This letter is in a response to an op-ed published in the Uruguayan newspaper La Diaria: “¨Grilled Palestinians”. Ilan’s piece was originally published in Uruguay monthly Identidady and at Comité Central Israelita del Uruguay (Israelite Central Committee of Uruguay) on November 4, 2013.

CAMERA's Fellow in Uruguay
CAMERA’s Fellow in Uruguay, Ilan Bajarlia

“Grilled Palestinians” is not a dish to be served at La Pasiva (a famous restaurant in Montevideo), it is the misleading title chosen by journalist Marcelo Jelen for his op-ed in La Diaria (20/09/13) that questioned the Uruguayan Police chiefs’ trip to Israel.

If the point of the “hot news” is to tell us what’s going on, the objective of the op-eds is to explain argumentative logic.

But the only logic that Jelen uses when describing Israel as a State that “cooks” another people seems to be guided by emotion, not by reason.

Some examples:

Firstly, Jelen considers the Arab-Israeli prisoners as having been imprisoned for “political reasons”. He is factually wrong.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, those that belong in this category “have been put in prison for not being accepted by the government or for belonging to an organization, race or social group not approved by the government.”

Actually, Israel is a democracy with an independent justice system that convicted and jailed its former president, Moshe Katzav, on rape charges.

But, beyond this obvious fact, what should call our attention is not only what Jelen says, but also what he does not say: that the majority of those prisoners used the threat of or the force of terrorism.

For example, 26 prisoners released by Israel this August, at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as a requisite of good will to restart peace negotiations, all killed Israeli civilians or threatened to do so.

Despite this fact, the Israeli Government released the terrorists because the State of Israel wanted to grant its citizens peace and security, over the long term.

Among many world societies, Israel understands firsthand what it is like to live with fear.

Not fear of robberies, but of the rockets and unattended handbags lying on the pavements. Not fear of the pickpockets, but of the sirens that warn of an attack, separating life from death in a matter of milliseconds.

This is the reason why it’s not enough to copy and paste statistics from pro- Human Rights organizations. The analysis also requires an explanation of data, because the cold fact, by itself, feeds the emotional heart, but not the thinking mind.

It is vital to contextualize the conflict that nobody has been able to solve and that is so difficult to understand from so far away, as well as the complexity of the terrorist groups that have youth camps inciting hatred, filling their backpacks with bombs instead of pencils and notebooks.

Jelen criticizes Israel in the same way that he criticizes the Uruguayan police: he errs, and in doing so, stigmatizes and misleads his readers.

“Only a Wall is missing so that the eyes can’t see and the heart stops feeling”, is one of his many trite phrases that has nothing to do with the facts, since it places the “wall” issue on Israel’s internal security, which has nothing to do with the conflict.

Jelen misleads in such an irresponsible way that it seems he doesn’t even notice.

In addition, he says that the Arabs in Israel receive less “basic services.”

Again, Jelen’s arguments are on shaky ground, containing no factual data.

Why did Jelen not refer to the the United Nations ranking of human development, which positions 186 countries according to the life standard of its citizens, and in which Israel is ranked 16, just below the Northern European countries?

Or he did not pay attention to the fact that, according to Timms and Pirls international tests, Arab-Israelis have the best education in the entire Arab world. For example, in mathematics, Arab-Israeli eighth graders exceeded the scores of their fellow students in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman and the Palestinian Authority.  Jelen also neglects the fact that Arab-Israelis have access to food unlike those in Morocco; and their salaries are significantly higher than the $2.70 per day wage average in Egypt. Many more Arabs living outside of Israel, for example, those living in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, are living in much worse conditions.

Finally, why doesn’t Jelen mention the leisure and non-formal education activities that have been developed under the program “City without violence” which he describes as promoting “police abuse?”

Jelen gives a negative perspective of the program in general, but he tells us nothing about the actual results.

As an example, a source in the municipality of Tiberias, in Northern Israel, told the Jerusalem Post that they see it “as a very important program that promotes the atmosphere of tolerance and non-violence among young people.”

Anyway, the eagerness to measure truth and justice with double standards touches the red line of what is permitted, hiding from the truth from readers.

Because in humanitarian terms, the logic of our sensitivity should be morally symmetrical: life is always life. The life of a Palestinian civilian in Gaza or of an Israeli in Jerusalem, or the life of a police officer of Montevideo or the employee of La Pasiva restaurant are all of equal value.

This is because the double standards don’t actually exist. Either values exist, or there is nothing. Either one believes in life, or one is simply indifferent to the death of others.

There’s nothing wrong with the Uruguayan and Israeli governments doing all that they can to ensure the safety of their respective countries’ inhabitants, or to share their know-how and experience in order to eradicate fear from the streets.

What should also be eradicated on a daily basis is the emotional blindness of this type of article, which can only serve to feed ignorance and to build walls instead of bridges.


Contributed by Ilan Bajarlia, CAMERA’s Campus Fellow at Ort Universty of Uruguay.

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