News coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict as demagoguery

Coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict often resembles the demagogue who tells the public that nothing is their own fault – thus, avoiding the complexity of causes, of facts. But, unlike the demagogue who strokes the sullied ego of his own people, the biased journalist does this by proxy: he tells people that they are good because they are moved and empathize with the Palestinians, who are the defenseless “victims.” He does it with equal drama as the “regular” demagogue, with the same erroneous diagnosis of the causes of the problem, of the context, of the reality; so that everything comes down to the machinations of Israel.

As with the other demagogues —the “usual” ones — the trick is also in exaggerating the execution of the script (and its framing) and in repeating over and over the image that is intended to be installed (Israel/Israelis/Zionists – the Jews – “settler/s”, “apartheid”, “occupier/s”, “oppressor/s”, “violator/s of international law”, etc.) among the target audiences. Repetition replaces reason, knowledge, facts, and ends up creating the deception of the “validity” and the “consensus” of what has been claimed. But this demagogue – that is, the voice that comes out of much of the “information” that’s published about Israel and the conflict- plays with a singular advantage: he does not need much time for repetition to do its job; centuries after centuries of similar or identical accusations against the Jews have left an indelible mark, an assimilated belief; so the transfer between Israel and Jews and vice versa needs no effort, no elaborate rhetoric. Everyone knows what is being said without the necessity of vocalizing it.

The demagogue – this one, and that other one (the traditional one) – is, above all, a propagandist: he seeks to attract followers, believers, and to indicate to them a (moral, indignant) way of thinking and/or acting. He does not call for reasons but for obedience. Therefore, what the demagogue offers is always empty emotion. Or, rather, trinkets in exchange for forgetting rationality, so that the emotion of the believers (because the demagogue does not practice such renunciations – unless he is very clumsy) reigns: because sentiment is more easily led; it is simpler to flatter it, to exalt it, to inflame it.

The core of discourse

“You are moral because you hate the Jews” is a phrase too hard to digest, even for the massaged emotions, for the revitalized egos of antisemites. “You are moral because you are against Israel” is entirely another tune. Especially if the facilitating and intermediary Palestinian “victim” vs. Israel “victimizer” dichotomy (and the whole repertoire of trivializing, fallacious definitions, etc.) was successfully installed before.

In this point, the demagogue’s no longer like the other one. Because here he seemed to offer, above all, a different service: that of a sort of stage designer, of an adapter of a “play” that is out of date but that everyone knows by heart and wants to continue representing. Here lies a necessary complicity, almost a truculent collaboration between demagogue and those who are “duped”: both believe (or pretend to believe) their roles. Both convey the product of the ego or of insecurity: hate.

In short, the “information” published by some media outlets seems to satisfy a good number of readers who actually are not looking for information, but for confirmation (that which, as noted, is manufactured mainly by repetition): they are looking for the justification of their antipathy, suspicion or unease that precedes any knowledge about Israel and the conflict. They resort to certain newspapers like they would to a fortune-teller: to have their miseries rewarded with a pat that not only means that  it’s nothing, but that assures that the wickedness they carry on their shoulders are virtues: “Can’t you see what it says here, in this column? They are attacking left and right; they are an obstacle to peace – not only to Middle East, but for the world – as always.”

What these readers find in the pages of certain newspapers, radios, televisions, usually satisfies that particular demand. Perhaps, increasingly more because, like that other demagogue, this one grows in confidence and boldness with the acquiescence and applause of his followers. And, as this happens, something in his discourse changes: if he had to resort to certain euphemisms, perhaps now he no longer has to; if before he was careful enough not to say certain arbitrary things, now he expresses them without embarrassment, and if before he put quotation marks and identified statements – most of the time fabrications, propaganda – from those with whom he agreed (that is, with the Palestinian leaders and certain NGO’s spokesmen), now he makes them his own. It is as if, deep down, the demagogue wanted to be discovered by his own people. But in this case, not as a phony, no, but as a confirmed champion, a moral hero.

In essence, he is a demagogue who tells his audience (and himself) – indirectly through allusions, euphemisms, distortions, old clichés; but mainly through the concealment of the “Palestinian cause” – that the audience is not antisemitic, that it’s okay to feel what they do. You are “anti-Zionists,” he says to his readers, viewers and listeners, “that is, you have integrity.” Because antisemitism, passed through the sieve of “human rights activism” and “moral responsibility”, becomes a virtue, a positive quality: “it was not hatred – says the demagogue without saying so – that of our elders, they got it right (too vehemently, perhaps, but how to blame them, when we see what we see): the guts are never wrong” – he says, undoing the remnant shame and the last scruple.

That seems to be what much of the “coverage” of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict is all about: acting as wretched alibi for a hatred that is so well known that some want to pretend that goes unnoticed. But, as the demagogue grows, it is increasingly perceived: his finger pointing and guiding, so that the audience slanders, vilifies. More and more, the product is not a news item, it is a reinvigorated long-standing antipathy.

About the Author
The author is a media analyst and the Associate Director of ReVista de Medio Oriente, the Spanish Department of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).
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