Sunday, October 24, 2010

Understanding the News About Israel

When it comes to understanding the news about Israel, it’s not enough to read between the lines.

I used to defend the Israel coverage of The New York Times by explaining that, although even the allegedly straight news stories were biased, if one read the article with a jaundiced eye one could usually separate fact from opinion and figure out what really happened.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer true, with virtually every American newspaper, including The Times. (The situation outside America is even worse.)

The last month was particularly revealing, with several articles published in the Waterbury Republican-American going beyond bias to include unprofessional (and grossly misdirected) sarcasm and false information while omitting key information which would have contradicted much in the articles.

Some Examples

Much of this involved the reporting on the Palestinian Arabs again walking out on its direct negotiations with Israel, less than a month after they reluctantly resumed … only after effectively announcing they’d walk out in a month.

The excuse they used, as planned, was the end of Israel’s ten-month moratorium on construction in Jewish communities in the disputed territories. An article about this published in the Republican-American on October 16 ended with the sarcastic and factually incorrect sentence: “That so-called “moratorium” expired last month.”

That’s perhaps the most unprofessional single sentence I’ve ever read in any newspaper. Sarcasm is even more out of place than bias in a news article and this sarcasm was also grossly misplaced, since the moratorium was very real and caused significant hardship for families living in cities like Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumin and Beitar Illit.

This article - and every other article I read - also irresponsibly omitted crucial context, including the fact that when the moratorium was instituted the Israeli government clearly stated it was a one-time gesture which would not be renewed and was accepted as such, and praised, by the Obama Administration.

Also omitted was any mention of the fact that the Obama Administration promised the moratorium would be matched by conciliatory gestures by both the Palestinian Arabs and by Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. No such gestures were forthcoming, so once again Israel made a tangible and painful concession and got nothing in return other than increased pressure to make even more concessions.

An article on October 24, “Mideast sides eye mid-term vote,” expressed concern that the elections could affect “President Obama’s ability to coax concessions from Israel.”

The perspective of this article was that peace was being prevented by Israeli intransigence, omitting any reference to several statements made by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority as well as the PLO and Fatah, which clearly show Arab intransigence is the problem. Indeed, Abbas admitted as much.

In early September, Abbas spoke about the core issues, such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees, and said “I can’t allow myself to make even one concession” and on October 15 he admitted that if he “showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago.”

Amazingly, neither of these revealing statements were reported in any Connecticut newspapers and, although I’ve looked and asked about them, I’ve found no evidence of them being reported elsewhere in the United States. (I did find an article about the first in the Kuwaiti Times.)

One Last Example

Catholic bishops spent two weeks in October at a synod in Vatican City, issuing lengthy communiques after each session. The last two contained tiny references to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The October 23 communique contained the following references:

“We have evaluated the social situation and the public security in all our countries in the Middle East. We have taken account of the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees. We have reflected on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live. We have meditated on the situation of the holy city of Jerusalem. We are anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance. With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples.”
“The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.

“The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.”

The October 24 communique contained:

“Our Churches commit themselves to pray and to work for justice and peace in the Middle East and call for a ‘purification of memory,’ choosing the language of peace and hope and avoiding that of fear and violence. They call upon the civil authorities to implement the resolutions of the United Nations concerning the region, particularly the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.”

These in themselves are highly biased and problematic: The so-called occupation effectively ended in the mid-1990’s when almost all the Arabs in the disputed territories came under the governance of the Palestinian Authority; the consequences the bishops ascribe to “occupation” are really a consequence of Arab terrorism and United Nations resolutions are notoriously one-sided and anti-Israel.

However, the report in an article in the Sunday Republican October 24 completely misrepresented the communique, saying the bishops demanded that Israel not “use the Bible to justify ‘injustices’ against the Palestinians.”

It also reported on some of the things which may have been said by some bishops in a misleading way, making it appear that those opinions were part of a consensus and falsely implying they were in the communique. For example, according to the article: “while the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” This misleadingly makes it appear that the (unfair) blame was placed on Israel in the communiques, despite the fact no such attribution is in the communiques.

If We Are Not For Ourselves, Who Will Be?

Israel has many good friends outside the Jewish community, but everything starts with us.

Like every other country, Israel is far from perfect. However, despite slurs from the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter, there is no shortage of criticism of Israel or debate about its actions.

What there is a shortage of is honest reporting about Israel’s drive to make peace and the nature of Israel’s enemies. It’s up to us, the Jewish community, to do what we can to correct the imbalance.

The first step is to keep informed. This is something that’s very difficult to do if we rely only on the standard American media. Fortunately, we have other resources to which we can turn, including Israeli newspapers, media monitoring organizations and even some blogs.

•The Jerusalem Post and Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s newspaper with the largest circulation, have excellent web sites.

•CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, has an excellent web site . We can be proud that Charles Cramer, who grew up in Beth El, is one of the machers with CAMERA.

•In Connecticut, I’m proud to be part of PRIMER, Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting. Its web site is .

Both these sites contain links to many other useful sources of reliable information.

This is the beginning: reading the news with a healthy dose of skepticism and keeping yourself informed.

There is no end.


There is NO Santa Claus said...

What took you so long to figure out the NEW YORK TIMES was hopelessly anti-Israel?

What I think is even more alarming is that the news media is getting MORE anti-Israel and MORE anti-Semitic as their subscribership and ratings drop. I think it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again; expecting a different result.

A year ago, TIME Magazine headlined their magazine with "Why Israel Can't Win". A few months ago, they headlined their magazine with "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace"

Gee! Maybe it's because Israel can't win! Ya think?

The American news media must think we're stupid.

primerprez said...

It's not that I didn't realize the New York Times was anti-Israel; it's just that despite the bias, one could still usually read between the lines and figure out what really occurred - despite their bias. Even that's no longer true.