The recent release of a new study by the London-based think tank Chatham House brought Israel-haters some widely cheered news, because the study includes the finding [pdf; p.12] that 35 percent of the British public feel “especially unfavorable” towards Israel. Writing at his Electronic Intifada blog, Ali Abunimah noted with great satisfaction that the Chatham House study showed that “Israel ranks as one of the world’s most unfavorably viewed countries among the UK public” and he concluded triumphantly that “these numbers indicate […] that the vast sums Israel has spent on propaganda or hasbara have made no dent in its unpopularity, while its continued occupation and repeated massacres in Gaza continue to affect public perceptions.” Linking to a post from 2013, Abunimah also pointed out that “results from the Chatham House survey confirm trends seen in other polls across the world, showing that Israel is consisently [sic] among the world’s most negatively viewed countries.”
While Abunimah’s last point is correct, both his blog post and a tweet that was popular among Israel-haters were wrong in asserting that only North Korea was seen more unfavorable than Israel.
Apparently, Israel-haters all work from the same cherry-picked talking points and can’t be bothered to check them – because if they had checked the relevant table in the study, they would have realized that Russia was entitled to their “gold medal” as the country that was seen as “especially unfavorable” by a majority (56%) of the British public. But it would have been really awkward for Abunimah to crow about Russia’s propaganda efforts not paying off, since some of his best friends – like Max Blumenthal, for example, or Electronic Intifada contributor Rania Khalek – are popular guests on Putin’s well-financed mouthpiece RT. The channel has also featured various Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, and neo-Nazis, and it reportedly provides a nice source of income for British politician George Galloway, who has been honored for his devotion to the Palestinian “cause” by Hamas leader Haniyeh and who supplements his salary as Member of Parliament with appearances on RT as well as Iranian and Lebanese TV.While there is no reason to downplay the truly dedicated efforts of Abunimah and his ilk to do their part in order to ensure that the world’s only Jewish state is among the world’s least favorably viewed countries, the negative image of Israel that is once again reflected in the Chatham House study has long been promoted by a wide array of opinion shapers. As the Simon Wiesenthal Center put it in reaction to a 2003 poll that showed a majority of Europeans viewing Israel as the foremost threat to world peace, this result indicated “that Europeans have bought into the vilification and demonization campaign directed against the State of Israel and her supporters by European leaders and media.” However, other polls show that this is not only a European problem. World-wide polls conducted by the BBC for 2012 and 2013 ranked Israel as a country seen to have a mainly negative influence along with North Korea, Pakistan and Iran.
This is actually somewhat unfair to North Korea, Pakistan and Iran – at least if you form your world view on the basis of reports by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A recent post by blogger Elder of Ziyon provides a stark illustration of the pervasive demonization of Israel in a chart that tracks how often countries are mentioned in the new HRW 2015 “World Report.” According to this chart, only Syria – a country where in recent years not only hundreds of thousands have been killed, wounded or displaced, but where also more than 10 000 people have been systematically tortured to death – is mentioned more often than Israel.
Anyone who needs some additional illustration of HRW’s preposterous bias should note that when the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson recently learned that the US Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. was exhibiting some of the gruesome evidence of systematic torture in Syrian jails, she immediately demanded that the museum “should also show pics of death and destruction in #Gaza.”
In an exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg, Whitson later protested that she had neither intended to equate the recent war between Hamas and Israel with the Holocaust nor to suggest that Israel was guilty of genocide in Gaza; instead, she claimed she had just “urged showing of images of #Gaza destruction.”
Of course, one can hardly argue that images of the destruction in Gaza from the last war have been ignored by the media. Indeed, one recent example that would perhaps have pleased Whitson was a Sky News program on Holocaust Memorial Day that featured images of this destruction while the interviewer questioned the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis about possible connections between Israel’s actions and the rise of antisemitism in Europe. Contrary to countless misleading media reports, Sky News did not apologize for suggesting a connection between Israel’s actions and rising antisemitism and merely acknowledged “that the particular circumstances of the use of the pictures from Gaza was unfortunate.”
Opinion shapers in the media and in NGOs like HRW have obviously a large part in the public’s long-documented negative view of the world’s only Jewish state. As Matti Friedman put it so well in a recent presentation: “How have the doings in a country that constitutes 0.01 per cent of the world’s surface become the focus of angst, loathing, and condemnation more than any other? We must ask how Israelis and Palestinians have become the stylised symbol of conflict, of strong and weak, the parallel bars upon which the intellectual Olympians of the West perform their tricks.” Friedman has previously explored the problematic media coverage of Israel in several superb articles; in this presentation, he argues that “the minute state inhabited by a persecuted minority in the Middle East is in fact [seen as] a symbol of the ills of the West – colonialism, nationalism, militarism, and racism.”
“The West today is preoccupied with a feeling of guilt about the use of power. That’s why the Jews, in their state, are now held up in the press and elsewhere as the prime example of the abuse of power. That’s why for so many the global villain, as portrayed in newspapers and on TV, is none other than the Jewish soldier, or the Jewish settler. This is not because the Jewish settler or soldier is responsible for more harm than anyone else on earth – no sane person would make that claim. It is rather because these are the heirs to the Jewish banker or Jewish commissar of the past. It is because when moral failure raises its head in the Western imagination, the head tends to wear a skullcap.”
Millions nodded along when the Nazis asserted that “the Jews are our misfortune.” Millions nowadays nod along when the media and NGOs suggest that the Jewish state is the world’s misfortune.