Media Hostility toward Israel – Twenty Years Ago and Now

Twenty years ago I interviewed David Bar-Illan, then-executive editor of the Jerusalem Post. He stated about foreign media: “The BBC is by far the worst offender when it comes to Israel.” One example he mentioned of its malice, concerned a coffee house which collapsed in Arab East Jerusalem due to structural problems. Jews and Arabs worked together to save lives, which stunned PLO activists. The BBC didn’t say a word about this collaboration. All they reported was that Arabs had suffered, and repeated the libel that a bomb had been placed in there. Bar-Illan added that there were hundreds of examples of BBC malevolence in the political sphere.

After the Oslo Accords in September 1993, I interviewed 16 prominent Israelis, among whom Bar Illan, for a book. I asked how they viewed Israel’s situation and what they expected for the future. The book was recently republished as Israel’s New Future Revisited. It contains a new introduction comparing expectations then and Israel’s realities and prospects now.

The title of Bar-Illan’s interview: “The Loaded Dice of the Foreign Media are there to Stay,” has come true. He was convinced that despite Israel’s massive concessions in the Oslo Accords to the PLO, the strong anti-Israel bias of the major print and electronic media would continue.

Bar-Illan posited that global media would not say, “The Israelis have made concessions which no one expected. Now it is the Arabs’ turn to compromise on a few points.” He predicted that most of them would continue picking on Israel and urging it to make more concessions.

Bar-Illan’s predictions were once again confirmed by Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 during Ariel Sharon’s government. The credit Israel received for that was long ago forgotten. Israel’s “dividends” from the withdrawal included strengthening Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, the emergence of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, as well as rockets launched gradually further into Israel, initially to Sderot, later to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, Tel Aviv and occasionally even outside of Jerusalem.

 Bar-Illan had great foresight on other matters too. He said: “Once you establish peace as the ultimate goal, there is absolutely nothing which the other side cannot demand in its name.” Bar Illan added that the “peace process” could ultimately lead to what he termed “the peace of the grave.” He attacked another argument: that Israel should make peace while it is strong. Bar Illan asserted that this would mean that Israel would become weak by making peace, after which it would have no peace at all. Its logical conclusion would be: “If one can have peace by not having a country, then why not give it all up?”

As to the BBC: years later Trevor Asserson, a litigation lawyer undertook several detailed analyses of how the BBC operates regarding Israel. He wrote: “Its news reports concerning Israel are distorted by omission, by inclusion, by only giving partial facts, by who is interviewed, and by the background information provided, or lack of it. I also found that there is a systemic problem with the BBC complaints system.”

One among many of Assersons’ examples was, “In Iraq, Western coalition troops are described in warm and glowing terms, with sympathy being evoked for them both as individuals and for their military predicament. In contrast, Israeli troops are painted as faceless, ruthless and brutal killers, with little or no understanding shown for their actions.” He concluded that “the partiality of the BBC’s reporting quite possibly infects its coverage of all politically sensitive issues.”[1] e write

Bar-Illan’s assessment of the Arab world, however gloomy, was perhaps not pessimistic enough. He forecasted that there was a distinct possibility that Arab countries would become democratic in ten or fifteen years. Bar Illan concluded that if it happened, Israel would not have the same image among the Arabs as it had then. Revolutions of the past years have proven this to be an illusion. Tunisia, where far fewer murders have taken place than in any other ‘Arab Spring’ country is trying to compose a constitution – with great difficulty. It is likely to contain a widely supported clause condemning Zionism and the normalization of relations with Israel, the first section of its kind anywhere in a constitution throughout the world.[2]

Presently, pro-Israel media analysis – of which Bar-Illan was a pioneer, is carried out by various organizations. CAMERA and Honest Reporting are the best known among them. Yet, one action item is sorely missing. Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government has still not learned that foreign media and journalists operating in Israel fall into two categories: honest reporters, and news manipulators. Giving both equal privileges is just one aspect of Israel’s dangerously poor performance in the propaganda war. 

Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book, Israel’s New Future Revisited can be purchased on

[1] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Trevor Asserson, “The BBC: Widespread Antipathy Toward Israel,” in Demonizing Israel and the Jews, 91-93.

[2] Shlomo Cesana, “Tunisia’s New Constitution to oppose Zionism, ties with Israel,” Israel Hayom, 28 November 28, 2011.

About the Author
Manfred Gerstenfeld is a Board member and former Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012); He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism