by Barry Rubin
Sometimes when one of the better reporters around tries to be fair the result shows up the low quality of Middle East coverage generally. In an article on the Gaza Strip, Israeli policy, and the flotilla of anti-Israel, pro-Hamas activists, the New York Times informs us:
“Israel’s relationship with the foreign news media has grown strained in recent years; the country increasingly believes that foreign portrayals of its conflict with the Palestinians are harsh and one-sided.”
Since Israelis have been quite aware of media bias since the mid-1980s and provided hundreds (thousands) of examples this should not exactly be a discovery. But American newspaper readers or television watchers are rarely informed of this fact by the very institutions that stand accused of bias, ignorance, and just plain bad reporting.
Note the way the sentence (perhaps revised by editors in New York) is written:
–This is an Israeli perception, not a fact nor necessarily a view held by anyone else in the world.
–It is just happening now (“recent,” “increasingly”)
–And the result is Israeli hostility toward the media (that is, the action involved is Israel becoming more aggressive in its treatment of foreign journalists). In other words the problem is framed as Israel challenging freedom of the media, not the media subverting the existence and well-being of Israel. The action that prompted the writing of that article–Israel’s announcing possible sanctions against journalists going on the Gaza flotilla ships–was quickly rescinded. In other words, even though Israel knows there is rampant media bias it does everything possible to give freedom to the foreign media, in sharp contrast to most of the other countries in the region which get far more favorable coverage.
–No examples are provided which thus undermines the claim. Actually, while space is of course limited, it would have been easy to mention in regard to a specific event cited–Israel banning foreign journalists from Gaza durin the 2008-2009 fighting–that Israel was concerned that it might accidentally kill foreign correspondents during operations and that reporters could tip off Hamas (inadvertently or otherwise) about Israeli actions thus causing casualties.
Thus, the hint is clearly–though it is equally quite deniable–that Israelis are irrationally and suddenly believing that the media is biased against it and this makes it take bad actions that restrict media freedom.
In other words, it’s good that this view is being reported but the framework signals the reader to disbelieve it. Here’s a parallel example:
“Israel says that its Gaza blockade is legal and that it will make sure that no boat violates it, even if that means resorting to force again.”
On the surface, this is perfectly correct. But in fact there has been no serious legal challenge to the blockade and various international authorities have said that it is quite legal. Again, the hint is that this is just what Israel claims, in other words, a partisan assertion without merit.
Especially disturbing is this passage:
“Some of the vessels planning to take part this year are bringing construction equipment and humanitarian aid, including medicine, which have been scarce in Gaza because of a siege imposed by Israel and Egypt for the past four years to isolate Hamas.”
Has medicine been scarce in Gaza because of a “siege” (a correct but loaded word)? That just isn’t true since medicine has never been subject to restrictions. Again, the reader is conditioned, this time by the inhumane nature of those evil Israelis. They won’t even let medicine in for those poor Gazans? What a bunch of barbarians! One should certainly hate such people.
Incidentally, a survey of the first flotilla’s cargo shows that the medicine brought was beyond expiration date and pretty random, not exactly saving people suffering from disease.
As for construction equipment and materials, a key factor here is that Israel has charged these have been used to build military installations. In Lebanon, where Hizballah has full access to construction equipment, a network of bunkers, tunnels and other fortifications have been built in the south. Southern Lebanon, you know, the place where the U.S. government and the UN promised Israel that Hizballah would not be allowed to return.
Or take this sentence:
“Thirteen months ago, Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish vessel whose crew and passengers were seeking to break the blockade and, facing resistance, killed nine people aboard.”
Technically accurate and better than most as it indicates there was “resistance” (which could mean, presumably, sitting in a circle and singing a song from the American civil rights movement) but:
–The “resistance” consisted of people with weapons who attacked the soldiers and took some prisoner.
–The “nine people” were members of radical Turkish Islamist groups that had previously proclaimed they intended to be martyrs and participated in chants about massacring Jews.
Even when the article includes “balancing” material the phrasing is somewhat misleading or, more accurately, leading toward a specific conclusion:
“But the real purpose of the flotilla is less to deliver goods and building supplies, which are increasingly available in Gaza now, than to challenge Israel’s control over Gaza’s borders. The American vessel, for example, will not be loaded with any goods.”
Aside from the question of Egypt opening the border with Gaza, this sentence is really a response to one of Israel’s main talking points. How can this flotilla be portrayed as humanitarian if it is bringing virtually no goods? The answer is that it is political, but the phrase used is “to challenge Israel’s control over Gaza’s borders” as if there is nothing on the other side but people short of construction materials and medicine.
Here’s the real answer: to help Hamas’s control of Gaza. The main organizers are Islamists allied with Hamas; the other organizers are people who, like Hamas, want to see Israel wiped off the map. They view Hamas–a terrorist group that is openly antisemitic and genocidal, represses women, and expels Christians–as better than Israel.
We thus have three groups:
–Islamists who are allies with Hamas and want to help it.
–Western leftists who think that Israel is evil and shouldn’t exist and who ignore Hamas or even supportive of it.
–Western readers of newspapers and watchers of television who are given news that ignores or systematically challenges Israel’s side of the story. Thus, they are driven toward the conclusion that Israel is wrong and the Palestinians are right.
As I said earlier, this is one of the better stories by a journalist who is consciously trying to be fair. For example, it points out that Israel defended itself in 2008 against the firing of thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip. And in another article he points out how well much of the Gaza Strip is economically.
Moreover, this is a short article whose goal is to discuss Israel’s warning to reporters not to go on the flotilla ships. But often it is the shorter pieces, that try to summarize and explain events, which most clearly demonstrate how coverage is skewed. And again, by attempting to be balanced this piece shows how unbalanced is much of the other coverage.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org.