The recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas should give us an opportunity to reflect, once again, not only on the current belligerents, but on the role of the obligatory third party to the conflict. I refer to the ground troops of the armies of the liberal-left, aka the Western media, who inevitably tilt the balance of the war they are “covering” in favor of their confederates or, what amounts to the same thing, against the side they reprove. Thus, from the media’s squint-eyed parallax, Hamas is more sinned against than sinning and Israel is either wholly, largely or, at best, equally responsible for the “renewal” of violence in the region.
“Renewal,” of course, is the wrong word in the context, since the six month “truce” prior to the latest round of fighting was consistently broken by Hamas and its affiliate terror groups; and a veritable barrage of Kassams, Katyushas and Grads preceded the belated Israeli response.
But we would hardly have known this had we relied solely on the mainstream press whose reporters, as usual, have been recruited to shill for the enemy. Echoing Mission Control—the UN, the NGOs and many Western politicians—even those news outlets which profess to be “even-handed” invariably fault Israel for using “disproportionate” force to counter the torrent of missiles upon its towns and kibbutzim. Reports almost always describe Hamas rockets as makeshift, innocuous and sporadic. After all, why should a couple of stray missiles per day falling on one’s community like annual precipitation, maybe killing or maiming one’s neighbour—or oneself—disturb one unduly? But as Liat Collins mordantly observes, “just how many missiles a day are acceptable depends on how far you are from their range” (Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2008).
As noted on FrontPage, “a ‘proportionate’ response would involve firing rockets targeted at innocent civilians rather than military targets,” taking a page out of Hamas’ war manual . One could go further and say that the Israeli reaction has undoubtedly been disproportionate, but in the reverse sense—it has been entirely insufficient and it has been so for years. This is the real meaning of “disproportionate,” the failure of a country under attack to adequately protect its nationals. One recalls the remark of a Russian diplomat apropos the Iranian takeover of the American embassy in Tehran during the Carter administration, to the effect that had the Iranians tried that stunt on the Russian embassy, there would have been no Tehran the day after. Talk about disproportionate.
Nevertheless, a meagerly non-proportionate, which is to say, deficient Israeli response to years of terror and violence is interpreted by the media as pejoratively disproportionate, which is to say, excessive. Such flagrant media bias has become endemic, not only in regard to Israel, we might add, but to any Western government improbably willing to acknowledge, let alone confront, the growing Islamic threat, however it may manifest. Today it is Israel’s turn, yesterday it was the United States on the hot seat, tomorrow who knows? Perhaps they just take turns, a do-se-do orchestrated by the media.
But what is most astonishing in the present situation is the almost complete lack of common sense and simple realism evinced by the sprawling cohort of journalists, broadcasters, correspondents, commentators and analysts who clutter the scene. Like their political compatriots, they seem unable or unwilling to realize that, regarding the Israeli/Hamas imbroglio, a rudimentary equation holds: no rockets launched into Israel = no helicopter gunships over Gaza. What could be more obvious? (Similarly in connection to the West Bank: no terrorists blowing up Israeli buses = no security fence.)
Of course, the media give credence to the overly simplistic canard that, despite the total Israeli pullout from Gaza in 2005, it maintained a “blockade” on the territory which reduced Gaza to economic mendicancy and near starvation. Palestinian activist Hanan Ashwari, quoted on CBC News (December 30, 2008), claims that if the putative blockade had not been imposed by those dastardly Israelis, peace and cooperation would gradually have emerged from the chaos.
Ashwari, like her media interlocutors, is equally math-challenged. The equation that applies here does not require a Hamas rocket scientist to figure out: no munitions-smuggling tunnels and seaborne gun-running = no blockade. Elementary, my dear Ashwari! But the whole idea of a blockade is also problematic, as it fails to take into account the humanitarian aid and domestic supplies flowing through the transfer points from Israel (except when the border crossings are closed courtesy of Hamas mortar and rocket fire), Israeli hospitals regularly treating Gaza residents, Israeli funds reaching 70,000 Hamas personnel via the Palestinian Authority, Israeli currency as the means of exchange (e.g., NIS 100 million transferred from Israel to Gaza on December 10, 2008), and the Ashkelon electricity generator supplying 75% of Gaza’s power needs. Some blockade!
Where have we read the sort of yellow journalism that prevails in the present conflict before? Déjà lu all over again. It was no different during the Lebanon war of 2006, when most of the world’s major dailies and news networks, like The Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the BBC and a numberless host of others, condemned Israel for inflicting collective punishment on Lebanon’s fragile economy and traumatizing its people. No mention of Israel’s damaged economy. Little recognition that dozens of Israeli towns and cities had been bombed, or that many of its northern forests, set ablaze by rocket fire, would require fifty to sixty years to regenerate, or that one quarter of the country’s population had been paralyzed for the duration of the war.
Can any reasonable person deny that the treatment of Israel has become pure boilerplate, one of the reigning clichés of the times? The fact is that Israel is always denounced as the “aggressor,” in a cynical attempt to impugn the Jewish state and isolate it from the concert of nations, like Pluto banished from the planetary family.
Journalists have either not read, forgotten or shrugged off the admonition of Albert Camus when he commented in an editorial on the role of the journalist for the Resistance newspaper Combat: “he is a historian of the moment, and truth must be his primary concern.” On the contrary, most of the time what we are actually witnessing is advocacy journalism dressed up as neutral reporting. Even more subtly but probably no less effective is the use of historical or mythic archetypes to further what we might call a semiotic message.
The Toronto Globe and Mail for December 29, 2008, for example, blazons an above-the-fold color photo of a Palestinian family fleeing their home—mother, father and child, a facsimile of the Holy Family transposed to Gaza. They are plainly running for shelter from the Israeli Herod seeking to destroy them. But I have not seen a comparable photo of Israeli parents and their children trying to evade Hamas missiles in Sderot, Netivot or any of the Gaza belt communities. Not holy enough, I guess. Or not sufficiently “historical.”
Possibly this form of manipulation is unconscious or half-conscious. Possibly not. But there is no question that what is generally at play here is an amalgam of ignorance and malice. No matter how astute or “ear to the ground” the majority of our newsmen believe they are, their knowledge and intellectual preparedness, their understanding of complex situations and events, is lamentably shallow and frugal. As a result, it is relatively easy for them to slant their reports and evaluations to align with a specific parti pris founded in prejudice or false erudition, or both. Spite mixed with callowness again. For the most part, they do not know what is really going on. And even should they have some inkling of the real state of affairs, the pertinent information is, more often than not, either dutifully suppressed or cleverly massaged to suggest its antithesis.
Properly speaking, the media should strive to play a preceptorial role in informing the public judiciously about civil and foreign affairs, but the opposite is far more often what we see, hear and read, in particular with respect to Israel. “Journalists often proclaim their commitment to seek ‘truth,’ but the fact is that they have powerful incentives to avoid complexity,” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith; they have to adapt their stories to the liberal views of the “prestigious news outlets” and “signal[ ] to the audience which side to root for…” (Address delivered to the Ariel University Center of Samaria, November 18, 2008). Or the obverse, which side not to root for.
As Michael Crichton wrote in an article for Wired magazine (Sept/Oct 1993), what he called the “mediasaurus” is far more interested in “selling the sizzle, not the steak,” consequently betraying the mandate to strive for objectivity. Today, especially, the “steak” is what is in the skillet, the “sizzle” is liberal-left cookery. And the meal served up to a carnivorous world is Israel.