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ABC’s Peter Jennings was one of many in a long line of Israel critics in American media.

The profusion of anti-Israel (often anti-Semitic) social media posts and frequently violent street protests some weeks ago during and after Israel’s retaliatory air strikes against Hamas in Gaza, accompanied by a steady drumbeat of skewed news reports downplaying or ignoring Hamas’s deadly provocations, created a fair amount of angst among many Jews and other supporters of Israel. Although this is hardly a new phenomenon – the real surprise is that so many Jews continue to be surprised – it’s certainly easy, given social media’s shrill dominance of much of the political and cultural landscape, to lose sight of the fact that anti-Israel bias has been a reality for a long time now, even among more traditional media outlets.

We’re all too familiar with the vitriol-fueled coverage of Israel, specifically during the sporadic confrontations with Hamas in recent years. But for an appreciation of just how far back the animus goes, a little time travel is necessary.


Beginning shortly after the Six-Day War of 1967 – and intensifying through the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1981 destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the two Palestinian intifadas, the 2002 Israeli anti-terror operations in the West Bank, the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and the four mini-wars with Hamas between December 2008 and this past May – Israel’s media image, with a brief interregnum after the signing of the ill-fated 1993 Oslo Accords, has been on a seemingly endless downhill slide.

This would have been an unimaginable scenario in 1967. To say that Israel in the first two decades after its establishment had the sympathy and support of the mainstream American (and Western European) media would be to understate the case. The new country was praised, fawned over, and celebrated to an extent incomprehensible from our present vantage point.

The golden age reached its zenith with the Six-Day War. News coverage, with a few notable exceptions, was exuberantly pro-Israel, and opinion shapers from William F. Buckley on the right to Mary McGrory on the left marched in lockstep on this one issue.

By the late 1960s, however, the nation’s arbiters of approved thought had, in significant numbers, begun appropriating a good deal of the language and attitudes of the countercultural New Left, and as a result were shedding faith in all the old verities.

One of the casualties was support and admiration for Israel, which in the years following the Six-Day War came to be viewed by many in academia and the media, certainly on the liberal side of the spectrum, as a bullying Western Goliath, with the Arabs taking on the role of an outmatched Third-World David.

This was all happening, it needs to be emphasized, while Israel was governed by the Labor party of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin – the very figures who now inspire such nostalgic revisionism among those inclined to blame Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu for Israel’s low estate in the more enlightened precincts of public esteem.

If Israel’s image was growing progressively worse under Labor, it nosedived in 1977 with the election as prime minister of Menachem Begin, a longtime object of vilification, mainly by fellow Israelis and prominent Jews abroad. Not even the 1979 peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt bought better press for Begin, who throughout the negotiations was derided as the stumbling block standing in the way of Anwar Sadat’s noble quest for peace.

And so it was hardly a shock when the Israeli strike against Saddam Hussein’s atomic reactor in June 1981 drew howls of indignation from the prestige media. “Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression,” declared a New York Times editorial. The Los Angeles Times called it “state sponsored terrorism.” Time magazine complained that “[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East.”

But it wasn’t until the following year, when Israel invaded Lebanon after one provocation too many by the PLO – which had set up a murderous base in the country that had been affectionately known as the Paris of the Middle East, terrorizing Lebanese Muslims as well as Christians and launching rocket attacks against Israel – that the anti-Israel media floodgates opened wide, and they haven’t closed since. For examples:

Nicholas von Hoffman: “Incident by incident, atrocity by atrocity, Americans are coming to see the Israeli government as pounding the Star of David into a swastika.”

Carl Rowan: “In their zeal to ensure that the Jewish people never suffer another Holocaust, Israel’s leaders are imitating Hitler.”

Vernon Jarrett: The Israeli invasion of Lebanon “seems designed to make civilized man forget or depreciate the Holocaust.”

William Pfaff speculated that Hitler might “find rest in Hell” with “the knowledge that the Jews themselves, in Israel, have finally accepted his own way of looking at things.”

Pete Hamill conveniently cited an unnamed “Israeli friend” who supposedly said of Israel, “Forgive me, but all I can think of is the Nazis.”

Tom Brokaw, interviewing Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, attempted to burnish his progressive credentials with this bit of nonjudgmental prattle: “…the PLO, or the terrorists as you call them… [emphasis added].”

A number of editorial cartoonists also proved themselves partial to Nazi imagery. To cite three prominent examples, Steve Benson drew goose-stepping Israeli storm-troopers guarding a death camp labeled “Beirut”; Bill Mauldin depicted a ghoulish-looking Menachem Begin telling President Ronald Reagan, “I have the final solution to the Palestinian problem”; and Pat Oliphant portrayed the ruins of a city with a sign on which the words “Warsaw Ghetto” were crossed out and replaced by “West Beirut.”

While there was little over the ensuing 20 years in terms of major Israeli military action to provoke the media wolves, they were in full feeding frenzy in the spring of 2002 as Israel, following months of Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, mounted its largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six-Day War.

Journalists who had been silent as hundreds of Israeli civilians were being killed in road ambushes and at coffee shops, bus depots, pizzerias, dance halls, and a public Passover Seder instantly rediscovered their capacity for outrage when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally sent the IDF into Palestinian areas to clean out the terrorists’ nests.

Typically, ABC’s Peter Jennings opened his April 4 newscast announcing that “the Israelis continue their assault against the Palestinians” – not the Palestinian Authority, not Palestinian terrorists, but “the Palestinians.”

Later that month, on April 15, Jennings ignored that day’s Washington rally in support of Israel, the largest pro-Israel event ever held in the U.S. But he did find time on the same newscast to report on a gathering far from Washington. “In Lebanon today,” he intoned, “thousands of people demonstrated against Israel’s campaign against the Palestinians. And also against U.S. support of Israel.”

As bad as the American media were in covering the Israeli anti-terrorist operation in the Palestinian territories, their British counterparts were leagues worse, offering up news reports drenched in hysteria, particularly regarding claims of a mass slaughter of Palestinian civilians in the village/refugee camp of Jenin.

The Guardian: Israel’s alleged behavior in Jenin is “every bit as repellent” as Osama bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11.

The London Evening Standard: “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide.”

Correspondent Phil Reeves of the Independent: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed …. The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust.”

Even when subsequent investigations by the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Time magazine, and the BBC – not exactly a Who’s Who of pro-Israel propaganda – all concluded that there had been no massacre, a general lack of accountability, let alone remorse, was rampant among those who had written tens of thousands of words defaming Israel.

The Independent’s Justin Huggler insisted that “The UN report is carefully worded not to give offence to Israel or its allies,” while The Guardian ran an editorial refusing to concede anything: “As we said last April, the destruction wrought in Jenin looked and smelled like a crime. On the basis of the UN’s findings, it still does.”

(To his credit, The Independent’s Phil Reeves filed what had to be a painful mea culpa titled “Even Journalists Have to Admit They’re Wrong Sometimes.”)

Due to space constraints, the examples of anti-Israel media bias highlighted here only scratch the surface. A thorough accounting could easily fill a book or, more precisely, many books. And still it continues. The calumnies quoted above may have been written or spoken in years far gone, but it might as well have been a few weeks ago. Or yesterday.

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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.