Media Bias Against Israel — Where to Begin?
by Daniel S. Mariaschin
The media’s treatment of Israel has been among the Jewish state’s most vexing challenges. Most major media organizations have reporters based in Israel, an open society that affords journalists — domestic and foreign — access to policymakers, the military, and the general citizenry. Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are, globally speaking, a very confined area. When conflicts arise, hundreds of additional journalists flock to Israel and rush to the border, sending back reports on the fighting in real time.
It should be no mystery to reporters based in Israel that the Jewish state faces implacable enemies: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah and now Iran in the north, and a Palestinian Authority that continues to glorify terrorism, pays cash to imprisoned terrorists and the families of “martyrs,” and incites the population to hate and murder Israelis and Jews.
And yet that message rarely gets through. If it does, it’s done grudgingly. Simplistic explanations abound, including the “Palestinians as David, the Israelis as Goliath” underdog argument, which translates into “understanding” of violent “resistance to the occupation.” Or maybe the media organizations that the reporters represent hew to an ideological viewpoint — which just happens to be identical to those writing or broadcasting the stories themselves. The editors and the headline writers back home, far removed from the action, seal the deal by summarizing already biased stories.
Here’s an example.
It’s generally known that journalists reporting from Gaza are restricted by Hamas when it comes to what they are shown and what they are told. If you say something in your report from Gaza that just scratches the surface of what you’re actually seeing, you’ll do so at your peril — at the very least, you could be expelled from Gaza.
Just recall the two reporters, one Indian and one French, who during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge independently reported that Hamas had fired rockets into Israel from a residential area, a favorite Hamas tactic. Even more incredibly, the reporters who took the story public noted the launch site was just yards away from a hotel where international journalists covering Gaza were staying.
When a CNN reporter who had been in Gaza for days was asked by his own anchor in Washington if he had seen the same kind of fire emanating from such civilian locations he went into “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mode, lamely saying that he was not aware of it. Highly doubtful, but indicative of the intimidation employed by his Hamas hosts.
The early summer demonstrations in Gaza this year produced a Washington Post story headlined “A day of gas inside a Gaza ambulance,” which focused on Palestinian medics who treated the wounded near the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. The opening lines in this seven-paragraph story tell you immediately, without reading further, where this story was going:
The first patients don’t come until 5:39 PM. They crowd around the ambulance, choking on tear gas. Israeli soldiers, just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the boundary fence, had fired a volley of hissing canisters at the protesters.
The article includes an interview with a Palestinian paramedic, which included the following — not a quote, but the reporter’s own paraphrase of the interviewee: “It doesn’t compare to the stress of the 2014 war, though, when he spent his days in the ambulance worrying about his family’s safety as Gaza came under heavy bombardment from Israel and Hamas fired rockets back” (italics mine).
Wait a minute: wasn’t it Hamas that fired the rockets into Israel first, and then Israel that defended itself with airstrikes against Hamas targets?
One has to believe that the reporter knew this and her editors did as well.
Playing fast and loose with hearsay and unsubstantiated charges was rife during the Friday protests in Gaza in May and June. Casualty numbers were attributed to “Gaza health officials.”
Let’s consider an egregious example of bias, carried by multiple media organizations: the case of Layla Ghandour, the Palestinian baby said by the press to have died from tear gas inhalation during the demonstrations. It was later reported that, in fact, the baby had actually died due to a heart condition and Hamas had paid the family to lie about the circumstances. Try to find more than a few “clarifications” of this story, in print or on the air. You won’t.
For days, the press reported on the carnival-like atmosphere of the demonstrations, mentioning picnicking families and ice cream vendors. Even after a Hamas official boasted that more than 50 of those declared dead in the demonstrations were Hamas operatives, most media organizations went with their “mostly peaceful protest” stories, rarely mentioning the revelation about the 50, and playing down Hamas’ central role in the whole affair, including the torching of Israeli farmland and nature preserves by fiery kites and balloons.
As at the United Nations, press bias is a stacked deck against Israel. The IDF works relentlessly to correct media bias with its solid spokespeople. The encouraging news is that a few courageous news organizations, friends of Israel inside and outside the Jewish community, and organizations including B’nai B’rith, CAMERA, MEMRI, ADC (the Anti Defamation Commission in Australia), Palestinian Media Watch, and HonestReporting work overtime to hold the press to account.
Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran publicly call for and seek Israel’s destruction. Terrorists can strike anytime at Israelis, ramming pedestrians with cars and bulldozers, stabbing people on the street, or attempting to kidnap civilians and soldiers. Israel’s right to defend itself and be at peace with its neighbors should not be in question. But many journalists don’t report it that way, choosing many times to give those who seek to destroy Israel a free pass.
It is our right to call out those who engage in advancing a tainted narrative and set the record straight — sometimes multiple times a day — when the media does not present the full picture.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International. As the organization’s top executive officer, Mariaschin directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities, and staff around the world.