By Alan Stein
When it comes to understanding the news about Israel, it’s not enough to read between the lines.
I used to defend the Israel coverage of The New York Times by explaining that, although even the allegedly straight news stories were biased, if one read the article with a jaundiced eye one could usually separate fact from opinion and figure out what really happened.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer true, with virtually every American newspaper, including The Times. (The situation outside America is even worse.)
The last month was particularly revealing, with several articles published in the Waterbury Republican-American going beyond bias to include unprofessional (and grossly misdirected) sarcasm and false information while omitting key information which would have contradicted much in the articles.
Much of this involved the reporting on the Palestinian Arabs again walking out on its direct negotiations with Israel, less than a month after they reluctantly resumed… only after effectively announcing they’d walk out in a month.
The excuse they used, as planned, was the end of Israel’s ten-month moratorium on construction in Jewish communities in the disputed territories. An article about this published in the Republican-American on October 16 ended with the sarcastic and factually incorrect sentence: “That so-called “moratorium” expired last month.”
That’s perhaps the most unprofessional single sentence I’ve ever read in any newspaper. Sarcasm is even more out of place than bias in a news article and this sarcasm was also grossly misplaced, since the moratorium was very real and caused significant hardship for families living in cities like Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumin and Beitar Illit.
This article – and every other article I read – also irresponsibly omitted crucial context, including the fact that when the moratorium was instituted the Israeli government clearly stated it was a one-time gesture which would not be renewed and was accepted as such, and praised, by the Obama Administration.
Also omitted was any mention of the fact that the Obama Administration promised the moratorium would be matched by conciliatory gestures by both the Palestinian Arabs and by Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. No such gestures were forthcoming, so once again Israel made a tangible and painful concession and got nothing in return other than increased pressure to make even more concessions.
An article on October 24, “Mideast sides eye mid-term vote,” expressed concern that the elections could affect “President Obama’s ability to coax concessions from Israel.”
The perspective of this article was that peace was being prevented by Israeli intransigence, omitting any reference to several statements made by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority as well as the PLO and Fatah, which clearly show Arab intransigence is the problem. Indeed, Abbas admitted as much.
In early September, Abbas spoke about the core issues, such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees, and said “I can’t allow myself to make even one concession” and on October 15 he admitted that if he “showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago.”
Amazingly, neither of these revealing statements were reported in any Connecticut newspapers and, although I’ve looked and asked about them, I’ve found no evidence of them being reported elsewhere in the United States. (I did find an article about the first in the Kuwaiti Times.)
One Last Example
On October 24, Catholic bishops issued a communique at the end of a synod in Vatical City. In included one paragraph relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict:
“Our Churches commit themselves to pray and to work for justice and peace in the Middle East and call for a “purification of memory”, choosing the language of peace and hope and avoiding that of fear and violence. They call upon the civil authorities to implement the resolutions of the United Nations concerning the region, particularly the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.”
That itself is somewhat problematic, since United Nations resolutions are notoriously one-sided and anti-Israel. However, the report in an article in the Sunday Republican October 24 completely misrepresented the communique, saying the bishops demanded that Israel not “use the Bible to justify ‘injustices’ against the Palestinians.”
It also reported on some of the things which may have been said by some bishops in a misleading way, making it appear those opinions were part of a consensus and falsely implying they were in the communique. For example, according to the article: “while the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” This misleadingly makes it appear that the (unfair) blame was placed on Israel in the communique, despite the fact no such attribution is in the communique.
If We Are Not For Ourselves, Who Will Be?
Israel has many good friends outside the Jewish community, but everything starts with us.
Like every other country, Israel is far from perfect. However, despite slurs from the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter, there is no shortage of criticism of Israel or debate about its actions.
What there is a shortage of is honest reporting about Israel’s drive to make peace and the nature of Israel’s enemies. It’s up to us, the Jewish community, to do what we can to correct the imbalance.
The first step is to keep informed. This is something that’s very difficult to do if we rely only on the standard American media. Fortunately, we have other resources to which we can turn, including Israeli newspapers, media monitoring organizations and even some blogs:
– The Jerusalem Post and Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s newspaper with the largest circulation, have excellent web sites.
– CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, has an excellent web site . We can be proud that Charles Cramer, who grew up in Beth El, is one of the “machers” with CAMERA (www.camera.org).
– In Connecticut, I’m proud to be part of PRIMER, Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting. Its web site is www.primerct.org.
Both these sites contain links to many other useful sources of reliable information.
This is the beginning: reading the news with a healthy dose of skepticism and keeping yourself informed.
There is no end.
Alan H. Stein is associate professor of mathematics at the University of Connecticut and president of PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting, www.primerct.org).