I have focused many times on the endemic anti-Israel bias of the international media. Unfortunately and shockingly, according to the Israeli press watchdog Mida, much of the background of this bias is home-grown, emanating from Israeli journalists themselves.
Seth Frantzman’s article, “The Israeli origins of anti-Israel bias” starts with the mention of Matti Friedman’s withering critique of AP’s media reporting, (which I wrote about last week) but takes the matter further.
Some excerpts from the Mida article (which is quite long but is vital reading for anyone interested in understanding the pernicious anti-Israel bias in the media):
This mantra – that the media hates Israel and there isn’t much one can do about it – creates an easy scape-goat. Blame the New York Times for the coverage of Israel. Blame the Guardian and BBC. Blame “them.” But it misses the forest for the trees. The fact is that almost every anti-Israel story originates in Israel, not in the conspiracy minded editorial offices in New York or London, and many of those stories are the result of Israeli media and Israeli NGOs. When I raised this point to a media professional here he replied “Israel is a free country with a free press.” Israel is a free country, but some of its critical press is unrelenting in creating well-packaged stories to feed to a salivating foreign media. […]
Liberal Western Angst…
[…] Amazingly Steven Gutkin, the AP Bureau Chief in Jerusalem from 2004-2010, wrote a reply to Friedman on September 6th. Gutkin reveals something fascinating about his view of the Israeli “story.” For him “it’s also a story about the persecuted becoming the persecutors. All of this, of course, is happening to the people of the Bible, the descendants of the Hebrew slaves who were led out of Egypt by Moses and from whose ranks emerged Jesus Christ. It’s as if a new chapter of the Bible is being written in our times.”
This speaks to the heart of what Friedman got wrong: It is precisely those like Gutkin that are the reason Israel fares so badly in international media. His “Jewishness” informed his support for “plight of the weak.” His focus on some convoluted story about the “persecuted becoming the persecutors” is what informed the slant of the coverage. The irony is that if he wasn’t covering Israel, but Pakistan, then the persecutors remaining the persecutors don’t get some special biblical moral twist put on them. […]
…Through An Exclusively Secular Liberal Israeli Lens…
When we move beyond this little AP spat we see how it plays out on a much larger scale. Consider a BBC report from October 2013. The writer seeks to shed light on “Jerusalem communities.” She argues “Shabbat in Jerusalem means everything is closed down from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening.” She interviews an Israeli Jew named Dor Dirkovich who perpetuates this narrative by complaining the city is too Orthodox. The author has a negative view of the Haredi society which “is very closed and insulated against the outside world.”
But something is missing from this analysis, right? Arab Jerusalem, one third of the city. 288,000 residents according to the article.
Consider another example of the “segregated bus lines” Israel was said to have launched in March of 2013. At the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey wrote, “Starting today Palestinians travelling from the West Bank into Israel have their own bus lines.” The Times in London claimed “‘Apartheid’ anger as Israel starts separate bus lines in West Bank.’” Al-Jazeera jumped on as well “Israel launches segregated bus service” and the Telegraph also talked about “Palestinian-only buses.” But when one looks at where the story originated, it wasn’t from the “anti-semitic” foreign media, it was from the Israeli media. The Washington Post admitted “according to Haaretz, the two new non-mandatory public bus lines will start from checkpoints and run north toward Tel Aviv.”
The story was entirely fabricated. (Emphasis added.) […]
..Mixed With Classic Blood Libels…
When it comes to particularly salacious stories about Israel, there is a blend between foreign media inventing pseudo-blood libels and also being careful about passing on wrong information. For instance, conspiracy theories that ran wild in Israel such as a 2009 article in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet claimed Israel was stealing Palestinian organs.
But a case in January and February of 2013 where Israeli media reported that Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration had been given a birth control drug without their apparent consent could have resulted in a flood of misleading stories by international media attuned to anti-Israelism. It was responsibly reported at The Guardian and The Telegraph, the latter of which even questioned if the story was even true.
However, a Forbes writer named Elise Knutsen turned it into a classic anti-Semitic story. She claimed that “That Israel should allegedly engage in this activity is particularly shocking, considering the practice was widely used by the Germans throughout the Shoah.” Insanely, she noted “From a sociological perspective, this incident shows the strain between Israel’s religious heritage and its modern political agenda. ‘Behold, the heritage of the Lord is sons, the reward is the fruit of the innards’…the Torah proclaims. The involuntary sterilization of African immigrants suggests that the Jewish moral code (inextricably connected with Israel’s domestic legal codes) can be selectively applied to those with ‘desirable’ backgrounds.”
The classic case of mixing modern Israeli history with biblical narratives and the turning Israel into the “new Nazis” is part of an anti-semitic agenda that Friedman noted in his Tablet piece. But what is interesting is how closely this piece jives with the self-described agenda of Gutkin: Israel is a biblical story and Jews who were persecuted became persecutors. […]
..With Readily Packaged Stories…
To truly understand what’s happening we have to go beyond the fact that international media often allows its own version of events, and even the terms it employs, to be shaped by highly critical local reporting by radical-left media in Israel. (Emphasis added.)
Israel fares badly in international media for the same reason it fares badly in its own critical media. As the US Senator Daniel P. Moynihan noted “The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.”
Israel has a robust, active and highly critical human rights machine. Israeli human rights organizations receive almost all their funding from foreign sources, often European governments. A 2010 Wikileak cable noted “B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell…estimated her 9 million NIS ($2.4 million) budget is 95 percent funded from abroad, mostly from European countries.” These organizations are often headed by leaders who seek to tar Israel with the worst brush possible and they feed international media information on allegations of Israeli abuses.
Israel’s real problem in facing the international media may therefore not be the anti-Semitic agenda of a few crackpots, which indeed there are. [ … ]
..Creating A Closed and Partial Information Loop
Israel’s problem is that members of the international media – such as AP bureau chiefs or others – who reside in Israel live within a milieu of Israelis who primarily lean to the left. They are fed information by NGOs such as Rabbis for Human Rights. Some of them already have the ready-made narrative of “giving a voice to those who have none” or “helping the weak.” A ready-made narrative of Israel already exists, set in stone since the 1960s, and tragically fed by former Israeli elites who dislike the current right-wing government and use foreign media to get back at it.
The international media thus naturally gravitates towards Israel’s critical press like Haaretz that has no problem publishing misleading stories such as the May 18 headline “settlers torch Palestinian orchard” for Lag B’omer which was subsequently corrected.
On the other hand, the more interesting stories in Israeli society, such as about Jewish diversity, or about minority communities that don’t get media attention, such as the Druze, Circassians or Ahmadiya, are routinely ignored.
The tragic fact is that international media’s focus on Israel is a twisted blend of Jewish leftists from abroad posted to Israel who have a contentious relationship with the Jewish state. It concentrates on Israeli media sources from the highly critical left, and fits them into a pre-conceived box relating to the conflict through such themes as “David versus Goliath” and “weak Palestinians suffering at the hands of Israel,” with clichés in the background about the “persecuted becomes the persecutor.” Both the Israeli public and the world at large deserve better.
Sadly, with the extreme-left firmly entrenched in all branches of the media and the cultural elite, I see little chance of this happening.
Reinforcing Frantzman’s thesis about Israeli anti-Israel bias, the journalist Tom Gross reports how the English-language edition of Haaretz, Israel’s most notoriously extreme-left (practically anti-Israel) newspaper, (and a source of so much of the international media’s bias) distorted his and Matti Friedman’s words during an interview:
The English edition of Haaretz today runs a shortened version of the interview with former AP Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman and myself, about international media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As I noted in a dispatch last week, the piece originally appeared in Hebrew, published on September 5 in the Marker magazine (which forms part of the Haaretz weekend edition):
Both Matti Friedman and I were unhappy with the way the Haaretz English edition today changed and skewered what we said.
Friedman made the following statement this morning: “The sloppy translation and condensation of Dafna Maor’s good Hebrew piece from ‘The Marker’ 10 days ago does no favors to the writer or her interviewees — nuance and context are lost, and a quote is misattributed to me. This is carelessness, not purposeful warping of content, but if it causes this very important issue to seem less serious, that would be unfortunate.”
I would add too, that this is not the fault of the journalist who interviewed us, Dafna Maor, who is the foreign editor of The Marker, but of the editors at the English edition of Haaretz.
After our complaints (the editor of the Haaretz English edition is a subscriber to this list) Haaretz agreed to change the online version of the article, but the print edition remains with the version which misrepresents what we said.
Although the distortions were probably the result of the understaffing at Haaretz (the paper recently dismissed about a third of its staff to stem mounting losses) there is also concern about its over-politicization. There is considerable unease among some of the staff at the Hebrew edition of Haaretz who say that the English edition had distorted their articles, or added misleading headlines to their pieces.
The Hebrew edition – despite having some fine writing and writers – also contains many articles that have undermined the state of Israel, or are factually incorrect — for example, the headline that wrongly claimed that a majority of Israelis support “apartheid”; this was then reprinted in papers around the world. As a result, thousands of Israelis have canceled their subscriptions to Haaretz.
So much so that in the last few weeks the owner and publisher of Haaretz, Amos Schocken, has in desperation asked several of his leading writers personally to phone subscribers who have cancelled, to persuade them to rethink their decision. This evening he has invited hundreds of Haaretz subscribers who have cancelled — after 20 or 30 years as subscribers — to a gala reception with staff at Tel Aviv museum. They will, he says, be served special refreshments, discuss their dismay with staff, and be given a private viewing of the museum, in an effort to win them back.
However, several people I know who have been invited this evening (all of them on the Israeli center-left) say they are so fed up with the fact Haaretz so often paints Israel in the worst possible light, that they no longer want anything to do with the paper, and will not attend.
You can read Gross’ and Friedman’s interview at Tom Gross’s link (scroll down to the end), since the Haaretz link is behind a paywall.
If Haaretz is panicking then this is a good sign. It means that the mass of cancellations of subscriptions is making a dent and is making them sit up and take notice. Whether this will have a practical effect in the field, i.e. in their articles, reports and translations, remains to be seen.
We Israeli readers of the national press also need to take responsibility and hold the editors and publishers of these anti-Israel articles accountable for their part in the aleihum on Israel in the international media.