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April 15, 2011 3:10 pm

No Way to Run a “Hasbara” Railroad

avatar by Arik Elman

Email a copy of "No Way to Run a “Hasbara” Railroad" to a friend

On April 7th, just after the driver of the yellow school bus of the Sha’ar Ha-Negev Regional Council had dropped off his last passengers, an advanced Russian-made anti-tank missile “Kornet,” launched from the nearby Gaza Strip, struck the bus from the rear. The driver escaped with minor injuries; his only remaining passenger, 16-year old Daniel Viflic, remains in critical condition. The bus was clearly marked and painted bright yellow; the weapon is precise and guided; the targeting was deliberate. Since the “Kornet” is still a costly and rare weapon in Gaza (to smuggle them from Syria through Lebanon and Sinai takes time), those who fired it (Hamas’ very own Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility) clearly wanted to maximize the payoff, and on the monstrous scales of the Palestinian “liberation struggle,” a bus full of children weights much, much more than a few soldiers in a Humvee.

So, clearly, a heinous war crime has been committed, right? Just how did the British “Independent” choose to present it to its online readers?

That’s how:

The Independent and Reuters - Cover-up of a war crime

If this was the only piece of information available to you, what would you conclude? That this was a deliberate attack on a school bus? Not really. The picture, and the misleading caption, serve one purpose – to make this war crime into a “just another incident in the cycle of violence”. Rest assured, if it was Israeli rocket and a Palestinian bus, the picture and the caption would be very, very different.

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If at this point you’re asking “How can they do it?” the answer is simple – because they can. “The Independent”, Reuters and any other media outlet know they can defame the Jewish state, abet its enemies and get away with it.

When the Foreign Press Association was formed in Israel in late 50s, it included less than 40 members. Today it numbers almost 500 people, some of them foreigners, some Israeli citizens. No matter how Israeli authorities reorganize, and how many civil servants are brought into the sphere of communications, this number is simply incompatible with Israel’s size and resources. It is impossible to serve all those people equally well, and prioritization causes endless resentment. Moreover, members of the foreign press are feeling strength in numbers, and time and again turn to badgering and harassment in order to get what they want from the authorities. The FPA thinks nothing of petitioning the High Court of Justice on such issues as access to Gaza Strip in wartime, something unheard of in any other country where foreign press is operating, or boycotting official events where the security arrangements aren’t to their liking.

The feeble and inconsistent Israeli response to this challenge lead many of the members of the foreign press corps to openly disrespect the authority of the local government. Moreover, foreign journalists coming to Israel understand quite quickly that there’s no downside for obnoxious behavior, lack of objectivity and downright hostile coverage, just as there’s no bonus for friendly and unbiased reporting. In any case, the journalistic priorities are in most cases dictated by the editors at home, not so much by the reporters’ own preferences. Despite so many foreign reporters being accredited, human interest stories and reports on local businesses, innovations, science or culture are few and far in between.

It is time to recognize that the policy of unlimited coverage, of “open borders” for foreign press, of coddling and accommodation did not pay off. It must be changed, and the change should begin on a conceptual level.

The foreign media and the Israeli authorities which are supposed to manage them are united in erroneous belief that the Jewish state is supposed to throw its borders wide open for anyone who can be called “journalist”, or otherwise lose its status as a democracy. Here it should be pointed out, that for all the efforts to curry favor with the foreign press, Israel was labeled “a predator” by Reporters Without Borders, who in their 2009 “press freedom index” ranked Israel 93rd – between Guinea-Bissau and Qatar – for the temerity to enforce certain limitations on the coverage of operation “Cast Lead”. This crude blackmail indicates that the foreign press does not recognize or respect Israel’s right to determine any parameters or limitations for their activities, while Israeli journalists, being citizens, are thus placed in a disadvantage. Change is necessary.

It must be stated that foreign journalists are foreigners first, and reporters second, which means that they are in Israel at the pleasure of the government of the Jewish state, and this privilege can be revoked as well as granted. Freedom of speech and press is a basis for any functioning democracy, but it is limited to the citizens of this democracy ONLY, since it assumes that all those who benefit from it are united by common desire to protect and develop their commonwealth. Foreigners, who usually come to Israel on assignment “for death and mayhem” have no such interest – in many cases, they’re already indoctrinated against Israel and see their job as an opportunity to advance the cause of the enemies of the Jewish state. Since Israel conducts no background checks on the members of foreign press, it has no idea what preconceived notions they are bringing to Jerusalem.

By realizing and affirming its sovereign right to refuse access to foreign journalists, Israel can begin the twofold process of cutting their ranks down to manageable numbers, and affecting speedy retribution against those media outlets whose attitude to Israel is clearly and uncompromisingly hostile. On the other hand, such process will enable the existing media management structures to give the proper treatment to those reporters and media that are willing to be objective or pro-Israeli, as well as to the representatives of Jewish news outlets, who are at present sadly neglected.

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