How Social Media Would Have Changed New York on 9/11

In an Arabic-language article published last week, I argued that Israel’s new campaign to artificially equate Palestinian refugees and Jews who either immigrated or fled to Israel from Arab states relies on a forced and false analogy. Zionist ideology contradicts the notion that these Israeli Jews are refugees, and six decades of Israeli policy demonstrate Israel’s complete disregard for Palestinian refugee rights. Israel’s manipulative strategy is part of a public relations campaign that is both cynical and hypocritical. At the very core of Zionist ideology is the idea that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. If this is the case, and Jews living in Israel are citizens of their singular national homeland, then the state cannot consider them refugees — they cannot be returnees to Israel and refugees from another homeland at the same time. Demanding that the international community treat Jewish immigrants as refugees is therefore an act of “dezionization.” If, however, they are refugees and Israel is not their homeland, then their primary right is the right to return. An article titled “Hitching a Ride on the Magic Carpet” in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz highlighted Jewish immigrants who have spoken out against the notion that they are refugees. Each one has indicated that an Israeli citizen cannot be both a refugee and a Zionist. The late Yisrael Yeshayu, a Yemeni-born former Knesset Speaker said, “We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations.” Shlomo Hillel, a government minister and an active Zionist from Iraq explained, “I don’t regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists.” Former Knesset member Ran Cohen, who immigrated from Iraq, uses even more direct language: “I have to say: I am not a refugee.” He added: “I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. No one is going to define me as a refugee.” The intention of Israel’s campaign is not to protect the rights of Jews, nor to deliberately “dezionize” Israel, but rather to undermine the rights of the Palestinian refugees, whom it uprooted, dispossessed, and expelled from their homeland. Israel has since continued to deny Palestinians our rights as enshrined in international law and in successive United Nations resolutions, the foremost of which is the right of return. Responses to my Arabic-language article accuse me of denying that Jews suffered targeted persecution in many states. I do not. Jews and others who were forced out of the countries they call home, and who consider themselves refugees, should be permitted to return. We Palestinians are unfortunately well acquainted with exile, and we stand in solidarity with all people who struggle to return to the countries from which they were expelled. What we cannot tolerate is Israel denying the rights of those whom it has itself turned into refugees while demanding refugee recognition for some of its own citizens for the sake of compensation and undercutting the Palestinian right of return to homes and lands from which our people were forced out in 1948. In launching such a deceptive campaign, Israel is not fighting for the rights of its people; it is seeking to distort the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and deny rights to the Palestinians it ethnically cleansed 64 years ago.

The White House has denied reports of a rift with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, saying that the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama have reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Obama and Netanyahu spoke for an hour by telephone on Tuesday night and the White House said in a statement later that the two men agreed to continue “close consultations going forward” regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The White House denied published reports that Obama had rejected Netanyahu’s request to meet with Obama in Washington next week. Netanyahu has met Obama on each of his previous US trips as Israeli leader since 2009.

No such request was made or rejected, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
In-depth coverage of a growing regional debate
Netanyahu’s strong words risk antagonising Obama in the midst of a closely fought a re-election campaign and could strain relations with the US, Israel’s closest and most important ally.

The unusual, late-night announcement from the White House comes after Netanyahu criticised what he called the world’s failure to spell out what would provoke a US-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

‘Unprecedented comments’

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu had said that the international community could not ask Israel to keep waiting before “acting against Iran” if it has not laid down “red lines” over Tehran’s suspected nuclear programme.

On September 11, 2001, I had no idea if my parents were alive or dead. They didn’t work in the towers but like so many other commuting Long Islanders, it was far from implausible that either one of them could have had business to do in one of those buildings. At 13, I barely knew what they did for a living, or where in relation to the rest of the city their offices were located.

What created the greatest sense of panic for me, sitting on the living room floor glued to the television, was the fact that I hadn’t gotten a phone call. I had been told they were okay, but it wasn’t until about 4 or 5 pm that I heard either of their voices.

And I wasn’t alone. That day cellphones were virtually useless, phone lines were more than tied up, and in terms of communication, that was pretty much it. The internet existed, but it was still a shade of its current self when it comes to connecting people.

It’s gotten a lot better.

Search YouTube for 9/11 videos. You’ll find plenty. It’s chock full of them. Every angle you can imagine. Newscasts. Camcorders. Police footage. Far more than just that 9/11 “truther” fodder.

As Vanity Fair‘s David Friend pointed out last year in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, YouTube didn’t exist in 2001.

Nor did Google News. In fact, the search giant has even credited 9/11 for compelling them to surface more timely results in search.

But what could have had the biggest impact on that day, as Friend addressed, might have been social media.

Social media would undoubtedly have painted a clearer picture of what happened inside the towers in 2001. Many argue it’s an image we don’t want to imagine. Vivid, real cries for help and gruesome details of what happens to people in an unimaginably awful situation such as this.

Yet gruesome as resulting imagery could have been, the benefits of having social media on that day may have been profound. What would have come out of the tragedy could have provided more substantial evidence for engineers investigating the collapse. Detailed accounts could have given disaster officials untold insight that could be used to better improve fire safety codes in tall buildings.

It would have given many the ability to say goodbye one last time, giving some families closure if their loved ones were never found. For others a chance to say they had made it out.

For the rest of New York, for people like my parents, it would have provided a means to quickly and easily tell the world they were out of harm’s way. One person can only remember to call so many people. A Facebook update or a tweet could have said, “I’m fine, worry about everyone else who needs help.”

In the days following the tragedy, the benefits of social media would have been undeniable. Just look at the relief efforts that arose on Facebook and Twitter following the earthquake in Japan in 2011.

The fact of the matter is 11 years after 9/11, there are still a thousands of questions about what actually happened. Technology at that time, and communications technology specifically, likely kept thousands more from having to be asked. Better technology, well… you get the idea.

One last parting question: 89 years from now, will someone be live-tweeting 9/11 just likethe sinking of the Titanic?

Unprecedented comments’

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu had said that the international community could not ask Israel to keep waiting before “acting against Iran” if it has not laid down “red lines” over Tehran’s suspected nuclear programme.

“The world tells Israel, ‘Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?'” he said.

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

Netanyahu, a former captain in Israel’s special forces, reiterated his defence of Israel’s “right” to attack Iran.

“So far we can say with certainty that diplomacy and sanctions haven’t worked,” he said.

“The sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear programme. That’s a fact. And the fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs.

“Now if Iran knows that there is no red line – if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs.”

The website of Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz called Netanyahu’s words “an unprecedented verbal attack on the US government”.

Relations between Obama and Israel’s leadership have been strained over Iran and other issues, such as Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

But Netanyahu had never framed in moral terms his differences with the current US president – who for his part has pledged he will “always have Israel’s back” and is deep in a re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, Republican challenger Mitt Romney has accused Obama of throwing Israel “under the bus”

Unpopular position

The position of Israeli leaders is not popular overseas, with Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, stating his opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran during a meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday.

“Our goal remains a political and diplomatic solution,” Westerwelle said.

In the US, a July poll carried out by the Council on Foreign Relations showed that US citizens favoured diplomacy over military action by almost four to one, with only 14 per cent of respondents believing the US government should encourage an Israeli attack on suspected Iranian nuclear sites.

At home in Israel, many public figures and former officials oppose Netanyahu’s hawkish position, reportedly also now including Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, recently told The New Yorker magazine that “an Israeli bombing would lead to a regional war and solve the internal problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would galvanise Iranian society behind the leadership and nuclear issue.”

He continued: “It would justify Iran in rebuilding its nuclear project and saying: ‘Look, see, we were attacked by the Zionist enemy and we clearly need to have it’.”

Iranian officials say the country, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is entitled to develop nuclear energy infrastructure, and deny any attempts to build nuclear weapons.

Haim Saban, a proud Jew, staunch supporter of Israel, and noted philanthropist, nevertheless parsesPresident Obama’s record on Israel to deliver a sanitized rendition of a president whose relationship with the Jewish state is unreliable at best and troubling at worst. Saban’s first device is to give Obama credit for policies that began decades prior to his presidency, like the $3 billion in annual military aid, which was started during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, of all people. Saban fails to mention that the same Camp David peace agreement that produced aid to Israel has also provided Egypt with $2 billion a year.

Saban’s most notable sleight of hand is his astonishing argument that “George W. Bush diverted American attention from Iran — the greatest threat to Israel’s existence — to Iraq, even helping to put a pro-Iranian leader in power in Baghdad.” Saban is surely aware of the 42 missiles fired by Saddam Hussein into Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991. Saddam later paid the families of each Palestinian suicide bomber $25,000 for the indiscriminate murder of Jews. In 2003 the world at large viewed Saddam, who violated sixteen UN resolutions for inspections of possible chemical weapon sites, as the single greatest threat not just to Israel but to world peace, not to mention the greatest murderer of Arab life in the history of the world. At that time the Iran nuclear program was not yet raising alarm bells since the only things that had been confirmed was the existence of a uranium enrichment and heavy water facility that were under construction.

The same can no longer be said of Iran today. Just last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had “already installed more than 2,100 centrifuges inside a virtually impenetrable underground laboratory, and that it has ramped up production of nuclear fuel.” The IAEA added that Iran had produced nearly 190 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, significantly up from 145 kg this past May. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Iran’s nuclear ambitions “haven’t been slowed in the least by U.S. or international sanctions. In fact, they are accelerating… Only 50 more kilograms of 20% uranium are needed to produce a bomb, and that’s saying nothing of Iran’s additional large stockpiles of reactor-grade uranium that can also be enriched to higher levels of purity.”

Amid these clear indications of Iran nearing its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons, Saban argues that there is nothing to fear since President Obama is enacting harsh sanctions against Iran. “As Iran approaches the nuclear weapons threshold, Israel’s nervousness is understandable… Mr. Obama has assured Mr. Netanyahu that he will ‘always have Israel’s back.’ Americans who support Israel should take the president at his word.”

Really? The Wall Street Journal reported on July 3rd that American-led sanctions against Iran are so pathetic that all 20 of Iran’s leading trading partners are exempt from them. “If you’re a big oil importer in China, India or 18 other major economies, the sanctions are mostly smoke…. Thanks to lobbying by the Obama Administration, the sanctions law contained several loopholes you could drive a warhead through.”

Then we had Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey warn recently that any Israeli attack on Iran would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programs,” adding, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”

Was the general articulating Administration policy against Israel? Was his reluctance “to be complicit” with Israel a statement that the Obama Administration would refuse to resupply Israel with jets and bombs, or condemn an Israeli strike at the UN, as the Journal legitimately asked?

Saban likewise overlooks President Obama’s open mic comments to President Medvedev about obtaining greater ‘flexibility’ after his reelection, which would seem to indicate that the immense pressure Obama exerted on Israel in the first two years of his presidency, which slowed after his self-described ‘shellacking’ in the 2010 midterms, would likely return after his reelection. President Obama was also caught on an open mic commiserating with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called Prime Minister Netanyahu a liar.

But what is most puzzling about Saban’s version of Obama’s record is his ignoring of the president’s posture toward Israel in the first half of his presidency. Arriving in the White House and declaring his intent to put ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel, President Obama immediately demanded a total freeze on settlements, something that no American president had ever required. Obama largely declared Israel’s settlements to be illegitimate, put near-unilateral pressure on Israel to make peace without any expectations from the Palestinian side, declared at a speech that was supposed to be about the Arab Spring that Israel should return to its indefensible 1967 borders with land swaps, treated Prime Minister Netanyahu shamefully at a March 2010 meeting where he refused even a photo op with the elected leader of the Middle East’s only democracy, and had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dress down the prime minister before that meeting, leaking the harsh tone of the conversation to the media.

When the Obama administration publicly upbraided Israel over its policies of building in Jerusalem, Senator Schumer, as reported in Politico, went public in April 2010, calling the Obama’s stance “counter-productive.” He threatened to “blast” the Administration if the State Department did not back down from its “terrible” rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This has to stop,” Schumer said of the administration’s policy of publicly condemning Israel’s construction of housing in Jerusalem. “I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk… Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel.”

Saban starts his piece by mentioning he is an Israeli-American devoted to Israel’s security. There can be no question that this is true. Why then does Saban dismiss the opinion of the Israeli people about President Obama? A recent Israeli poll asked who assigns more importance to defending Israel’s national interests. While Mitt Romney was rated at forty percent, Obama came in at less than half that. And Obama’s approval rating with the Israeli public at one point dropped to the mystifying low of just 4%.

The truth of the matter is that while I do not question that President Obama is certainly a friend of the Jewish people, he is an utterly unreliable friend of the State of Israel.

At Cairo in June 2009, the president analogized the Holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation. “The Jewish people,” he said, “were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust… Six million Jews were killed…. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

I have no intention of minimizing Arab suffering. Arabs are my brothers under God. No one wants to see them suffer, whatever the cause. Still, I find it unacceptable that an American president would liken such suffering to the gassing of approximately 10,000 Jews per day through the years of the Holocaust.

Turkey is a member of NATO and America is the very anchor of the NATO alliance. Yet President Obama has been silent while an ostensible ally daily demonizes Israel and accuses it of murder in genocidal proportions, as Turkey has done.

The administration’s rhetoric has been discouraging, as well. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Israel an “ungrateful ally.” Defense secretary Leon Panetta said Israel needed to “get back to the damn table” when it comes to peace negotiations, without pointing out that Israel should hardly be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that has teamed up with Hamas whose charter calls for Israel’s annihilation and the murder of Jews throughout the world.

About three years ago I met Mr. Saban briefly at the CNN Heroes Awards Celebration in Los Angeles where I served as a judge. He was warm, approachable, and patient. I shared with him my admiration for his philanthropic activities and strong commitment to Israel. Even as I disagree with him, I salute his love and public support for the Jewish state at all times. It was, therefore, disappointing to read of his cheap shot at Sheldon Adelson, arguably the foremost supporter of Jewish causes worldwide. Surely Saban believes that two Jewish philanthropists who may disagree politically should still show public respect and support for one another, given the existential threats being faced by Israel and the many enemies arrayed against the Jewish people. We need solidarity in our community, even as we disagree on some issues. And I would assume that Saban salutes a philanthropist who has contributed some $150 million toward bringing 300,000 Jews from all over the world to visit Saban’s beloved Israel.

Rather than creating rifts in the Jewish community or offering a blanket endorsement for President Obama’s Middle-East policies, it might be wiser for Mr. Saban to speak to his friend the president about our community’s reservations about his record and why some of those reservations are not without merit.related article