Although the term ‘fake news’ has only become mainstream in the past couple of years – the practice of news organisations putting a slant on the way news is covered is not new. Media organisations can – and do – present information in a way which promotes one position by undermining another – often as a result of journalistic or editorial bias – or both.
It’s been happening to Israel for decades and, sadly, has become just as much a weapon against this tiny state as any bomb, attack, or sanction.
In a 2015 speech former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman said that during the five and a half years that he spent as part of the international press corps he became aware of “certain malfunctions in the coverage of the Israel story”. He noted “recurring omissions, recurring inflations, and decisions made according to considerations that were not journalistic but political”.
Friedman also said that the ‘Israel story’ was covered by more Associated Press news staff than China, or India, or all of the 50-odd countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. As a result, we have overwhelming media attention on Israel – and a default media narrative which presents the story in the context of a David and Goliath struggle – in which the Palestinians are the underdogs and the Israelis are the aggressors. This framing ignores – or sometimes justifies – the violence and hatred of the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, rogue states such as Iran – and a Palestinian Authority that continues to glorify terrorism, pays cash to imprisoned terrorists and the families of “martyrs,” and incites the population to hate and murder Israelis and Jews.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
In June of 2018, Hamas staged a succession of violent riots which they called the ‘Great March of Return’ and which saw tens of thousands of people attempt to storm the border fence between Israel and Gaza. Viral clips showed armed Gazans at the fence shouting “Kill the Jews”, Gazans cutting through the fence and infiltrating Israel, molotov cocktails being thrown, tire burning, explosives attached to balloons, and even worrying images of child-soldiers. Hamas leadership even admitted that a significant number of armed and active Hamas combatants were in the crowds with the goal of crossing into Israel and capturing or killing Israeli civilians.
Yet contrast this reality to the way the march was described in media reports – as a peaceful protest with a ‘carnival-like atmosphere, picnicking families and ice cream vendors’ – imagery which was clearly designed to create an impression of innocence and peacefulness by the Gazans – so when 130 people were killed as Israel defended itself against the actual onslaught – Israel was portrayed as a blood-thirsty aggressor.
Here’s another example:
During the same riots, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline “Baby Girl Dies in the Haze of Gaza,”. It told the emotive story of an eight-month-old girl allegedly killed by inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli defense forces. The New York Times and other major outlets published their own version of the story which framed Israel and Israeli soldiers as baby murderers. The story was tragic and upsetting.
It was also not true. Following the extensive coverage, baby Layla’s cousin admitted that she had actually died from a pre-existing blood condition – and that Hamas had paid relatives to lie to the media. But that story – the truth – wasn’t nearly as well reported, and the lie had already travelled around the world – aided by a willing, and partisan, media.
Of course – not all media bias is so obvious. Sometimes the bias is in the way pictures or headlines are used to influence public opinion or supress important facts.
Take the example of a BBC story which was headlined “Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem”. The story was about the death of criminals who had just brutally murdered a female Israeli Police officer and was an open attempt to garner sympathy for terrorists while playing down the victim of a horrendous attack.
Or a terrorist attack on a civilian Israeli bus in April 2016 which became ’21 Injured in Jerusalem Bus fire’ – with no reference to the cause of the injuries or the terrorist nature of the attack.
Or a June 2016 terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv Mall – which killed 4 and seriously wounded 3 others – but which was reported as ‘4 People Killed in Shooting’ by the British Daily Telegraph. Again – with no reference to the cause or the perpetrators.
Another approach is to only begin coverage of conflict once Israel responds to being attacked – ignoring, or minimising, terrorist acts, such as the firing of rockets from Gaza, so as to give the impression that Israels actions are unprovoked.
The reasons for media bias and misrepresentation can be complex. No doubt, some of it comes down to laziness, ignorance of the issues, or Journalists simply wanting to fall into line with their peers by uncritically accepting the long established anti-Israel narrative.
Whatever their reasons – the journalists and media organisations which peddle in this propaganda betray the standards we should expect of their profession. Their obsession and disproportionate coverage of the Arab/Israeli conflict – one of the least bloody conflicts in that region, let alone the world – elevates misinformation and draws our attention away from the real atrocities taking place around the globe.
The way in which Israel is portrayed in the media matters. It shapes our perceptions, informs our opinions, and influences policy. So dig deeper – and when you’re confronted with an inflammatory headline about Israel – do your own detective work. Find out what really happened – and when you know – be sure to share what you’ve learnt with others.