letters to Gaza were read out on stage by actors. Here is a verse from one poem and here’s my clip of it:

“It is not now the Nazi state but Israel that blocks the seas.
It is not Auschwitz that stops the ship that carries hope and messages,
But those that might have died there.”

Then there is Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children that portrays the Jewish people slowly metamorphosing from victims under the Nazis into oppressors of the Palestinians. The play was staged by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign at the Polish Centre in London.

And here is my clip of an activist in parliament saying that Palestinian children are suffering worse than Anne Frank did.

This is par for the course of anti-Israel activism and I have witnessed many more examples of which this film seems to be, sadly, another.

I would like to be proved wrong about Anne Frank: Then and Now. I have not seen it in full. We have been provided with just one clip which the Guardian imbeds into Barnes’ piece. No other British newspaper seems to be highlighting this film, although the Israeli media is writing about its having been shown secretly in Iran.

But, for me, the biggest alarm bells about the film’s veracity are in Deadline.com which Barnes links to:

deadline guardian then and now

So David Robb of Deadline.com writes that as a Gazan actor speaks her lines “two men in gas masks run behind her”.

Maybe Robb, or Barnes for that matter, could explain to us the following: how could the cast and crew carry on filming if there was a need for gas masks to be worn by others in their immediate vicinity?

(also published at UKMediaWatch)

Possible diversion of charitable funds to Hamas but Guardian writer slams Israel.

guardian halabi

(Also published at UKMediaWatch)

If something bad happens to Jews or the Jewish state there are some, inexplicably, in British media or politics who cannot pass up the opportunity to use it against the former.

Ex-Liberal Democrat MP felt that the Jews hadn’t learned from the Holocaust. When an Egyptian judoka lost to his Israeli opponent in Rio and promptly refused to shake his hand The Economist used the opportunity to attack Israel as being an “apartheid” state.

Now, after the arrest of World Vision’s Gaza director Mohammad Halabi on allegations of diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, secretary general and CEO of CIVICAS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, uses the arrest as an opportunity to attack Israel’s new transparency law.

This new law obligates NGOs that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments or organisations to report where the funding derives from. It doesn’t restrict their activities at all.

In an age of calls for more transparency this can hardly be classed as controversial especially when there are NGOs whose main objective for operating within the Jewish state is merely to destroy it.

But for Sriskandarajah it seems it is controversial. He sees the recent arrests of Halabi and Waheed al Borsh, a UN worker accused of diverting aid resources to help building a jetty for Hamas, as part “of systematic efforts by Israeli authorities to intimidate and undermine civil society”.

As you can see the link Sriskandarajah provides as evidence of such “systematic efforts” is to an article for Al Jazeera by arch anti-Zionist activist Ben White who once wrote “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”.

One would think that Sriskandarajah would welcome the investigation into and possible long-term incarceration of anyone convicted of such a heinous crime as diverting funds away from mentally ill and physically disabled patients in Gaza to help the Hamas terror organisation build tunnels into Israel from which to murder innocent Jewish Israelis.

Instead, Sriskandarajah merely sees it as “yet another example of states cracking down on civic space.”

World Vision is one of the DEC charities. DEC advertised widely in the UK for aid for Gazans after Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas. Therefore, the British public has possibly been inadvertently duped out of their hard-earned money in to supporting a terror group instead.

However, The Guardian’s headline to Sriskandarajah’s article “Human rights activists are being portrayed as terrorists and foreign puppets” and using a photo of activists claiming Halabi is “a man of humanity” (see above) suggests total innocence on Halabi’s part.

It is, however, very noble of Sriskandarajah to state that “Israeli government has the right to hold to account any individual or organisation found guilty of corruption.” Halabi and al Borsh will have a chance to state their cases and employ lawyers to defend themselves against the allegations.

We await the outcome of these important criminal investigations, and any more that might arise, with interest and so should Sriskandarajah.