My colleague Tamar Sternthal, the Director of the Israel office of CAMERA, recently joined Josh Hasten for an in-studio interview at Voice of Israel to discuss media coverage of Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Former AP correspondent Matti Friedman, in his essay at Tablet on media coverage of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, explained that reporters “working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel”, whose “every action and flaw is analyzed, criticized and aggressively reported”, while, alternately, “Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate”.
The Guardian coverage of Israel and the greater region perfectly reflects this principle.
Elder of Ziyon just published a fascinating update on the widely reported story from late July, in which Gaza’s only power plant was allegedly completely “destroyed” by an Israeli missile strike.
Here’s how the Guardian covered the incident in a July 30th report by Harriet Sherwood.
Alvin Rosenfeld, in a recent essay at The Forward (Moral Emptiness of Holocaust Survivors Who Took on Israel, Aug. 28), argued that “stamping” Israel-Nazi analogies “with the moral authority that supposedly belongs to Holocaust survivors does not turn these lies into truth”.
The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the [Gaza] war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues. – Matti Friedman (former AP correspondent)
On Aug. 26th we published excerpts from a masterful, widely shared article about media bias against Israel (in Tablet Magazine) by former AP correspondent Matt Friedman, titled ‘An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth‘. Recently, Friedman joined Yishai Fleisher for in-studio interview to discuss his article, and shed further light on the question of why the media gets the Arab-Israeli Conflict so consistently wrong.
- Everything you always wanted to know about media coverage of Israel but were afraid to ask (cifwatch.com)
- Matti Friedman discusses Gaza media coverage on CNN (bbcwatch.org)
- Bizarre claim in the Guardian: ‘Red roofs are mandatory in Israeli settlements’ (cifwatch.com)
- Financial Times correspondent John Reed declares Hamas a ‘winner’ (cifwatch.com)
Yiftah Curiel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London, published an op-ed at the Guardian titled ‘Hamas is the single biggest barrier to peace in Gaza‘.
We encourage you to read it, and comment below the line.
- Guardian logic used to blame Israel for ceasefire violation in one tweet (cifwatch.com)
- Guardian blames ceasefire failure on Israel (thejc.com)
- Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent slammed for misleading Tweet about Iranian arms shipment (cifwatch.com)
- Guardian op-ed mocks “claims” of Hamas use of human shields (cifwatch.com)
However, there were widely reported public executions in Gaza much more recently than the 90s.
- During the 2012 war (Pillar of Defense), Hamas “publicly put an end“ to at least 7 suspected ‘collaborators’.
- During the 2008-2009 war (Cast Lead), Hamas executed dozens of Palestinians in the streets, again for suspected ‘collaboration’.
- And, during their violent coup in Gaza in 2007, Hamas carried out at least eight known summary executions, mostly for ‘treason’.
So, it clearly is not accurate to claim that the recent public executions in Gaza were the first since the 1990s.
After our communication with Indy editors, they deleted the sentence which claimed that these recent executions were the first in the enclave since the 90s.
“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie”
This is a quote by George Orwell about news reports during the Spanish Civil War, but, as former AP correspondent Matt Friedman explained in his masterful Tablet essay (An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth), Orwell’s words are just as apt in characterizing the media’s egregiously misleading coverage of Israel and the war in Gaza.
The Orwell quote (cited by Friedman in his article) came to mind when we read the following passages in a report in the London-based Financial Times by John Reed titled ‘War in Gaza: Winners and Losers‘, which happened to overlap with Hamas’s own surreal assessment of the war.
Here’s the relevant passage in Reed’s report:
Let’s take it apart:
Before Protective Edge, Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement was in a corner. It was politically isolated, bankrupt, unable to pay its civil servants and forced by circumstances to reconcile with arch-rival Fatah.
And, after the war, Hamas is politically isolated, bankrupt, and still unable to pay its civil servants. Further, the current ceasefire deal which Hamas agreed to is almost exactly like the one Egypt proposed (which Israel accepted) but Hamas rejected on July 15, one week into the conflict, before the IDF destroyed their terror tunnels, and killed some of their top leaders.
Hamas’s decision to reject the July 15th proposal represented a colossal miscalculation, and resulted in more Hamas fighters killed, a much greater depletion of their rocket capacity, and no perceivable military, strategic or political benefit.
Other Hamas ‘demands’ which haven’t been agreed to by Israel in the current ceasefire include opening a sea port and an airport in Gaza, and releasing additional Palestinian prisoners.
In this context, the war was a welcome development. Hamas, for the third time in five years, confronted one of the world’s best armies and managed to hold on to power, calculating correctly that Israel would never embark on a longer and bloodier ground war in order to topple it.
How low can you set the bar? The mere fact that they ‘held on to power’ is a victory? Again, he doesn’t explain what concrete achievements they can reasonably boast. Also, it’s interesting that Reed fails to explain how the war was a “welcome development” for Palestinian civilians.
Hamas rockets, built painstakingly over years by blockade-busting tactics, sent people across Israel running into shelters, killing six civilians and bringing most flights at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport to a halt for two days in July.
It’s almost as if Reed admires Hamas’s ‘grit’ in diverting humanitarian aid (which could have helped Gaza’s economy) for terror purposes. Plus, it’s interesting how such Jerusalem based correspondents covering the war, such as Reed, who almost universally downplayed the threat posed to Israeli civilians by the thousands of Hamas rockets, can now suggest that these same rockets ‘successfully’ terrorized Israel by killing six civilians, and sending them fleeing for bomb shelters.
Although much of Hamas’s arsenal is now depleted and many of its tunnels destroyed, fighting Israel to another ceasefire plays as a victory for many of its supporters.
Talk about burying the lead! So, despite the fact that “Hamas’s [rocket] arsenal is now depleted and many [sic] of its tunnels destroyed”, Reed still maintains that a victory was achieved.
As after Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, Hamas can begin firing again if it chooses. Granted, when the dust settles from this conflict and its spoils and destruction become clearer to Gazans, they could potentially turn on Hamas. There is no sign of this happening yet, however.
Of course, one of the biggest obstacles preventing Gazans from “turning on Hamas” is not any objective assessment of the war’s “achievements’ per se, but, rather, scenes such as these:
Finally, here are some facts ignored by Reed in his assessment:
- IDF attacked 5,263 targets across Gaza during the war, hitting rocket launching sites, arms and munitions factories and warehouses, as well as the offices of Hamas commanders. Several top Hamas commanders and hundreds of Hamas fighters were killed. Over 34 known tunnels were destroyed.
- Out of the 4,564 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza, over 475 landed in Gaza, killing an unknown number of Palestinians. 3,641 exploded in Israeli territory, but only 224 actually hit residential areas, while the remaining rockets fell in open areas; The Iron Dome intercepted at least 735. Six Israeli civilians were killed.
To simply state that Reeds’s assessment of Hamas’s achievements ‘does not bear any relation to the facts’ is an understatement of enormous proportions.
On Aug. 5th, the Times of London published an article (pay wall) titled ‘Refugee camp hit as Israel admits it broke truce’.
However, the article didn’t include any information even suggesting that Israel had “admitted” breaking the truce. Indeed, news sites reported that the time of the attack (aimed at a senior Hamas operative) was clearly in dispute.
After several complaints to Times editors, they agreed to revise the headline.
The print edition ran this correction:
We commend Times editors for their positive response to our complaint.
For those unfamiliar with the British ‘journalist’ Mira Bar-Hillel (who contributes to the Independent), here are a few facts about her views on Jews and Israel:
- She complained that Jews smear people unfairly with the charge of antisemitism to “gag into submission any critic of Israel”.
- She evoked Nazi Germany in characterizing Israeli racism and IDF military actions in Gaza.
- She accused British Jews (collectively) of ‘bombing Gaza’.
- She bizarrely argued that British Jews don’t criticize Israeli actions in Gaza out of fear of being “ex-communicated” from the Jewish community. (She later admitted that she had no evidence to back this claim up.)
- She has admitted to being “prejudiced against Jews”. (See her exact words)
- She believes that “the message” of Jews controlling America is “entirely true” and “increasingly so”, and that Jewish lobbyists appear to be picking up some of the ideas from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and using them.
Now, the latest.
Here are two tweets from today by Bar-Hillel, which included a graphic purporting to represent an “IDF tweet”:
Here’s Bar-Hillel’s first tweet, with the “IDF tweet” attached.
And, then, 8 minutes later she asks a few more of her Zionist nemeses to justify the ‘IDF tweet':
We’re not sure if anyone out there, except Bar-Hillel and her motley crew of retweeters, could possibly believe in the authenticity of this “IDF” tweet “acknowledging” child murder, but, briefly:
It was clearly photoshopped from this real IDF tweet from Aug. 21:
And, the graphic was almost certainly taken from this IDF tweet:
Mira Bar-Hillel wants so badly to believe that Israel murders children that she was willing to believe this absurd hoax tweet.
Tell us again why Bar-Hillel continues to pen op-eds for British newspapers (on the topics of Israel and antisemitism!) and lands interviews with the BBC and Sky News, on similar topics, as a ‘representative’ of the British Jewish community.
- Indy journo Mira Bar-Hillel Tweets about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (cifwatch.com)
- Sky News asks admitted anti-Semite her views on the rise of UK antisemitism! (cifwatch.com)
- Revealed: Emails undermine Mira Bar-Hillel’s smear of UK Jewish community (cifwatch.com)
- Indy contributor Mira Bar-Hillel accuses British Jews of bombing Gaza (cifwatch.com)
- Indy’s Mira Bar-Hillel complains on the BBC about Jews and CiF Watch trolls! (cifwatch.com)
In carrying out this blog’s mission, we often attempt to contextualize Guardian/UK media coverage of Israel and the Jewish world by explaining not only what they get wrong, but also why they get it wrong.
Tablet Magazine just published a long and extremely important article (by former AP correspondent Matti Friedman) which masterfully dissects such institutional bias against Israel – in the broader Western media – and we strongly encourage those who’ve thought seriously about the subject to read the 4,000 word essay in full.
Here are some excerpts:
The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry;
How Important Is the Israel Story?
Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined.
To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel.
What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate…
Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I…counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days….this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.
The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel’s destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP…
What Else “Isn’t” Important?
In early 2009..two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story….
This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.
How Is the Israel Story Framed?
The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries…
The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party…
The Old Blank Screen
For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew…
Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned…is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.
Who Cares If the World Gets the Israel Story Wrong?
Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer…requires us to understand what is clear to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots…
Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier. It should be reported as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion.
If a radical right-wing U.S. group possessed an ideology which was homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-democratic, and continually attempted to murder a historically oppressed minority to clean the region of their ‘pernicious influence’ – due to their fundamentalist interpretation of a religious text – anti-racist commentators at the Guardian would stand proudly on the side of the besieged minority and rightfully demonize the racist extremist group.
Transplant this scenario to the Mid-East (and replace the white sheets with black face masks and green headbands) however, and such moral clarity – which distinguishes between a racist extremist group and the minorities they’re targeting – often gets blurred.
In a review of BBC2’s The Honourable Woman, the Guardian’s diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger (Can The Honourable Woman teach us anything about the Gaza conflict?, Aug. 20) presents another example of media group’s profound moral confusion when interpreting conflicts between Israel and Islamist extremists.
Borger characterizes the show as “a tale of intrigue, betrayal and silk blouses set against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, and then adds: “Whether we will have learned anything about Gaza or the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is another matter”.
Border then writes:
So the ruthless and omnipotent assassin, a regular plot device of political thrillers, is in this case a Palestinian militant. Just like the show’s American inspiration, Homeland…it revives the spectre of the Arab bogeyman as the evil genius among us, ghosting across borders on false passports.
This is understandably vexing for Palestinians. After all, it is Mossad that has won itself the reputation in recent years for sending assassins to kill abroad on forged identity papers. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have largely fought their battles on home turf with much blunter methods.
Likewise, the agony of liberal British Jews looking on in horror at the bloodletting in Israel and the Palestinian territories is true to life. What feels like a sentimental anachronism is the central premise in the plot: that they can do anything to change it. It is hard to imagine in these dark times that it would be so easy for a well-meaning Jewish philanthropist to breeze through the West Bank and for her saccharine, slightly condescending speeches to be received so admiringly by Palestinian students. Hard to imagine, too, that Nessa Stein would have such an easy time of it in Netanyahu’s Israel. These days, there would be rightwing mobs outside her doveish events, chanting: “Death to the Arabs.”
Leaving aside Borger’s risible suggestion that Palestinian jihadist groups have shown more restraint than Israel when carrying out attacks on their enemies, the Guardian editor’s review is notable in which political actor in the Middle East is identified as the racist (Jewish mobs chanting “death to Arabs”) and which one is the unfairly stereotyped minority (the “Arab bogeyman”).
It’s important to read such passages in the context of the Guardian overall coverage of both the current war between Hamas and Israel, and the broader Israeli-Islamist Conflict.
Though Guardian correspondents sometimes note that Hamas is ‘considered’ a terrorist group by much of the West, their reporters, editors and commentators almost never explain to their readers that Hamas is an antisemitic extremist group - a reactionary racist, violent, fundamentalist movement at odds with the liberal, enlightenment values they claim to champion.
Whilst the Guardian never tires in highlighting racism (real or imagined) expressed by the most unrepresentative fringe elements in Israeli society, they almost uniformly avoid mentioning that the group currently ruling Gaza literally calls for the extermination of Jews. It simply isn’t possible for UK news consumers to clearly understand the battles being waged in Israel and Gaza while ignorant of this fundamental fact about Hamas’s eliminationist antisemitism.
Reports about ceasefire negotiations between the two parties in Cairo which merely emphasize that Hamas demands a loosening of the Israeli blockade, while ignoring that their end goal continues to be the annihilation of the only Jewish state, are akin to media reports during WWII noting Germany’s territorial aspirations without any context regarding Hitler’s belief in Aryan racial supremacy and his wish to exterminate Jews and other ‘undesirables’.
On the other hand, it is heartening to see the support – among many Guardian contributors – for the West’s efforts to rein in an apocalyptic and genocidal Middle-East based, Sunni extremist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood with a global expansionist worldview, which targets civilians, ruthlessly murders its enemies, possesses a pathological hatred for Jews and advocates Sharia Law over universal human rights.
So, what accounts for such a profound moral inconsistency? Why are Palestinian jihadists not like the other jihadists?
Though antisemitism is one factor which partly explains this phenomenon (among some Guardian contributors and journalists), the more widespread political dynamics at play are moral relativism, an egregiously skewed understanding of anti-imperialism, a glorification of ‘Palestinian resistance’ and an obsession with Jews and Israel - in short, the signature ideological ticks of the Guardian Left.
There is, however, one more factor.
We are often asked if we believe the Guardian to be institutionally antisemitic. While their obsessive and almost entirely negative coverage of the Jewish State fans the flame of antisemitism, this writer, for one, does not believe the media group is compromised institutionally by anti-Jewish racism.
It may be more accurate to observe in the Guardian worldview a capacity to forcefully condemn antisemitism in the abstract, but an inability to summon such righteous indignation when doing so would require parting company with other ‘historically oppressed’ groups, and indeed challenge their very ideological identity.
In their failure to condemn Hamas, and morally distinguish antisemitic extremists from the Jews they’re trying to kill, lies not a visceral antipathy towards Jews as such, but a tragic lack of courage to follow their convictions into uncomfortable political places – cowardliness which continues to bring dishonour to their once proud journalistic community.