European press coverage of Israel can be problematic, several members of a delegation of continental reporters here this week told The Jerusalem Post.
“My perception of the European media has been a powerful shift against Israel in recent years, especially in the liberal, slightly bleeding heart press,” said Brendan O’Neill, an editor at British newspaper The Telegraph.
Describing what he saw as a simplistic narrative, he asserted that Israel is frequently “demonized” while the Palestinians are “infantilized” and, as a result, “both sides have been treated pretty badly by the European media.”
Coming to Israel as part of a tour organized by the Europe Israel Press Association – an organization founded by the European Jewish Association's Rabbi Menachem Margolin and run in part by Israeli public relations consultant Tal Rabina – has been an eye opener, he said.
Now on his second trip to the region, O’Neill said coming here brought him to believe “that Palestinians are far from being these kind of pathetic children that need middle class white people to look after them, which is the impression one gets from liberal newspapers, and that if left to their own devices they would be quite capable of running own state.”
Calling coverage of the Palestinians “orientalist” in nature, he further stated that Palestinians “have been denied their moral autonomy in much of this coverage.”
“They are either presented as either victims in much of the Western media” or their actions are explained away as seen in reporting on the recent wave of stabbing attacks in which “reporters are saying ‘they are in a state of despair, they have no choice.’” “That’s the worst thing for Palestinians,” he said. “One way Westerners exacerbate the situation like that is providing political explanations for this kind of behavior, which could contribute to this kind of instability.”
“I think its because [reporters] have a preordained narrative and have tendency to fit everything into it even if it doesn’t fit,” he continued, saying it is easier to sell a conflict as black and white, especially when many people “define themselves” through their views, which turn being pro-Palestinian into a “shortcut to a moral high ground.”
“There is definitely lack of criticism to how [the Palestinian Authority] runs its affairs. Palestinians then play up to that narrative and are invited to play the role of the victims because that is what Europeans expect of them, so its a vicious cycle – the ability of Palestinians to run their affairs is continually undermined.”
So far during their tour, the visiting journalists, including reporters from France’s Le Monde
, Germany’s Bild
and Italy’s La Stampa, have met with Israeli officials, senior coalition and opposition politicians and visited the Temple Mount. A visit with Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid was canceled at the last minute due to scheduling issues.
Eric Leser, the publisher of Slate said he has come to Israel often and he believes that it is very useful for Europeans, especially in light of recent violent attacks, to learn from Israel’s tactics in dealing with terrorism and Islamic extremism.
“Europe is confronted now in some ways with the same kind of terror and violence as Israel has been confronted with in the last decade so, I think it’s very useful information and an asset to understand how the Israeli police, courts and society are dealing with this.”
He said that while Israel certainly can be criticized when called for and that any reporting that upsets both sides is probably spot on, the line between legitimate critiques and “pure animosity” has blurred.
The narrative of the conflict here has become overly simplified in a heroes-versus-villains mode with little historical context or nuance, he continued, saying he understands why many here are suspicious of the foreign press.
Not everyone was as down on the European media, however, with the Daily Mail’
s assistant editor Neil Darbyshire telling the Post
that while he certainly gets that “most Israelis think they get a terrible press and not a great deal of support from Europe,” such negative coverage is “not universal.”
“I understand why they might think that at the moment with the labeling issue and American aspects of the boycott. I understand why they might think that but I think there are strands of opinion in Europe that understand that your situation is difficult, the very hazardous and dangerous situation Israel finds itself in.
“If people didn’t appreciate that the last few weeks, they certainly do now,” he said.The Daily Mail,
he said, is in no way anti-Israel or anti-Semitic and even has an editor who is a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
While he said he doesn’t believe the trip will substantively change how his paper reports, he did admit that it gave him a deeper understanding of the power of incitement and radicalization and that Palestinian hate speech may bear a semblance to that of radical preachers in the UK.
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