To most objective observers of the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israel is clearly the peaceful party faced with incessant, violent attack.
So why does the mainstream media so often get it wrong – portraying Palestinian attacks and the inevitable Israeli response as a "cycle of violence," or excusing the murder of innocent Israelis as frustration over occupation?
Here are four reasons why the media is biased against Israel:
(1) Favoring the Underdog
Studies of sporting events show that 81% prefer the underdog. America itself was born as an underdog fighting the mighty British empire, and underdog stories – think Rocky Balboa – have been popular ever since the biblical David first aimed a slingshot at Goliath.
Why such love for the underdog? Given our innate human desire for justice, one side's sizable advantage can invoke compassion for the "lesser" side. In other words, if Israel has jetfighters and Palestinians have slingshots, Israel must be the guilty party.
In reality, the opposite is true: Israel is successful by virtue of its well-functioning economic institutions, democracy and legal system. By contrast, Palestinians have squandered billions of international aid dollars on an array of guns, bombs and missiles (while lining the pockets of corrupt officials).
By every conceivable account, the State of Israel – surrounded by Arab nations with 640 times the amount of land and 350 million more people – has magnificently beaten the odds. Yet that very success is twisted by the media into favoring the Palestinian underdog.
(2) Intimidation of Journalists
For Westerners, freedom of the press is a core value, guaranteed by law and ingrained in mother’s milk. But for radical Muslims, the media has been hijacked as a propaganda tool, where "zero tolerance for criticism" is violently enforced. (Think Charlie Hebdo.)
In Palestinian areas, journalists are threatened for coverage that fails to “benefit the Palestinian struggle." Reporters Without Borders, in its “Press Freedom Index,” ranks the Palestinian Authority 163rd out of 173, for "riding roughshod over press freedom and arresting journalists without any justification."
Friedman worried that Palestinian thugs would blow his brains all over the wall.
A long list of Western journalists – from BBC, Newsweek, Fox News, etc. – have been abducted by Palestinian thugs. Blindfolded and held at gunpoint, journalists have been forced to denounce the West and convert to Islam.
Such fearful thoughts play in a journalist’s head, resulting in a subconscious self-censorship that heavily favors the Palestinian side. Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman describes how, upon learning that Palestinian officials wanted to see him “immediately” to discuss his New York Times reports, he “lay awake in bed the whole night worrying that someone was going to burst in and blow my brains all over the wall.”
According to Amnesty International, journalists in Palestinian areas "admit that they practice self-censorship, either by modifying the manner in which they report a story, or not reporting or commenting on certain topics at all."
Through sheer force of intimidation, news stories critical of Palestinians are erased from the record. And media consumers are none the wiser.
(3) Political messaging
Government and the media – as society's key pillars of power – often forge a common narrative. So when the U.S. State Department referred to recent events in Israel as a "cycle of violence," it was reflected the very next day in the New York Times lead editorial, "The Cycle of Violence in Israel."
Similarly, the United Nations' silence at Mahmoud Abbas' incitement to violence ("every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem is clean and pure blood for Allah") grants the media license to sympathize with Palestinian attackers. When a Palestinian fatally stabbed two Israelis in Jerusalem and was subsequently shot by security forces, BBC reported this headline: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two."
The U.S. Secretary of State refused to blame Palestinians for the recent violence.
This messaging works in tandem: The media shapes public opinion, which in large part determines public policy. Politicians have been known to formulate “sound bites of the day” in response to overnight opinion polling. So with hundreds of op-eds and editorials portraying moral equivalence between “aggressor” and “victim,” it is not surprising that the U.S. Secretary of State refused to blame Palestinians for the recent violence, saying "I’m not going to point fingers from afar."
For Israelis, this is a serious matter of life and death. The degree of support from world leaders often determines the latitude Israel has to defend itself. As Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Palestinians are in the midst of a campaign to knife Jews to death, one at a time. This is psychotic. It is evil. To call it anything less is to serve as an apologist, and an accomplice." That is why media bias is so lethal.
Ever since Abraham first introduced the monotheistic message 4,000 years ago, Jews have been the target of anti-Semites. According to Bassem Eid, the prominent Palestinian human rights activist, today's media is likewise “full of anti-Semitism,” “hatred," and "fighting against Israel.”
What else can explain this headline in the respected UK Guardian: "Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist."
We've seen it time and again. Seventy-five years ago, while humanity did little or nothing to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust, the New York Times reported the decimation of 750,000 Hungarian Jews as a small item on page 12. Of more than 17,000 Times editorials during World War Two, only five mentioned Europe’s Jews. Other media took the cue; BBC records show explicit orders not to report on the Holocaust.
Amidst the wave of stabbings and shootings, BBC News claimed Israelis suffer "paranoia."
Today, too, the media downplays the danger to Jews. Amidst the recent wave of stabbings, shootings, and car-rammings throughout Israel, BBC News claimed that Israelis suffer from "paranoia" – defined in the dictionary as a psychosis characterized by delusions of persecution.
Some media outlets go even further and blame Jews outright for the violence. Code-words like “genocide” (London’s Evening Standard), “ethnic cleansing” (CBS’s 60 Minutes), “war criminals” and “apartheid state” get play in the mainstream media. Speaking on CNN, Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan claimed that "hundreds of thousands of Palestinians" have been killed by Israel; CNN's Fareed Zakaria did not challenge the lie.
The result is an absolute inversion of reality, what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the “great mutation of anti-Semitism.” The Jews, who taught the world the ideals of “love your neighbor as yourself” and “all people are created equal,” are now cast as the planet’s worst barbarians.
Der Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine, likened Israeli policies to those pursued by Hitler. “UK Jewish Lawmaker: Israeli Forces Acting Like Nazis,” proclaimed a CNN headline. “Saudi Likens Gaza Assault to Nazi War Crimes,” blared one from Agence France Presse. And the Irish Times claimed that an Israeli anti-terror operation "looked uncannily like the attack on the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1944.”
Not to be outdone, NBC’s Tom Brokaw asked President Obama at the Buchenwald concentration camp (at 4:07): “What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?”
Today, Israel is under siege from all sides – from Iran, Hezbollah, BDS and Palestinian terror. It's time to wake up and confront the media's insidious contribution to this war.