Props in a media war?

Props in a media war?

I write this as a member of the press. I’m proud to be a journalist and a documentary filmmaker. I’m a member of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, and the co-recipient of this year’s Edward R. Murrow Award from the American Overseas Press Club. I say this off the top because I’m not an outsider pointing my finger at the media. Every year, journalists sacrifice their lives in war zones so as to keep us informed and protect freedom of the press, a cornerstone of democracy.

But the fact is that when it comes to Israel, the media has acted irresponsibly. Good journalism has been replaced by politically correct misreporting, and one of the net results is that Palestinian civilians, including children, are paying with their lives. How so?

There is no group that can be more evil, in the narrowest sense of the word, than the rulers of the Gaza strip, Hamas. They are openly anti-democratic, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-Israel, anti-American and anti-Western. The list continues. These are the people who distributed candies, danced in the street and openly celebrated after 9/11.

I simply don’t know what else they could do to make Westerners dislike them. For good measure, they are anti-Palestinian nationalism. They don’t believe in a Palestinian state. They believe that “statehood” is a Western invention. They also believe in the destruction of the Jewish state as a step toward an international Islamic Republic. And yet, despite all of this, they are portrayed as freedom fighters by much of the international media.

The Western press has taught them that if they turn their children into props, they will win the propaganda war against Israel. In today’s media war, you need a good prop. Israeli Cabinet minister Naftali Bennett understood this when he faced CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. When she repeatedly used the term “occupied territories” to refer to parts of the ancient land of Israel, Bennett was ready. He pulled out a 2000-year-old coin that says “Zion” on it. He held it to the camera and asked something like, “I’m a Jew. How can I be ‘occupying’ Zion? How can I occupy my own land?” His point was “I’m not an occupier, I’m indigenous”, and he used an ancient coin as a prop for an audience with a limited attention span. It worked.

Turkish prime-minister Erdogan also understands that in today’s media war you need props. In 2010, the boat called the “Mavi Marmara” was just such a prop. From a PR point of view, it was a relatively cheap trick. You get a boat, you fill it with what Lenin called “useful idiots”, i.e. well-meaning politically-correct members of the bourgeoisie, espousing half-baked ideas. Then into the mix you insert a dozen jihadists ready to kill and be killed – and you’ve got yourself a media circus of incredible proportions. The Mavi Marmara incident involved a “ship of fools” which tried to run Israel’s sea blockade around Gaza. Ostensibly they were bringing humanitarian aid, but humanitarian aid can be delivered without any problems. It’s missiles that are a problem. So when Israeli commandos armed with paintball guns so as not to hurt anyone boarded the ship, they were attacked by jihadists wielding axes and knives. The commandos called for help. The jihadists were killed. But they had won the prop war. My fellow journalists portrayed the jihadists as victims and the Israelis as oppressors. The anti-Israel forces got billions of dollars worth of free publicity, and Turkish-Israeli relations were damaged almost beyond repair. None of this would’ve happened if there hadn’t been a prop that the cameramen could point their cameras at. The boat was the prop. Now it’s the children.

Hamas has understood what the ideology of terror has clearly espoused for over a hundred years. When attacking a democracy, the terrorist has to put it in a quandary. The way to do that is to force the democracy to kill civilians. So if you set up your terror-base under a school or a hospital, you’ve got it made in the shade. You launch missiles, for example, against Israel. Now the Israelis have a choice. Either they don’t respond, in which case the terror mounts in the face of ongoing impotence, or they do respond, in which case you’re going to have civilian deaths and dramatic pictures for the West’s nightly news.

Basically, the Western media has taught Hamas that it doesn’t matter how downright evil you are. It doesn’t matter if you launch two thousand missiles at civilian targets, including the airport. It doesn’t matter if you use your own children as human shields. You’ll get the coverage you want if CNN, BBC et al. have props to point their cameras at. Our form of news-gathering has taught Hamas to turn their children into those props, and to sacrifice them on the altar of Jihad. By misreporting, our media has encouraged the bad guys to kill their own children, and has dragged Israel into a war it did not want.

Nissim Sean Carmeli was a 21 year old soldier in Golani, Israel’s marines. He emigrated here from Texas. Until a few years ago, he went to the high school around the corner from my house. He had plans to go to university, meet a girl, start a family. When a few weeks ago Hamas started raining hundreds of rockets down on Israeli civilians, nobody wanted to send Sean and his friends into Gaza. As in Afghanistan, that would involve house to house fighting with a ruthless enemy who knows the terrain and has booby trapped every passage. It would have been very easy for the Israeli Air Force to simply level entire blocks of Hamas dominated neighborhoods. Americans have done this with impunity in Iraq and Afghanistan. But since Hamas plants its terror network beneath schools, hospitals and mosques, such a bombing mission would have involved high Palestinian casualties. So Israel decided not to level Gaza and send Sean in. He died so as to minimize Palestinian losses. I just came back from where his family is sitting Shiva, the Jewish custom of mourning. There were no anti-Arab speeches, no signs of militarism, just the tremendous grief of parents burying a child. As a journalist, I sat there and hung my head in shame, overwhelmed by the simple truth that while journalists feign concern for Palestinian kids, they are actually creating the environment for their deaths. In the meantime, Israelis like Sean are paying with their lives to avoid the very deaths they are being blamed for.