Large sections of the international media are not only misreporting the current conflict in Lebanon. They are actively fanning the flames.
The BBC World Service has a strong claim to be the number one villain. It has increasingly come to sound like a virtual propaganda tool for Hizbullah, and as it desperately attempts to prove that Israel is guilty of committing "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity," it has introduced a new charge - one which I have heard several times on air in recent days.
The newscaster reads out carefully selected "audience comments," and among these we are told that "Israel's attack on Lebanon" will serve as "a huge recruitment drive for al-Qaida worldwide." But if anything is going to win new recruits for bin Laden and his like, it will not be Israel's defensive actions, which are far less damaging than western TV stations have been trying to convince us, but the inflammatory and hopelessly one-sided way in which they are being reported by those very same news organizations.
While the slanted comments and interviews are bad enough, the degree of pictorial distortion is even worse. The way many TV stations worldwide are portraying it, you would think that Beirut has begun to look like Dresden and Hamburg in the aftermath of World War II air raids.
International television channels have used the same footage of Beirut over and over, showing the destruction of a few individual buildings in a manner which suggests that half the city has been razed.
A careful look at aerial satellite photos of the areas targeted by Israel in Beirut shows that certain specific buildings housing Hizbullah command centers in the city's southern suburbs have been singled out. Most of the rest of Beirut, apart from strategic sites like airport runways used to ferry Hizbullah men and weapons in and out of Lebanon, has been left pretty much untouched.
From the distorted imagery, selective witness accounts, and almost round-the-clock emphasis on casualties, you would be forgiven for thinking that the level of death and destruction in Lebanon is on a par with that in Darfur, where Arab militias are slaughtering hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs, or with the 2004 tsunami that killed half a million in Southeast Asia.
In fact Israel has taken great care to avoid killing civilians - even though this has proven extremely difficult and often tragically impossible, since members of Hizbullah, the self-styled "Party of God," have deliberately ensconced themselves in civilian homes. Nevertheless the civilian death toll has been mercifully low compared to other international conflicts in recent years.
THE BBC, which courtesy of the British tax payer is the world's biggest and most lavishly funded news organization, would of course never reveal how selective their reports are, since this might spoil their campaign to demonize Israel and those who support her. But one senior British journalist, working for another company, last week let slip how the news media allows its Mideast coverage to be distorted.
CNN "senior international correspondent" Nic Robertson admitted that his anti-Israel report from Beirut on July 18 about civilian casualties in Lebanon, was stage-managed from start to finish by Hizbullah. He revealed that his story was heavily influenced by Hizbullah's "press officer" and that Hizbullah has "very, very sophisticated and slick media operations."
When pressed a few days later about his reporting on the CNN program "Reliable Sources," Robertson acknowledged that Hizbullah militants had instructed the CNN camera team where and what to film. Hizbullah "had control of the situation," Robertson said. "They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath."
Robertson added that Hizbullah has "very, very good control over its areas in the south of Beirut. They deny journalists access into those areas. You don't get in there without their permission. We didn't have enough time to see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, a taxi driver by day, and a Hizbullah fighter by night."
Yet "Reliable Sources," presented by Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, is broadcast only on the American version of CNN. So CNN International viewers around the world will not have had the opportunity to learn from CNN's correspondent that the pictures they saw from Beirut were carefully selected for them by Hizbullah.
Another journalist let the cat out of the bag last week. Writing on his blog while reporting from southern Lebanon, Time magazine contributor Christopher Allbritton, casually mentioned in the middle of a posting: "To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hizbullah is launching Katyushas, but I'm loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist's passport, and they've already hassled a number of us and threatened one."
Robertson is not the only foreign journalist to have shown viewers Hizbullah-selected footage from Beirut. NBC's Richard Engel, CBS's Elizabeth Palmer, and a host of European and other networks, were also taken around the damaged areas by Hizbullah minders. Palmer commented on her report that "Hizbullah is also determined that outsiders will only see what it wants them to see."
Palmer's honesty is helpful. But it doesn't prevent the damage being done by organizations like the BBC.
First the BBC gave the impression that Israel had flattened the greater part of Beirut. Then to follow up its lop-sided coverage, its website helpfully carried full details of the assembly points for an anti-Israel march due to take place in London, but did not give any detail for a rally in support of Israel also held in London a short time later.
THE COVERAGE of the present war by the BBC has been quite extraordinary, and even staunch BBC supporters in London seem rather embarrassed - in conversation, not on the air, unfortunately.
If the BBC were just a British problem that would be one thing, but it is not. No other station broadcasts so extensively in dozens of languages, on TV, radio and online.
Its radio service alone attracts over 163 million listeners. It pours forth its worldview in almost every language of the Middle East: Pashto, Persian, Arabic and Turkish.
It is not just that the supposed crimes of Israel are completely overplayed, but the fact that this is a two-sided war (started, of course, by Hizbullah) is all but obscured. As a result, in spite of hundreds of hours of broadcast by dozens of BBC reporters and studio anchors, you wouldn't really know that hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been living in bomb shelters for weeks now, tired, afraid, but resilient; that a grandmother and her seven-year old grandson were killed by a Katyusha during a Sabbath dinner; that several other Israeli children have died.
You wouldn't have any real understanding of what it is like to have over 2000 Iranian and Syrian rockets rain down indiscriminately on towns, villages and farms across one third of your country, aimed at killing civilians.
You wouldn't really appreciate that Hizbullah, far from being some rag-tag militia, is in effect a division in the Iranian revolutionary guards, with relatively advanced weapons (UAVs that have flown over northern Israel, extended-range artillery rockets, anti-ship cruise missiles), and that it has a global terror reach, having already killed 114 people in Argentina.
The BBC and others have carried report after report on the damaged Lebanese tourist industry, but none on the damaged Israeli one, even though at least one hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, was hit by a Hizbullah rocket. There are reports on Lebanese children who don't know where they will be going to school, but none on Israeli ones.
The relentless broadcast attacks on Israel have led to some in the print media indulging in explicit anti-Semitism.
Many have grown accustomed to left-wing papers like the Guardian allowing their Mideast coverage to spill over into something akin to anti-Semitism. For example, last month a cartoon by the Guardian's Martin Rowson depicted Stars of David being used as knuckle dusters on a bloody fist.
Now the Conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph, Britain's best-selling quality daily, and previously one of the only papers in Europe to give Israel a fair hearing, has got in on the act. The cartoon at the top of the Telegraph comment page last Saturday showed two identical scenes of devastation, exactly the same in every detail. One was labeled: "Warsaw 1943"; the other: "Tyre, 2006."
A politician had already given the cue for this horrendous libel. Conservative MP Sir Peter Tapsell told the House of Commons that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was "colluding" with US President George Bush in giving Israel the okay to wage a war crime "gravely reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter of Warsaw."
THE PICTURE isn't entirely bleak. Some British and European politicians, on both left and right, have been supportive of Israel. So have some magazines, such as the Spectator. So have a number of individual newspaper commentators.
But meanwhile anti-Semitic coverage and cartoons are spreading across the globe. Norway's third largest paper, the Oslo daily Dagbladet, ran a cartoon comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the infamous Nazi commander SS Major Amon Goeth who indiscriminately murdered Jews by firing at them from his balcony and was depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List. (A month earlier Dagbladet published an article, "The Third Tower," which questioned whether Muslims were really responsible for the September 11 attacks.)
Antonio Neri Licon of Mexico's El Economista drew what appeared to be a Nazi soldier with stars of David on his uniform. The "soldier" was surrounded by eyes that he had apparently gouged out.
A cartoon in the South African Sunday Times depicted Ehud Olmert with a butchers knife covered in blood. In the leading Australian daily The Age, a cartoon showed a wine glass full of blood being drunk in a scene reminiscent of a medieval blood libel. In New Zealand, veteran cartoonist Tom Stott came up with a drawing which equated Israel with al-Qaida.
At least one leading European politician has also vented his prejudice through visual symbolism. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wore an Arab scarf during an event at which he condemned Israel, but not Hizbullah, who he presumably thinks should not be stopped from killing Israelis.
It's entirely predictable that all this violent media distortion should lead to Jews being attacked and even murdered, as happened at a Seattle Jewish center last week.
When live Jews can't be found, dead ones are targeted. In Belgium last week, the urn that contained ashes from Auschwitz was desecrated at the Brussels memorial to the 25,411 Belgian Jews deported to Nazi death camps. It was smashed and excrement smeared over it. The silence from Belgian leaders following this desecration was deafening.
Others Jews continued to be killed in Israel itself without it being mentioned in the media abroad. Last Thursday, for example, 60-year-old Dr. Daniel Ya'akovi was murdered by the Aqsa Martyrsâ€š Brigade, the terrorist group within Fatah that Yasser Arafat set up five years ago using European Union aid money. But this is far from being an exclusively Jewish issue. Some international journalists seem to find it amusing or exciting to bait the Jews. They don't understand yet that Hizbullah is part of a worldwide radical Islamist movement that has plans, and not pleasant ones, for all those - Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Jew - who don't abide by its wishes.
The writer is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph.