This is a cross-post by Professor Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center
Israel is subject daily to scores of false claims and slanders that receive a remarkable amount of credibility in Western media, academic, and intellectual circles even when no proof is offered.
Palestinian groups (including the Gaza and Palestinian Authority regimes), associated local and allied foreign non-government organizations, Western radical and anti-Israel groups, and politically committed journalists are eager to act as propaganda agents making up false stories or transmitting them without serious thought or checking.
Others have simply defined the Palestinians as the “victims” and “underdogs” while Israel is the “villain” and “oppressor.” Yet truth remains truth; academic and journalist standards are supposed to apply.
While regular journalists may ask for an official Israeli reaction to such stories the undermanned government agencies are deluged by hundreds of these stories, and committed to checking out seriously each one. Thus, the Israeli government cannot keep up with the flow of lies.
So the key question is to understand the deliberateness of this anti-Israel propaganda and evaluating the credibility of the sources.
An important aspect of this is to understand that Israel is a decent, democratic country with a free media that is energetic about exploring any alleged wrongdoing and a fair court system that does the same. To demonize Israel into a monstrous, murderous state—which is often done—makes people believe any negative story.
Some of these are big false stories—the alleged killing of Muhammad al-Dura and the supposed Jenin massacre—others are tiny. Some—like the claim Israel was murdering Palestinians to steal their organs– get into the main Western newspapers while others only make it into smaller and non-English ones.
Taken together, this campaign of falsification is creating a big wave not only of anti-Israel sentiment but of antisemitism on a Medieval scale, simply the modern equivalent of claims that the Jews poisoned wells, spread Bubonic Plague, or murdered children to use their blood for Passover matzohs.
Come to think of it even those claims are still in circulation. Indeed, on June 8, the Syrian representative at the UN Human Rights Council (oh, the irony!) claimed in a speech that Israeli children are taught to extol blood-drinking. No Western delegate attacked the statement.
Here are three actual examples of well-educated Westerners believing such modern legends reported to me recently by colleagues:
–A former classmate, one told me, claimed that the Palestinians are living in death camps, being starved, etc. Asked to provide facts and provided with evidence to the contrary, he could provide no real examples. Finally, he remarked, `The truth is always somewhere in the middle.’”
–Hundreds of American college professors signed a petition claiming that Israel was supposedly about to throw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of the West Bank though there was zero evidence of any such intention and, of course, nothing ever happened.
–A British writer of some fame claimed, on the basis of an alleged single conversation with a questionable source, that Israel was preparing gas chambers for the mass murder of Palestinians. When asked if she was really claiming this would happen, she stated that it wasn’t going to happen but only because people like her had sounded the alarm to prevent it.
And what of the accusations of genocide contained in an article by sensationalist Israeli reporter Uzi Mahnaimi (even though his stories almost always prove to be wrong the Sunday Times never learns) and the respected Marie Colvin’s November 1998 in The Sunday Times reporting Israel was attempting to build an “ethno-bomb” containing a biological agent that could specifically target genetic traits present amongst Arab populations? Or the Guardian’s more recent distortion of documentation to claim that Israel was selling nuclear weapons to South Africa?
There is no limit. When stories are proven wrong, the damage remains, apologies are non-existent or muted, and no lesson is learned because the same process is soon repeated. (In the Guardian, it is repeated not only on a daily basis but sometimes several times a day!) But perhaps readers could learn to disregard what they have repeatedly seen has been untrue?
Here is one example plucked from today’s mail. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry claim Israel has seized seven oxygen machines intended for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and paid for by the Norwegian government. It said that a protest was being made to Norway. The story was picked up by several European newspapers. No evidence or specifics—what Israeli agency held them up? What dates? What hospitals were these for?–was provided.
Note, as in so many of these stories, the Israeli goal is said to be murder pure and simple. The message conveyed is: What kind of people would behave this way? The Israelis (or Jews in general) not only don’t deserve to have a state, they don’t even deserve to live. Wiping them off the planet would be doing the world a favor. Hmm, where have we heard this before?
Asked to look into the oxygen machine story, an Israeli official did so and pointed out that there are no controls over such imports into the West Bank so there would be no basis for holding up anything going there. As for Gaza, those directly involved in the process of sending in aid note that no applications to import such machines has been filed, there is no record of any such machines arriving, and thus nothing had been held up.
In short, the story is completely false, presuming that the Palestinian Authority health ministry won’t provide documents and specifics. But that isn’t going to happen as it will just be on to the next false story, hoping for a bigger media response.
Having seen so many such stories disproved over the years—as Israel’s credibility, while not perfect, has compared favorably with that of any Western democratic state—one might think a lesson would be learned. But as the great American journalist Eric Severeid remarked many years ago, nothing can protect someone when the media sets out deliberately to misunderstand and report falsely about them.
In addition, they should only repeat, report, or believe stories based on credible identified sources citing specific names, dates, and details. In addition, stories or claims should be internally logical and make sense given known facts. The idea that Israel enjoys killing or injuring Palestinians for fun does not meet that test.
Honorable journalists and scholars should take note and approach these false stories more skeptically. They should also reexamine their stereotypes and remember that their political views should be kept as much as possible out of their professional work.
Not so long ago, the above points would have been taken for granted as the most basic and obvious principles. They need to be relearned.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).