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(photo credit: AP)
NEW YORK - It was a recent weekday morning, and a group of New York media types gathered to sink their teeth into the topic of media bias and Israel - along with breakfast rolls and muffins - when the speaker turned the topic on its head. "I don't believe the media is biased against Israel," said Aryeh Green, a former adviser to Natan Sharansky who runs MediaCentral, a non-profit group that works with foreign journalists in Israel.
In a dramatic setting - a theater, maybe - the statement might have elicited a gasp or two, perhaps some spilled coffee. But Green's statement was met with a silent shock, or was it curiosity?
Hosted by the New York Press Club and the New York: Media Information Exchange Group, Green was on hand to illuminate the complexity surrounding reporting and the media's coverage of Israel. In his own words, the media is the lens through which society gains information and politicians develop policy. Given the current tenor of diplomatic relations, one organizer said, "Israel and Middle East journalism is a big deal right now."
Speaking somewhat against conventional thinking, Green said media are not monolithic and they are not necessarily hostile toward Israel. If reporters lean toward Palestinian positions, it may be out of ignorance or because journalists aren't grasping the nuances of the conflict. "They do see this conflict in a relatively simplistic David-and-Goliath lens. Israel is Goliath, Palestinians are David," he said. "We always root for the underdog."
Indeed, Israel has not effectively presented its side of the story, while Palestinians have done a great job "embracing" journalists and sharing theirs, Green said.
"Even though Israel is a democracy, many of the journalists serving in Israel will tell you when they talk to a Palestinian spokesman, let alone when they talk to a Palestinian housewife, teacher, or taxi driver, they believe that this person is speaking from the heart," he said.
By contrast, when journalists speak to Israeli citizens - let alone spokesmen - "they feel it's all spin," he said. "It's all hasbara [PR]."
To be sure, Green distances himself from the notion that his own message contains spin, or that he has a political agenda of any kind. Rather, his goal through MediaCentral is to educate reporters on the ground and help them to develop a more nuanced understanding of the stories they're reporting. Given the role of the media, there is room for concern whenever reporting is skewed toward any one side, he said.
"There is a tremendous amount of legitimate criticism of Israel's policies," he said. "However, there is a significant difference between the legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and the demonization of Israeli leaders."
"The issue here is looking for an accurate portrayal of Israel in the media," Green said.
He cited the divisive proposal to relocate Arab residents in east Jerusalem to make way for a planned archeological park adjacent to the City of David, near the Dung Gate.
"I am not for or against building in Jerusalem," he said. "I have no political agenda other than ensuring journalists do not exclusively cover one side of the story."
"Accuracy is Israel's best ally," he said.