The “media intifada”: Is it running out of steam?

October 20, 2004

I attach a comment article from today's Jerusalem Post, in which I argue that the international "media intifada" against Israel, like the intifada on the ground, is beginning to run out of steam but this is likely to prove only temporary.

-- Tom Gross


A mild sign of hope in the media?
By Tom Gross
The Jerusalem Post
October 20, 2004

Is the international "media intifada" against Israel, like the intifada on the ground, beginning to run out of steam?

To judge by the reporting of Israel's recent Gaza operation, this just might be the case. Of course, there is still plenty of negative coverage. There was the usual emotive reporting ("Two girls, two shots to the head," read the Guardian's headline; "The harvest of death in this most dispossessed of refugee camps continued," began Mitch Potter's news report in the Toronto Star.)

And there were also the usual outright lies. Agence France Presse, for example, reported last week (in a story reprinted in newspapers throughout the world) that the majority of the 111 Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza over the last two weeks were children.

But overall, the reporting on Operation Days of Penitence was not nearly as fierce, nor as bad, as it has been on several past occasions.

When, for example, Israel launched a similarly-sized counterterrorist operation in Jenin in 2002 (and actually killed very few civilians in doing so), Israel-baiting in the European media reached hysterical levels. Israel was invariably compared to the Nazis, al-Qaeda, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and the Taliban.

The Guardian said Israel's actions were "every bit as repellent" as the 9/11 attacks. The (London) Evening Standard called them acts of "genocide" and, for good measure, accused Israel of the "willful burning of several church buildings."

And even supposedly pro-Israel newspapers like Britain's Daily Telegraph said "hundreds of Palestinian victims" had been "buried by bulldozers in mass graves." Palestinians in Jenin, Telegraph readers were told, were "stripped to their underwear, bound hand and foot, placed against a wall and killed with single shots to the head."

During recent weeks, by contrast, not only has there been a slight easing of pressure against Israel in media coverage, but some European reporters have actually taken the unusual step of speaking out against their Israel-hating colleagues.

In Paris on Saturday several journalists at Radio France International slammed the station's news director, Alain Menargues, for his "unacceptable" remarks during an interview concerning his book Sharon's Wall on Radio Courtoisie last week.

Menargues told listeners that we knew from the Book of Leviticus and from 2,000 years of history that Jews wished to separate themselves from "impure" non-Jews. He added that Jews had deliberately created the world's first ghetto in Venice "to separate themselves off from the rest."

And in London on Sunday fellow journalists publicly condemned the notorious Robert Fisk, The Independent's Mideast correspondent (and a previous winner of journalist of the year award for, among other things, his anti-Israel tirades). The associate editor of the (London) Times said Fisk's coverage "masquerades as reporting but is, in fact, polemic."

Bill Newman, ombudsman for The Sun, Britain's most popular newspaper, said Fisk's coverage of Israel was so bad that he found it "distasteful."

A further sign of change is the displeasure the terror groups themselves have expressed now that they are no longer automatically getting the sympathetic coverage they have come to expect from Western journalists. They have recently started to kidnap journalists (French ones in Iraq, an Israeli Arab working for CNN in Gaza) as a warning to others to toe the line.

There are several possible reasons why there may have been a slight easing in attacks on Israel recently, at least in some parts of the media:

* The media are presently preoccupied with the US elections.

* For the time being, Iraq has become the main focus of Mideast reporting.

* The ferocious nature of terror attacks like those in Beslan and Madrid might finally have persuaded some European journalists to consider the possibility that Israel is justified in the steps it has taken to defend itself.

* The recent beheadings perpetrated by hostage-takers in Iraq have, for the time being at least, given their fellow "militants" in Gaza a bad name.

* Even the most liberal of the pro-Arab media are finally tending to treat Yasser Arafat in a negative light.

* Perhaps commentators realize that Israel is intending to do what the international community has demanded of it for decades and withdraw from Gaza and yet in response, far from making conciliatory gestures, Palestinian groups have murdered Israeli children in Sderot and Beersheba. Some journalists are now less enamored of Hamas. (There are exceptions, of course; both Orla Guerin of the BBC and Ben Wedeman of CNN have recently started referring to Hamas as "the resistance.")

* Improved public-relations efforts on behalf of Israel: not the lamentable efforts of Gideon Meir, Israel's PR guru at the Foreign Ministry, but those of private groups such as HonestReporting.

* Perhaps, too, there is a belated realization that even if it isn't acknowledged in public the Israeli army makes honest and sustained efforts to avoid civilian casualties, of a kind that has very seldom been taken by other armies.

However, experience suggests that this mild improvement in media comment and coverage is likely to prove only temporary. Negative opinion about Israel, especially in Europe, has become so entrenched in broad sections of elitist opinion that there is little chance of Israel receiving fair coverage on a consistent basis not until there is full recognition in Europe and elsewhere of the nature and threat of Islamic fundamentalist terror.

(The writer is a former Middle East foreign correspondent.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.