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Israel No Longer “Enjoys the Benefit of the Doubt” 


There was a period when American journalists and editorial writers favored Israel over the Arab states because Israel is an open society observed b Zev Chafets, a former director of the Israel Government Press Office (GPO) and a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Once reassessing Israel’s policies became in vogue, many editors and correspondents adopted a “neutral” and an “even handed” approach in their reporting. Israel no longer enjoyed “the benefit of the doubt.” Those with “little or no ideological bent” relished in debunking “myths” about the Jewish state. In their quest for a new slant on the conflict, they found one. “Arabs biting Jews had long ceased to be news; but Jews biting Arabs—that was a story.” 

This change in attitude lead to Israel being accused of “intransigence” for not giving up Judea and Samaria in the name of peace. “In abandoning the old policy of evenhandedness and embarking instead on a course of one-sided pressures on Israel, the United States is negotiating over the survival of Israel,’” warned the late Norman Podhoretz, an American neoconservative pundit and former editor of Commentary magazine. 

Historian Richard Landes explains this new approach is nothing more than “liberal cognitive egocentrism. The Palestinians are just like us, hence anything they say about commitment to the two-state solution is taken seriously (e.g. Oslo disaster). So Israeli behavior, both of the government and the electorate, which are in response to the actual drivers of Palestinian Arab behavior (honor-shame and triumphalist Islam), are incomprehensible to the liberal cognitive ego centrist.” 

He adds they are captives to their own “ideological woke post-colonialism.” A priori Palestinian Arabs are  innocent victims, Israelis oppressors. Many journalists adhere, in part as a fig-leaf to cover their cowardice.” 

A Media  War 

Israel is engaged in a war in which the media plays a fundamental role in influencing world public opinion and government attitudes and decisions. According to Colonel David Kilcullen, an Australian expert on counterinsurgency, “It’s now fundamentally an information fight.”  And it is on this “information battlefield,” Steve Fondacaro, an American military expert believes, that the struggle between the Western democracy and Islamic fundamentalism will eventually be determined. “The new element of power that has emerged in the last thirty to forty years and has subsumed the rest is information,” he said. “A revolution happened without us knowing or paying attention. Perception truly now is reality, and our enemies know it.” 

The media is being used to erode support for Israel by promoting “disproportionate and unsubstantiated allegations of human rights violations, war crimes and racism,” asserts Gerald M. Steinberg, the founder and president of NGO Monitor, that documents questionable funding and actions of many NGO’s that support Israel-based reporters. This strategy, which helped defeat the South African apartheid government, was embraced in 2001 at the NGO Forum U.N.-sponsored Durban Conference on racism. Since the Conference, many human rights NGOs have adopted the political agenda of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose members dominate the U.N. Human Rights Council. The NGO association has frequently condemned of Israel “based on false or unverifiable allegations of human rights abuses and ‘war crimes’.” 

The NGO campaigns, led by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are vital in this process. The problem is that journalists, academics, diplomats, political leaders, and Western officials frequently quote these usually uncorroborated accusations in condemning Israeli policies, “reflecting the ‘soft power’ of these NGOs acting to reinforce the Palestinian narrative and the objectives of the OIC.” 

Systematic Effort to Manipulate The Media 

The demand for effective, simple, and moving visual footage by the media produces highly emotional and striking images evoking empathy that offers little or no political and historical context and perspective aids in the process of distorting events explained the late Tamar Liebes, a professor of communication. Digital cameras, satellite transmission and the internet enable journalist’s pronouncements to appear more authoritative about areas that were once remote, though what they say might still be as preconceived, erroneous or biased as in the previous era without such highly specialized technology. In other words, technological advances have not made finding the truth any easier than before according to reporter Amy Gutmann. 

Journalist Bret Stephens, a former editor chief of The Jerusalem Post, observed this phenomena first hand. He said, “the norm tends to be one of strict factual accuracy and routine contextual dishonesty. Little history is given. The sequence of events gets confused. Normal moral judgments are eschewed to ensure the supposed balance of reports. Words like ‘violence” are used constantly to befog distinctions between murdering civilians and killing terrorists.  Most seriously, key details are routinely and inexplicably omitted from stories, to slant reports in ways that all but the best-informed readers are bound to miss.”  

Part of the reason is that the people commenting on the news are not Middle East experts or they have limited resources to verify mainstream news media reports. “So who else are they going to believe?” Stephens asks. Will this situation change? He does not think so: “As long as media accounts contain few overt errors of fact, as long as they maintain the veneer of ‘balance’ – demonstrated by the fact that they are disliked by Palestinians and Israelis equally – and as long as they furnish evidence that the liberal instincts that go into supporting the peace camp are sound, they will continue to believe what they already read.” 

Richard Landes suggests another reason for this distortion of the news: “The Arabs intimidation of media to transmit their lethal narratives (i.e. their war propaganda) as news. Hard for the western reader to realize just how intimidated and dishonest are the journalists here and they, of course, are in complete denial.”  

Social Media 

Social media has also radically transformed the way we access, process, absorb, and share news and information, as SHIFT Communications explains. Within seconds after a shooting, bombing, catastrophe, natural disaster or any other major event, we are immediately alerted. Official news sources are not always the first to receive, broadcast or the fastest to publish a story.  

“Twitter and Facebook allow the public to contribute to and control the news,” enabling all types of distortions and lies to appear to be accurate and reliable. Everyone can now have a platform to express their opinion through Facebook, Periscope, Snapchat or Medium.  

As a result of this instant access to headlines and news bulletins, “the headline – or the tweet—is more important than ever to get us to click through to a story” SHIFT Communications asserts. Why? Because “our attention span has gotten smaller and smaller, so small, bite sized content is crucial…to capture their audiences….By simply tweeting or posting a link to a story, it can reach hundreds to thousands of new eyeballs depending on the number of followers, and you will likely encourage others to share the articles, reaching their followers as well.”  

Thus the life span of an article and its range has rapidly increased with the aid of social media. 

Double Standard 

The late two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis openly admitted that Israel is being held to a higher standard, “Yes, there is a double standard. From its birth Israel asked to be judged as a light among the nations. This means that Israel is universally expected to conduct herself “differently (and better)” than her Arab neighbors. 

Ze’ev Chafets adds the Jewish state “is subjected to more exacting standards than those applied to other democracies at war.” How can Israel, a country under siege, be judged by the same criteria as America at peace? 

In an article entitled “It’s time to stop infantilizing the Palestinians,” journalist Alan Johnson, explains that this anti-Zionist mentality that has “taken root” in the West is based on the false and unproven assumption that Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are dissimilar people. Israelis “have agency, responsibility and choice, Palestinian [Arabs] do not.” The Palestinian Arabs are viewed as children and are rarely, if ever, held accountable for behaving immorally.  

The implicit justification for this double standard Johnson claims is that Palestinian Arabs are a “driven people, dominated by circumstances and moved by emotions; qualities associated with the world of nature. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating; qualities associated with the world of culture.”  

Stephen Karetzky notes Arabs have also been portrayed as vulnerable and innocent victims who are not responsible for their plight while being abused by manipulative, callous Israelis who expropriate their land. 

Josh Benjamin, former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) observed: “It’s ironic that the same voices supposedly calling for Palestinian autonomy, undermine this autonomy by perpetually absolving them of their responsibility to act morally. Does one’s hindered ability to move freely automatically dissolve his ability to condemn suicide bombers? Does occupation justify anything and everything? Are Palestinians so barbaric that we can’t, at the very least, expect them to withhold their public relishing in the brutal bloodshed of innocent civilians? Or should we instead paternalise them by placing every inch of their moral accountability on Israeli shoulders?” This “pathology of paternalism,” he said  as does not address the Arabs viability as legitimate peace partners. Instead, the focus is diverted to the moral nature of the Jewish state.” Aside from absolving them from any barbaric behavior, this “pathology of paternalism,” does not address the Arabs viability as legitimate peace partners. Instead, the focus is diverted to the moral nature of the Jewish state.  

In other words, there appears to be one standard when the West is fighting terror, and another criterion when Israel is combating terrorism. “Is Jewish or Israeli blood really somehow cheaper?” asked International Human Rights Lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky.  

A Final Note  

Richard Landes calls the attitude of the left  “progressive supersessionism.”  The “global left,” he says, “considers itself the moral cutting edge of mankind. Jews are competition. So there’s an enormous appetite especially on left for stories about Jews behaving badly (Israel is the main source, but look at The New York Times obsession with haredim). It’s a kind of moral schadenfreude, where they feel better about themselves by looking down on Jews in power (Israel)… making yourself look bigger by making others look smaller.” 

Landes believes that future historians will agree that journalists have played an incendiary role in this conflict. “Journalists incapable of distinguishing reliable evidence from lethal narrative,” he said, “who could not tell the difference from the arsonist and the firemen, who even as they sought to be ‘even-handed’ played into the stratagems of one side, and the wrong side, [and have] failed to play their role as professional journalists…ended up… playing the role of arsonist. To paraphrase Pascale, [the] more they sought to put out the fires of conflict, the more they fed those fires.” 

“The Islamists,” he continues, “benefitted enormously from having journalists and academics adopt, with slight modifications, their zero-sum narrative in which Israel is the source of the conflict and the principle reason for its insolubility. Journalism plays a key role in the cognitive war that the anti-Zionist camp pursues; without the acquiescence of journalists they could not hope win this battle. And they need and want that cooperation so badly, there is little they would not do – including murder – in order to secure it.” 


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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.