Monitoring the Media
Aside from the missions, HonestReporting monitors the media to combat the false depiction of Israel and raise public awareness to fact distortion, imbalanced reporting and misleading terminology. The battle begins daily when Pesach Benson, senior media analyst, goes through 50 international media sites to spot bias. “We can’t react to every instance of media bias,” says Suzanne, “but by challenging the biased coverage and demanding accountability, we are achieving results.” Take, for example, the recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris. HonestReporting’s senior editor Alex Margolin pointed out in a media alert that Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, had an agenda far beyond educating the BBC’s Arabic audience. While no reasonable thinker would describe the attacks as anything less than terrorism, Kafala told The Independent that, for him, terrorism is too “loaded” a term to describe what happened. “We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being a terrorist,” Kafala said.
Media bias includes misleading terminology used to encourage uninformed readers to reach false conclusions. Last year, Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman wrote in his piece on Christmas, “If Mary and Joseph tried to reach Bethlehem today, they would get stuck at an Israeli checkpoint,” he wrote. HonestReporting juxtaposed David Bernstein’s comments in the Washington Post to Hasan’s article: “Well, since Joseph and Mary were Judeans, i.e., Jews from Nazareth, they wouldn’t need to be afraid of Israeli roadblocks needed to combat Palestinian terrorism, but of being murdered by terrorists from Hamas or Fatah.” Bernstein continues, “…this sort of historical revisionism, treating ancient Jewish Judeans as if they were Palestinian Arabs, and then analogizing modern Israel to the oppressors of Jesus and his family… would be laughable if it were not so pernicious.”
In November last year, HonestReporting’s media analyst Pesach Benson took to task Reuters correspondent Jerry Heller, who seems to have heeded the PLO’s warning to foreign reporters not to use the name “Temple Mount” in reports about the Jerusalem holy site. The Temple Mount, claims the PLO, is located in occupied territory, and by referring to the site in terms other than “the Noble Sanctuary” (“Haram al Sharif” in Arabic), journalists are encroaching on Palestinian/Muslim claims. Shortly after the PLO issued the warning, Heller wrote, “The new bloodshed has been fuelled by tension over Israeli-controlled access to Jerusalem’s holiest site, revered by Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa mosque stands, and by Jews as the mount where biblical temples once stood.” Benson points out that if the foreign press is going to call the site by the English translation of its Arabic name, it should be using the English translation of its Hebrew name too and not promoting one name over the other, something that, for the uninformed reader, will diminish Jewish ties to the site.
Media alerts, such as these, together with videos, slideshows, a strong presence on the social media platforms like Pinterest, flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, educate the public, empower people to respond in an effective manner and warn the media that they are accountable. How effective is this? Suzanne points to a glimmer of hope: “After the horrific Har Nof attack, the Daily Telegraph ran a hugely pro-Israel piece that ripped to pieces the anti-Israel coverage of the attack. This wouldn’t have happened ten years ago,” she says.
Fighting the BDS Movement
BDS has become the central organizing strategy around which almost all anti-Israel activity now revolves. It seeks to present Israel as a pariah state analogous to Apartheid South Africa and is designed to isolate Israel politically, economically, militarily, academically and culturally. In a media alert commenting on the BDS campaign against SodaStream, senior editor Margolin pointed out that even though SodaStream closed its controversial West Bank factory, BDS will continue to campaign against the company. Alerts such as these reveal the BDS as an obstacle to peace in the region.