Carmon vs. Abunimah

“What they’re trying to do is to pretend that the effect of the conflict is the cause of the conflict.” (Ali Abunimah)

What follows is an edited transcript from a debate between Yigal Carmon of MEMRI and Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. It took place on Q&A with Zain Verjee, CNN, 29 July 2002. The transcript was originally prepared by CNN and has words missing.

VERJEE: […] Yigal Carmon, tell us a little bit first about your organization and why it’s important.

CARMON: Well, our organization monitors the Arabic and Farsi Iranian media, of text books, of schools in the Arab world, and what is being said in the mosques, and it tries to translate it into English and other European languages — in fact, all — in an attempt to mirror what is happening in the Arab world and in Iran as clearly as possible.

Because what we have seen is that what comes to the West from there is sometimes lacking in terms of what is being — you have from the Arab world almost a double message. What is being said in Arabic is not reported in English or other languages, and so there was a need to reflect that, to mirror it. And this is what we are doing for the last few years. We have a website where people can find it,

VERJEE: Ali Abunimah, what about Electronic Intifada?

ABUNIMAH: is a resource really for everyone who is interested in countering the spin about the conflict, attempts like those of MEMRI to try to spread this kind of racist nonsense, that Arabs and Iranians can’t be trusted; they say one thing in Arabic and another thing in English. We really get to the truth of some of those kinds of things at, as well as providing analysis of the media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

VERJEE: They just translate articles, though. They don’t offer any commentary, Ali.

ABUNIMAH: Well, they translate very selectively. If I wanted to go to the Israeli press and find racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim expressions, it’s very, very easy. In fact, you find them every day, and what they’re doing with this so-called think tank, MEMRI.


VERJEE: Yigal, I’ll give you a chance to respond in a moment. Make your point, Ali.

ABUNIMAH: My point is that what they’re trying to do is to pretend that the effect of the conflict is the cause of the conflict. The cause of the conflict is the fact that 4 million plus Palestinians do not have basic freedom and human rights, and no amount of spin, no attempt to pretend that it’s just media spin will take that away.

VERJEE: Yigal Carmon, I’ll give you a chance to respond to that.

CARMON: Yes. Well, first of all, whoever goes into our Web site sees the amount, the huge amount of positive, so to speak liberal voices that we translate from the Arab world, and I don’t know what Mr. Abunimah is talking about. However, let me give you an example so that we understand what we are talking about.

When the editor-in-chief of the main paper in Egypt, “Al Ahram,” writes that the United States is dropping genetically treated food into minefields in Afghanistan, when the United States was dropping food. Now, this is of course not said in any broadcast that comes out from Egypt in English. This is just an example. I think that Mr. Abunimah would do a better job in trying to show what happens in Israel and do the same thing with regard to Israel.


VERJEE: Do you do that?

ABUNIMAH: I’d be happy to. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

CARMON: Why don’t you do it? Why don’t you do it?

ABUNIMAH: I mean, here it is. You know, this kind of incitement is going on in the Israeli media all the time. Here’s a little Israeli girl with a sign saying “Expel The Arab Enemy!”.

VERJEE: Yes, OK, but there is also plenty of that going on in the Arab world as well. I mean…


CARMON: …The leaders of the society, and we are talking about the leaders. We are talking about the public opinion makers. About official education system of what is being taught by the government of mosques. The main mosque in every Arab country. It’s not some girl that says something somewhere.


ABUNIMAH: I mean, this is just exactly the kind of attempt I’m talking about to try to make people believe that the fact that now 1/5 of Palestinian children are seriously malnourished, according to the United States government, because of the Israeli siege, that that’s all an effect of sermons in the mosque?

I mean, you can find this everywhere. You have the former chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, who said Arabs should be annihilated from the face of the earth and God regrets making them. You have former P.M. Edhud Barak, who said Arabs are congenital liars. You have the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, who says that Arabs and Palestinians are from another planet. You even have the so-called liberal speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, who said, on American television, that Arabs are, quote, “not the kind of people you would want your daughter to marry.”

And in the Israeli cabinet today, you have leaders, ministers, heads of parties, who openly advocate ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Of course you can find this on all sides. This is the effect of the conflict, and not the cause of it. No amount of effort…

VERJEE: Yigal Carmon. Yigal Carmon. Can you take up his point?

CARMON: Of course. Of course. What you can find in the Israeli media is different than what I am talking about. You wouldn’t find things like what I quoted from the editor-in-chief of “Al Ahram” or from people like…

ABUNIMAH: What about calls for ethnic cleansing? Isn’t that worse? I have not seen on your Web site any condemnations of the frequent calls for ethnic cleansing from Israeli party leaders in the Hebrew press. What they’re saying in Hebrew and we’re translating from [—], and yet [—] is not the same as what they’re saying in English. Last week, your government…


VERJEE: All right. All right. Look. Look. We only have a minute left, and I’d like to pose this question to the both of you. Let me pose this last question to the both of you, if I may, briefly. Is hate propaganda the cause or the result of the conflict? Ali, you first. 30 seconds. 30 seconds.

ABUNIMAH: Obviously, it’s the result of the fact that 4 million people are living under a brutal foreign military dictatorship, the Israeli occupation. The Israeli occupation does not need help inciting against itself. We’ve had over 300 children killed, over 1,000 civilians killed, many hundreds of civilians killed on the Israeli side as well. Of course that produces hatred.

VERJEE: Yigal.

CARMON: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy, but we don’t focus on that necessarily. We deal with the whole Arab world, from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria. Of course, you know that those who hijacked the planes on September 11th were not under Israeli occupation. This is hate that is nurtured in [—].

ABUNIMAH: Oh, this is just a red herring. What an attempt to confuse the issue.

CARMON: So, please, this is red herring for you? 4,000 people dying, innocent people dying.


VERJEE: Look, we’re going to have to leave our discussion there, and perhaps continue it another day. Ali Abunimah, Yigal Carmon, thanks for speaking to us on Q&A, in spite of the fact you didn’t agree on anything. Thank you.


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