The “Settler” from West Jerusalem

by Brian on July 24, 2005

in In the News,The Old Country

(The following op-ed piece appeared on HonestReporting.com.)

Picture that appeared on the front page of the Sunday Chronicle

For the past three years, I have been writing a decidedly non-political blog called “This Normal Life.” My goal has been to present slices of what passes for “normal” life in today’s troubled Israel.

I have very deliberately avoided presenting any particular religious or political point of view and have turned down a number of offers for interviews with the international media, always afraid that my neutral stance as an author would be compromised; detracting from the broad appeal this blog holds for the many people who read it regularly.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I agreed to be profiled in an article in this Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. The reporter actually found me through this blog and said he was writing a series of articles about the real people behind the headlines living their normal lives in the Middle East. As a former San Franciscan, I would be perfect, he assured me.

With a pick up line like that, how could I say no?

Imagine then my shock when I read the headline of the article about me that appeared in the Sunday July 24 issue of the SF Chronicle: “Settler Hopes for Peace to Take Root.”

The last time I checked, we residents of western Jerusalem were not considered “settlers.” Which got me seriously wondering: had the Chronicle come to consider all of Israel a controversial “settlement?”

Now, as a writer and a reporter myself, I know what happens in the editing process, and I know that the reporter who interviewed me, Matt Stannard, was not responsible for the headline.

Indeed he sent me an apologetic email shortly after the article came out expressing his outrage and how he feels “terrible” and “sabotaged” by whoever made what he said was a “last minute overnight change” without his approval.

Still, it highlights a general problem with “balance” when it comes to media reporting in this part of the world.

When I first started writing “This Normal Life” in 2002, I approached the very same Chronicle, as my hometown paper, and suggested that they print my blog as a weekly column. The editor I spoke with at the time said the only way they could do that is if they gave equal time and space to a contrasting Palestinian viewpoint.

I argued, to no avail, that my writing was not political; it was just charming little stories about daily life from an expatriate San Franciscan.

So when I see a headline describing me as a “settler,” I can’t help ask – was that the result of a complete lack of awareness by the headline writer as to what the term “settler” connotes? A deliberate attempt to spice up the story – to say “look, here’s a settler who supports peace, isn’t that special?”

Or something even worse: a not-so-hidden political agenda?

Any way you look at it, someone had to have given some thought to the matter, since there had been a perfectly acceptable headline that was consciously changed.

In the end, though, does it really matter? Whatever the intention, the words are loaded and the result tarnishes Stanndard’s well written and moving portrayal of my life.

After the article appeared, Stanndard intervened and ensured that the headline was changed – several times in fact.

Within hours of its original appearance on the web, “Settler” changed to “Resident”…

…then switched to “Man from Berkeley” hopes for peace…

…before settling (no pun intended) on “resident” again.

The Chronicle’s Deputy Managing Editor for News, Steve Proctor, has since written to me and apologized for the error. A correction was printed in Monday’s newspaper reading:

“The headline on a Sunday Story about Israel’s disengagement from parts of the occupied territories misidentified the subject of the story as a settler. He is a resident of Jerusalem, as the story states.”

Unfortunately, there’s not much that could be done for the newspaper that hundreds of thousands of San Francisco Bay Area readers opened with their morning coffee on Sunday. It had already gone to print – with me cast as “settler.”

Looks like I’ll be avoiding the press for a little while longer.

————————————
Click here to view the cover of the SF Chronicle.
Click here to read the article itself in the Chronicle.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 3:17 pm

Claude writes:

Brian,
I've just read your article on Honest Reporting and I really hold my head up to the sky and wonder where we are all going with this. The lies that are being passed off these days as “truth” are beyond belief (literally).
As a Londoner, I have had to listen to the anti-semitic bile that spews out of the mouth of our so-called mayor for a while now – most of which goes unchallenged.
I don't know if this helps in any way but I just wanted to share my utter frustration with someone else who understands where I'm coming from.
Kol tuv
2 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 4:13 pm

Anonymous writes:

You should ask the Chronicle to print your Honest Reporting Blog entry as an op-ed. It is the least they can do.
3 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 4:14 pm

Leonie Lachmish writes:

I understand your feeling about the title but, Brian, I think the article was super . The religious definitions are irrelevant to Americans, I think . The point that came across was your strong Jewish identity and humanity and those are the two most important things, together with you being such a lovely-looking wholesome family. So I think you should have NO regrets about the article and be ready to do more. Ultimately, any publicity that isn't outright negative (and this was positively positive) , can bring sympathetic responses and better understanding.
Kol hakavod – would love to subscribe to your blog. – Leonie Lachmish , Mercaz Shapira (Olah vatika from London)
4 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 4:29 pm

lars heyerdahl writes:

Hi Brian,
As a longtime subscriber to Honest Reporting (hey, I love strong opinions, also ones I can disagree with 🙂 ) and a former, 30-year resident of San Francisco, I agree with Leonie above. Good article, and have bookmarked your blog. The press will ALWAYS be biased, or just ignorant, one way or the other.
Wishing you peace, and Keep up the good work, please.
Thanks.
Lars,
p/t in Norway
5 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 4:50 pm

Karin writes:

The media thinks you're a “settler” because anyone who makes aliyah is in their book a “settler” and has no rightful claim to Israeli citizenship. That's my take on it.
It could be worse…The Washington Post covered Yom HaShoah by saying that the Nazis “killed six million people, many of whom were Jews.”
6 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 5:21 pm

ronan jubineau writes:

Dear Brian,
i am surprised that you discover now a strong bias against anything that has to do with Israel…. in your case it is creepy because done in “objective” way of presenting things… most of the Editors of major powerful medias in america or europe are left wing anti-semites.
7 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Gary Zone writes:

Hi Brian,
Had I not read about you in Honest Reporting, I would not have known about your blog or the article in the Chronicle.
I read what Stannard wrote and, headlines aside, it was an excellent article and so very fair, something I would not expect of a newspaper reporter. He stands in a class of his own. He kept his promise to you in spades. You were not wrong in trusting him “to keep the faith”.
All the best,
Gary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
8 Anonymous July 25, 2005 at 6:21 pm

Sarah Williams writes:

We are Marin residents who cancelled our subscription to the SF Chronicle five years ago after years of its promotion of anti-Israel stories. Your story was a great exception and change of tone, despite the inflammatory headline. I wasted years and bytes repeatedly writing to the Chron with corrections (with links to sources) to their Hamas-supervised reporter's stories. I accomplished only one thing: when I pointed out that all of their writers might have a bias, being named Jamie Talabie and Nasser Amoud, etc, the next day, still more anti-Israel stories appeared without named by-lines. Instead, the by-line read “Chronicle Foreign News Service.”
9 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 7:54 am

Aaron writes:

Mr. Blum,
I am a member of HonestReporting.com, and I recently got the e-mail about your blog. When I read the SF Chronicle article about you, a name flashed out that I immediately recognized: Marla Bennett.
I was a counselor at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, CA from 2002-2004. Unfortunately, I missed meeting Marla by a year, but when the news of her death reached the summer camp it made a tremendous impact. It is interesting how one person can impact so many people.
Additionally, when I went to Israel this past winter with Hillel Birthright, the coordinator for my trip coincidentally turned out to be Marla's boyfriend — yet another testament to how small the Jewish community truly is.
Your blog serves a very good purpose. I hope you continue writing the things you write. We peaceniks need someone like you to show the world that Isrealis and Jews are nice people.
-Aaron
10 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 10:18 am

Hi Brian,
I'm sure your article was good. Meanwhile, no suprise about “settlers”. I had the U.S. Consul remind me a while back that no less than the U.S. Government considers all of Jerusalem, including where you and I live, and where the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) is, “disputed territory”.
You don't want to be political but the world will hardly let you avoid it.
Meanwhile, in the article front page, the best the Palestinian “partner” had to offer was “that violence is no longer helping the Palestinian cause.”
We are all rightful settlers of the State of Israel, and will have to stand together in these hard times.
— Tom

11 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 12:34 pm

Brian Blum writes:

I received an email from a fellow journalist that took me to task for making such a fuss over one word out of what I heartily agree was a very positive article.
The writer said that mistakes happen at newspapers and while it was “too bad” and “sloppy,” it was certainly not bias. The writer concluded that given the fact that the Chronicle devoted nearly 2,400 words to giving a fair portrayal of my experience, “I should realize that more than anyone.”
I responded by saying that I thought I made it very clear that the reporter did a excellent job of portraying my life and that I have nothing but respect for his integrity and professionalism.
The headline may seem like a small matter, but in the politically charged world of Middle East politics, that one word change makes an enormous difference.
Matt Stannard, the reporter, wanted to portray “normal” life over here and we spent many hours together on the piece. Transforming me into a “settler,” even if it was just an “innocent mistake,” makes me anything but normal. Depending on one's perspective, I'm either a hero or a racist oppressor…or both.
Words do make a difference, even a single one out of 2,377 good ones. Turning it back on the reporter, I concluded that he should realize that, “more than anyone.”
— Brian
12 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 6:21 pm

J writes:

A Palestinian whose grandfather has keys and deeds to houses in West Jerusalem cannot visit, and you can come from the Bay Area and instantly become a citizen simply because you are Jewish.
That isn't settling?
13 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 6:25 pm

Gary Zone writes:

Brian,
Re your last remark, I totally agree.
There is another site, a Canadian one, http://www.honestreporting.ca.
It mentioned a report on Radio-Canada (the French Canadian channel) that reported on those Canadians and Americans that recently immigrated to Israel as 'nouveaux colons', i.e. 'new settlers'. Honest Reporting Canada took exception to that.
I have an close Anglophone friend, living in Montreal, who is fully bilingual and married to a French Canadian. So, he lives and works in French, but, more to the point here, he understand French Canadian nuance.
I wrote him to ask him whether 'colon' in Quebec in fact had a blander meaning than the dictionary definition so as not to jump to conclusions. He wrote back and told me that he hasn't used the word politically but in normal parlance it has a derogatory meaning of 'cretin' or 'uncivilized'.
So, in fact, the use of 'colon' by Radio-Canada not only was anti-Israel but perhaps anti-Jew as well. It seems to me like a vicious double-entendre. I wrote back to honestreporting.ca, B'nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Jewish News. They all gave me no heed on this secondary meaning. B'nai Brith and CJN didn't even bother to reply. Why did I even bother? I won't waste my time again.
Gary in Calgary
14 Anonymous July 26, 2005 at 8:40 pm

Maggie writes:

Brian, I subscribe to Honest Reporting and am so glad that they printed this. I agree heartily…..words do matter, and one word can matter a lot. I am so glad to have found your blog.
15 Anonymous July 27, 2005 at 11:49 am

Alberto Lerner writes:

After all the Jews sent to the concentration camps can be considered as “Settlers” when somebaoy tries to push people into confusion.
And into falseness.
It doesn't take to much to arrive to that conclusion and use it as a headline.
16 Anonymous July 28, 2005 at 7:42 am

Mike Harris writes:

Brian: As many others have noted, I also would not have known of your blog until the Honest Reporting piece; I live in Marin but don't get the Chron, in part because of its anti-Israel bias (Matthew Kelman and now maybe Matt Stannard being exceptions). At least the Chron will occasionally publish pro-Israel letters, and mine in response to the Honest Reporting piece was published today–without a “balancing” anti-Israel letter!!
Having just enjoyed a week in your neighborhood this month (with my family, visiting my wife's cousin), I look forward to keeping up with your posts.
(http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/07/27/EDGSHDTCUV1.DTL)
17 Anonymous July 28, 2005 at 8:09 pm

I think you are blaming the wrong people:
(quoted from an article here: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/elder072805.php3 )
The former Syrian prime minister, in his 1972 memoirs, candidly wrote, “Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees . . . while it is we who made them leave.
. . . We brought disaster upon . . . Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave. . . . We have rendered them dispossessed. . . . We have accustomed them to begging. . . . Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon men, women and children all this in the service of political purposes. . . . ”

So let me get this straight: The agressor loses the war and as such the property that was voluntarily abandoned – and now demands it back?!!!!
Note, the victims of WWII, who did NOT voluntarily leave there homes, but were forcibly removed – they were not given their own homes back, even though it was at most 6 years that they were gone.

18 Anonymous July 29, 2005 at 8:49 pm

Joshua writes:

Anti-Israel bias? Are we reading the same paper?
19 Anonymous July 31, 2005 at 7:02 pm

Brian Blum writes:

A reader wrote to send a link to a correction the Chronicle printed in 2002 when it neglected to report on a pro-Israel rally that drew thousands in San Francisco.
Here's the link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/04/21/ED35579.DTL&hw=rally+israel+justin+herman+plaza&sn=005&sc=533
20 Anonymous August 2, 2005 at 1:25 am

Mary Ann writes:

Hi!
Two things:
1. I think this is the greatest picture of you and Jody! Thanks for sharing it.
2. I enjoy your blog so much especially the stories about your children.
Mary Ann
21 Anonymous August 16, 2005 at 1:55 am

Milton writes:

I was introduced to your blog through the Chronicle article. My paper had the “Settler” headline. Your point is well taken, but at least the article got me introduced to yor writing. Hope you keep it up!

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