CBS and how to handle it–pt.1

The latest CBS outrage about the terror incident in Jerusalem unleashed the volume of uproar which was too long in the waiting. Such reports have been the norm, rather than the exception, and it has been a feature of Middle East reporting for as long as I can remember, and I am , unfortunately , not so young…, but a veteran of the war over Israel’s image. I take the liberty of writing in this piece about my experiences as a former director of the Government Press Office in three not so simple years, 1989-1992.First, the Intifada, then the Gulf war, and in the end, the Madrid Peace Conference.The first Intifada was the opportunity which a lot of the foreign media was waiting for, to have a field day against Israel. Stories like CBS from two days ago were the order of the day, and it was then, when I realized that yes, it is always the bad Israeli Hasbara or lack thereof, Shortcomings of Israeli bureaucracy and typical lack of coordination between the military and civilian authorities, as well as different , if not contradictory policies of the Likud and Labor ministers[a Government of national unity until summer 1990] which account for poor PR performance. HOWEVER, this is NOT the main problem.

It may not be so popular to shy away from the usual ”they are ALL antisemitic”, not ALL, though too many…as well as indulging in the popular Israeli complaint about our Hasbara, but here are some other reasons to the bias against us , as seen from my vantage point. First, the generation of foreign correspondents who covered Israel as of the late 1980’s was composed mostly of those who were shaped ideologically during the Vietnam war, mostly Liberals who instinctively believed that Might cannot be Right, that any use of military force is wrong, that so-called indigenous peoples are by definition , on the right side of history. Moreover, many of those openly criticized in conversations with me, as well as in their reporting, the America of the 1980’s as being aggressive and colonialist, these were the days of Ronald Reagan, who was not exactly the cup of tea of the Liberal media. Things were different in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the dominant element within the foreign correspondents corps were veterans of WW2, people who knew one or two things about the Holocaust and Israel’s struggle for independence. Then let us add to that the fact, that the academic community at large, and in particular the disciplines of Middle East Studies, Political Science and International Relations have long been infected with the anti Israel virus, long before the emergence of the BDS movement. Most of the foreign correspondents are graduates of these studies, and their writing and reporting is a reflection of the academic anti Israel indoctrination which they went through in college. NOT ALL of them, but so many.

In particular, the main body of foreign correspondents, then and now, cannot understand nor justify, the fact, that the Jews are no more the traditional beaten people worthy of sympathy which is usually reserved to the downtrodden and losers, rather they are on the winning side. They beat , rather than being beaten. What a reversal of historic roles .So, during the Intifada , the press was so atrociously critical , but then came Desert Storm, and Iraq missiles on Israel, WITHOUT Israeli military response [something which deserves a good analysis, but not here], and with them pictures of scared Israeli children and some devastated Israeli houses, in short, suffering Israelis. These was a period of honeymoon with the foreign press. Jews were finally in their well- anticipated position, that of the suffering, and sympathy from the foreign press poured in like never before. This was obvious, when the picture which became so iconic after this war, was that of the doll of an Israeli baby on the window of a ruined house. But let us make no mistake here, the honey moon was very short -lived, as soon after Desert Storm , the usual criticisms of Israel were renewed with a vengeance, when the Shamir Government, of which I was the spokesman, collided with the Bush -Baker[remember James Baker?. F—k the Jews kind of guy…] administration in the run up to the Madrid Peace Conference.

Then there was another problem, one which still goes on today, one which for me is the most painful. It is to do with so many of our fellow Jews. Let us be honest about that-many Jewish reporters , producers , editors bend over backwards to be so-called ”neutral” in their reporting. Sure, they do not need to be pro-Israel, because they are Jewish, but trying so hard to be ”neutral”, is where a much bigger problem is.Being ”neutral”, ”balanced” , ”fair”, etc.,is what we expect from the press, but for many Jews it was an excuse, as the real problem for them is the fear of so many of being labeled as pro-Israel, more than an echo of the problem of so many Liberal American Jews with Israel, which is , ”we are with Israel , if and only if Israel follows the Liberal political correctness dictionary”. One Jewish producer of a big, well-watched American network, a Jew, tore the Mezuzas in their office ,” because this is not a Jewish office”. Arab correspondents, not always, but in most cases, behave ”somewhat ”different, look at the current correspondent of the NYT in Jerusalem. So, is it ,therefore , a doomed battle against the media bias, a conclusion which readers can come to ?. Not exactly, but it is a very complicated one. In so far as the media is concerned, we are off the spirit of the time , Zeitgeist as they call it in a language which I usually do not use, but things can be done.

More on it in a next piece.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina