Posted by: sean | July 22, 2007

An Israeli in Lebanon

I had an email exchange today with Lisa Goldman, one of the two Israeli journalists who recently snuck into Lebanon on their other passports to later report on their trips. Lisa’s report and a follow-up interview on Israel’s Channel 10 can be found here and her piece on Pajamasmedia can be found here.

Al-Manar and the Daily Star both found out about her broadcast, and neither were very happy about it. Goldman then responded to the Daily Star‘s report, and was backed up by her friend Gal Beckerman on CJR’s website.

I wrote to Lisa today, and she responded about 15 minutes later without addressing any of my points and dismissing my questions based on my nationality. I responded again pointing this out, and she responded a final time (this time twenty minutes later), by saying that I obviously didn’t have anything better to do with my time and that she was going to forward my private emails from my personal account to my employer without my permission.

I’m not going to reproduce Lisa’s messages, because unlike her, I have some scruples and would never forward or reproduce her emails without her permission, but I will copy my messages to her:

Email Number 1:

Dear Lisa,

I recently heard about your exploits in my adopted home, Beirut. I watched your dispatch and follow-up interview, and I read your blog posts, the Daily Star report and Gal Beckerman’s silly article on CJR’s blog.

In your response to the Daily Star article, you mention your desire to bridge the gap between Lebanon and Israel. That’s a laudable goal, and one that was made decidedly more difficult by last summer’s war.

That being said, let’s face some facts. Beirut is full of Western journalists, and the only thing that separates your and Rinat’s stories from those journalists’ reports is that you’re Israelis ­– that, and perhaps the fact that neither of you know much about Lebanon, since you were only here for very brief stays. Your piece on the Pajamasmedia website is what some of my friends and I call Gemmayzeh journalism. It generally consists of young American men who go out to bars in Gemmayzeh (or clubs in Monot and cafés in Hamra) and talk to young pretty Lebanese girls, and then write up their experiences with a flair for the melodramatic and a shallow sense of insight.

This sort of journalism is generally pretty innocuous. Like much of the genre, your piece includes the mistakes of those who don’t bother to actually go to places like Dahiyeh: of all the times I’ve been to the suburb, despite my American passport, I’ve never gone through a single Hezbollah checkpoint or been detained. Of course, I’m not a journalist, and taking pictures or shooting footage of the area is another story, but your allegation that any foreigner who wants to enter gets checked is simply not true. As a matter of fact, I was just in Harat Hreik a couple weeks ago to see an exhibition on Dahiyeh. I went with a Lebanese friend and her American journalist boyfriend in a rental car. Were we stopped by anyone? Of course not. You make many other mistakes of basic fact about the war last summer and the bombing of Dahiyeh – mistakes that could have been avoided with a little bit of independent research using Lexis Nexis, or even Google.

At the end of the day, though, reports like yours don’t add much to anyone’s understanding of Lebanon or the Lebanese, except for possibly showing those who hadn’t been paying attention for the one thousand and second time that Beirut is a metropolitan capital where, indeed, there is no lack of alcohol or girls wearing short skirts. These reports are, unfortunately, ubiquitous, and it doesn’t take an Israeli to unearth them. If your Israeli audience wanted to hear about this so bad, there are hours and hours of pre-existing footage and kilometers of pages of written accounts that could be aired or reprinted in the Israeli media.

I understand your frustration at not being able to come to Lebanon to report on a story. But as for your retort that al-Manar has reporters in the occupied Palestinian territories, I’m afraid that’s not quite the same as having an al-Manar bureau in Tel Aviv or Haifa, now is it? Particularly since the correspondents based there are Palestinian, not Lebanese. And lest we forget, their offices were bombed by Israel last summer. I don’t think the same can be said about Channel 10. (Gal, on the other hand, twists your sentence to falsely claim that al-Manar operates “freely in Israel and the Palestinian territories” and strangely lists “Al Houra” [sic] along with the Lebanese channel. I think Gal means al-Hurra, which is the Arab-language TV channel based out of the US and run by the US government.) Finally, though, those are the breaks, and you know the restrictions of being an Israeli when it comes to reporting on Lebanon.

So you chose to be dishonest, and the people whom you spoke to might suffer from it. Those who helped you with quotes or contacts feel betrayed and could run into some serious problems. (Some happen to be friends of friends.) It’s not right, and it’s unfortunate that Lebanese policy is such that you can’t legally come and report on Lebanon. But don’t forget that you were not “put in a position of having to lie,” as you state. You put yourself in that position and chose to lie, and you needlessly endangered those who spoke to you. Later in your piece, you turn the incident into some sort of fear of “the dreaded Jew,” which is ridiculous, since your Canadian passport still has your last name printed on it. Being Jewish was obviously not the problem; being Israeli was. Whether or not the Lebanese rules are fair, you knew your actions would have repercussions for the Lebanese people you dealt with. You just don’t seem to have cared. If there’s any good deed that won’t go unpunished, it was the people whom you duped into hospitably helping you out with your hapless reporting.

So that brings me to my (admittedly belated) point: honestly, do you think your banal and factually inaccurate human interest story was really worth causing the trouble you’ve brought upon the Lebanese people you talked to?

Sincerely,
Sean

Email number 2:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your quick response. As for what people think here, just because they haven’t written you doesn’t mean that they don’t have plenty of negative things to say about your stunt, including some of those whom you spoke to, no less, and every single person with whom I’ve discussed your shenanigans. I find it telling that of the two blog posts you sent me to illustrate your Arab support, one mentions that you “put innocent people’s lives in danger,” while the other calls your interviews “silly and superficial.” I’m afraid that if that’s the best you can muster for support on this side of the border, you’re grasping at straws, my dear. As for not violating the confidence of those who emailed you, I’m glad to see that you’ve decided to have some journalistic scruples, after all. They might have come in handy when you were thinking about coming here and misleading Lebanese people.

Finally, I find it interesting that rather than actually address any of the errors of fact that I brought up in my email or answer the single question I put to you, you find it easier to dismiss these questions based on my nationality. Bravo, Lisa! I’m glad to see that the Channel 10 and Pajamasmedia are hiring such discerning journalists who clearly know the difference between ad hominem non sequiturs and actual discourse. Incidentally, since I don’t seem to fall into either of the audiences you mention (“Israelis” and “people in the Middle East”), I can’t help but wonder what that makes me. Since I’m clearly in the Middle East, does that make me a non-person? And by the by, Lisa, who do you think reads the Daily Star, which I needn’t remind you is written in English and staffed by many ex-pats?

But perhaps my previous message was too “rambling” for you, and you didn’t make it to the end. So I’ll repeat my question, which is a very simple one and warrants a yes or no answer: honestly, do you think your story was really worth causing the trouble you’ve brought upon the Lebanese people you talked to?

Sincerely,
Sean

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