Media Comment: B’Tselem’s track record

It would be ridiculous of us to assume we can pass judgment, for this is the responsibility of our judicial process.

IDF soldier shoots subdued Palestinian (photo credit: screenshot)
IDF soldier shoots subdued Palestinian
(photo credit: screenshot)
No one – neither we, the public nor the politicians – knows what really happened in Hebron last Thursday.
We do not know what the exact circumstances were, what the atmosphere was, what the commanders said and did, and when, why the shooting of the terrorist was carried out and more. Even the mainstream media doesn’t know.
It would be ridiculous of us to assume we can pass judgment, for this is the responsibility of our judicial process.
But we do know one indisputable fact, that the B’Tselem NGO once again succeeded, with the collaboration of the media, to give Israel a black eye. It presented the world with a damning video clip filmed by Emad Abu-Shamsiyah in which one sees the terrorist lying on the ground, seemingly alive and powerless; after the passing of an ambulance, one sees a red spot under his head.
After a flurry of social media attention, Israel’s mainstream media, Pied Piper-like, picked up on the B’Tselem clip’s message: that the soldier was presumably guilty of an extrajudicial murder and the IDF was perhaps covering up a crime. Israel’s army is “immoral” was the implication.
For example, on the IDF’s Galatz radio station, correspondent Tal Levram accused the IDF of preventing medical care to the injured terrorist, as the troops are seen standing around, he recounts, for many minutes, doing nothing and not even caring about a wounded person lying on the ground.
He adds, “The incident is very quiet – no shouts, everything is calm – then one hears the click of a gun…. This is one of the worst incidents that I ever saw, there are no questions about editing, the army spokesperson understands this, no one suspects that something was edited in the video clip….
This is a very serious incident.”
Yet Magen David Adom CEO Eli Bin noted that there was no police sapper or official entity who could confirm that the terrorist had no explosives attached to him. Medics are not allowed to treat a person suspected of having a booby trap on her or him.
THE FOCUS of this column is not on the morality or immorality of killing subdued terrorists, nor on the actual incident, but rather on the media’s handling of a clip emanating from an organization that has a track record of presenting misleading evidence to the public, aimed at portraying Israel at its worst. This is not the first time that we point out how dangerous and false this organization is.
In our May 3, 2012 column published in this paper, we described the questionable reporting of Channel 10 TV’s Orr Heller in January, 2010 when he described Arab youths demonstrating in the vicinity of Neve Tzuf. His story was quite odd. He said the youth were non-violent, yet we see a broken jeep mirror, a burned-down hut and some forcible shoving, not the usual result of passive demonstrations. He reports that Jewish youth appeared on the scene and threw rocks at the Arabs and that the IDF did nothing to stop them. An interview with a lieutenant who “explains” that his job is to arrest not Jews, but only local Arabs, is included the clip. However, it was a B’tselem production trick – the “interview” with the lieutenant was an old clip that had nothing to do with the Neve Tzuf demonstrations.
On September 17, 2008, former minister and then-president of Israel’s Media Watch, Dr. Uzi Landau, basing himself on a report by Tamar Sternthal of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, sent a letter to the head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority detailing a list of flagrant ethics violations, falsifications, fabrications and outright lies by B’Tselem. For example, B’tselem had blamed Israel for killing an 11-year-old Palestinian child who actually had been killed by Hamas and Fatah fire.
This is a pattern. As reported by CAMERA’s Yishai Goldflam and Sternthal, a February 27, 2011 B’Tselem clip purportedly showing the mother of an 11-year-old boy pleading with a policeman to accompany the boy actually was re-purposed from an unrelated incident in which a Israeli police officer had asked the mother to come along, but she was pulled away by a Palestinian thug. The B’tselem version received wide coverage, for example, on Ynet.
Other groups and websites have documented numerous cases of B’tselem inaccuracies.
A visit to the NGO Monitor website provides ample instances of misleading (to put it mildly) B’tselem reports. It was a major player in the attempt to discredit Israel during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
In a January 21, 2011 op-ed on the +972 Blog website, B’Tselem’s then-director Jessica Montell attacked a reputable journalist.
“Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts.”
This from an organization that not only does not have any integrity to check facts, but actively falsifies them. Perhaps belonging to a group that made falsifications the norm renders someone like Montell quick to assume that everyone else does the same.
THE REAL ethical problem is Israel’s media collusion with B’Tselem’s proven unreliable source material. On Sunday, Kol Israel interviewed Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, introducing him as vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute. He was requested to give his learned opinion about the affair, but moderator Yossi Hadar and his editor, conveniently omitted mentioning that Kremnitzer is a member of B’tselem’s presidium.
The unrestrained and unverified propagation of B’tselem material raises a fundamental issue of how the media should report or broadcast information that emanates from interested parties – especially ideologically driven political groups.
The BBC guidelines are clear.
“We should ensure that material from members of the public is clearly labeled, so that our audiences know it has not come from the BBC or another news organization.
Material from third-party organizations such as lobby groups must be labeled to ensure the audience understands its provenance.”
Yet even this moderate approach is not observed by the Israeli media. Galatz’s Tal Levram, did not for one minute consider the source of the clip and the dubiousness of the organization behind it. He failed his listeners and violated journalistic norms.
Most of the mainstream media also lends full credence to B’tselem by including in their website article a link to its video footage but not to other clips that have surfaced showing different angles and a different version of events, even if none show the full story.
Perhaps, though, the redeeming factor is that the Israeli public does not “buy” B’Tselem’s narrative. Polls show that more than 80% of Israelis approved of the soldier’s actions.
B’Tselem will probably gain increased donations for portraying Israel as if guilty of a “war crime.”
This would be the most cynical part of this story, that the only profiteer from the demise of the terrorist is the “human rights” organization B’Tselem.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.