Pictorial representations of Israel promoted by the Guardian

Over at the BBC Watch site we have a link to an interesting 2005 report by Trevor Asserson and Michael Paluch on the subject of the BBC’s use of images to depict the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and the way in which editorial decisions regarding which pictures to use can influence audience perception of the conflict. 

“We detected frequently used techniques for evoking sympathy or antipathy. Israelis were almost always depicted as armed, male and as soldiers. They were often disembodied, showing arms, legs, boots or weapons, but not faces. Palestinians by contrast were very frequently depicted as women and children. Palestinian men, when shown, were generally unarmed (even Policemen) and were often praying, kneeling or bowing.”

Of course the BBC is by no means the only media organization to use selectively chosen images in order to communicate subliminal messages regarding Israel and Israeli society. On the Guardian’s “Israel” page on May 11th we find a link to a feature from its sister paper The Observer entitled “The Observer’s 20 photographs of the week” and sub-headed “The best news and culture images from around the world over the past seven days”. 

Guardian Israel page 12 5

Among the twenty photographs from around the world, two come from Israel and both have a military theme. 

Observer 1

Observer 2

The caption to the first photograph reads:

“From a series of excellent images by Menahem Kahana, an Israeli soldier prays inside a net tent pitched close to Merkava tanks deployed in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed for restraint after Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus.”

It is possible to count seven more soldiers in that picture – none of whom are praying – but interestingly the reader’s attention is steered towards the one soldier who is. The suggestion of linkage between the IDF and religion is a popular theme with both photographers and editors – as shown, for example, by the BBC’s use of images to illustrate last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

The inclusion of the last sentence in the picture’s caption mistakenly suggests direct linkage between the alleged Israeli air strikes on consignments of Iranian weapons bound for the terrorist organization Hizballah and the presence of the tanks depicted in the photographs in the Golan Heights. In fact, tank crews have been training in the Golan Heights for decades, so the pictures can hardly be said to represent “news”. 

Another noticeable phenomenon in pictorial portrayals of Israel is the tendency of photographers and photo editors to over-represent the Orthodox stream of Israeli society, which even the highest estimates put at a mere 10% of the whole population. The Observer is apparently no exception: the previous edition of this photo feature also included two photographs from Israel (out of a total of 20) and both of those images concentrated on members of the Orthodox community during the festival of Lag B’Omer. However, elsewhere in Israel at the time, considerably more Israelis were celebrating the same festival by having bonfires, baking potatoes in the embers and toasting marshmallows. Images depicting those activities would of course have been more likely to prompt a sense of identification in most Observer readers. 

Observer 3

Observer 4

Images of Israel with a non-military and/or non-religious theme are to be found all too rarely among the growing number of pictorial features produced by media organisations. That fact is undoubtedly influencing public perception of Israel in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, and it is a factor to which photo editors need to address. 

Categories: Guardian

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4 replies »

  1. @Hader Sela~
    I too have noticed the over emphasis on “orthodox,” and the often phrased “Ultra-Orthodox.” Also the linking of the Israeli army with Judaism (and I heard Glenn Greenwald link Judaism again to policy during his appearance on Bill Mahar’s show). But I have a question about the depiction of prayer specifically–in the first case, of the Israeli soldier, which you note shows that same linkage between IDF and Judaism. But you mention that you think the image of Palestinians shown “praying, kneeling, or bowing” is regarded as positive. Would that not create a similar reaction in the rest of the viewing world of a connection between Palestinian militancy and Islam? I’m not suggesting that this message is deliberate on the part of the Guardian or the BBC;only that it might not be a positive image.

  2. It is possible to count seven more soldiers in that picture – none of whom are praying – but interestingly the reader’s attention is steered towards the one soldier who is.

    Well, he is the person closest to the camera, after all – and the only one facing it.

    The suggestion of linkage between the IDF and religion is a popular theme

    I think you’re reading/seeing too much into this.

    Stephen Hawking Endorses Iranian and Chinese Repression
    MAY 10, 2013
    Alan Dershowitz

    The only logical conclusion that can be derived from Stephen Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott of Israel, coupled with his enthusiastic visits to Iran and China, is that he actively endorses and supports the repression practiced by the Iranian mullahs and the Chinese party bosses. Why else would he single out the world’s only Jewish state for his academic boycott?

    Prior to the cancelation of his academic talk in Israel, it might have been argued that his visits to Iran and China reflected not support for the regimes but rather a neutral approach to academics, or a refusal to participate in academic boycotts. No longer can this justification work. The only possible justification for distinguishing between Israel on the one hand and Iran and China on the other hand would be if Israel’s actions were worse than those of Iran and China.

    Only a knave or a fool would believe that to be so. Israel’s academies are among the most open, diverse and free in the world. Israeli universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinians and other minorities. Political dissenters receive tenure and thrive at Israeli universities.

    The very concept of an Iranian university is an oxymoron. There are no free and open places of learning in that repressive theocracy. Dissenters are not given tenure; they are murdered, after first being tortured. Blasphemy, which is broadly defined, is punished. Gays are not only excluded from Iranian universities, but are imprisoned and killed. Women are oppressed. Baha’is are persecuted and killed. There is no freedom in Iran—a country that is seeking to develop nuclear weapons so that they can wipe the State of Israel off the map.

    Yet Iran is a country that Stephen Hawking visited. He did not boycott that Islamic country. He limited his boycott to the democratic nation state of the Jewish people.

    Not only did Steven Hawking visit China, he praised it effusively. Although Chinese universities are considerably better than Iran’s, there is no real freedom to criticize the government or the Communist party. The people who brought us Tiananmen Square still hold positions of authority in China. Dissidents are persecuted. There is no semblance of fair trial. Censorship reigns.

    Yet Stephen Hawking did not boycott China. He boycotted only Israel – the only country of these three with real academic freedom and the only country where people with disabilities are fully-integrated, first-class citizens of society. In China, many disabled children are aborted due to the country’s one-child policy. In Iran many disabled people are kept hidden within families because of prevalent cultural taboos.

    Israeli universities have an unmatched record of developing devices that assist people with disabilities in their daily tasks. Ironically, Israeli universities have developed the very microchips that allow people suffering from motor neurone disease, like Stephen Hawking, to communicate.

    I do not know why Hawking, whose intellectual accomplishments are beyond reproach, uses these devices now to call for the boycott of the very country that enables to him to communicate in the first place. But we have long ago learned that people who are brilliant in some areas may be utter fools in other areas.

    The burden is now on Steven Hawking to justify on the face of what looks like a double standard, hypocrisy and bigotry. If Israel were not the nation state of the Jewish people, I do not believe Hawking would participate in a boycott against it.

    Has he stood up for the right of the Chechnyas against Russia? Has he championed the rights of the Armenians against Turkey? Did he protest America’s policies in Afghanistan when he accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama? Was he on the forefront of opposing Britain’s repressive actions against those seeking independence for Ireland?

    I do not remember hearing his voice when genocides were being committed in Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia. But now suddenly, having accepted an invitation to participate in an academic conference sponsored by the peace-loving President of Israel, Shimon Peres, Hawking has become the most famous and visible face of an academic boycott directed at the Middle East’s only democracy and only country where academic freedom prevails.

    Nor can Hawking’s argue that his joining of the academic and cultural boycott against Israel is simply a demonstration of his disapproval of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. The boycott movement that he joined opposes the very existence of the state of Israel and applies only to Jewish citizens of Israel, not to its Arab citizens.

    J’accuse Stephen Hawking of bigotry. Let him defend his actions in the court of public opinion. I don’t think he will be able to.

    I don’t know whether Hawking is a fool or a knave. Perhaps he is simply an ignoramus who didn’t bother to learn the fact at first hand and simply followed the bigoted British academic crowd in lemming like fashion. Let him explain. Let him try to justify but do not allow him to remain silent in the face of these serious accusations of double standard, hypocrisy and bigotry.

    For shame Stephen Hawking. History will not remember you kindly for your foolish foray into the oldest of bigotries.