Wars throughout history were fought on land, at sea and in the air, but today’s battleground is far more ephemeral and complex. Rather than M-16s and rockets, today’s war involves ideas and information, but it is just as threatening to Israel’s existence.
The violent attack on the Jewish state waged by mainstream media, is turning credible news publications into forums for Israel-bashers to delegitimize the state – all under the guise of honest reporting. It is now more apparent than ever that the anti-Israel bias in the media is not just present – it is pervasive.
In Israel’s early history, mainstream media cast the young state in a positive light. As the regional underdog that shocked the world in its defeat of five invading Arab nations, the exemplary portrayal of the state came as no surprise. In 1973, Life Magazine epitomized the media’s high regard for Israel when it described the state as “enlightened, robustly democratic and hip, a land of astonishing achievement.” Yet in recent decades, the mainstream media has abandoned its support for Israel and instead, embarked on a full-blown war against the Jewish state.
In his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “What Happened to Israel’s Reputation?” Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, acknowledged that the Jewish state would not be portrayed in the same light today as it was in 1973. Despite Israel’s democratic values and commitment to peace, the media would depict “Israel’s overwhelming military might, brutal conduct in warfare and eroding democratic values – plus the Palestinians’ plight and Israeli intransigence.”
The cause of this shift, Oren says, “lies in the systematic delegitimization of the Jewish state. Having failed to destroy Israel by conventional arms and terrorism, Israel’s enemies alit on a subtler and more sinister tactic that hampers Israel’s ability to defend itself, even to justify its existence.” This includes the media’s false portrayal of events. By constantly challenging the public’s perception of the Jewish state, the media has become a powerful, strategic tool in the war against Israel.
Much of the intolerance and hatred directed at Israel stems from pure ignorance of the facts – facts that are on Israel’s side. Taking many forms – from misleading headlines, to the omission of information, selective sources and word choice – the mass media perpetuates this ignorance with biased, one-sided reporting. Such tactics distort the public’s understanding of the conflict and ultimately threaten the Jewish state. Because this media battleground is paramount, its threat to Israel cannot be underestimated.
Even the venerable TIME Magazine is no stranger to anti-Israel bias. In September 2010, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Washington to “begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” TIME printed a controversial cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”
The article, written by Karl Vick, depicts Israelis living in a bubble: focusing on “the good life” and indifferent to making peace with the Palestinians. This portrayal, intending to show readers that Israelis are to blame for the stalled peace process, was both misleading and inaccurate. The article doesn’t mention that in Israel, all citizens serve in the military, where Palestinian confrontation often means the ends of young Israeli lives. TIME doesn’t tell the reader that political debates are the norm in Israel’s many coffee shops. It doesn’t mention that every Israeli has a heart-wrenching story about a friend, loved-one, or neighbor killed during a war or at the hand of terrorists. Truly, Israelis – a people with such a deep connection to their country – are far from indifferent to peace.
The New York Times is also guilty in the media war against the Jewish state. As one of the world’s most widely read publications, the Times has a responsibility to report the whole truth. Yet its regular columnists “consistently distort the positions of [the Israeli] government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace.” As Ron Dermer, Senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu half-joked, “it would seem the surest way to get an op-ed published in the The New York Times these days…is to attack Israel.”
Among its most troubling pieces published in the last year is “Gilad Shalit’s Release,” an editorial from October 2011. While other news outlets weighed the costs of Israel’s decision – letting hundreds of Palestinian prisoners go free to redeem a single Israeli soldier – The New York Times seized the opportunity to condemn the Jewish state. The editorial criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision, stating that it would make him “less willing to make the necessary compromises to restart negotiations.” They questioned his willingness to negotiate this deal with Hamas when he refused to negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority. The Times concluded: “the problem is not that he can’t compromise and make tough choices. It’s that he won’t.”
Earlier that year, the publication’s usual anti-Israel fervor reached an unprecedented level. In May 2011, The New York Times published the Palestinian Authority President’s op-ed, allowing him to rewrite history. Mahmoud Abbas explained: “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel.”
While it is no surprise Abbas opts against laying blame on his Palestinian predecessors for their statelessness, it is surprising that The New York Times let a complete fallacy get into print. Had the Palestinian Arabs accepted the United Nation’s Partition Plan – or any of the countless other opportunities – a Palestinian state could today be a reality.
Despite denying responsibility in The New York Times article, Abbas has in the past admitted Arab responsibility for the flight of Palestinians from Israel. In 1976, he wrote, “The Arab armies … abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, imposed upon them a political and ideological blockade and threw them into prisons.”
While magazines and newspapers are filled with anti-Israel propaganda, television stations are just as guilty. In April 2012, CBS aired the 60 Minutes segment, “Christians of the Holy Land.” A defamatory report on Palestinian Christians, the segment is likely the most astounding example of the anti-Israel bias on television in recent history. Bob Simon, who reported on the issue, used severely slanted sources to support his claim that the Israelis are single-handedly to blame for Palestinian Christians leaving the Jewish State.
Blaming Israel’s policies and settlements for pushing Palestinian Christians out of the region, Simon depicted the Jewish state as the oppressor. He portrayed the obstacles posed by West Bank checkpoints and the separation barrier, as if Israel specifically targeted the Christians with these measures. Checkpoints, in addition to the barrier, severely inconvenience residents of the area, however, they were only implemented to combat terror threats. In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East that protects – not oppresses, as Simon claimed – its Christian population.
These examples scrape the surface of the pervasive bias against Israel in the mainstream media, all carried out under the guise of honest, accurate and unbiased reporting. They serve as clear reminders that the media’s opposition to the state of Israel is rampant and there is no end in sight.
Today it is clear that this bias must be addressed. It is not only about restoring the integrity of the mainstream media and providing readers with factual information – it is a matter of Israel’s survival.