I have noted in several previous articles the unusual, possibly unique, problem relating to media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reporting corps is awash with “partisan reporters” – that is, Jews who have an ideological, social or familial connection and sympathy with one side, the Israeli side.
I have no objection to reporters having views, even strong ones, about this conflict, or any other issue in the news. I do myself. In fact, I believe journalists cannot be “objective”, as I have explained at length elsewhere. But in the case of Israel-Palestine, many reporters are being chosen precisely for their partisanship – and these reporters are being selected because they are partisan in one direction only. Just check how many Palestinian reporters (I don’t mean glorified fixers or undervalued stringers) report for the US media on the conflict.
Editors possibly justify their policy to themselves by assuming that Jewish reporters, especially ones with family in Israel, will improve their access to Israeli elites. Given the rampant chauvinism in Israel, this may be so. But it means only one side of the elite debate is being accessed – the Israeli one.
Illustrations of the partisan reporter’s mindset have been thrown up afresh in a debate about media responsibility during Israel’s attack on Gaza. A prime example is Matti Friedman, who worked for many years at the US news agency Associated Press. AP has a pretty terrible record in its coverage of the conflict, as well as documented examples of its local staff censoring stories that reflect badly on Israel.
Preposterously, Friedman asserts in his essay for the Tablet magazine that the media’s disproportionate interest in Israel-Palestine reflects an unhealthy and “hostile obsession with Jews”. In fact, it indicates something else entirely: the West’s long and unhealthy interest in supporting the Zionist movement’s dispossession of the Palestinian people in their homeland, and a deep sense by Western elites of their political and military investment in the Jewish state project.
The media’s obsession with Israel results both from Israel’s place at the heart of the West’s perceived strategic interests in the region and from a need to pander to influential domestic Jewish readerships. There is a reason, after all, why the New York Times is probably the most Israel-obsessed newspaper in the world outside Israel itself – and it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
Most of Friedman’s article is so patently one-sided, and detached from reality, it barely warrants addressing. One needs only to read his claim that the big story overlooked by the media is: “The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians”. Yes, in your dreams, Matti.
Similarly, Friedman apparently also knows enough Palestinians to argue that the real story they want covering is corruption within their own society. Maybe the two Palestinians you befriended think like that, Matti, but I guess that may be a rather self-selecting group. Why do you think they befriended you?
As someone who has lived among Palestinians for more than a decade, I can assure you that, however much corruption there is in Palestinian society (and there certainly is), it is considered a far less pressing concern than the occupation of the West Bank, the siege of Gaza, the continuing dispossession of Jerusalem, and the abandonment of the refugees. You may think Palestinians have their priorities wrong, Matti, but there is no disputing that those are their priorities.
Friedman also wants the conflict recharacterised as a Jewish-Muslim one rather than Israeli-Palestinian. The media apparently collude in this mistaken framing. Thus, Friedman argues:
A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in Israel.
Except the conflict existed well before anyone had heard of Hamas, al-Qaeda or Isis. Religion was never at the root of the conflict, though Israel – hoping to exploit Western prejudices about a clash of civilisations – has been working hard to make it so.
Jerusalem is less than a day’s drive from Aleppo or Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to anything else.
But Western interests, and the resulting Western interference, Western-backed puppets, and the West’s fair-weather, Islamic allies, are never far away from wherever one is in the Middle East. That is why peace is and remains elusive. Israel is one central prong in this Western policy of interference. The real story is that reporters like Friedman – in fact, all reporters in the mainstream – are either oblivious to the West’s indelible impact on the region, or career-minded enough to avoid mentioning it.
Today in a Haaretz commentary, a former partisan reporter for the BBC, Richard Miron, added his support to this heavily distorted picture of media malfeasance. Being a former BBC journalist, he tries to be a little more “balanced” in his views than Friedman, but finds nothing in Friedman’s screed from which to distance himself.
As if confirming Friedman’s claims, Miron lambasts reporters for “emoting” on the Palestinians’ behalf, citing Jon Snow of Britain’s Channel 4. Whatever one thinks of Snow – and I think he ultimately failed his viewers by chiefly packaging Palestinian suffering in Gaza in humanitarian terms – Miron, like Friedman, is grossly misrepresenting the true picture of Western media coverage of Gaza. That rare bout of soul-searching from one prominent presenter was but a drop in an ocean of wall-to-wall sympathy for Israel in the US media. The story there echoed the assumption of President Barack Obama that Israel has a right to defend itself … from Palestinian resistance to decades of Israel’s belligerent occupation and an eight-year siege of Gaza. That part of the story was hardly ever mentioned, even by Snow.
Miron does make one sensible observation:
Knowing Gaza’s physical geography, it’s safe to conclude that if Hamas operatives did come out from the territory’s packed urban confines, they would have been quickly struck by an Israeli drone or aircraft fire.
But blinded by his partisanship for Israel, he then wants to use this observation to support Israel’s story that Palestinians in Gaza were being used as “human shields”. He specifically criticises BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for writing that “he saw no evidence … of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields”. But contrary to Miron’s assumption, avoiding committing suicide (on a battlefield determined by Israel’s siege policy) is not the same as turning other Palestinians into human shields. At least Bowen understands that obvious point, even if Miron, blinded by his partisanship, cannot.