1) More fallout over the Samira Ibrahim selection
Robert Mackey has established himself as an anti-Israel activist.
Following last week’s revelation that Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim had been making antisemitic and anti-American comments, Mackey was back in business. He asked, Samuel Tadros, the scholar who had uncovered the statements if he (Tadros) was a Copt. Since Tadros’s religion was irrelevant to the story there was not point in asking. Some found the question inappropriate. Eric Trager rebuked Mackey.
@robertmackey 1.The Samira Ibrahim case has nothing to do w/Islamism; 2.You are essentializing his perspective as Coptic, which is shameful.
— Eric Trager (@EricTrager18) March 8, 2013
Mackey defended himself, claiming that he was seeking to provide “context.” Those familiar with his work regarding Israel know that context is not one of his strong suits. Mackey’s work on the Ibrahim story can be summed up by looking at two paragraphs of his report, Egyptian Activist Subjected to ‘Virginity Test’ Dropped From U.S. Honors List for Tweets. (Note. too, that the title is specific about Ibrahim’s claim to fame, not about her sins.)
Ms. Ibrahim did not respond to requests for comment, but late Thursday she appeared to back away from the claim that she had been hacked in a new update to her Twitter feed which read: “I refused to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America for previous comments hostile towards Zionism under pressure from the American government so the prize was withdrawn.”
She did not back away from the claim. She responded once a writer for the Times of Israel showed that her claim of being hacked was likely untrue.
After playing up Ibrahim’s dual nature, the final paragraph of Mackey’s report reads:
In what may have been an attempt to repair some of the damage, Ms. Ibrahim’s most recent update on Twitter compared the plight of Egypt’s Christian Coptic minority to that of Jews who were forced to leave the country decades ago. “What is happening to the Copts now in Egypt previously happened to the Jews,” she wrote. “Enough racism, enough hatred, Egypt is for all Egyptians.”
It was too little, too late.
Lee Smith faults the State Department for the fiasco.
It is unfair that the American embassy in Cairo is taking most of the blame for the Ibrahim affair. Yes, they should’ve done a better job of vetting her before sending her name on to Washington. To get a read on Ibrahim’s political positions, all embassy staff had to do was check with some of Egypt’s genuine liberal activists, like those who since the story broke have criticized her vicious opinions, or like Samuel Tadros, or Mina Rezkalla and Amr Bargisi, or anyone from the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth.
But that hardly excuses management at Foggy Bottom, who should have smelled something fishy at the outset. Did no one question whether or not Ibrahim was really—as her biography stated before it was scrubbed from the State Department’s website—“arrested” in high school for writing a paper criticizing Arab leaders’ insincere support of the Palestinian cause? Maybe a Mubarak loyalist at the school gave her a stern talking to, maybe her parents were called in, maybe she was interrogated by a security official, but actually put in jail? For a high school paper? I am trying to imagine how State Department officials, including those in the Bureau of Near East Affairs with many years of experience in a region full of hard-security regimes, rationalized this: “Sure, at the infamous Tora prison there was one bloc set aside for hardcore Islamists—and another for militant high school essayists.” “But if the Mubarak regime’s control of Egypt was so comprehensive, why couldn’t state security or the military stop Iranian missiles from getting into Hamas’ hands via the Sinai?” “That’s because they chose instead to stop teenage schoolgirls from writing that Mubarak didn’t support Hamas.” This absurdity is not on the embassy alone but the entire State Department.
Michael Rubin, though, disagrees with Smith on the culpability of the American embassy in Cairo.
That is certainly right, but it only scratches the surface. Something is very rotten at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo which was, until the 2003 Iraq War, the largest U.S. embassy in the world. “Samiragate” is the rule rather than the exception. Remember, after an Egyptian-American posted on YoutTube the trailer for an amateurish film mocking the Prophet Muhammad, the embassy overruled the State Department and tweeted apologies to the militants attacking the embassy. Public affairs officer Larry Schwartz became the fall guy for that episode, but he merely reflected the culture the embassy cultivated.
Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, is a career foreign service officer who has led the embassy since 2010. She has set the tone for the embassy’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. Explaining why Mohamed Morsi deserved American F-16 fighters, despite an increasing disdain for the rule of law and revelations about his hateful incitement, Patterson declared Morsi deserved the weaponry so Egypt can “continue to serve as a force for peace, security, and leadership as the Middle East proceeds with its challenging yet essential journey toward democracy.”
Here’s the kicker: Guess who seems to be a finalist under Secretary of State John Kerry for a promotion to become assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs? That’s right, Anne Patterson. If Samiragate was truly the result of incompetence, then Patterson could use her new position to bring that quality to the broader Middle East. Conversely, if it really was illustrative of the cultural and political bubble that Patterson imbued or let develop in her staff, then get ready for several more years of self-inflicted wounds.
2) A defining image, redefined
The defining image of Israel’s defensive war, Pillor of Defense, was the picture of BBC journalist Jihad Mishrawi holding his dead son, said to have been killed by an Israeli missile strike. Elder of Ziyon immediately asked a number of questions about the report.
Still, few media outlets were bothered by these questions.
For example, Max Fisher of the Washington Post wrote The story behind the photo: Journalist’s 11-month-old son killed in Gaza strikes.
Reuters also had a photographer at the Gaza City hospital where Misharawi took his son. The story that these photos tell, of loss and confusion, may help inform the Palestinian reactions – and, as the photos continue to spread widely on social media, perhaps the reactions from beyond the Palestinian territories – to the violence between Israel and Gaza.
Patrick Pexton, then the ombudsman of the Washington Post, defended the paper’s decision, Photo of dead baby in Gaza holds part of the ‘truth’:
MaryAnne Golon, The Post’s director of photography, explained to me that the purpose of any front-page photo, regardless of subject, is to move the reader, whether through its beauty, sentiment or drama.
“When we looked at the selection that night of Middle East photos from the wire services, this photo got everyone in the gut,” Golon said. “It went straight to the heart, this sobbing man who just lost his baby son.”
Post staff then authenticated and verified the facts behind the Associated Press photo. The dead baby was real. The bombing was real.
Pexton, whose job it was, to defend journalist practices, apparently felt that truth is not absolute.
Perhaps they will; perhaps they won’t.
But here’s the important question: If it had been known for certain at the time of Omar Mishrawi’s death that he had been killed by a Hamas rocket, would it have been front page news? Or is it only news when Israel, defending its citizens, makes a rare mistake?