can’t see the forest

On Pro-Israeli Bias in US Media Reporting

The principal fallacy overshadowing coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the US media is one of omission, omission of the context in which the violence is taking place.

Israeli Settlements MapIn the print and broadcast news editions digested by a great majority of Americans with any knowledge of the subject at all, it is always the Palestinians who are “attacking.” The Israelis are always “retaliating.” Palestinian militants are characterized as “terrorists,” which is often exactly what they are; but the Israeli militants are the state-sponsored “Defense Forces.” They are not terrorists somehow. This implies a cause-and-effect mechanism that is ignorant of the circumstances which gave rise to the crisis.

CNN once handed down an interoffice edict decreeing that certain Jewish settlements outside Jerusalem were no longer to be referred to as “settlements” but as “neighborhoods.” You know, friendly suburbia. Just on my way to work this morning, how are you?? and so on. The Israeli government is always portrayed as merely defending itself against all this senseless violence. Leaders in Europe and America often opine that, okay, maybe Israel is a little forceful, but it “has the right to defend itself” against senseless violence. This is cynicism and fraud and cruel mockery, because the violence is senseless only if one forgets that Israel is only defending itself in the way in which any conqueror of someone else’s territory must “defend itself” against those it is brutally oppressing. If I decide to take over my neighbor’s apartment and everything in it and to confine him to the broom closet, I’m going to have to defend myself somewhere down the line, most likely.

Public opinion on the issue among Israelis and Palestinians is not clear-cut. Many Israelis do not approve of the practices of their government, and many Palestinians denounce acts of murderous violence in retaliation, however justified they might feel in acting against the oppressor. In fact, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz and even the Israel Defence Forces newsletter often present a much wider range of viewpoints and analyses than one sees in the American media.

There are also differences between the way the conflict is reported in Britain and in Commonwealth nations as opposed to the United States. Namely, that the language used in American media is much more biased and sanitized, because mainstream American news reports on the violence and on the diplomacy of the situation are heavily influenced by the Israel Press Office. That’s putting it lightly. Israeli consulates in the United States maintain especially warm and friendly relations with journalists. The IPO cranks out stories on anything that moves between Tel Aviv and Amman, and the news is almost literally passed down the assembly line to the shipping dock.

For the Israeli government, the occupation of Palestine entails a PR battle in addition to military operations. The CBC, BBC, and other English language news outfits are not targeted with such intensity and regularity. This is because their taxpaying viewer base does not provide the overwhelming majority of the funding and the logistical (and dare I say ideological) support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Americans do.

There is much fanfare throughout the Western press for the United States to “become more involved in the peace process.” So the United States government, then, is painted as a wholly neutral and good-natured broker of resolution and peace. We see the images of Clinton with his arms outstretched between Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David. When negotiations fail, it is always because the Palestinians walk away from the table with indignance. Israel makes generous offer after generous offer, and the Palestinians respond with violence. The peace process is a perpetual failure.

But anything resembling close scrutiny will reveal that the United States has long been heavily involved in the “peace process.” This process, for Washington, consists primarily of continually escalating financial and direct military aid to Israel, in excess of $6 billion in some recent years, not including military equipment which is outright given to the Israeli government. For their basic amenities the Palestinian refugees have not infrequently relied on humanitarian operations carried out by the likes of Hizbollah, further strengthening loyalty to violent resistance. So more military aid is, in turn, needed for the the purposes of Israeli “defense.” This is the peace process.

For American investors and defense contractors and certainly for some Israelis, this is a get-rich-quick scheme far beyond the scope and symmetry of anything devised by Carleton Sheets or those of his late-night TV ilk. A very great deal of the aid Israel receives from the United States is almost immediately spent on munitions and weapon systems from US firms. This money comes from the American taxpayer, but it is spent with large corporations in the business of war. American taxpayers might rather this money be spent on esoteric niceties such as American (or even Israeli) schools and roads, but they are not given a choice in the matter.

Israeli tank in NablusMany Americans will argue that the end result that is to be achieved by all of this is Peace In The Middle East, so maybe the cost to taxpayers in the States will be worth it, if those insane Palestinians would just come to their senses. For God’s sake. This is a very common attitude in my country.

Well, the American people are not disingenuous when they claim that a peaceful end to this century-old conflict is desirable. But the American people are paying for the means through which Israel enforces the occupation of Palestine. If the American people were to come to believe that Israel’s actions against Palestinians are fundamentally unjust, the flow of aid might stop and might turn into decisive action in another direction. That cannot be allowed, and that is why the Israeli government and organizations sympathetic to it insist on maintaining a grip on American news reporting from the region.

The “generous offers” made by Israel have not included a contiguous Palestinian state with control of its own airspace, its own borders, and its own natural resources, such as, say, water. This is why they have been unacceptable to Palestinian leadership. The sickeningly cynical notion that the Palestinians “just can’t be satisfied” is predicated upon an implicit assumption that they do not have a right to sovereignty even in these basic regards.

Israel clamors for Palestinian recognition of its “right to exist.” This is a concept wholly foreign to international law and diplomacy, because it is well understood that Israel’s right to exist is now derived largely from its interpretations of ancient holy texts backed up nicely by fleets of US-made F16 fighter aircraft and its uniquely undeclared stockpile of nuclear weapons. The area that is now Medinat Yisrael had been populated by about 95% Muslims and about 5% Judaists in the days before ever-increasing numbers of Zionist settlers began trickling in through the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. After sufficiently arming these proto-Israelis to whoop ass, principally by stealing Arab weapons, the British removed themselves from the Mandate of Palestine and the war of 1948 ensued. It is also worth noting that Stalin’s government was an early supporter of Israel, until it became clear that Israel was destined to become the regional hotbed for projection of American power standing between the world’s most energy-rich area and the Mediterranean Sea.

Barak, Clinton, Arafat at Camp DavidIn 1967, through the infamous Six-Day War, Israel took possession of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, which had formerly been Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian territory following the post-WWII European withdrawal. There was a lot of hoopla about the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, but border restrictions were largely heightened and the move did not amount to any sort of sovereignty for Gaza.  The United Nations condemned the occupation as illegal and has maintained a fairly hostile relationship with Israel since 1967. Critics say the UN is overly critical of Israel. Well, that’s simply because the Israeli government has broken every basic rule in the book with a smile, as has the American government in places like Nicaragua and Iraq. So, yes, they’re going to be criticized.

The United States has used its Security Council veto power not one time, not ten or twenty, but 33 times since 1967 in order to stall or prevent UN intercession in occupied Palestine. That’s the peace process, Washington style. In fact, nearly every veto exercised by the US on the Security Council has pertained in some way to the illegal occupations.

So the Israeli PR machine must deliver news of its conquests with an incredible degree of what has come to be called “spin,” a polite quantum euphemism for propaganda. The goal is to remove all context of the predicament from the minds of American taxpayers. And it has largely been achieved and maintained. Israel must be perceived as an innocent victim under constant threat and not as what it truly is, an extended, callous, and bloody business and conquest venture instigated long ago by European Zionists and propagated now with the help of the world’s greatest ‘superpower.’ Criticism of Israeli policy in America must be equated with anti-Semitism. Israel makes “generous offers” motivated by its philanthropic nature and its desire for peace in the territories it has occupied and in the populations it has crushed. Palestinians commit terrorism based on anti-Semitic racism. They’re not protesting Israeli occupation, which is recognized as on some level illegal by the governments of every nation in the world save the US and, um, Micronesia. No, that couldn’t be it. The Palestinians are violent savages, just as were Native Americans—got it? In the American media, it’s really that simple.

The bottom line is that violence on these scales is tragic, lamentable, and unacceptable whether it is committed by Palestinians or Israelis. So, for the purposes of perpetuating the status quo, Israel must brainwash its trans-Atlantic support base by systematically, linguistically maximizing Palestinian offenses and minimizing Israeli responsibility for the brutal and hostile takeover of someone else’s territory. The cause-and-effect relationship between Israel’s action and those of Palestinians must be distorted in favor of Israeli victimhood in each and every possible instance. It’s a concept and an ideology with which Americans can deeply identify, given our country’s violent history of expansionism. The peace process continues in the Middle East, and so does the violence…hmm.  So do the Wall Street profits, the back-alley deaths, squalor, and misery of second- and third-generation refugee camps, and the gleaming, heavily fortified, Jewish-only Israeli settlements with green lawns and swimming pools. Many of these stand on strategic hilltops overlooking Palestinian camps in which running water is often available for only a few hours each week. The Israeli settlements are placed so as to provide a clear matrix of control over water, roadways, and population flow. Israelis speed from place to place on clean highways, while Palestinian women trod rugged footpaths and die attempting to give birth at Israeli checkpoints because they cannot reach a hospital. If Palestinians refuse to leave these settled areas, their homes and farms are destroyed and they are taunted and stoned by Israeli teenagers, the ones who don’t carry assault rifles. How does one react to that kind of treatment? Through prayer and introspection? No. Thus the circle is unbroken, by and by.

Cause and Effect, Or Quantum Fluctuation?

  

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5 Responses

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  1. Dr. Victorino de la Vega said, on 9/25/06 at 2:08 pm

    Dear Curt,

    You’re the first Alabaman encyclopédiste I ever met…

    And the fact you’re now based in Portland, Oregon can only render you even more sympathetic to the Doc’s eyes: after all, George H. Bush once said “Portland? I hate that city, it’s America’s little Beirut!”

  2. tellitlikeitis said, on 9/25/06 at 2:14 pm

    I must say I’m rather heartened by the article on “little Beirut.” Those events are often discussed here, as you can imagine. But I didn’t know that statement had been made. It brings a tear to a man’s eye.

    Thanks for your comment, for the link, and for stopping by.

  3. peoplesgeography said, on 9/26/06 at 7:40 am

    Terrific article Curt. Would that many more others in the US applied a much needed critical eye and became Beirutis at heart ;).

    Just to add a brief five cents worth: the perception of Oregon and Portland in particular outsde the US, about which you are probably already aware, is that it is one of the most progressive locales in America.

    On a recent trip to India with San Franciso based group Global Exchange my room-mate was from Portland and talking to her I received a very favourable impression of the rich tradition of dissent and participatory politics there.

    I’m not imagining *all* Oregonians (is that the right nomenclature?)to be so inclined of course, but I can definitely attest to the fact that it is well thought about outside the US.
    cheers, Ann

  4. tellitlikeitis said, on 9/26/06 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks, Ann. And that is the right nomenclature. I had to learn how to pronounce Oregon when I moved here, which is something more like Or’-ih-gun as opposed to Or’-ee-gon as it is pronounced around much of the US. :-) In terms of political affiliation by county, the state of Oregon is mostly “red”; but in the center of the state, from Portland down to Eugene and then down to Medford and Ashland near the California border you have this interstate highway corridor with all the population centers, and that’s generally where you’ll find the more progressive attitudes and open minds regardless of whether folks claim blue or red affiliation.

    There are different reasons for the social climate of Oregon. This might rub some people the wrong way, but I have to say that I think a major factor is that Oregon has–by far–the lowest organized church membership of any state in the United States, at about 10-15% of the population. Compare that to roughly 70-75% in my home state of Alabama. Even though Oregon is an overwhelmingly Caucasian-populated state, I think this trend, which derives from the state’s independent past as a sort of remote logging and farming territory, has a lot to do with the low instance of politically prejudicial attitudes one finds here. The social climate is similar in much of Washington State and of our friends across the border in B.C.

    Oregon has a history of social and political disagreement and tumult almost from its very beginnings. We’ve got skinheads and globalists, federalists and seccessionists, loggers and environmentalists. I think that the fact that the political culture of Oregon is alarmingly heterogenous in comparison to other states, particularly back east, has a lot to do with the open mindedness here. Oregon is also the home of novelist Ken Kesey, and you’ll find that many Oregonians, particularly around Eugene, are exceedingly proud of this.

    But Oregon has its problems. The public education system here is one of the least-generously funded in the Union. Quality education comparable to the national average is available mainly only in the more affluent areas of Portland and the other larger towns. And while Oregonians are generally quite open minded about world affairs and domestic politics, lifelong and well-rooted natives of the state, at least in certain sectors, are renowned for their distate for outsiders in general and Californians in particular.

    People in the Southeastern US, from whence I came, are widely dismissive of the culture in Oregon. It’s known as “la-la liberal land” by many in the South. That includes my parents, on a personal note. :-/ But I’m venturing into subjects now that are postworthy, so I’ll stop.

    Geographically, there is not a more diverse state to be found in the US, with the possible exception of California (although that state is of course much more developed and populous, as a mitigator.) Oregon has many old-growth forests, the contiguous 48’s only almost wholly undeveloped shoreline which is a continuous public park (!), some of the Northern Hemisphere’s only truly year-round skiing, and loads and loads of high desert and scrubland in the eastern part of the state, known locally as the Oregon “outback,” as a nod to our friends in your part of the world. In the western part of Oregon, near the coast, we have large, lush semi-tropical forests. So it’s really a panoramic type of area, socially and naturally.

    Thanks for you input as always. And we hope you have the opportunity to visit Oregon someday.

  5. peoplesgeography said, on 9/28/06 at 5:41 am

    Marvellous, and I’ve just responded over at my blog (started off on another topic and then recalled this), so just to add that I’ll keep a look-out for Ken Kesey, I’ve not read any of his work. And I enjoyed the funny admission of the parochiality of *some* Oregonians (being intolerant of Californians ;)


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