The Arab-Israeli conflict dominates the news on a daily basis. It is reported more often than any other international story on earth. (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”) At its heart is a conflict that spans centuries, but has heightened and intensified since the establishment of the State in Israel in 1948.
Notwithstanding the fact that Israel embodies an age-old connection with the Jewish people as repeatedly cited in the most widely read book in the world, the Bible, that it was created based on the 1947 recommendation of the UN, and that it has been a member of the world body since 1949, there’s a relentless chorus of nations, institutions, and individuals denying Israel’s very political legitimacy. (Harris 2015) This chorus is exacerbated by the prevailing media bias against Israel in reporting news about the Arab-Israeli conflict. (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”)
The coverage of the Israel story suffers from “recurring omissions, recurring inflations, decisions made according to considerations that were not journalistic but political. ” (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”) Chief among the numerous reasons advanced for the media bias is the fact that Palestinian intimidation and manipulation of journalists in the areas the Palestinians control has been wide-spread, although not well reported. (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”) In March 2001, Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian Authority leader, warned that any Israeli journalist who entered Palestinian Authority areas would be killed. Palestinefacts. org)
Since then, most Israeli journalists either do not go to Palestinian Authority areas, or if they do, they make sure to be accompanied by well-connected Palestinians. (Palestinefacts. org) In 2003, the director general of the PA State Information Service (SIS), Dr. Riyad Al-Hassan, admitted in an interview that newspapers and journalists can be subjected to, “Sometimes a little punishment, [laughter] sometimes. ” (Palestinefacts. org) More recently, during the Israeli war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, it was discovered that Hamas, the ruling organization in Gaza, had been intimidating foreign reporters. Behar 2014)
Other reasons for media bias include the fact that “ignorance of history erases the context of events and makes it easy to accept bogus claims. ” (Palestinefacts. org) Rather than adequately researching the conflict when reporting, the media rarely looks beyond the surface to examine Palestinian ideology and the history of the region. (Behar 2014) Thus, political columnist Charles Krauthammer condemned what he termed “rank ignorance” among meida in the United States when it covered Israel as the Jewish state battled the terrorist group Hamas last summer.
The media seemed woefully unaware of Israel’s status as the Middle East’s single true democracy, or that Hamas initiated the conflict, disregarded Israel’s right to exist and fired rockets at civilians. The Palestinians are skillfully portrayed as the underdog by propagandists. “Children with rocks against Israeli tanks” is a popular image, ignoring the use of rifles, machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, and more, against Israeli troops by Palestinian terrorists. (Palestinefacts. rg) Israel has an open, democratic society that engages in vigorous debate that uncovers weaknesses, failures and contradictions. Instead of seeing this as a positive mirror of American values, the press often uses it against Israel.
The autocratic, media-suppressed Palestinian Authority has been more successful in “controlling the message”. (Palestinefacts. org) Because Israel is a western, secular, democratic society, the press and the public have higher expectations of Israel and therefore find fault more quickly in Israel. (Palestinefacts. rg) It is easy to discern that the press has a higher standard for Israel. When two Israeli brothers torched Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab Hand in Hand School last year, they were sentenced to 24 and 30 months in jail, respectively.
The arson made international headlines as evidence of Israel’s “racism. ” But very few international media outlets bothered to later report that the perpetrators were caught, indicted and sentenced to jail. (Gordon 2015). The international press feels sympathetic to what it regards as the “plight” of the Palestinians. “Lack of Empathy”) This is clearly reflected in its reporting. Thus, a BBC reporter informed a Jewish interviewee, after a Muslim terrorist murdered four Jewish shoppers at a Paris supermarket, that “[m]any critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well. ” (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”)
To the media, everything can be linked to what it terms as the Jewish occupation of Arab lands, and Jews can be blamed even for the attacks against them. Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”) The media bias reflects media sentiment that the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills like nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism. The media bias means that the media reports with little attention to veracity. Often the Israelis are faulted for deaths that were not their fault at all or did not even occur. Moreover, many staged scenes and Israeli atrocity hoaxes have been launched and eagerly consumed by the Western media in the past decade.
Indeed, the term “fauxtography” was coined for the method used in the 2006 Lebanon war by the press to report on that war between Israel and Lebanon. (Poller 2011) Perhaps the most famous example of staged death scenes is the”death” of Muhammad al Dura. In 2000, during one of the Palestinian intifadas against Israel, the western media began reporting the shocking story of poor little Muhammad al-Dura. The public was told that little Muhammad, a “12-year-old boy from Gaza whose father could not shield him from a hail of Israeli gunfire,” was killed in a firefight. Karsenty 2008) There were even photos and video of this outrage.
Little Muhammad was mourned and held up as a symbol of the evils perpetrated by Jews against innocent Palestinians. It was later determined that this was a staged “death” which never occurred. Fortunately the truth came out, but few media sources reported the truth. (Karsenty 2008) “Despite a mountain of evidence disputing the charge of his intentional killing by Israeli soldiers in 2000, 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura, seen cowering with his father, became the poster child of the “Second Intifada. (Poller 2011)
Omissions or misrepresentations of the conflict are a hallmark of media reporting on the subject. In an egregious example of this, CNN, the cable news network, headlined a brutal attack on an Israeli synagogue in Har Nof as “Israeli police shot dead two Palestinian civilians. ” (Gedalyahu 2014) This headline focused on the deaths of the perpetrators rather than the innocent Jews killed while in prayer. (Gedalyahu 2014) Another CNN headline after this horrific event was “attack on Jerusalem mosque”, which of course it was not.
CNN then described the event as “4 Israeli, 2 Palestinians shot dead, which of course made it difficult to be able to tell that the Palestinians were at fault. (Gedalyahu 2014) A very recent example of media bias against Israel occurred just this month, when Ayman Mohyeldin, MSNBC’s reporter in the Middle East, reporting the death of a would-be Arab terrorist by Israeli police, said that the Arab was shot while unarmed. This clearly was belied by a video that MSNBC had of the Arab running down steps clutching a knife in his hand. Feldman 2015)
When questioned by a fellow MSNBC reporter about this omission, Mohyeldin explained, unconvincingly, that he was describing the Arab after he was shot, when he had no weapon in his hand. Mohyeldin has been criticized for consistently leaving out details so that the Israelis will look like aggressors, and the Palestinians will appear innocent. (Feldman 2015) Stepping away from its role as impartial reporter, the international press has become less an observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict than a player in it.
It has “moved away from careful explanation and toward a kind of political character assassination on behalf of the side it identifie[s] as being right. ” (Friedman, “Ideological Roots of Media Bias”) This has serious consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand this complex region whose conflict they are trying so hard, and so unsuccessfully, to resolve.
Friedman, “Media Makes the Israel Story”) It also affects the international Jewish population, as reflected by the surge in anti-Semitic incidents. Just this week, Muslims stabbed two Jewish men in France. Many French and other European Jews, as well as pro-Israel activists have complained that the international media has unfairly presented Palestinians as victims who were hurt while trying to kill Jews in Israel. (“Media Bias Blamed for Stabbing”) This glorifies the Palestinian cause and lays the groundwork for anti-Semitic incidents outside of IsraeI.
In response to the prevailing media bias against Israel, a number of media watchdog organizations have formed to track that bias. These include CAMERA, Palestinian Media Watch and BBC Watch. These organizations watch out for factual errors, one-sided reporting, failure to give both sides equal voice, editorializing by the reporter in the news story, the use of “emotional “buzzwords” such as “illegal Jewish settlements,” which indicate a lack of objectivity, the use of double standards, and the use of headlines and photographs that do not accurately reflect the story. (Camera. rg)
Thus, BBC Watch, for example, recently reported that when a missile was fired in May 2015, and Israel responded by carrying out airstrikes on four terror infrastructure sites in the southern Gaza Strip, the BBC’s coverage focused on the effect rather than the cause, with mention of the attack itself buried in the last paragraphs of the lengthy report. (Sela 2015) The situation with respect to the media bias in reporting the Arab-Israeli conflict can only improve if the international press returns to its role as observer of the conflict, rather than a player in it. The ramifications of misreporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict are severe.
Unfortunately, it seems that “[f]or the international press, the uglier characteristics of Palestinian politics and society are mostly untouchable because they would disrupt the Israel story, which is a story of Jewish moral failure. ” (Friedman, “Media Makes the Israel Story”) Until the international press stops assigning fault to the Israelis for their role in this conflict, we will see no end to media bias. Instead the media will continue to serve as a mouthpiece for the propaganda disseminated by the Palestinian leadership. (Friedman, “Media Makes the Israel Story”)