Catherine Ashton is generally not well liked in Israel. In the aftermath of the murders in Toulouse, France, two years ago, Ashton said: “When we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives.” At the time, she was roundly denounced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and even by many in Israel’s media, for likening the Toulouse atrocity to events in Gaza.
Yet Catherine Ashton is the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, or in short, the EU’s foreign minister. She carries the beacon of Palestinian rights in the world over – enthusiastically. Her pressure to boycott Israeli products from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights jives with a good many reporters in Israel. Her latest success in banishing Ariel University from the EU’s Horizon 2020 scientific program was interpreted in sections of the Israeli press as a welcome stage of the increasing isolation Israel faces due to the “settlements” the media dislikes.
Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of Israel’s announcement that it would allow construction of 1,400 new homes in territories east of the “Green Line,” Ashton repeated her views: “The settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the twostate solution impossible.”
Israel’s press preferred to avoid confronting Ashton over her discriminatory attitude toward Israel; as this paper has published, the EU supports “illegal settlements” in Cyprus and Morocco. Instead, the media prefers to at best ignore her biases, and at worst, as in Haaretz, to commend her for her foresight.
Just two days ago she again demonstrated her biases.
On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, her press release read, “Today the international community remembers the victims of the Holocaust.
We honor every one of those brutally murdered in the darkest period of European history.” She did not see fit to mention specifically the term “Jews.” As reported by Ulrich Sahm, a German reporter who strongly defends Israel, to the chagrin of his country’s mainstream media, the statement was then changed. The words “six million” were added, but Ashton even then could not bring herself to utter the word “Jews.”
Ashton’s statements were reported in the Israel Hayom newspaper, the INN news website and in a Haaretz blog. That’s it. But there was enough time to interview Caspar Velkamp, the Dutch ambassador to Israel, on Tuesday on the Galatz radio station. The ambassador used the opportunity to further attempt to convince Israelis that they must make the tough decisions to reach what he describes as a peace accord with the Palestinians.
The Galatz reporter, Iddo Benbaji, did not attempt to get a response from the EU’s representative in Israel to Ashton’s remarks, nor did he ask the ambassador any questions concerning the current rise of anti-Semitism in Holland.
Israel hosted an important guest this January: Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Israeli media’s repressive attitude was very clear. As reported in The Jerusalem Post, when asked about the Israeli settlements Harper could not have given a clearer answer: “When I’m in Israel I’m asked to single out Israel, when I’m in the Palestinian Authority I’m asked to single out Israel, and half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel.
“No one asked me there [in Ramallah] to single out the Palestinian Authority for any criticism in terms of governance or human rights or anything else.”
Haaretz’s Barak Ravid was livid with Harper for his enlightened stance. Instead of highlighting that an important leader in the Western world is defending Israel, his stories were headlined: “Visiting Canadian prime minister supports Israeli self-repression. Harper’s Knesset speech was devoid of criticism of the Netanyahu government’s policy. Harper gave the impression that he is more a friend of Netanyahu than a friend of Israel.”
Compare this characteristic attitude with Israeli media’s overflowing enthusiasm for every hiccup emanating from their favorite New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman. B’tzelem, with its outrageous false reports, gets more attention from the Israeli media than Harper did.
Harper is not unique. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop came to Israel for the Sharon funeral. In a January 15 interview with The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren, she was asked whether she agrees or disagrees with the near-universal view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines are illegal under international law.
She replied: “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”
She also added: “The issue of settlements is absolutely and utterly fundamental to the negotiations that are under way and I think it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding.”
Her positive stance toward Israel and her utter rejection of boycotts and other anti-Semitic actions against Israel stood out like a beacon, when compared with Ashton.
The Israel public was left in the dark. Benbaji did not interview her, nor did Aryeh Golan from Kol Israel radio, nor did any of the major TV stations. It would seem that there are news editors who believe that it is not healthy for the Israeli public to know that there are countries that actually do not buy the Palestinian narrative.
Another story that was spiked this past week had to do with the ongoing theme of “price tag” events. As reported on January 24 at INN news, Arabs were caught live on the camera of the Tatzpit News Agency destroying olive trees and leaving behind fabricated evidence which would connect the act to “price tag” action. This also occurred last October. But Israel’s mainstream media suppressed it.
Instead of understanding that the issue of “price tag” actions can be misused not only by Israelis but also by Israel’s enemies, the media will excoriate “price tag” actions by Jews but will refuse to react similarly toward those who try to further increase enmity between Jews and Arabs from the other side.
Repression is harmful, from any side. Israel’s right wing is not free of such actions either. Just recently, the right-wing B’sheva weekly refused to publish an article by journalist Yedidya Meir which criticized Ze’ev Hever, known as “Zambish,” because of his words at the funeral of Ariel Sharon.
Zambish did not expressly criticize Sharon for the expulsion of Jews from their homes and so created the impression among some people that he found Sharon’s actions excusable.
Repression may be the norm at too many news outlets. A news company will repress adverse reports concerning a heavy advertiser.
It will tend not to publish op-ed articles which disagree with its editorial stance. But in innovative Israel, repression has taken a dimension of its own. Especially good and positive news is repressed, while unjustified and even anti-Semitic criticism of Israel is encouraged.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).