Media spin remains in sync with Israeli occupation
October 13, 2000
The formula for American media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is simple: Report on the latest developments in the fragile "peace
process." Depict U.S. officials as honest brokers in the negotiations.
Emphasize the need for restraint and compromise instead of instability and
In the world according to news media, the U.S. government is
situated on high moral ground -- in contrast to some of the intractable
adversaries. "The conflict that had been so elaborately dressed in the
civilizing cloak of a peace effort has been stripped to its barest essence:
Jew against Arab, Arab against Jew," the New York Times reported from
Soon afterwards, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed:
"The cycle of violence has to be stopped." Such pronouncements from
Washington get a lot of respectful media play in our country.
Rarely do American journalists explore the ample reasons to
believe that the United States is part of the oft-decried cycle of
violence. Nor, in the first half of October, was there much media analysis
of the fact that the violence overwhelmingly struck at Palestinian people.
Within a period of days, several dozen Palestinians were killed by
heavily armed men in uniform -- often described by CNN and other news
outlets as "Israeli security forces." Under the circumstances, it's a
notably benign-sounding term for an army that shoots down protesters.
As for the rock-throwing Palestinians, I have never seen or heard
a single American news account describing them as "pro-democracy
demonstrators." Yet that would be an appropriate way to refer to people who
-- after more than three decades of living under occupation -- are in the
streets to demand self-determination.
While Israeli soldiers and police, with their vastly superior
firepower, do most of the killing, Israel's public-relations engines keep
whirling like well-oiled tops. Early this month, tilted by the usual spin,
American news stories highlighted the specious ultimatums issued by Prime
Minister Ehud Barak as he demanded that Palestinians end the violence --
while uniformed Israelis under his authority continued to kill them.
Beneath the Israeli "peace process" rhetoric echoed by American
media, an implicit message isn't hard to discern: If only Palestinians
would stop resisting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, it would no
longer be necessary for Israeli forces to shoot them.
"Israel Extends Time For Peace," said the lead headline on the
Oct. 10 front page of USA Today. "Israel early today extended a deadline
for Palestinians to end rioting," the article began. At this rate, we may
someday see a headline that reads: "Israel Demands Palestinians Stop
Attacking Bullets With Their Bodies."
Of course, amid all the nifty Orwellian touches, the proper
behavior of people whose homeland remains under occupation has never quite
been spelled out. But U.S. media coverage has reflexively mimicked the
themes coming out of the White House and State Department. It all makes
sense -- as long as we set aside basic concepts of human rights -- as long
as we refuse to acknowledge that without justice there can be no real peace.
For American journalists on mainstream career ladders, it's
prudent to avoid making a big deal about Israel's human rights violations,
which persist without letup in tandem with Israel's occupation of land it
captured in the 1967 war. Many pundits are fond of cloaking the occupiers
in mantles of righteousness. And we hear few questions raised about the
fact that the occupiers enjoy the powerful backing of the United States.
The silence is usually deafening, even among journalists who write
opinion columns on a regular basis. The U.S. government's economic and
military assistance to Israel adds up to a few billion dollars per year.
Among media professionals, that aid is widely seen as an untouchable "third
rail." To challenge U.S. support for Israel is to invite a torrent of
denunciations -- first and foremost, the accusation of "anti-Semitism."
Occasionally, I've written columns criticizing U.S. media for
strong pro-Israel bias in news reporting and spectrums of commentary. Every
time, I can count on a flurry of angry letters that accuse me of being
anti-Semitic. It's a timeworn, knee-jerk tactic: Whenever someone makes a
coherent critique of Israel's policies, immediately go on the attack with
charges of anti-Jewish bigotry.
Numerous American supporters of Israel resort to this tactic.
Perhaps the difficulties of defending the Israeli occupation on its merits
have encouraged substitution of the "anti-Semitic" epithet for reasoned debate.
Like quite a few other Jewish Americans, I'm appalled by what
Israel is doing with U.S. tax dollars. Meanwhile, as journalists go along
to get along, they diminish the humanity of us all.
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls."
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media.
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