Saudi Arabian policies are serving the interests of the United States and Israel by harming the Muslim world claims Iran’s judiciary chief.
Iran’s judiciary chief slammed Saudi Arabia on Monday for its hostile policies towards Tehran claiming that Saudi policies are serving the interests of the United States and Israel by harming the Muslim world, according to a report by Fars News.
“The illogical and unwise measures by the Saudi rulers have led to nothing but weakening the Muslim world, providing service to the world arrogance and strengthening the terrorist stream,” said Sadeq Amoli Larijani in a speech addressing the judiciary officials in Tehran according to the report.
Lorajani continued on to blast the attitudes of the Saudi leadership stating that Saudi officials speak with the illusion that they have control of the affairs of all Islamic countries.
“Unfortunately, the Saudi rulers have turned into a laborer at the service of the Zionists and Americans,” he added.
Also Monday, in a meeting with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani, called on the Saudi leadership to stop creating instability in the region by encouraging hostility toward Iran by other Islamic countries.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran last week in response to the storming of its embassy in Tehran in an escalating row between the rival Middle East powers over Riyadh’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the Saudi government.
Iranian demonstrators protesting against the execution of the cleric, broke into the Saudi embassy building, smashed furniture and started fires before being ejected by police.
Tensions between revolutionary, mainly Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni monarchy have run high for years as they backed opposing forces in wars and political conflicts across the Middle East, usually along sectarian lines.
Last week’s announcement that Saudi Arabia — easily one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes — was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel provoked indignation around the world. That reaction was triggered for obvious reasons. Not only has Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year, mostly by beheading (a rate of 1 execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.
Most of the world may be horrified at the selection of Saudi Arabia to head a key U.N. human rights panel, but the U.S. State Department most certainly is not. Quite the contrary: its officials seem quite pleased about the news. At a State Department briefing yesterday afternoon, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was questioned by the invaluable Matt Lee of AP, and this is the exchange that resulted:
QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.
MR. TONER: Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you — or the verdict — death sentence.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when was 17 years old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.
QUESTION: So you —
QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s — we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we —
QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given — I mean, how many pages is — does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?
MR. TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.
QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you — that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.
MR. TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.
QUESTION: But you said that you welcome them in this position. Is it based on [an] improved record? I mean, can you show or point to anything where there is a sort of stark improvement in their human rights record?
MR. TONER: I mean, we have an ongoing discussion with them about all these human rights issues, like we do with every country. We make our concerns clear when we do have concerns, but that dialogue continues. But I don’t have anything to point to in terms of progress.
QUESTION: Would you welcome as a — would you welcome a decision to commute the sentence of this young man?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not aware of the case, so it’s hard for me to comment on it other than that we believe that any kind of verdict like that should come at the end of a legal process that is just and in accordance with international legal standards.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
That’s about as clear as it gets. The U.S. government “welcomes” the appointment of Saudi Arabia to a leadership position on this Human Rights panel because it’s a “close ally.” As I documented two weeks ago courtesy of an equally candid admission from an anonymous “senior U.S. official”: “The U.S. loves human-rights-abusing regimes and always has, provided they ‘cooperate.’ … The only time the U.S. government pretends to care in the slightest about human rights abuses is when they’re carried out by ‘countries that don’t cooperate.’”
It’s difficult to know whether Mark Toner is lying when he claims ignorance about the case of al-Nimr, the regime critic about to be beheaded and crucified for dissident activism, which he engaged in as a teen. Indeed, it’s hard to know which would be worse: active lying or actual ignorance, given that much of the world has been talking about this case. The government of France formally requested that the Saudis rescind the death penalty. Is it really possible that the deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department is ignorant of this controversy? Either way, the reluctance of the U.S. government to utter a peep about the grotesque abuses of its “close ally” is in itself grotesque.
But it’s also profoundly revealing. The close U.S./Saudi alliance and the massive amount of weapons and intelligence lavished on the regime in Riyadh by the West is one of the great unmentionables in Western discourse. (The Guardian last week published an editorial oh-so-earnestly lamenting the war in Yemen being waged by what it called the “Saudi-led coalition,” yet never once mentioned the rather important fact that the Saudis are being armed in this heinous war by the U.S. and U.K.; it took a letter to the editor from an Oxfam official to tell The Guardian that the West is not being “complacent” about the war crimes being committed in Yemen, as The Guardian misleadingly claimed, but rather actively complicit.)
It’s not hard to understand why so many of the elite sectors of the West want everyone to avert their eyes from this deep and close relationship with the Saudis. It’s because that alliance single-handedly destroys almost every propagandistic narrative told to the Western public about that region.
As the always-expanding “War on Terror” enters its 14th year, the ostensible target — radical, violent versions of Islam — is fueled far more by the U.S.’s closest allies than any of the countries the U.S. has been fighting under the “War on Terror” banner. Beyond that, the alliance proves the complete absurdity of believing that the U.S. and U.K.’s foreign policies, let alone their various wars, have anything to do with protecting human rights or subverting tyranny and fanaticism. And it renders a complete laughingstock any attempts to depict the U.S. government as some sort of crusader for freedom and democracy or whatever other pretty goals are regularly attributed to it by its helpful press.
Caption: President Barack Obama, right, meets with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Washington.
The British have their treasured BBC. In the United States it’s NPR and PBS. In Germany it’s ARD. At various points, all these public media pillars have been accused of bias from one side or another of the political spectrum. But none has ever faced the prospect of actually being dismantled.
That is the reality now facing the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Whether IBA’s soon-to-come demise will mark a blow against a biased and insulated liberal elite or an assault on press independence in a country where many say this value is under threat depends very much on whom you ask. But no one doubts that the end of the broadcast enterprise the Zionists launched eight years before the state itself will mark an important milestone in the history of Israel’s media.
According to a government plan, IBA will close on March 31. But the possibility of an extension could keep the termination at bay for many more months. Meanwhile plans for a successor agency remain vague, along with the most important question accompanying them: Whatever comes next, will it be an independent public media outlet and a beacon for the free press in the style of the BBC, with all its faults? Or will it be simply a state media outlet, in the manner of Russia Today, Moscow’s sophisticated international television propaganda arm whose content is determined by aides serving at the whim of President Vladimir Putin?
Since its founding in pre-state Palestine, IBA has been called both. In fact, it has, at various times, defined itself as both.
Founded as the radio station of the pre-state Zionist military organization the Haganah, the fledgling media operation was subsumed into the prime minister’s office as Kol Israel, or the Voice of Israel, after Israel declared independence in 1948. It operated straightforwardly then as a propaganda tool until 1965, when it was shifted to a broadcasting authority modeled on the BBC.
Not long after, IBA expanded to include a television station, Channel 1. The founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was adamantly opposed to television in the young state, believing it was an educational tool inferior to books and radio, said Rafi Mann, a historian of communications at Ariel University, in the West Bank. But in the mid-1960s, the Israeli press reported that Mizrahim — or Jews from Arab lands — were watching television from Syria and Lebanon. Concerned about the implications of this for the new Israeli culture, Ben-Gurion’s successor, Levi Eshkol, greenlighted Channel 1.
In the absence of other options, IBA’s TV and radio programs were widely consumed in the young Jewish state. IBA grew to offer programming in 14 languages, including Arabic, English and Amharic, spoken by Israel’s Ethiopian minority. But problems began for IBA in 1977, when the election of the right-wing Likud party ended 30 years of left-wing rule in Israel. IBA “was considered as a tool for the previous government,” said Oren Persico, a journalist with the Seventh Eye, a site reporting on the Israeli media.
IBA’s structure left it vulnerable to government influence. The government appointed the board as well as the senior management positions in charge of news, radio and television. In recent years, the Likud government, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has placed right-wing appointees to helm IBA. Amir Gilat, once a Netanyahu spokesman, was made chairman of IBA in 2010, a position he no longer holds.
The pressure sometimes trickled down into the newsroom. In 2012, the popular radio host Keren Neubach was asked to co-host with a right-wing counterpart in order to balance her perceived left-wing bias. Her station, Voice of Israel, pushed back, and Neubach continued to helm the program alone.
According to Eran Mor-Cicurel, the foreign news editor at IBA’s radio networks, whether right or wrong, Israel’s Likud government still perceives IBA as a Labor Party, or left-of-center, entity. He believes that’s why IBA is on the chopping block today.
“I think our closure is part of the government attempts to break this so-called, so-perceived left-leaning political elite,” he said.
Yet pressure on IBA is not only political; it’s economic. In the 1990s, the Knesset ended IBA’s monopoly of Israeli radio and television, facilitating a flood of new TV and radio channels. With so many new programs competing for Israeli eyes and ears, IBA couldn’t keep up. IBA’s 1,200 employees were represented by more than a dozen unions, which hampered the operation’s ability to report the news as quickly and efficiently as its commercial counterparts. In this new scenario, IBA’s ratings plummeted quickly.
Yet at the same time, IBA maintained relative independence, with occasional bold programming. An IBA channel ran “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary featuring former heads of Israel’s security service speaking frankly about Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.
For its funding, IBA depended on an annual fee from the public. Israeli citizens with televisions had to pay this, regardless of whether they were watching the public broadcast channel — and fewer and fewer of them were. IBA sometimes resorted to outrageous methods to collect the hated fee, hiring lawyers to sue people who shirked it, or even setting up roadblocks to stop drivers and ask them if they paid it, Persico said.
Meanwhile, the government convened committee after committee to decide IBA’s fate. In 2014 lthe Knesset voted to close IBA and replace it with an agency that would operate more slimly and, in principle, without political interference. Since the fee was canceled in late 2014, IBA has been slowly sapped of its resources, and hundreds of employees have left.
Now, public broadcasting in Israel is in limbo as IBA prepares to close and as its replacement opens. The process is akin to “replac[ing] an engine while the car is still driving,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the media reform project at the Israel Democracy Institute.
According to Shwartz Altshuler, the legislation that created the new authority — which she helped craft — has several promising aspects. Most important, the government will not directly choose the new entity’s senior managers, as it does now at IBA, though it will still approve the board of directors, giving it indirect influence. The legislation mandates that programming cater to Jews, Arabs, the elderly and the young. A quarter of its employees will come from the old IBA.
But there are also reasons for concern, Shwartz Altshuler said. While IBA’s numerous unions were cumbersome, they also protected the workers there. The new agency won’t be unionized at all, at least not in the beginning. Since there is no public fee, the government will fund the new authority. The legislation is structured so as to protect against government efforts to slash funding if officials don’t agree with the programming. But it’s not foolproof.
“If politicians want to get involved, they will find ways to do that,” Shwartz Altshuler said.
This is what worries Idele Ross, a reporter at IBA’s English radio station for 38 years who retired two years ago. “What scares the bejesus out of me [is] that public radio and public television are going to become state radio and state television, managed by a group of people who are political appointments,” she said.
Meanwhile, details about what the new authority will look like in practice remain scarce. Eldad Koblen, head of the new authority, declined an interview with the Forward.
IBA’s uncertain future only adds to the rocky state of the free press in Israel today, as it is increasingly buffeted by commercial and political forces. The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom, funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, changed the media market in Israel by flooding the country with free newspapers and lowering advertising rates. Israel Hayom has eclipsed Yediot Aharonot, which was once the daily newspaper with the largest circulation. Maariv, once the second-largest daily newspaper, is a shell of its former self. Walla, a popular Israeli news site, has been pressured to give favorable coverage to Netanyahu, a Haaretz investigation found. The prime minister is close with Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch, who controls the company that owns Walla.
When IBA’s replacement opens, it could be a strong example for the free press in Israel — or another weak outlet.
“The media landscape is in such bad shape now, both in terms of lack of viable business models and with such high political influence,” Shwartz Altshuler said.
The hope, she said, is that IBA’s replacement will be a “pillar of excellence for the whole industry.”