The Perils of a Media Barrage

Israel’s ongoing skirmish with fanatical antagonists and their equally fervent pacifist sympathizers is now a sick biennial convention.  Lather, rinse and repeat – lethal provocation, restrained military retort and coerced withdrawal.  Like a bizzaro-Olympics – like or not, every two years the world will be tuning in. Till then, Gaza.

Most unsettling in each and every episode of discord is the festering undercurrent of journalistic disdain, bent in its relentlessness of scorn towards the Israeli nation, all but an allegory of Jewry. Superficially, of course, facts disfavor the democratic state. Up against a counteroffensive of a superior military apparatus with the technological priorities to protect its citizenry, the raggedy assemblage of civilly shielded radicals will rack up a disproportional death toll. Yet, facts are not tantamount to truth.

Regurgitation of facts – occasionally fraught with fateful consequences – used to have a vital nozzle. The Merriam-Webster definition:

jour·nal·ism noun \jər-nə-ˌli-zəm\: the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.

Traditionalists beware: News are edited! Through selections, omissions, angles or phrasing – the audience is peppered with impressions, visual or descriptive, that gradually mold its identification with the event at hand. This social contract is only as feasible as the media’s conscientiousness. Beyond statements of fact, the public is owed context. Perspectives vary, context is unassailable.

It’s for this reason that the esteem of a connected newsperson is upheld. Despite the reign of social media, it lacks universal influence in that it relays a narrow, unverifiable personalized account of a factual occurrence.  Although important in its own role, a Twitter lacks editorial authority without incorporating these minutiae into a cognitive framework. Irony of ironies – the more information is available, the less capably an event is comprehended.

Study in point: war reportage in the U.S. – where, by virtue of the First Amendment, free press is a constitutional right.

Through World War II, journalists were lackeys. To a fault, they were essentially part of the war effort where a dearth of detached observations resulted in its failure to sound the genocide alarm. But during the Korean and Vietnam wars the pendulum swung to the other extreme. More than 2,000 reporters roamed the Asian theater, disregarding Pentagon reports in lieu of sensationalized portrayals. The advent of the videographer was also, no doubt, constructive. While no military operations were compromised, the negative press stirred an unprecedented anti-war movement that eventually led to, say, a draw.

The Pentagon turned indignant. In forthcoming conflicts, the press was barred from Grenada in 1983; then confined to an airport in Panama in 1989; then bulked into several “pools” in Saudi Arabia in 1990 where strict escort and censorship rules were implemented. The military clearly recognized that, although its boots were superior, they were still no match for a swelling wave of adverse public opinion.

Pentagon’s secret de polichinelle, while asserting clear-and-present danger to its personnel in an age of rapid communication, is really to impact the message. The press’s coverage choices are a direct impetus for domestic sentiments of a war effort. Because technology has democratized power, even a virtuous government loses any protracted conflict. Wrap it up in Gulf War-like 100 days or start hiring PR professionals. How much more so in an unconventional feud, where national interests are not clearly defined – Afghanistan or Iraq be damned.

Whether a war agrees with their sensibilities, the media demonstratively carries not an insignificant amount of responsibility for the outcome of a conflict.

The Press

Even amongst the harshest scrutiny, coverage of the Israeli conflict stands out. To call this eight-year running post-intifada clash anything short of incessant war is to bury one’s candor further down than an ostrich. Suicide attacks, murders, arbitrary rockets attacks, kidnappings, deployed terrorism – all fluently correspond to Hamas’ voiced and penned rhetoric. A ceasefire is, by definition, only a temporary cessation of hostilities – for some to work out a permanent solution, for others only to rearm.

So when an irate foreign press core admonishes a defense force fighting off extermination for carrying on effectively – causing a disproportionate death count – it’s difficult not to broach the subject of anti-Semitism, for perhaps it’d be better if more Israelis died? Rather than to delve into self-pity at the hands of others, Jews ought to introspectively deliberate – as commensurate in the Three Weeks – whether its own mouthpieces bear any responsibility.

Take Gideon Levy, the beleaguered columnist of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. For 25 years, Mr. Levy’s weekly columns bring out anecdotes of the Palestinian experience in the West Bank. There’s the one where Palestinian murderers struggle to adjust back into society; there’s the one where another criminal is denied phone calls to loved ones; and, of course, there’s the one where the killer is anxious about appearing in public. It’s a retributivist’s nightmare – not a worry about the morality of setting murderers free. There are frequent comparisons to South Africa’s apartheid and allusions to a rosy existence without settlements. To call Mr. Levy sympathetic to a cause that would prefer him six feet under would be a disservice to the term understatement.

Mr. Levy’s failure to impart any semblance of nuance can only be objectively defined as appalling. No investigation into the leadership’s culpability or the legitimacy of the cause? No evaluation of selfinfliction? No assessment of war tactics to bring out veritable principles of each side? No exploration of the culture of incitement and indoctrination as an obstacle to peace? No contrast of treatment between adversaries? Not even a cursory review of the casualties’ names to refute the claim that women and children are targeted?

On July 4, Mr. Levy published a column in Ha’aretz aptly entitled: “Israel doesn’t want peace.” In it, he accuses Israelis of deliberately sabotaging the peace process by failing to dismantle settlements, of entrenched racist attitudes, and of the delusion that Palestinians want them dead. None of above context was mentioned. Foreign colleagues chomped at the bits.

The country of Sweden certainly does not need added fodder in the anti-Israel department – a far right-wing, xenophobic party holds 6% of its Parliament seats. As the Israel-Gaza commenced, the main newspapers went right to work. Expressen screams apartheid. Aftonbladet lays any escalation squarely on Israel’s shoulders. The largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, didn’t ever bother opining – it let Mr. Levy speak for them. On July 9, it reprinted his July 4 Ha’aretz column – translated verbatim. The barrage has been so overwhelming that the moral clarity of some of Sweden’s Jews has been clouded.

By failing to give a broader context, in addition to complete disregard of his professional duties as a correspondent, Mr. Levy also violates the social contract with the public. As a cog in the war effort, firmly straddled onto the high horse, Mr. Levy owes, at the very least, a level of neutrality. It is not to be, however – with reckless abandon.

Can anyone feign disbelief when Jews are attacked in Belgium, France, Holland or Turkey? Is it a wonder that foreign politicians support Hamas as the PC cause-du-jour?  Is it shocking that the governing party in South Africa condones Nazism? Without the portrayal of an intellectually honest image of nuance, it’s too close to call.


About the Author
Eli Wishnivetski occasionally writes for leisure.
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