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December 3, 2014 11:34 am

Matti Friedman Explains the Media Bias Against Israel

avatar by Adam Levick

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File photo of a Qassam rocket fired from a civilian area in Gaza towards civilian areas in Southern Israel. Photo: WikiCommons.

File photo of a Qassam rocket fired from a civilian area in Gaza towards civilian areas in Southern Israel. Photo: Wiki Commons.

In carrying out our mission, CiF Watch often attempts to contextualize the Guardian’s coverage of Israel by explaining not only what they get wrong, but also why they get it wrong. So, in August we posted excerpts from a superb article by former AP Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman in Tablet Magazine, which masterfully dissected the widespread institutional bias that distorts coverage of Israel and the Middle East.

Friedman’s latest essay (What the media gets wrong about Israel), published on November 30 in The Atlantic, is another must-read for those who’ve thought seriously about the skewed coverage of Israel at the Guardian – and within much of the media.

Here are a few of the more interesting passages from Friedman’s essay.

Human Shields

Hamas’s strategy is to provoke a response from Israel by attacking from behind the cover of Palestinian civilians, thus drawing Israeli strikes that kill those civilians, and then to have the casualties filmed by one of the world’s largest press contingents, with the understanding that the resulting outrage abroad will blunt Israel’s response. This is a ruthless strategy, and an effective one. It is predicated on the cooperation of journalists. One of the reasons it works is because of the reflex I mentioned. If you report that Hamas has a strategy based on co-opting the media, this raises several difficult questions, like, What exactly is the relationship between the media and Hamas? And has this relationship corrupted the media? It is easier just to leave the other photographers out of the frame and let the picture tell the story: Here are dead people, and Israel killed them.

Western Media as Hamas “Assets”

When Hamas’s leaders surveyed their assets before this summer’s round of fighting, they knew that among those assets was the international press. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn’t report it. (This also happened.) Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying. (This too happened; the information comes from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents.)

Media Fails to Report Islamist War Against “the Last Thriving Minority in the Middle East.”

This summer, with Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds falling back before the forces of radical Islam not far away from here, this ideology’s local franchise launched its latest war against the last thriving minority in the Middle East. The Western press corps showed up en masse to cover it. This conflict included rocket barrages across Israel and was deliberately fought from behind Palestinian civilians, many of whom died as a result. Dulled by years of the “Israel story” and inured to its routine omissions, confused about the role they are meant to play, and co-opted by Hamas, reporters described this war as an Israeli onslaught against innocent people. By doing so, this group of intelligent and generally well-meaning professionals ceased to be reliable observers and became instead an amplifier for the propaganda of one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth. And that, as they say, is the story.

We strongly encourage you to read the entire 4,800 word essay, here.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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  • Julian Clovelley

    One of the oldest propaganda tricks in the game is to put forward your own views by reviewing someone else’s work. I am sure that in his monitoring role Mr Levick is well aware of this. So we should perhaps look at the points he raises in his review directly. First however a statement of bias. I am totally against the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel or attacks on Israel under any circumstances, and accept the right of people in a military situation to defend themselves.

    Adam seems to me to be justifying the firing on innocent civilians who find themselves in a position of human shields. In effectively claiming, through use of Friedman’s article, that Palestinian militants deliberately provoke such situations using the collateral damage as propaganda, Adam ignores the fact that the city is the only cover that the people firing into Israel have. The real problem is that cities are unsuitable areas in which to fight wars for either side. The deaths of civilians in Gaza is just as unacceptable as similar deaths in Israel, and it is equally unacceptable to target civilian areas in this manner, whether their inhabitants are being used as shields or not..

    That journalists in Gaza find themselves in the situation the AP journalists did, is hardly surprising. It is common to all war zone journalism. Behaviour and reporting restrictions are placed on journalists embedded with Western forces or operating from within their war zones too. The first casualty of war is always “truth”. Any intelligent reader knows that. Bodies however are real, and the photos coming out of Gaza that were published generally had excellent provenance as real photos from the area, the children in many of them being clearly dead and injured. Is it really unexpected that journalists were not allowed to film militants in a manner that made their identification possible? You cannot photograph the British SAS either.

    But Adam’s last quote is the most peculiar. he uses it to portray the journalists as “confused about the role they are meant to to play”. I doubt it Adam – most people – especially journalists – actually know what the job entails – if not they can always look it up in a dictionary. So can you.

    So is the primary accusation here valid, that firstly they were “co-opted by Hamas”. The implication here is that they were either appointed (voluntarily) to act on Hamas’s behalf, or diverted from their journalistic purpose to serve a different role than the one for which they were originally appointed. Neither seems an accurate description of their situation in Gaza itself, which was to report within the boundaries of whatever limitations were applied as accurately as possible. Photographs and reports on civilian deaths fell well within that context

    Journalists in Israel also faced problems reporting. So we saw the reports of attack through tunneling from Gaza, damage to buildings within Israel, the trails of Hamas rockets , injuries caused to Israelis, and the reports of Israeli casualties. They too were very disturbing.

    Mr Levick , in his use of Mr Friedman’s points in his review, might perhaps have legitimately detailed Mr Friedman’s own background as a journalist – an honourable but hardly unbiased one. I’ll leave the reader to look that up, and perhaps in order to place this present article and review by Mr Levick in context, to take a look at an earlier refutation of Friedman’s position in such matters made by a former AP Bureau chief in Israel, Steven Gutkin – You will find it on:


    It includes the paragraph:

    “No, media coverage of Israel is not the new face of global anti-Semitism. In every society I covered in my decades as a foreign correspondent, whistle blowers were dubbed traitors and defenders of the status quo were considered patriots. Matti seems to argue that Israel should be left alone because it’s not as bad as Bashar Assad or the Taliban. I believe there’s nothing wrong with giving voice to all those who believe the Jewish state can and should do better.
    And I feel the same way about the Palestinians.”

    To my mind those comments made in September still apply. Ultimately I read Levick’s article as really centred in motivation on another of his boring(sic) and inaccurate and unreasonable attacks on the Guardian newspaper, which he carries out as an aside – describing Friedman’s article as “another must-read for those who’ve thought seriously about the skewed coverage of Israel at the Guardian..”

    Nice try Adam – but rather like Hamas you missed your target yet again. Like Israel herself the Guardian is still here

    And like most Guardian readers, I thank whatever G-d there may be for the continuing existence of both, and remain motivated by the sincere desire that the region may come to the negotiating table, work out a settlement of all issues, and create a situation where their diverse societies may be able to develop and evolve, jointly and severally, in peace.

    So again I say to you Adam – I’m still waiting for your reply – your clarification of what seems to me to be an over-riding bias on your part – “What is your timeline for ending the Occupation and closing the West Bank Settlements – and under what circumstances?” or should we assume that ALL your writings come down to “Never” and “Under No Circumstances” and are little more than justifications for that unstated (extreme) position.

    You see Adam – I am afraid I regard you, even in this article, as the most skewed journalist of them all without that clarification – and I don’t really want to. I’d rather believe your failure to properly respond is just a minor slip up – but one of the kind you criticise others for making. Monitoring media is a very vital role – but it absolutely must be done from clearly stated personal position. Do you really not comprehend that which you rightly apply, albeit in my opinion, selectively, to others?

  • why isn’t this article picked up by mainstream media, the world must know!!