The Media’s War Against Israel: A Review

Stephen Karetzky and Peter E. Goldman, eds., The Media’s War Against Israel (Steimatzky, 1986)

It can be hard in the midst of an international political crisis to evaluate the media’s coverage. Events are happening haphazardly. Reporters are playing catch-up. Opinions may reflect partial information . . . which is why when time goes by it’s desirable to reflect on the media’s job, and to give it a score.

The authors of The Media’s War Against Israel published in 1986 had the benefit of four years after the events being discussed––i.e., Israel’s conflict with the PLO as it impacted neighboring countries. Stephen Karetzky and Peter Goldman took advantage of the time to assemble opinion pieces from several sources to complement Karetzky’s focused analysis of the New York Times and Peter Goodman’s “lessons learned” piece. Their conclusion is an indictment, as the title clearly states. The media didn’t just do a poor job; it engaged in a biased attack on Israel’s role in the events.

What events are we talking about? The primary issue was Israel’s foray in the summer of 1982 into Lebanon to root out the PLO, which had, with the help of the Soviet Union, amassed a huge arsenal of weapons with the intent of stepping up the guerilla war it had been waging against Israel. Complicating the events of that summer was the morass that was Lebanon at that time.

Created in 1943, Lebanon was weakened from the start by being divided almost equally between Christian Maronite and Muslim populations. Adding to that division was the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but the primary disruptor of peace and tranquility was incursion in 1975 into southern Lebanon of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

That mixture erupted in a 7-year civil war, which among other consequences allowed Syria to insert its forces into Lebanon. The result was anarchy, lawlessness and thousands of casualties, a story largely unreported in the Western media. What got Israel involved?

Tired of incursions into Israel by the PLO, the Israeli government allied itself with the Phalangists––a Christian Maronite group––and invaded southern Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of driving the PLO out of the country.

Israel’s goal was accomplished in four months. The PLO was dispersed after suffering heavy casualties. The PLO, however, won the public relations war by exploiting the Western media’s lack of understanding of the conflicts in the region. The coup de grace was the PLO’s blaming Israel for the massacre of residents of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee communities by the Phalangists. (The media called these locations “camps,” but they were not tent cities. They were large communities replete with permanent housing and other structures.)

Let’s look at how the media covered these events. In the first paragraph of the foreword to The Media’s War Against Israel, Rael Jean Isaac writes “In reporting the war in Lebanon, the media behaved like a lynch mob, with print and TV reporters, columnists and cartoonists vying with each other in misstatement and calumny.”

Each piece in the book backs up Isaac’s assertion. Stephen Karetzky­––one of the editors––focused his analysis on three months of reporting by the New York Times prior to the war, detailing an anti-Israel bias even before the events of the summer took place. The book also reprints pieces published elsewhere:

  • Norman Podhoretz analyzes the media’s response in general to Israel’s foray into Lebanon.
  • Frank Gervasi adds insights from his first-hand visit to the region.
  • Ze’ev Chaftets examines the problems the Beirut press corps faced trying to provide unbiased reportage.
  • Rael Isaacs singles out Time Magazine’s adversarial approach to Israel, and
  • Edward Alexander dissects NBC’s antagonistic coverage.

A few of the most flagrant examples of bias are worth repeating

  • After his election as prime minister Time Magazine informed its readers that Menachen Begin’s last name “rhymes with Fagin”––the name of the villain of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
  • Time Magazine totally made up a story claiming Ariel Sharon urged the Phalangists to attack Sabra and Shatila, and then refused to disavow the story when the author was proven to have lied.
  • President Reagan berated Prime Minister Begin personally when the caption to a UPI photo claimed a seven-month old child had been severely burned and lost both arms as a result of an Israeli bomb dropped on civilian housing. It turned out the child had not lost either arm nor had she suffered any burns, and her slight injuries were the result of a PLO shell.
  • NBC accepted the Red Crescent’s claim of 10,000 people slaughtered by Israel and 600,000 made homeless. The Red Crescent was hardly an objective organization, however, as it was run by Yasser Arafat’s brother. By the way, the Red Crescent’s homeless number exceeded the region’s total population.
  • Before investigating the cause, CBS accused Israel of intentionally killing two of its cameramen. After investigating it turned out the men were in a combat area and the tank that fired the missile was over a mile away.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this entire affair, however, is the PLO’s success at neutering the foreign press corps that was stationed in Beirut. The PLO had asserted the authority to determine who would be allowed to report from Beirut and evidence suggests they were responsible for the deaths of eight journalists and explosions that put two independent Lebanese newspapers out of business. Worse, however, was the fact that some of the foreign press corps was decidedly pro-Palestinian and didn’t have to be persuaded to present the PLO as the victims of Israel’s aggression.

Several of the authors in this compendium touch on the subject of why the press corps was hostile to Israel. They point to the impact of the war in Vietnam on the Western media, after which the general narrative of international affairs presented the view that the U.S. and its allies were the oppressors and third world countries its victims. They also point out the practice of the TV networks showing selective footage that backed a biased interpretation of events.

Israel became the “fall guy” for the Western media’s new worldview. It had been viewed positively from 1948 until 1967 when it defeated Soviet backed Egypt and Syria as well as Jordan, which was fooled into joining the battle. After ’67, the media started labeling the PLO as protesters and demonstrators rather than terrorists despite the fact that they were engaged in acts of war against Israel.

The media also bought the PLO’s lie that they represented the oppressed residents the West Bank despite the fact the organization had been formed in 1964 when the West Bank was under Jordan’s control. As The Media’s War Against Israel conclusively documents, the media’s distorted coverage of the Lebanese war was just another sordid chapter in their failure to understand when they were being used and when the information they were being given was propaganda.

A feature of the media’s coverage during this period that deserves attention is the use of Holocaust imagery and terminology to criticize Israel’s role in these events. Both “genocide” and “holocaust” accompanied inflated casualty reports along with quotes from willing European critics such as Mitterrand, Papandreou and Kreisky. China and the Soviet Union both resorted to comparing Israel’s actions to Nazi Germany with regard to Shatila and Sabra, helping to cover up the fact that the USSR had been the primary source of weaponizing the PLO.

The use of Holocaust imagery against Israel is a particularly vile practice. It’s a low blow, akin using the word savage when describing the actions of a Native American or excusing a woman’s behavior due to her menstrual cycle.

Exposure of the media’s biased coverage of Zionism and Israel has been thoroughly documented in other studies. (See my review of Jerold Auerbach’s Print to Fit.) The excuse that coverage of the Holocaust was weak due to the media’s inability to confirm accusations or that a hesitancy to support the formation of a Jewish state by the New York Times was understandable as it threatened the assimilationist aims of some members of the American Jewish community fails to stand up when the record of The Times and other media falls short of their claims of objectivity and impartiality decade after decade. Sadly, biased reporting when contrary views are confined to small opinion journals sways public opinion.

One might ask why should we care about the media’s failures from more than thirty years ago. As one media critic points out in the book, the American people of the 1980s placed a lot of trust in the media. After the deluge of anti-Israeli stories and commentary by The Times, Time, Newsweek, the Networks, polls showed a marked decline in support for Israel. That might explain why some people in the 21st century are prone accept such lies as Israel is an apartheid state and intentionally kills civilians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is needed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The Albany Times Union published this column under the title “Destroying Israel not the answer” on Tuesday, July 17, 2015. Unfortunately, non-subscribers cannot access it online which is why I’m posting it under my original title.

For decades, the most talked about plan to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs has been to divide them into separate enclaves–-a two-state solution. Israel has repeatedly agreed to try that approach: they accepted the United Nations’ partition formula of 1947 as well as terms offered in 1993 at Oslo and at Camp David in 2000. On each of these as well as other occasions the Arabs walked away.

Since the Arab world seemingly has no interest in any “solution” whereby Israel continues to exist, why does this concept continue to be pushed–-in particular by U.S. presidents?

To understand why the two-state solution portends more harm than good requires a quick history of the territories called the West Bank by the Arabs and Samaria and Judea by the Israelis.

On May 15, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of the state of Israel, there were 650,000 Jews living throughout Palestine, including in Samaria and Judea. On that day five Arab states attacked with a goal of crushing the new state, but Israel was ready and the attacks were repulsed.

Before the fighting stopped, thousands of Jews were driven from their homes and more than 1,300 civilians and soldiers were killed. Pressured to accept armistice boundaries, Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) fell into Jordan’s hands. Then, in June1967, as Arab armies amassed on its border, Israel struck preemptively and drove the Jordanian army out of Samaria, Judea, and sections of Jerusalem that had been held by Jordan since 1949. At that moment in time, when Israel could have incorporated Judea and Samaria into sovereign Israel, it was pressured into accepting terms that made those territories neither fish nor fowl, a result which has cost thousands of deaths and wasted billions.

Creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River would result in 650,000 Jews being displaced en masse because although Arabs can live in Israel as full-fledged citizens, Jews live in Arab countries at their peril.

The 1994 agreement that ceded government functions for the West Bank Arab population to Yasser Arafat made matters worse. Arafat used this base from to carry out terrorist attacks while claiming Israel occupied their homeland. Nothing could be less true.

The Palestinian Authority suppresses dissent and launched a campaign of terror in 2000 that resulted in hundreds killed; it pretends to be more moderate than its rival Hamas, but rewards terrorists with money and names streets after “martyrs.”

The only viable solution is for Israel to incorporate Judea and Samaria into Israel. Much of the international community will object, and some Palestinians will revolt, but Israel can stand up to those problems.

The most critical factor determining whether this solution can succeed is support from the United States. Some critics argue that Israel has failed at the bargaining table to show that it appreciates the support it has received from the U.S. over the years.

That U.S. has aided Israel in many ways over the years is very true, but Israel has acted in our interest as well. Israel’s defeat of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967 was a defeat for the Soviet Union, which had sought to add the Arab League states to its sphere of influence. Taking out Iraq and Syria’s nascent nuclear reactors prevented both rogue nations from joining the nuclear club.

Today, Russia once again has ambitions in the region while ISIS and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria bode ill. Israel stands as a beacon of stability in a region where state lines have become meaningless and governments can change overnight. Israel is also a model of development and democracy, showing the Arab street how they could live if they give up jihad.

There is a path to peace in the Middle East, but it is not dividing Israel in half. Palestinian nationalism needs an outlet that doesn’t involve the destruction of Israel, but that’s not Israel’s problem to solve. American policy makers can address that problem down the road. Defeating ISIS, eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran, and assuring a secure future for Israel could set the stage for that issue to be addressed.