Shielding Israel a matter of policy
The term “media bias” does not do justice to much of the Western corporate media’s relationship with Israel and Palestine. The relationship is far more profound than mere partiality. It is not ignorance, either; it is a calculated and long-term campaign aimed at guarding Israel and demonizing Palestinians.
The current disgraceful coverage of Gaza’s popular protests by many outlets indicates that their position aims at suppressing the truth on Palestine at any cost and by any means.
Political symbiosis, cultural affinity, Hollywood, and the outreaching influence of pro-Israel and Zionist groups within political and media circles are some of the explanations many of us have offered as to why Israel is often viewed through sympathetic eyes, while Palestinians and Arabs are condemned.
But such explanations hardly suffice. Nowadays there are numerous media outlets trying to offset some of the imbalance, many of them emanating from the Middle East, but also some from other parts of the world. Palestinian and Arab journalists, intellectuals and cultural representatives have a greater presence on the global stage than ever before and are more than capable of facing up to, if not defeating, the pro-Israeli media discourse.
However, they are seemingly invisible to large sections of the Western media — it is the Israeli spokesperson who continues to occupy center stage; speaking, shouting, theorizing and demonizing as he pleases. It is, then, not a matter of ignorance, but policy.
Even before March 30, when scores of Palestinians in Gaza were killed and thousands wounded, the US and British media should, for example, have at least questioned why hundreds of Israeli snipers and army tanks were ordered to deploy at the Gaza border to confront Palestinian protesters. Instead, too many outlets merely referred to “clashes” between Gazan youths and the snipers, as if they were equal forces in an equivalent battle.
If ordinary people are increasingly able to see the truth regarding the situation in Palestine, experienced journalists cannot possibly be blind to it. They know, but they choose to remain silent.
The maxim that official Israeli propaganda, or “hasbara,” is too savvy no longer suffices. In fact, it is hardly true. Where is the ingenuity in the way the Israeli army explained the killing of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza? “Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” the Israeli army tweeted on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
If that was not bad enough, Israel’s ultra-nationalist Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, followed that self-indictment by declaring “there are no innocent people in Gaza,” thus legitimizing the targeting of any Gazan within the besieged strip.
If ordinary people are increasingly able to see the truth regarding Palestine, experienced journalists cannot possibly be blind to it.
Unfair media coverage is not fueled by the simplistic notion of “clever Israel, imprudent Arabs.” The pro-Israeli Western media is actively involved in shielding Israel and enhancing its diminishing brand, while painstakingly demolishing the image of its enemies. Take, for example, Israel’s unfounded propaganda that Yasser Murtaja, the Gazan journalist who was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while covering the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza border, was a member of Hamas.
First, “unnamed officials” in Israel claimed that Murtaja was “a member of the Hamas security apparatus.” Then Lieberman offered more (fabricated) details that Murtaja had been on Hamas’ payroll since 2011 and “held a rank similar to that of captain.” Many journalists took these statements and ran with them, constantly associating any news coverage of Murtaja’s death with Hamas.
It turned out that, according to the US State Department, Murtaja’s start-up media company in Gaza had actually received a small grant from USAID, which subjected Yasser’s company to a rigorous vetting process. On top of that, a report by the International Federation of Journalists claimed he was actually detained and beaten by the Gaza police in 2015, and that Israel’s Defense Minister was engineering a cover-up.
Judging by this, Israel’s media apparatus is as erratic and self-defeating as North Korea, but this is hardly the image conveyed by much of the Western media, which insists on placing Israel on a moral pedestal while misrepresenting Palestinians, regardless of the circumstances.
But there is more to this approach to Palestine and Israel than shielding and elevating Israel while demonizing Palestinians. Often, the media works to distract from the big issues entirely, as is the case in Britain today, where Israel’s image is rapidly deteriorating. To disrupt the conversation on Palestine, the Israeli occupation and the British government’s unconditional support of Tel Aviv, much of the mainstream British media has taken to turning the heat up on Jeremy Corbyn, the popular leader of the opposition Labour Party.
Accusations of anti-Semitism have dogged the party since Corbyn’s election in 2015. Yet Corbyn is not racist; on the contrary, he has stood against racism, for the working class and other disadvantaged groups. His strong pro-Palestine stance, in particular, is threatening to compel a paradigm shift on the Middle East within his revived and energized party.
However, considering that Israel and its allies in the media, and elsewhere, conflate criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology, on the one hand, and that of Jews and Judaism on the other, Corbyn cannot win this battle.
Nor are Israel’s friends keen on winning either. They merely want to prolong a futile debate so that British society remains embroiled in distractions and spares Israel any accountability for its actions.
Media spin will continue to provide Israel with the margins it needs to carry out its violent policies against the Palestinian people with no moral accountability. It will remain loyal to Israel, creating a buffer between the truth and its audiences.
It is incumbent on us to expose this sinister relationship and hold the offending media outlets to account for covering up Israel’s crimes, as well as Israel for committing these crimes in the first place.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.