The bias in reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict is swinging a different way than usual, but not necessarily because factual reporting has become a paramount concern.
On Monday, an MSNBC contributor took the unusual step of publicly decrying MSNBC’s and the American media’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict. During an interview on “Ronan Farrow Daily,” Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist, denounced the preferable treatment Israel gets in news coverage, attributing such treatment to the pro-Israel lobby.
“Because of AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], and because of the money behind it, and because of Sheldon Adelson, and because of all of us in the media. We are ridiculous. We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue,” said Jebreal.
Jebreal pointed out that pro-Israel voices vastly outnumber pro-Palestine voices in the media and that NBC’s removal of correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin — a move many have speculated was due to his public pro-Palestinian stance, though he was later restored to his position due to social media pressure — suggests an unnatural bias in the way the media reports from the Middle East. Since Jebreal criticized MSNBC for its pro-Israel bias, she has claimed that her TV appearances have been cancelled.
My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?what about you @EliLake ?
— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) July 21, 2014
Increasingly, coverage of “Operation Protective Edge” — Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip following a buildup of tensions in the aftermath of the alleged Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, which has, to date, resulted in over 600 Palestinians killed and some 4,000 wounded, per the Gaza Health Ministry — has been slanted either toward Israel or toward Palestine.
For example, coverage of the Israeli Defense Forces Saturday raid on the Gaza City neighborhood of Shuja-iyya, in which 66 Palestinian civilians were killed in a single hour, has termed the assault a “massacre,” adding an emotional weight to the story that may obscure or distort the actual reporting.
Typically, American media has taken a demonstrable pro-Israel stance in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a news industry watchdog, found that during PBS NewsHour’s coverage of the conflict in 2013, the program overwhelmingly favored Israel. This is backed by a 2002 study that found that ABC, CBS and NBC were 79 percent likely to describe Israel’s role in the conflict as defensive and Palestine’s role as aggressive.
This time around, however, the bias seems to be tilting toward the Palestinian side of the story. Reports of the lopsided casualties lists — lists that show only 150 Israeli losses, compared to Palestinian fatalities and injuries that number in the thousands — have led many to look at Israel with a critical eye, which, in turn, has prompted many Israelis to feel that an emotional bias is forming against Israel and Israelis. This, however, does not dismiss the fact that many American Zionist Christians and Zionist Jews bear a personal animosity toward Palestine that is, in part, rooted in both political and religious ideology. This is creating a scenario in which many understandings about what is currently happening in Gaza do not necessarily correlate with the unbiased reporting of actual events.
“There is a subtle shift occurring in media coverage on issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is still work to be done to balance out reporting,” Marc Sabbagh, communications and policy associate with the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, told MintPress News. “Technology and online activism are helping to amplify voices on both sides of the conflict — in good ways and bad ways — and are leveling the playing field when it comes to depicting the on-the-ground realities.”
“Still, the withdrawal of journalists in the past few days from major news outlets and the fine-line journalism in papers like The New York Times — which had a piece detailing many changes and revisions made in their coverage on the issue due to public pressure — show that there is still bias or even an uncertainty in how to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current crisis in Gaza.”
The role of bias in Israeli-American relations
In large part, Israel’s national security depends on the United States’ opinion of the country. As a veto-carrying member of the United Nations’ Security Council and NATO, the U.S. has effectively blocked every international measure to punish or sanction Israel, despite the fact that Israel is in abeyance of international law for its illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Additionally, despite the fact the International Court of Justice, the U.N. General Assembly and even the High Court of Justice in Israel are all calling Israel’s presence in the occupied Palestinian territories a belligerent act of occupation, the U.S.’s refusal to permit any punitive actions against Israel has allowed Israel to operate as it would, despite international objections.
The U.S.’s willingness to shelter Israel comes mostly from the political sway the fundamentalist Zionist Christian community holds in the political dialogue in America. Fundamentalist Christians represent the largest lobbying and the largest fundraising population toward pro-Israel causes and candidates, and according to the group’s teachings, a Jewish-controlled Israel is a prerequisite for the Apocalypse, which would herald the second coming of Christ.
This has helped to form a hardened view of the Palestinians — less as humans and more as faceless belligerents — in the imaginations of many, particularly among the political right.
In regards to Israel’s justification for entering Gaza, Edward Hudgins, director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, an Objectivist advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., told MintPress, “Hamas, elected by the people of Gaza, has made the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews job number one.”
“After Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Hamas did not build schools and train its children in the enterprises of peace and prosperity. Rather, it built military units and trained its children as suicide bombers; indeed, it celebrates and honors those who kill themselves in the process of killing Jewish children. It did not build businesses and promote prosperity. Rather, it built tunnels to infiltrate Israel, and smuggled in rockets and mortars to fire at its neighbor.”
“It intentionally places its weapons near civilian housing, schools, and hospitals, using its own children as human shields, so that counterattacks will produce corpses to elicit sympathy among those in the West naïve or blind enough to ignore the full context of the conflict.”
Questioning common perceptions
In recent years, however, the lack of empathy the Israelis have shown in dealing with the Palestinians and the self-inflicted roadblocks and requirements the Israeli government has placed on peaceful co-existence with Palestine have led many to forget the image of Israel standing alone against the rest of the Middle East.
“There is a viewing and reading audience that came into consciousness with the Israel of 2002, 2006, 2008-9, 2012 and now 2014, and not 1948,1967,1973 etc.,” wrote Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian political analyst, to Politico via chat. “It is a lot harder to sell the image of Israel as a David facing a Goliath when Israel is using F-16s against a largely civilian population and not columns of tanks.”
While this awareness in no way weakens or even deflects the religious motivations of defending Israel, it does make blind allegiance to the Israeli cause without consideration of the Palestinian side of the story a dicier proposition. For example, President Barack Obama’s declaration that Israel had the right to defend itself following the recent buildup of tensions related to the murder of the Israeli teenagers in Gaza has been repeatedly challenged in light of Israel’s heavy-handed response. The president’s remarks, meanwhile, have failed to address the right to self-defense for Palestinians or Hamas.
“The disproportionate response through a ground invasion and ongoing attacks in the weeks following the murder of the three Israeli teenagers weakens the Israeli government’s argument that this military response and ground invasion is solely a matter of self-defense,” Sabbagh, of the Arab American Institute, noted. “The reason it is accepted at face value is the United States’ consistent support for this position by officials like President Obama and Secretary Kerry. Any ‘pinpoint operation’ supposed to take place has undoubtedly spiraled out of control.”
The rarity of the truth
Lost in this conversation, however, may be the actual truth about what is happening in Gaza. In this tug-of-war between high emotions on both sides of the issue, unbiased, factual reporting has all but been drowned out. With most Americans having already made up their minds about the Gaza invasion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in general, the incentive for major news media outlets to report in detail on the situation is significantly weaker than the urge to simply reflecting the sensationalism of the situation.
If one is to understand what is really happening in Gaza, though, separation from the bias and spin that has traditionally dominated coverage of this issue is needed. In today’s media market, such an approach to reporting about the Middle East is growing rarer by the day.
“I don’t want people to support Israel just because that’s what America has always done,” Sahar Zaytoun, an Israeli-American contractor in Los Angeles, told the Christian Science Monitor, adding, “I want them to support Israel because they actually understand what is really going on in that country and agree with what we need to do.”