Avi Melamed, an independent Middle Eastern strategic intelligence analyst, presented an Israeli perspective on the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last Friday.
Melamed, a former Israeli counterterrorism official and former Senior Advisor on Arab Affairs in Jerusalem, claimed that Israel receives an unfair majority of blame from the media for the turbulence in the Middle East.
After discussing the partiality of press coverage of the Middle East, Melamed encouraged students to carefully evaluate their sources of information when shaping their own views and opinions.
“The state of Israel takes a lot of criticism from people around the world, which, in proportion to Israel’s problems, are disproportionate,” Melamed said.
He used coverage of the Arab Spring to exemplify the bias of the media. According to Melamed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not drive pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the Arab world in January 2011, as suggested by several press sources. Continued friction between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims led to the uprisings, he said.
“[The Arab Spring] is the eruption of a volcano that has been smoking for a long time in this region. It’s not about Israel or about the Palestinian conflict… it’s about the challenges of the Arab world, ” said Melamed.
Melamed also said that though the media favors the Palestinian perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is primarily perpetuated by divisions within Palestine, which hinder peace efforts.
He cited public and media criticism for the building of a fence on the Israeli-Palestinian border. He believes the construction of the fence is justified because it prevents potential suicide bombers from entering Israel.
“In different parts of the world, people have referred to this fence as a separatist fence, people say [that] it is illegitimate to build the fence, but when Saudi Arabia built a fence on the border with Yemen, no one called it illegitimate,” Melamed said.
According to Melamed, the general American perception of the Middle East, often fueled by secondary media sources, is flawed.
As an example, Melamed referred to the media portrayal of the situation in the Gaza Strip. “People are talking about the Gaza Strip as a ‘humanitarian crisis,’…but there are malls in the Gaza Strip, coffee shops in the Gaza Strip, people are driving fancy cars in the Gaza Strip,” said Melamed.
Fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Melamed claimed that Arab media sources are more reliable than those in English.
Though Melamed shared his opinions at the presentation, he said that during his stint as an intelligence official he had to remain impartial.
“An intelligence person doesn’t care about politics or personal emotions. He only cares about the information, intelligence and understanding,” said Melamed.
“[Melamed] mentioned during his talk that people inside and outside of the Middle East have biases against Israel and often view Israel as the enemy. I thought any biased statements [he made] in his presentation were only presented to debunk the generally negative views of Israel and provide a [less] biased ‘big picture’ in the end,” wrote Esther Cohen ’14, Director of Publicity for Jewish Student Union (JSU), in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
JSU brought Melamed to Andover. Zoe Chazen ’14, Co-Head of JSU, met Melamed on a family trip to Israel and invited him to campus.
“I thought that there was a misconception about Israel on campus, and I wanted [Melamed] to begin the discussion about Israel and the Middle East,” said Chazen.
“The student body as a whole is very interested in politics and foreign policy, so the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes up. If people are interested, it’s important to understand another side, and I thought bringing a speaker would be good for that. I wanted people to leave having a more open mind about the conflict,” continued Chazen.
Melamed is currently on a lecture tour throughout the United States.