Palestinians

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

The New York Times had a front-page story this week on the strong partnership between Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Times described Trump as Netanyahu’s secret weapon in his “increasingly uphill re-election battle.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Trump sees advantages in the current American debate over Israel and anti-Semitism.

I read both stories with a different perspective — and a heightened interest — after spending the past several days in Israel, my first visit ever to the Middle East.

I’m typing this post from my hotel room in Jerusalem. I’m here with a group of about a dozen U.S. religion journalists as part of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange. The project aims to give participants an enhanced understanding of issues in this part of the world and make them think about tough questions. For me, it certainly has done that!

Rather than do a normal post while I am traveling, Terry Mattingly invited me to share a bit about the trip. Honestly, I’m still processing much of what I have seen. But I’ve learned so much as we’ve traveled via helicopter and bus to visit key sites all over Israel and heard from speakers representing a variety of perspectives.

We’re still in the middle of our itinerary — with a trip to Ramallah on today’s agenda — but here, via Twitter, are a few virtual postcards:

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Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Last month, we congratulated Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, when she received a special recognition award from the Religion News Association.

A tweet embedded with that post hinted at another big honor for Zoll, and now, there is official news of that prize.

AP announced this week that Zoll is one of the winners of the 2018 Oliver S. Gramling Awards, the global news service’s highest internal honor.

From the AP press release:

The pre-eminent voice on religion for more than a decade, Zoll has led AP’s reporting on the subject, cultivating relationships with sources across all faiths, writing remarkable stories and mentoring fellow journalists to better understand the importance of covering religion. Her reporting spans from a series on Christian missionaries in Africa to a 2016 election-year piece on how conservative Christians felt under siege to a story about two churches in Georgia -- one black, one white -- trying to bridge the divide. Zoll’s sourcing led to AP being first to confirm on-the-record the death of Rev. Billy Graham.

Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, is on medical leave. Big congrats to her on the Gramling Award!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The Atlantic’s profile of Heidi Cruz, wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is interesting and revealing, with various religion-related details. It’s worth a read.

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Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

At the end of last week, the front page of the printed version of The Washington Post featured a four-column, above-the-fold photo of tightly framed, silhouetted figures dashing through  billowing black smoke and menacing red flames -- which is what you get when you burn vehicle tires.

The headline below it read: “Palestinians, Israeli troops clash over U.S. stance.” A subhead warned, “Region braces for more violence after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.” (The online version linked to here differs.)

That Post story was an example of traditional newspaper, hard news journalism. It summarized the previous day’s body count, included the usual reaction quotes from the usual sources sprouting the usual threats and warnings we've heard time and again from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those quoted, in accordance with their well-known positions, either castigated or praised President Donald Trump for his decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s national capital and pledge to someday, but not just now, actually move the U.S. Embassy from coastal Tel Aviv to inland Jerusalem.

What the piece failed to do, however, was to connect the dots and explain the story behind the headline by placing it in its current Middle East context. It excluded, in short, the sort of background that’s critical to understanding the latest twist in a long-running, exceedingly complicated and highly combustible story such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Is the peace process, which has been moribund at best, now forever dead? Is another Palestinian intifada, or widespread violent uprising, about to explode? Why did Trump do this now and what might we expect now that he's shattered, at least verbally, decades of U.S. Middle East policy simply by saying out loud that Jerusalem is Israel’s political capita, as it has been in reality since 1948?

Those are questions we cannot fully answer. But may I suggest that rather than relying on daily roundups or if-it-bleeds-it-leads TV reports, you pay as much or more attention to the many quality news analysis and opinion columns being penned by long-time Middle East-watchers.

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Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif appears over. It ended well short of its worst possible outcome, but without any finality — again.

By “worst possible outcome,” I mean a terribly bloody escalation. By “without any finality,” I mean that sooner or later the situation will again heat up because the core of the conflict -- which side has the final word on physical control of the site -- remains unsettled.

But that’s how both sides want it for now -- save for each camp’s most radical elements who would relish an explosive fight to the finish. That’s because neither side's leadership Is capable of making the tough political compromises necessary to really defuse the situation.

So this slow-boiling tribal war over land continues. (Need to catch up with recent events?  If so, read this piece from The Economist, written part way through the episode.)

Religion reporters: Jews this week observed the solemn commemoration of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destructions of the First and Second Jewish temples (plus other Jewish tragedies across history) that stood on the Old City esplanade from which the site takes it Jewish name.

While the commemoration ran from Monday evening to Tuesday evening, it's not too late to tie Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar’s month of Av)  to the current state of affairs. You might want to refer to this handy Religion News Service “‘Splainer."

I'm not qualified to speak definitively about just how the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif dispute breaks down along religious, nationalistic and political lines among ordinary Palestinians and other Muslims that support them -- as opposed to the statements of Palestinian leaders who always stress religious claims in rallying global Muslim support.

Suffice it to say that traditional Islam, far more than do contemporary Christianity or rabbinic Judaism (rabbinic, meaning post-Temple), makes little differentiation between the religious and political realms, and that for many Muslims living under undemocratic governments religion is the only outlet for political expression on any level.

However, I do know enough about the Jewish side to suggest that reporters consider the following.

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So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

There is a piercing cry from click-bait hungry editors that you know is being heard this week in newsrooms everywhere: "OK PEOPLE! I need Wonder Woman-angle stories and I need them now! With as much art as possible."

If you do an online search, for example, for the terms "Wonder Woman" and "feminist" you get a mere 680,000 hits in Google NEWS, as opposed to the whole WWW. That was last night. 

With the whole Amazon meets Greek mythology thing going on, there have been a few stories sort of chasing that religion angle.

However, we can celebrate the fact that The Washington Post dedicated a large amount of digital space (I would appreciate knowing how much of this copy ran in the dead-treepulp analog edition) to an "Acts of Faith" feature that offered a great deal of information about the Jewish faith and Israeli identity of the actress with the iconic sword, shield, wrist armor and, well, form-fitting battle garb -- Gal Gadot.

The headline: "How the Jewish identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ star is causing a stir." Just about the only thing negative I can say about this report was that, for logical reasons, it needed to include quite a bit of material from other media sources. Oh, and this story also requires me -- once again -- to praise the work of this reporter, none other than former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. Awkward.

In addition to soaring box-office numbers and feminist and post-feminist arguments about cleavage, there is actual news linked to the popularity of this movie and its star. Right up top, readers learn:

Ahead of the film’s international release, Lebanon banned the film because of Gadot, who, like most Israeli citizens, served a mandatory two-year stint in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer. (Jordan is also reportedly considering a ban on the film.)
In 2014, Gadot posted on Facebook support of the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza while lighting candles with her daughter and writing “Shabbat Shalom,” the common greeting Jews say to one another on the Sabbath.

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Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

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