Media against Israel - fascinating facts from a former Associated Press reporter
particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP (Associated Press),
the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the
Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than
the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries
of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of
news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of
the "Arab Spring" eventually erupted. ... Before the outbreak of the civil war in
Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single
regime-approved stringer. The AP's editors believed, that is, that
Syria's importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don't mean
to pick on the AP--the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful
as an example. The big players in the news business practice
groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the
monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem,
internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer
violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of
America's safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian
conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more
than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli
conflict since it began a century ago.
News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more
important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in
Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned
alive), ...the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or ...
the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000 ), let alone conflicts no one has ever
heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand .
quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is
Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no
real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed
Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government.
Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The
West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside
Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them ... . Who they are and
what they want is not important: ...they exist as
passive victims of the party that matters.
Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians
under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another
reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by
the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was "not the story."
(Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)...
[E]very flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period...
bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society--proposed
legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of
Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation,
and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles....[T]his seven-week tally
was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories
about Palestinian government and society.. that our bureau had published in the preceding
The Hamas charter (which) calls ... for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering
the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars ...
was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP... An
observer might think Hamas' decision in recent years to construct a
military infrastructure beneath Gaza's civilian infrastructure would
be deemed newsworthy.... But... the Hamas emplacements were ...ignored.
Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters.... Any veteran of the press corps here knows the
intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on
the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally
erased a key detail--that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and
being counted as civilians in the death toll--because of a threat to
our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform
readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli.
Earlier this month, the AP's Jerusalem news editor reported and
submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story ...has not been published.)
are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there:
under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources.
Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.
...Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed
by Israel at Palestinian civilians.... In addition, ...many (reporters) don't speak the language
on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and
fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don't
need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the
simple story they have been sent to tell.
It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented
Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were
generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations
with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy,
peripheral, and newly arrived players--a Finn, an Indian crew, a few
others. These poor souls didn't get the memo.
...Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and
increasingly extreme....(D)elving too deeply into the subject of Hamas--would make that narrative look like
nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more
than a year and a half. This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of
the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and
see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political.
Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they
...The Israel story is framed (as) ... the quest for a "two-state solution."
and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries... and, more broadly, 1
billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing
out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before
Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank,
and before the term "Palestinian" was in use.
the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also
includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is
somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person
today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the
Israeli settlement project... to be described as [the conflict's]
impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical
Islam... Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the
volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam ...in
Israel, just as Hezbollah is ...in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth....(I)t should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty
elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But
reporters ... describe Israel as the volcano.
The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with
events nearby because the "Israel" of international journalism does
not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt.
The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about
...Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and
militarism. The world's only Jewish country has done less harm than
most countries on earth, and more good--and yet when people went
looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new...dream-world, the country
they chose was this one. When the people responsible for explaining the world to the world,
journalists, ... portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in
the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews'
actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are
saying to their readers--whether they intend to or not--is that Jews are
the worst people on earth. The Jews are a symbol of the evils that
civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor. International
press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.
...Britain participated in the 2003
invasion of Iraq, the fallout from which has now killed more than
three times the number of people ever killed in the Israel-Arab
conflict; yet in Britain, protesters furiously condemn Jewish
understand what's going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against
considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of
powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle
East have become what their grandparents were--the pool into which the
world spits....The tool through which this...is executed is the international press.
(A) gap has opened ... between the way things are and the way
they are described, [and therefore] opinions are wrong and policies are wrong....
essay for Foreign Policy, "virtually no Western expert...foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet
Union." The ... people who were supposed to be ...reporting...
failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.
"Early in life I ...saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation
to the facts... I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of
what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to
various 'party lines.' " That was George Orwell, writing in 1942.
Orwell ... knew he was witnessing a threat to European civilization, and he wrote
that, and he was right.
Israel is not ...a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary
part of the world that is getting scarier. Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral
failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings
them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality. ...And, as Orwell
would tell us, the world entertains fantasies at its peril.
Matti Friedman's work as a reporter has taken him to Lebanon, Morocco,
Egypt, Moscow, and Washington, DC, ... Israel and the Caucasus....