The perils of social media


An email exchange between the head of a pro-Israel organization and a “Voice of America” producer that appeared to degrade an Israeli-Palestinian journalist is a reminder, even now, that what you put on to social media never goes away.

The exchange between former AIPAC official Josh Block, now CEO and president of The Israel Project, and Hooman Bakhtiar of VOA took place in October but was published last week in The Intercept. That outlet obtained the emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.

The underlying conversation was hardly newsworthy. Bakhtiar contacted Block in an effort to get suggestions for a pro-Israel speaker who could go up against former MSNBC foreign affairs analyst Rula Jebreal, a dual Israeli-Italian national who identifies as a Palestinian, in an on-air debate. In his reply, Block described Jebreal as a “crazy person” and said that the challenge is to find someone “who wants to fight with a slanderous anti-Semite and doesn’t mind imparting their credibility to a non-entity like her.”

Bakhtiar answered that “Lady Rula’s” credentials as a Middle East analyst “are quite questionable, but my editor was keen on having her on because of her looks (although she is hardly my type).” Block’s response: “Now that makes sense!”

Block was wrong to buy into Bakhtiar’s sexist comment and to have done so in writing no less. He then compounded his mistake by boasting of it on Twitter: “Read how to decline a @VOANews interview w/ a lunatic Jew hater while agreeing she is good TV!” he wrote above a screenshot of his original email.

Perhaps that showed poor judgment. But the “journalism” behind The Intercept’s report—which sought to make a big deal out of the insults and commentary—and the follow-up stories by the English edition of Ha’aretz and The Forward, which repeated The Intercept’s claims, were worse. The outrage, finger-pointing and accusatory rhetoric in those articles was overstated and seems to have been driven more by Block’s longtime association with AIPAC than real concern over his comments or debate partner suggestion.

In fact, there is no underlying story here. Block wasn’t the one who denigrated Jebreal because of her looks; he castigated her for her politics—a time-honored practice of the movers and shakers in Washington. Nonetheless, Block should have been more careful in his response. And there is a clear lesson: While these kinds of exchanges between journalists and talking heads aren’t really news, the publication of trash talk and sexist commentary is simply bad form.

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