“Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two”.
This BBC headline lay atop a story about a Palestinian who had killed 2 random Israeli civilians during the recent spate of attacks in and around Jerusalem. While only one headline, it signifies the endless stream of negative media sentiment toward Israel which is suffering daily under religiously-inspired terrorist attacks. I am told the average attempt to kill an Israeli Jew has climbed to 4 a day.
It takes a determined frame of mind to turn the aggressor into the victim. And given the treatment of Israel in the media over the years, why does the media consistently cover Israel as the villain?
Having come to Israel in October for a study mission it’s a question everyone in Israel asks, and I mean everyone.
In thinking long and hard about this for years, what I have been able to piece together from a wide range of well-informed Israelis and Palestinians is a number of reasons that coalesce into a media mindset unique to Israel and it’s neighbours:
- Israel is the 3rd most densely journalist-populated place on the planet. Washington DC, Brussels, and then Israel. It consequently places a giant magnifying glass on Israel. With so many journalists reporting from here, everything is scrutinised. It creates a ‘ZOOM IN’ on every small detail effect.
- Many of these journos are parachuted into Israel (as the Middle East Bureau Centre) with little or no knowledge of the complexities, challenges and historical understanding. So it becomes easier and much less challenging to just follow ‘the narrative’. Group think is alive and well here.
- ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. Journos are here for a main reason which is to cover “the conflict” and the images sought are those that conform to this sensational view of Israel and the Palestinians.
You will ask, so why doesn’t the Syrian civil war which has killed over 250,000 people and displaced 4,000,000 people dominate coverage? Simple: the Syrians have banned the outside press from entry to that country, and even so, the chances of a journo being beheaded there are high. Tel Aviv is an exceptionally comfortable place to report from, and the bars are plentiful once the deadline has been met.
- The accepted narrative and pre-conceptions are ingrained. In a nutshell, it’s a battle between David & Goliath, Villain & Victim. Years of consistent imagery of Israel-as-soldiers and Palestinians-as-child-stone-throwers means it becomes very hard to change the accepted view of the world when the Palestinians are the aggressors – stabbing, shooting and killing Israeli victims. It just doesn’t fit the ‘accepted narrative’, hence twisted headlines like the BBC’s and fact-bending Orwellian stories that blame Israel for shooting Palestinians.
- The local on-ground Palestinian stringers for ABC, AP, AFP, CNN, NYT, etc will quit as sources for these outlets if they report other than what is given, and then there will be no local source. Media organisations facing budget pressures cannot afford to lose local low-cost sources.
This problem became clearly apparent during the war last year between Israel and Hamas, when local Palestinian stringers provided the BBC and NYT with photos that were actually photos from the Syrian war, not from Gaza.
- The role of social media has fundamentally changed the media landscape. It pushes ‘Big media’ to be first, instant and relevant. When content is broadcast via instant tweets, mobile-sourced video and the like, the perpetual and enormous challenge for the traditional media is to be much faster in producing content. This speed to produce – the “now” deadline – reduces breadth and depth of reporting. In turn, it is much quicker to slot into ‘the accepted narrative’ than take the time to dig into a story.
- When the clash is between Israel and the Jihadists, exemplified by Hamas in particular, there is a fundamental clash of values which is not challenged. Suicide by Jihad is a value taught, praised and glorified by Hamas, ISIS and like extremists. It is anathema to Israelis. So Hamas build their media capabilities around Israeli weakness – avoiding civilian casualties. Time and again they will ‘line up the bodies’ and parade them to the media (often the stringers). These ‘bleed to lead’ images exemplify the accepted Villain-Victim narrative. This is not to say Israel is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes in war. But the play on dead bodies and “death tolls” – the human interest angle – creates false impressions and engender “proportionality” discussions, not root causes. Look at the global response to that 1 dreadful image of the dead Syrian refugee toddler washed up on a Turkish beach.
- Anti-Americanism. The Fourth Estate is largely liberal and, since Vietnam, instinctively romantic on self-determination stories and viscerally sceptical of America and it’s frontline in the Middle East – Israel. I will never forget the stories from journalists who blamed the 9/11 World Trade Centre terror attacks on the victim – America.
- And yes, there is some anti-semitism amongst some reporters. Most are professionals, but it is acknowledged, even amongst those in the profession, that some people are just uncomfortable with a Jewish State. 57 Islamic States and 1 Jewish State and the coverage is overwhelmingly anti-Israel.
- The United Nations. There is not a soul I have ever met who thinks the UN is anything but obsessively anti-Israel. The key issue here is that the machinery of the UN has been hijacked to spew out an endless stream of anti-Israel content that endlessly fills the inboxes of journalists around the world. This constant barrage of anti-Israelism fuels the accepted anti-Israel narrative.
So the answer to why the media reports on Israel the way it does – and ignores the real headline ‘8 Israelis dead and 80 wounded in October’ – is a combination of all or some of these 10 factors.
With all that, the odds are mightily stacked against this plucky, vibrant, economically miraculous and dynamic democracy. But then again, when Moses called the ancient Israelites a “stiff-necked people”, I think he knew exactly the quality this trait would provide – an ability to believe wholeheartedly in the national mission of the self-determination of the Jewish people in their 4000 year old historic homeland, and build it come what may. With 10 wars in 6 decades, endless indiscriminate terror, and a media narrative so opposite, stiff-necked is exactly what the Israelis need to be.