Media Beat: BIAS AND FEAR TILT COVERAGE OF ISRAEL
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- When the New York Times finally printed the name of=
a 12-year-old organization called Rabbis for Human Rights, the mention had= to be bought -- in a full-page ad expressing support for actions by the gr= oup, which is "the only Israeli rabbinic association that includes Orthodox= , Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis."
Days before the advertisement appeared on April 8, the executive directo= r of Rabbis for Human Rights had been arrested while participating in nonvi= olent civil disobedience against Israeli demolition of houses.
"Palestin= ian homes are being systematically bulldozed all over the West Bank," said = a bulletin from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Phila= delphia. "In this case, there isn't any pretense of 'security interests' or= 'military targets.' The houses destroyed yesterday and today belong to ord= inary Palestinian citizens whose only crime is the wish to have a roof over= their heads."
Groups like Rabbis for Human Rights, and Jewish American activists like = Rabbi Waskow who vocally oppose Israeli policies, get short shrift in U.S. = news outlets. Meanwhile, the reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian cycle of = violence is badly skewed by an endless cycle of media bias.
Searching the= Nexis database of U.S. media coverage during the first 100 days of this ye= ar, I found several dozen stories using the phrases "Israeli retaliation" o= r "Israel retaliated." During the same period, how many stories used the ph= rases "Palestinian retaliation" or "Palestinians retaliated"? One.
Both sides of the conflict, of course, describe their violence as retali= atory. But only one side routinely benefits from having its violent moves d= epicted that way by major American media. The huge disparity in the media f= rame is a measure of the overall slant of news coverage.
To help maintain pressure for a favorable media tilt, supporters of Isra= el have a not-so-secret weapon, brandished most effectively as a preemptive= threat -- the charge of anti-Semitism. Any Americans who speak out against= Israel's extreme disregard for human rights are liable to be in the line o= f fire.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, is a reminder = that victims of tyranny are capable of later aligning themselves with perpe= trators of enormous cruelty. In March, he delivered a speech to a national = conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of Washingt= on's most powerful lobbying groups. Wiesel declared that anyone "who uses t= heir Jewishness as a context to attack or condemn Israel -- that's somethin= g I'm against." And he denounced criticisms of Israel as "anti-Semitism in = Jewish leftist circles."
Such salvos are warning shots that Joseph McCarthy would have understood= . To quash debate, just smear, smear, smear.
Instead of trying to refute critiques of Israeli policies, it's much eas= ier to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism -- a timeworn way of p= reventing or short-circuiting real debate on the merits of the issues. It i= s absurd and dangerous to claim that bigotry is at the root of calls for ad= herence to basic standards of human rights. But the ongoing threat of the "= anti-Semitic" label helps to prevent U.S. media coverage from getting out o= f hand.
Last year, I had an interesting experience with one of Florida's daily p= apers, the Palm Beach Post. A reader's letter, published in early Ju= ne, charged that a column I'd written "had an anti-Semitic undertone" becau= se it criticized media spin for Israel. Eleven weeks later, on Aug. 25, the= newspaper printed a second letter from the same reader, objecting to a col= umn I wrote about Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
This time the letter was more emphatic and sweeping, though less specif= ic: "I have noticed in some of his previous columns, he is apt to express a= nti-Semitic views."
The Palm Beach Post printed my weekly syndicated column 30 times = during 2000 -- for the last time on Aug. 19, six days before publication of= the second letter accusing me of being "anti-Semitic." After that letter c= ame off the press, my column never again appeared in the Palm Beach Post= . When I inquired, the newspaper's opinion-page editor told me: "There = was no connection."
Whatever the case may be, there's no doubt that journalists generally un= derstand critical words about Israel to be hazardous to careers. "Rarely si= nce the Second World War has a people been so vilified as the Palestinians,= " comments Robert Fisk, a longtime foreign correspondent for the London-bas= ed daily Independent. "And rarely has a people been so frequently excused a= nd placated as the Israelis."
Fisk is asking his colleagues to search their consciences: "Our gutlessn= ess, our refusal to tell the truth, our fear of being slandered as 'anti-Se= mites' -- the most loathsome of libels against any journalist -- means that= we are aiding and abetting terrible deeds in the Middle East."
Anti-Semi= tism is a reality in the world. Like all forms of religious and racial bigo= try, it should be unequivocally opposed. The effectiveness of such oppositi= on is undermined by those who cry wolf, using charges of anti-Semitism as a= weapon in a propaganda arsenal to defend Israel's indefensible crimes agai= nst Palestinian people.
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." = His syndicated column focuses on media and politics.