When Israelis faced five separate stabbing attacks on Saturday, Oct. 17, they were luckily able to fight off their attackers and defend themselves.
How did the world’s press report on these attacks? “Four More Palestinians Shot Dead on the Streets”. “Israelis Kill Four Palestinians”. “Palestinians Shot Dead in Alleged Knife Attacks”.
These headlines (from the Irish Independent, USA Today and Sky News respectively) are typical of much reporting when it comes to the Jewish state, portraying Israelis under attack as aggressors and glossing over (or omitting) details of the terrorism that Israelis are facing every day.
Here are three common media distortions we’re seeing in coverage of the current violent attacks in Israel and what you can do about them.
1. Upside-Down Reporting : Terrorists as Victims, Victims as Aggressors
It might seem unbelievable that people who arm themselves with knives, guns and meat cleavers and go out to murder Jews would be called victims but many news reports perversely insist on painting a picture of innocent Palestinian victims and Israelis as cold-blooded killers.
An Oct.17, 2015 headline in the British Telegraph newspaper announcing “Israeli security forces kill four more Palestinians as knife attacks continue” misleadingly make it seem as if an ongoing massacre is going on against Palestinians – not a wave of terror attacks against Israelis. An Oct. 19, USA Today insert carried by papers across the country reported “West Bank Bands Together: from making food to slingshots, Palestinians do what they can to fight Israel” – the take-away impression being that fighting Israelis is a noble pursuit, not the reality of shooting toddlers, stabbing children, and attacking Israelis viciously – targeting them only because they are Jews.
Pointing out the facts of recent terror attacks is one antidote to these upside-down news reports that invert aggressor and victim. That’s what NBC anchor Jose Diaz-Balart did recently during a live report. MSNBC/NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin – reporting from Jerusalem – claimed that a would-be terrorist who’d been shot dead by police earlier was unarmed. Both of his hands were open and both of his hands did not have a knife.” But back in the studio, Mr. Diaz-Balart brought up a picture of the attacker, pointing out to viewers, “We can clearly see the man – with what appears to be, at least in his right hand, a knife.”
We don’t all have the influence of Mr. Diaz-Balart, but we can all learn how to counter bald-faced lies and distortion from him: pointing out the truth about attacks in reader feedback, letters to the editor, in blogs and social media – can take the air out of lies and distortions about Israel.
2. False Equivalence
Another slander that’s gaining traction about the Jewish state is that Israel is somehow culpable for the violence that’s roiling Palestinian society.
That was the assumption behind a recent CNN headline “More Die as Violence and Finger-Pointing Plague Israel, Palestinians.” The Oct. 18, 2015 headline came after the five failed terror attacks, and the day before the massive fatal attack in Beersheva’s Central Bus Station. Where was the violence on the part of the Israelis? Where the finger-pointing? Surely shooting an armed terrorist who is in the act of attacking isn’t the same sort of violence as carrying out the attack in the first place?
An Oct. 19 op-ed in The New York Times described an almost-unrecognizable Jerusalem, one in which mobs of Jews parade through the streets chanting “Death to Arabs”, in which Arabs are fearful of letting their children out of doors lest they be shot by murderous Israelis like “Jerusalem’s gun-wielding mayor.” This is a willful distortion.
This type of false equivalence has real consequences, convincing people that Israelis are some responsible for being stabbed, shot at, run over, attacked and murdered. It creates a climate in which Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at Harvard on October 13, 2015 – the same day that three Israelis were murdered and twenty wounded in two separate attacks – could say both Israelis and Palestinians shared the blame for the violence. It desensitizes us to the fear and violence Israelis are experiencing. Sir Eric Pickles, Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel group in Britain, has called this desire to be balanced “pathological”.
One way to respond is to speak up: don’t be afraid to present a more nuanced, truthful version of events. Arm yourself with facts. Read Israeli news outlets, turn to websites such as www.honestreporting.com and www.camera.org for help.
3. Giving a Platform to Lies and Extremism
One striking feature of much Israel coverage is the extent to which extreme people, organizations and views are given air and print time.
CNN, in an Oct. 18 report, quoted Israeli officials about the five terror attacks the day before – then cast doubt on them, saying “But the official Palestinian version of events doesn’t always match the account given by Israeli authorities”. According to this alternate account, CNN reported, a Palestinian terrorist didn’t attempt to stab an Israeli; instead, the Palestinian was the victim, hunted down and shot in cold blood by an Israeli “settler”.
Who is this alternative source? According to CNN, it’s WAFA, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency. But does WAFA deserve to be treated as a credible news source?
Based on translations of its Arabic news source, the answer is absolutely not. This is the news outlet that on December 30, 2014, called the two terrorists responsible for murdering five Israelis as they prayed in a Jerusalem synagogue “martyrs...who ascended (to Heaven).” In the current wave of violence, WAFA has consistently referred to terror attacks against Israeli civilians as military operations, praised those killed in attempting to carry out attacks as “martyrs” and misreported the deaths of terrorists killed in self-defense as they carried attacks as cold-blooded executions.
An Associated Press (AP) story on October 15, 2015 story about the roots of Palestinian rage: “East Jerusalem Palestinians at Center of Wave of Unrest” similarly relied on highly biased information sources. Quoting Ir Amim, “an advocacy group that promotes equality in the city”, the AP painted a dystopian vision of Jerusalem in which “Arab neighborhoods have potholed streets, overcrowded classrooms, and suffer from insufficient public services like water, sewage and garbage collection”.
But Ir Amim is hardly an unbiased source. Described by one of its own officials as promoting a political agenda rather than coexistence, the organization – funded by Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and EU – is extremist in its Israel-bashing and has called for the US to “sever diplomatic ties” with the Jewish State. A 2010 film series they funded was described at the time by the then-editor of the Jerusalem Post as “contain(ing) just about every imaginable one-sided, context-deficient, unbalanced misrepresentation of Israel rolled into one nasty package.”
In this climate we all have to be careful consumers of news. We must make an effort to question where our news sources are getting their information and evaluate whom they’re quoting. When you read extreme-sounding claims about Israel, take a moment to read about the source. Educate yourself about Israel and the news. Don’t be afraid to speak up. We all have a stake in making sure that distortions and lies about the Jewish state don’t go unchallenged.
With thanks to Honest Reporting for highlighting many of these and other examples of media bias against Israel.