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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing Israel’s Broken Electoral System

An Israeli friend asked the other day how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden could be in the same party. It’s not surprising that this seems odd to him. It reflects the difference between America’s two-party electoral system and Israel’s parliamentary model.

In a multi-party parliamentary system parties tend to be ideological in nature. In other words, they’re strongly committed to a specific set of principles and goals. On the other hand, because there are only two parties with a chance of winning presidential elections in the U.S., both are only moderately ideological. U.S. parties are informal coalitions of interest groups that have come together for a common goal. This system enables each interest group to achieve some of their goals without being able to blackmail their party after the election, which is what happens in Israel.

Israel needs to move to a system where coalitions are built before elections not after. To accomplish this, the percentage a party needs to gain seats in the Knesset should be increased from the current 3.25 percent to as high as 7.5 percent. If that were in place this past September, six of the nine parties that won seats would have been shut out. Knowing in advance that would be the likely result would have forced each of them to negotiate with the two major Jewish parties—Blue and White and Likud––before the election. They would have had to join one or the other or lose all influence in the election’s outcome.

Ideological purity has its pluses. In Israel, it means minority viewpoints are represented, and that’s good, BUT it also means those parties have inordinate power beyond the percentage of the public that supports their positions. Yisrael Beiteinu with only seven percent of public support is blocking the formation of a government the consequences of which can be disastrous.

Ideological purity is the enemy of coalitions. Ideological purity explains why the left-leaning Labor Party would not join in a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud Party. Their voters would be outraged if they were to do so. To abandon the platform they campaigned on would guarantee their supporters would never vote for those individuals in the future.

The two major parties in the American system are much less ideological than those in Israel or other parliamentary systems. In the American system coalitions are formed before the election not afterward as in Israel. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together a coalition that lasted decades. It was made up of large city political machines, labor unions, white Southerners, and ethnic minorities including Jews and blacks. Barack Obama imitated F.D.R. and won twice easily.

Because coalitions in the U.S. are built in advance of elections, interest groups are confident of gaining some, but not all, of their goals if and when their party prevails. That keeps their members happy because there’s hope they’ll gain more of their platform if they keep coming out for their party.

The weakness of the American electoral system is the process of choosing presidential candidates. Candidates know primaries attract the most committed voters and thus are motivated to take extreme positions during the primary season, forcing them to move to the center if they win their party’s nomination.

Donald Trump stood out and easily won the nomination in 2016 despite his lack of political experience. This year the field of more than twenty Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is shrinking fast as candidates with moderate views find it hard to gain media attention and support.

Neither electoral system is perfect. In Israel, reforms will need to be passed after the current crisis is over in order to avoid a repeat. I recommend increasing the minimum percentage vote to 7.0 or 7.5 percent in order to reduce the number of parties with a chance to gain seats and gum up the works. This would force parties to form coalitions BEFORE the election instead of afterwards. This would reduce the minor parties to influence groups while still enabling them to gain some, but not all of the platform outcomes they desire. Combining the best of both systems can help Israel avoid future stalemates.

Peace should not be the Goal. It can only be the Result.

We all pray for peace, but beyond our prayers, there is the practical truth that when peace is the goal, the result is often war, suffering, and death. The most obvious example is Neville Chamberlain’s giving away part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, proclaiming he had achieved “peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s trading lives for peace emboldened Hitler, and before it was all over sixty million were dead. The Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO is another example of a disastrous deal made for peace.

The Oslo Agreement is Israel’s nakba––the name the Palestinian militants give to the formation of the state of Israel. It means day of catastrophe.

In return for “peace,” Israel gave Yasser Arafat control over millions of Muslim Arabs, converting them overnight into Palestinians. Israel’s leaders naively thought Arafat would settle for the ability to rule over the so-called West Bank, but he did not. He accepted Israel’s giving him an arm and a leg, but getting those parts only motivated him continue his quest for the entire body, a goal that continues to drive his successors.

Why Peace Deals Fail

The reason seeking peace often results in the opposite is that people naively believe peace is the means to an end. As a result, they give up too much to achieve the appearance of peace, often sacrificing the substance. To claim one has achieved peace without providing for the security and well-being of your people is an invitation to nakba.

The goal of any negotiation between opposing parties must be security, not peace. Giving the PLO the ability to rule Territory A was a security disaster. It has led to the death and injury of hundreds of Arabs and Jews because it made it easy for the PLO to promote lone-wolf acts of terrorism while taking in millions of dollars of aid from the West. Giving financial aid to terrorists is just plain stupid. It has allowed the PLO to establish absolute control over its own population denying them freedom of thought in part by disseminating school books that teach hateful untruths about Jews and lies about the history of the region.

What the world needs now . . . is Identity and Freedom

No less person than the refusnik, Natan Sharansky, the only non-American to be honored with both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, opposed the Oslo Agreement. Why? Sharansky was shocked to learn after being released from a Soviet prison that the West was abandoning “identity and freedom”––the values that brought down the Soviet Regime. “The liberal world . . . decided that the highest liberal value is peace,” Sharansky said at a recent event, “but that’s exactly what the communists were saying.”

Speaking of the downfall of the Soviet Union, Sharansky said “ . . . our victory showed the world how freedom and identity go together.” He believes people can only wage a successful fight against dictatorships when there is something more important to them than their physical survival. “It’s people’s identity, national identity, religious identity” that motivates them to rebel.

No matter what terms President Trump’s team proposes when they finally get around to presenting them, Israel must focus on long-term security, not peace. Its leaders must assume the Palestinian Authority will take any concession as permission to violate the terms of the agreement and to pursue its ultimate goal the destruction of a Jewish state.

Israel’s Unique Role

Natan Sharansky believes “Israel has an absolutely unique role [to play] in today’s world . . . to connect two basic desires of people and to keep them together. National identity and freedom.” To abandon that role would be a disaster not just for Israel and the Jewish people, but for the world.

 

When Jews Betray Jews

Imagine a contingent of German Jews sometime in the late 1930s visiting Adolph Hitler to tell him they understand why he hates Jews so much. It must be those Eastern European Jews that bother you so much––the ones who speak that pseudo-German language called Yiddish, who wear those odd black hats and black coats and who conspire against German greatness. It’s not us good Jews you hate, Adolph, they tell him. It’s those other Jews.

Now consider the recent visit of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of J-Street, to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and “president” of the State of Palestine. I wasn’t there, but I didn’t need to be present to know the message Ben-Ami and his organization conveyed just by arranging the meeting.

We understand why you hate those Israeli Jews, Ben-Ami conveyed. They resist your claim for the entire land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They prevent your people from killing more Jews in knife, motor vehicle, and bomb attacks. They conspire with America to cut off your financial pipeline and your desire to claim Jerusalem as the capital of your city. It’s not us American Jews you should hate, Abu Mazen. It’s those Israeli Jews.

Of course, Adolph Hitler would not have taken a meeting with a contingent of German Jews, but if he had, he would have gotten a good laugh out of their plea. He would have said fine. I’ll kill the Eastern European Jews if you promise not to complain, and then later he’d come for those fine, upstanding “good” Jews.

The message J-Street conveys is equally pernicious. They divide the Jewish people into “good Jews”––the ones who hate Benjamin Netanyahu––and the bad Jews––the Israeli people who elected him prime minister and who refuse to accept his vacuous claims for the entire land. Wait until 2020 when the Democrats take back the White House Ben-Ami must have told Abbas. Then, your money will be restored. Then the U.S. will reverse the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Then the U.S. will interfere in the next Israeli election to make sure Netanyahu is defeated. Then you can have your country back and the bad Jews will go back to Europe where they belong.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.

Debate Lesson: Challenge the Assumptions

How an argument is framed often puts opponents on the defensive. When Barack Obama, for example, says the only alternative to his agreement with Iran is war, his goal is to back his opponents into a corner. Anyone who accepts war as the only alternative to his deal is stuck since no one wants war. A similar tactic is used by those who say you are a racist if you support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Let’s examine that argument more closely.

The racist argument assumes as fact the notion that Israel is “white” and that the Palestinians are a “people of color.” That concept is simply false. There are Jews in Israel who came from Africa, which should give Israel greater claim to being a “people of color” than the Arab Palestinians, but the underlying difference separating Israel and the Palestinians is religion, not race.

If those who say Israel’s existence is racist want to claim Arabs as a “people of color,” the proper response is to challenge the definition of that concept. Is it based on skin color? If so, that by itself is a racist notion. Isn’t the goal of civil rights movements to deny skin color as determining one’s destiny?

The other underlying assumption in the racist argument is the notion that it is Israel that is blocking the Palestinians from having their own state. Israel has as great if not a greater claim on the so-called occupied territories as the Palestinians. The Palestinians’ argument only makes sense if one is unwilling to go further back in time than 1967. That was the year Israel pushed Jordan out of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea (the so-called West Bank). Jordan had captured those territories in 1948 after the United Nations affirmed the right of the Jewish people to form their own state. Prior to 1948 those territories were part of the British Mandate which was set up after World War I to prevent chaos after the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the entire region for more than 400 years, was defeated by the Allied Powers.

Of course, it all comes down to boundaries. Where would the Palestinians place their state? From the statements and writings of the PLO (Fatah) and Hamas, the answer to that question is they want the whole thing––not just the West Bank territories, but all of present day Israel as well. Does that sound like a two-state solution?

What therefore is the proper response when someone says you’re a racist if you support Israel? Attack the statement on both assumptions. First, explain that race has nothing to do with it. Remind them that Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages that came from the same region. Then explain that neither Fatah nor Hamas want a two-state solution. If anyone’s a racist, wouldn’t it be the Palestinian leaders?

Eventually someone will ask, “What is your alternative?” If the United Nations wants to create a Palestinian state, they should do so, but not where Israel presently exists, nor in Jerusalem, to which the Palestinian’s claim is fraudulent, nor in Samaria or Judea, where Israel’s claim is stronger based on the League of Nations Mandate. They ought to create it in Jordan, which was originally part of Palestine and where many of the Arab people who call themselves Palestinians resided before 1948. Also, if Egypt is willing, Gaza, which already is a fully Palestinian territory, could be enlarged to include part of the Sinai desert.

A corollary to that solution would be for Israel to offer to those Palestinians who want to remain in the West Bank or Jerusalem the same deal non-Jews who live in Israel proper receive––i.e., full citizenship in the state of Israel. It is likely that a large number of Palestinian Arabs would accept that solution since Israeli citizenship would raise their living condition above what they are today under the corrupt Palestinian Authority. Those wanting to move would be allowed to do so, going to Gaza or the new Palestinian state in Jordan.

But the key lesson I hope people take away from this essay is not to be pushed into a corner when discussing world events by allowing your opponent to frame the issue in a way that you have no choice but to accept their position. Challenge the assumptions hidden in the way the argument is presented. When Barack Obama or the boycott Israel advocates present an either/or proposition it often means the facts are against them and the only way they can win the argument is by preventing a fact-based discussion, which is why the choice they want to give their opponents is no choice at all.

Does Israel’s Response to the Iran Deal Show Ingratitude to the U.S.?

That is the thesis of Susan Milligan’s U.S. News July 17 column “Biting the Hand that Feeds You.” Given that Israel receives more than $3 billion a year in military aid from the U.S., Milligan argues Prime Minister Netanyahu should tone down his criticism. After all, the U.S. wouldn’t give Israel all that money year after year if it was unconcerned with Israel’s safety.

Let’s examine Milligan’s argument.

Israel shouldn’t criticize the Iran deal because we give Israel $3 billion a year in military aid. There are several problems with that argument, including the fact that the aid is not given to Israel to keep its mouth shut. The crucial problem with the argument is the assumption the Iran deal is not a 180-degree change in direction of U.S. Middle East policy. That’s why so many Americans are critical of the deal and why leaders of both the conservative and liberal parties in Israel oppose it.

What is the purpose of the U.S. military aid? Presumably the U.S. sees that aid accomplishing something worth every dollar. The key reason is that it enables Israel to protect itself from enemies who have been at war with it since 1948. But it accomplishes other things for us as well, not to mention the fact that ¾ of the aid money must be spent in the U.S.

What has Israel done for the U.S.? It has defended Western values in a region teetering on the edge of Islamic totalitarianism, but it aided the U.S. in other ways. In 1967, Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, a defeat that was directly responsible for Egypt’s turning away from the Soviet Union, which had sought to bring the Arab League into its sphere of influence.

Another way Israel repaid the U.S. was by taking out the nuclear reactors that Iraq and Syria were illegally attempting to build, and when Iraq fired Scud missiles into Tel Aviv, Israel sat on its hands at U.S. request.

Milligan’s final argument is that the only alternative to this deal is war. One “gets the impression [Netanyahu] would only be satisfied if the United States bombed Iran back to the Stone Age.”

Instead of relying on impressions, however, let’s consider Netanyahu’s actual answer to that question. He has never been opposed to a deal with Iran. His criticisms is based on the fact that the deal doesn’t do what the U.S. and its allies set as their goal when negotiations started, which was dismantle Iran’s nuclear energy program in return for lifting sanctions.

Milligan has bought the administration’s argument that it is this deal or no deal, but that is absurd. A better deal was available had Obama/Kerry shown some backbone.

Instead of criticizing Netanyahu for biting the hand that feeds Israel, the American people ought to be thankful that he is pointing out the deal’s flaws because if he’s right, this deal is very likely to come back to haunt the American people in lives lost down the road.