Media gladiatorship

The good news about the weekend's events: Israel finally beat Strauss-Kahn to the top headlines. The bad: The headlines could not more distorted or more frustrating from an Israeli perspective.

Strauss Kahn 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Strauss Kahn 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The good news about Obama’s speech on Thursday: Israel finally beat Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the No. 1 headlines in German news. The bad news: The headlines could not be worse, more distorted or more frustrating from an Israeli perspective. It could not be more satisfying from the perspective of a worrying number of people in Germany – Israel’s best friend in Europe – who point fingers at Israel as the sole cause of trouble in the Middle East – if not the world – and at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his “cancerous” settlements as the sole obstacle to the peace process.
Starring in this media gladiatorship are the usual suspects, such as Germany’s Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. There, not a single paragraph can be found that reflects the course of events without distorted facts, information taken out of context or arrogant assumptions implanted in the minds and hearts of Israel’s political leaders and presented as truisms.
“Netanyahu blocks Middle-East new start” was the headline chosen by Der Spiegel to report the developments since US President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech on May 19. Why the harsh verdict? The prime minister insists on secure borders for the Jewish state and acceptance of its existence by prospective partners for peace. Thus, they claim, he “holds on to the past” instead of looking into the future.
Further, Abbas supposedly built a terror-free haven in the West Bank, so much so that the IDF has nothing left to do but hunt car thieves in the territory out of boredom – a sub-headline in this article. No need to mention that in a recent “hunt for car thieves,” soldiers uncovered a weapon cache near Hebron. No need to recall the “West Bank-made” bomb attack in Jerusalem only two months ago, which killed a British woman and wounded 40 others.
In this perfect world, in which reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is nothing but a heartwarming step toward peace, Netanyahu’s next condemnation is imminent: for not agreeing to participate in negotiations that include Hamas unless it agrees to abide by the Quartet’s conditions (refrain from terror against Israel, accept its existence, and abide by past agreements with the PLO).
The fact that even following the May 4 reconciliation, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, “There are changes taking place that will eventually lead to the end of the Zionist enterprise and the victory of the Islamic nation,” that Hamas openly holds on to the use of terror against Israel, that its charter gives Jews and Christians the right to live in peace only as subordinates to Islam, seems irrelevant or unknown to the media-gladiators who incite readers rather than reflecting the complex reality and who politicize journalism rather than diverting their energies toward building bridges off the “battlefield.”
IT IS thus no surprise that the breaching of Israel’s borders by Syrian, Gazan, West Bank and Lebanese “protesters” was romanticized as another successful offspring of the Arab revolution, with an additional emotional twist: “They want to return home.”
Rocks and molotov cocktails used to attack soldiers defending the border crossings all become white flags waved by peaceful protesters whose cries for the annihilation of Israel never became audible to reporters.
With this tone dominating much of the reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s no surprise that more often than ever do intellectual Germans use the fingerpointing arguments, alienating vocabulary and wrong truisms they are fed by the local media. The security fence is not a fence, not even a wall – it is an “israelische Sperranlage” – a word for which there is no English translation but which, when Googled in German, provides almost solely hits in the context of Israel. Literally it translates into “barricading facility”; phonetically it translates into associations of darker times in Germany.
Coincidence? No.
It is also no coincidence that the bashing reports of the past week about the “violent” reaction to demonstrators that breached Israel’s borders (curiously, last week’s shooting and killing of protesters at an Afghan military base by German soldiers was elegantly silenced) and to Netanyahu’s reaction to the Obama speech are coupled with an in-depth report about what the israelische Sperranlage is doing to thousands of Palestinians, years after its construction, years after it proved to be one of the most effective protections against terrorist infiltration history has seen. Heart-wrenching details about everyday burdens from buying eggs to visiting neighbors are ripped out of the context in which they emerged: as a weapon against terror. This should by no means downgrade the frustration and difficulty Palestinians are facing because of it, but between everyday inconveniences and loss of innocent life, the latter wins.
It is further no coincidence that this report is placed next to another titled “Severe fight of America with Israel.”
The choice of words like “severe,” “fight,” and “with” rather than a more equal “between” is manipulative and a blatant exaggeration of reality, just like the intended message of the contents of these reports: Israel is isolated, even its closest ally is turning its back, Israel is sabotaging peace. This subtle and systematic manipulation in some of Germany’s most influential papers leaves thousands of Germans with nothing but anger, if not hatred, toward Israel. Along with the rising power of the media comes a greater responsibility to stick to the core ethics of objective journalism.
Germany is too important an ally, too authentic a friend, to let this trend further alienate the people or let them be drawn into the bashing cycle most Israelis and Palestinians dream of ending at last.
The writer is the winner of Israel’s prestigious “The Ambassador” TV competition in 2006. She is a speaker and consultant for public diplomacy, strategy and communications in Israel and Germany.