Last week, the Foreign Press Association in Israel circulated an e-mail to its members containing a Reuters article entitled “Foreign reporting depicted as stupid and condescending.” The article related to the Ministry for Public Diplomacy’s campaign calling on Israelis to counter anti-Israel prejudice, and complained that the foreign press was personally offended by the videos on the Web site www.masbirim.gov.il.
Surely not, I hear you say. Those foreign journalists – who daily dish out an unhealthy helping of material critical of Israel, denouncing its democratically elected government’s policies, and some accusing its defense forces of war crimes – should certainly be able to take a bit of criticism directed at them.
In all honesty, the videos were in no way meant to offend the press, who I am quite certain are able to recognize satire when they see it. Yet, when they paint a picture so different from the reality in the eyes of Israelis, and with such little regard for their point of view, what do they expect?
Being depicted as “stupid and condescending” as the Reuters article suggests, is not the nicest of punches, but it certainly beats being portrayed as baby eaters, Nazis and ethnic cleansers, as some in the international media has often inferred. Similarly, what of the “gullible European audiences” the article insists are inherent to the sketch? Is the press really decrying the suggestion that they influence those back home to whom they speak?
It is no coincidence that in countries where the media are most hostile to Israel, there is greater anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in public discourse. Moreover, this becomes even more incongruous when placed in that all-important missing factor – context. The foreign media complain of being offended by Israeli government satire, yet there is a deafening silence on the coercion, threats and violence they face from the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.
It is this lack of context, this blatant disregard for the realities of living in the Middle East, that earns the foreign press the perception of being simplistic and monochromatic.
Why are headlines of war crimes and editorials on UN resolutions run-of the-mill during Israel’s military operations to defend its citizens, yet when other countries’ forces unintentionally kill civilians it is a case of “apology accepted”? The reality of war is brutal anywhere – so why does the media adopt such vastly different approaches?
SADLY, THE issue runs much deeper. Israel today faces an onslaught of propaganda aimed at delegitimizing it. This week is bring “celebrated” as Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses worldwide, spreading lies and slander, promoting incitement and hatred. The media is a key tool – if not a willing accomplice – to this strategy. The manipulation of the rhetoric by human rights groups is all too often typeset in the media, and thus chiseled into history. Massacres are proclaimed where there have been none; terrorists hidden behind civilians remain hidden from the public eye.
These myths become widespread on the blogosphere, with groups on Facebook, threads on Twitter and countless videos on YouTube forming the basis of a digital pogrom against the Jewish narrative, whereby social media and on-line networking are employed to make the demonization of Israel part and parcel of mainstream discourse.
Hence the very purpose of the Masbirim campaign – to open up channels of communication. To overcome the mainstream media’s often one-dimensional approach. To answer those who seek to silence Israel’s narrative with boycotts and arrest warrants. To counter the allegations of those who falsely accuse Israel of breaching international law.
THE JERUSALEM Post’s Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz, when addressing a meeting in Jerusalem last week, noted that two areas where the issue of boycotting has been most prevalent have been journalism and academia – the two most essential channels of communication and understanding.
Even the most senior journalists are now attacked for being part of Israel’s daily existence or even for simply being Jewish; the harassment of New York Times bureau chief in Israel Ethan Bronner being the most notable, yet not the only, such incident.
This isolation and demonization of Israel as a pariah state or an international outlaw reflects a concerted effort to cast it as being beyond the pale. As the echoes of the past color the dark shadows of the future, we see an attempt to cast the Jewish people into a “virtual” ghetto, ethnically cleansing the Jewish narrative from the legitimate international debate on the Middle East.
This process of delegitimization is an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of the press – fundamental rights in a democracy.
Zionism itself was conceived by a journalist who looked at the world
around him and saw that without a new reality, Jews would no longer be
able to speak out.
Today Israel has a free press; the government provides services and
accreditation for the foreign media – even those who choose to report
in the most biased and slanted manner. There are, of course,
journalists who carry out their duties in a fully professional way.
They give due consideration to both the Israeli and the Palestinian
argument, and inform their public accordingly.
However if there are those in the media who feel they are perceived as
simplistic or inaccurate, then I would urge them to consider that there
is another side to the story; perhaps Israel, as well as their own
readers, viewers and listeners, deserves a more accurate contextualized
picture of reality.
Otherwise, the historically most enlightened of professions risks being party to the reemergence of humankind’s darkest hatred.The writer is director of the Government Press Office.