Guardian

The Privileged Slander: Why the Media Laps Up The Anti-Israel Media Campaign


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).

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19 replies »

  1. Thank you Professor Rubin for making those points so clearly.

    I have had fuzzy thoughts about so much of the Arab/Palestinian/lefty anti Israel narrative and you have just crystallized them.

  2. Prof. Rubin has made it amply clear HOW the lies about Israel get so widely disseminated. What isn’t clear is WHY the media laps up these false stories. This is something that I simply cannot understand. A journalist surely learns in Journalism 101 that stories need proof and source-checking. In which case, when Israel refutes the malicious stories and propaganda, why are they still believed and disseminated?

    /I’m asking a rhetorical question here. The obvious only answer is Anti-Semitism.

  3. Annekl

    I’m asking a rhetorical question here. The obvious only answer is Anti-Semitism.

    Obvious but too easy.

    There must be other factors involved.

  4. Annekl,
    “I’m asking a rhetorical question here. The obvious only answer is Anti-Semitism.”

    I believe this might not be the case.
    Some papers have been relying heavily on NGOs to do their fact finding and even after finding out their fault they held on to their seat as editors knowing full well no one will ever employ them if these things came out.

    This routine started with the Al Dura case by TF2 and continues to date.

    Manu journalists have no moral compass any more but their wish to hang on to their job.
    Journalism is more about generating revenues than fact finding.
    Holliwood style stories sell more and catch the eye more.
    The I/P conflict will also bring more people to a discussion because so many intelectuals are involved and feel passionate about.

    This in effect will generate more revenue for the site and this is exactly why the I/p conflict is being focused to such an extent.

    Hoe many Uzbeks read the Guardian?
    Compare this with how many Jews, people who know Jews, Arabs, People who know Arabs, and Muslims read it.

    Now, which subject will draw more attention and generate more headline = Revenue?

    Bingo.
    Somalia, Ruwanda, Kongo, Nigeria is not important because no bling bling.

    Once again the beacon of light has showin that the colour of the skin is in effect what drives white and Asian people’s emotions.

  5. Of course there are other factors involved. It facilitates bonding and conversation when you know that everyone else is against what you’re against.

    Israel is an easy country to be against. It’s easily identifiable. It has that unusual flag. Everyone has heard of Jews and you don’t have to know anything about them to know that everything you say about them is perhaps, possibly, potentially true in your dreams or in someone’s Protocols. Besides which, if your best friends are Jews (even if they aren’t you can say they are) then you can’t be accused of being an anti-Semite, which you might not understand the meaning of, but sounds nasty.

  6. Prof Rubin, an excellent article.

    ItsikdeWembley, I agree with you about the lack of a moral compass on the part of most journalists (viz Pilger and the Jenin “Massacre”, viz Enderlin and the al-Durah hoax) and how most “news” is far from impartial and calculated to inflame and sell more papers/produce more hits, rather than to inform.

    At the risk of being repetitive, for me the best explanation is the one offered by Stephanie Gutmann in “The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy”. She quotes Phil Scheffler, then recently-retired CBS news producer, who said in 2004:

    “When I was coming up, reporting meant a reporter and a camera crew going to where the news was happening, asking questions, taking notes, shooting pictures, and then coming back or sending back a “report.” Now a lot of coverage is construction. An editor in New York decides what the story is, sends the word out to bureaus that we need a sound byte from this or that type of person saying this or that, gathers up picture coverage supplied by freelancers or agencies and writes a script that is narrated by a “reporter” who hasn’t been within 500 miles of the story.”

    We can see this in the unscrupulous manipulation by the media of the alleged murder by the IDF of Mohammed al-Durah (later proven to be a hoax, but only after extensive court action, and the BBC has only recently apologised for its part in perpetuating those lies). Too late, because the alleged “martyrdom” of Al-Durah became the focus for the Second Intifada.

    Add to that the capability to lie plausibly because you fall for your own rhetoric, and you get a really toxic mix.

    For me, however, at the root of all this and the reason for its endurance is the innate antisemitism of the Arab/Muslim world and its capability to manipulate the gullible west which is itself innately antisemitic and just not used to Jews being efficacious and powerful.

  7. Prof Rubin, thank you for this.

    As for “But perhaps readers could learn to disregard what they have repeatedly seen has been untrue?”

    As regards the Groan it is painfully obvious that its editors and readership have learned not to believe the evidence of their own eyes, among the prerequisites for knowing what is true and what isn’t.

    Whilst that craziness persists there’s precious little hope for their learning anything new which doesn’t chime with their preconceived ideas.

  8. Prof Rubin, SarahLeah and others,

    If we know that the Arab/Muslim tendency, and that of their dim-witted supporters, is to believe the equivalent of sixteen impossible things before breakfast if it concerns Israeli/Jewish evil, why cannot that be used against them?

    I am not advocating the use of Big Lies or any lies, but rather the saturation of all media outlets, local, national and international with counter arguments, again and again and again, in the same way as do antisemites and antiZionists, and, where appropriate, to get in first with facts and points of view which will undermine any hate-filled messages which invariably come.

    Israel and the various organisations around the world are conspicuously bad at this. We should not be having to do the equivalent of trying to empty a vast ocean with a thimble.

  9. Good article, but ….

    “–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. ”

    “A British writer of some fame” ??? If you write that without providing the name then you are resorting to the same tactics as those you criticize.

  10. Israeli is now the world’s Jew, as Rubin says – there is a campaign of medieval proportions to attack Israel for every imagined evil that the warped minds of anti-Semites and naive, often intellectual, fellow-travelers can come up with.

    it is not surprising that Rubin cites academic sources such as college professors. These are notorious for their ability to see just what they want. In the 1930’s similar people traveled to the USSR and returned saying they had seen the future, and its works.

    Today they travel to Gaza.

  11. serendipity:

    “capability to manipulate the gullible west which is itself innately antisemitic and just not used to Jews being efficacious and powerful.”

    All in all I agree with you and we covered that in the past.

    One unmentioned possible aspect which, if correct, is playing a massive role is Arab oil money and the West’s desire to maintain their stable economy, and some people’s easily corrupted / bribed conciense.

    You might not be aware of this but the Gulf states have played a major role in securing financial aid to the UK earlier this year.

    The borrowing has to stop.
    Does the west listen?

    Europe seems to be stuck in Leftist la la land.
    how much more debt can you ectualy invest with?
    The arab world is laughing all the way to the bank.

    And they not only conned the world about silly ME affairs but about their involvment in the current financial crisis.
    The greeks starting to riot and sooner or later the EU will crumble like a deck of cards because cuts has to be made.

    Who do you think the Unions and leftists will blame?
    The bankers right?

    Who do they see when they say bankers?
    Arabs or Jews…

    The wheels of a bus goes round and round….

    you see just like financial crisis going in circles it is possible that so is antisemitism.
    Jews gets hit whether their socialists, Capitalists, Liberals or Conservative.
    As Margie say, “easy pick”.

  12. What strikes me as odd is where is the watch dog for British or European media?

    Are they asleep?

    Surely when an editor is not learning from its mistakes he should be sacked.
    No apologies.
    Get him / her fired.
    And get this as a priority (and this has nothing to do with I/P conflict) because the pen his mightier than the sword.

    BTW, that could be the new flag of Saudi Arabia.
    A pen instead of a sword.

  13. Serendipity

    An editor in New York decides what the story is, sends the word out to bureaus that we need a sound byte from this or that type of person saying this or that, gathers up picture coverage supplied by freelancers or agencies and writes a script that is narrated by a “reporter” who hasn’t been within 500 miles of the story.

    But that suggests that an editor has an agenda and that the agenda is anti Israel.

    I doubt that. Obviously there are some editors who are virulently anti israel, (Rustbucket), but across the board?

    Doesn’t seem a good explanation.

  14. ItsikDeWembley

    Europe seems to be stuck in Leftist la la land.
    how much more debt can you ectualy invest with?
    The arab world is laughing all the way to the bank.

    I do believe that the extreme left is plainly anarchist and has no qualms employing Islamists in their effort to hasten the downfall of Western civilizations to be replaced, in their deluded minds. by a communist/socialist world state paradise.

    Of course, they dismiss the fate of Iranian communists and leftists 30 years ago as of no consequence.

  15. JerusalemMite,

    “Of course, they dismiss the fate of Iranian communists and leftists 30 years ago as of no consequence.”

    This is nother amazing aspect of manu journalists and contributors.
    Selective memory.

    Sure one can argue that most people that wish to explain a point will rather highlight one position over another, but the intensity of these rehtorics which we are reading these days from many in Liberal papers such as the Guardian is beyond “fair play” in academic terms and well into the realm of the obsessive behaviour.

    One can only fear to what extent will this reach or to what purpose.

  16. ItsikdeWembley, it’s not only about oil money. There’s Saudi influence in almost every corner of society, particularly in our universities.

    And yes I agree – Jews are always the meat in the sandwich.

    And what passes for the UK media watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission is run like a banana republic. It even had Rustbucket on its “Code” committee (which is another word for “ethics” and the quotes are intentional). Rustbucket had to do the decent thing for once and resign after the Guardian on his watch was found to have behaved improperly towards the News of the World, see

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/17/guardian-editor-resigns-pcc

    and

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/09/pcc-phone-hacking-inquiry

    Note in particular the following from the PCC’s statement:

    “…While acknowledging the Guardian had “produced one new significant fact” in its revelations of the Gordon Taylor settlement, and had performed a “perfectly legitimate function” in further scrutinising activity at the Sunday paper, it added that in presenting its story, the Guardian had obligations requiring it to “take care not to publish distorted or misleading information”. emphasis mine

    Well it hasn’t, has it, but then why alter the habits of a lifetime?

    This was on Daddy Rustbucket’s watch and he was on the PCC’s ethics committee! I doubt that he would have resigned had this not come out.

    As for how to bring these people to their senses, I found the following, again at the every end of Gutmann’s book:

    “… We know, in other words, that reporters and editors and producers aren’t priests of neutrality, that they frequently stray from their professed ethical standards. In the past year we have been reminded over and over again that their dispatches are, as Phil Scheffler puts it, “constructions” or human creations – nothing more and nothing less, informed by all the things that inform human creations: petty vendettas, ambitions, craven desires to be with the cool kids, secret shames and blind spots – and sometimes even diligence and brilliance. We know that journalism is an industry like any other (and these days an increasingly desperate industry), which means that the news product of one company or other should be vetted as skeptically as we vet, say, the claims of air conditioner makers.

    “Most of all, the democratic, irreverent spirit of the blogs has reminded news consumers to keep our own “amateur” counsel, to ask for proof, to subject those proofs to hard tests, to stay smart, and to stay vigilant. This will certainly bring about better coverage of Israel – and everything else.”

  17. HairShirt

    Israel and the various organisations around the world are conspicuously bad at this. We should not be having to do the equivalent of trying to empty a vast ocean with a thimble.

    Yes. I feel that the israeli government press office has to be expanded and given more information for dissemination quicker.

    Quicker being the important word. The Marmara affair videos showing the commandos being attacked violently by ‘peace activists’ was released some 9 to 10 hrs after the world had already been flooded with lies by no less than European ‘Peace Activists’ speaking, (lying), to anybody who would listen telling them that Israel had attacked with live ammunition without provocation and that 19 people had been killed.

    The videos gave the lie to the ‘without provocation’ and as we now know, 9 ‘peace activists’ were killed.

    I am not a military person but I feel that the videos could have been made available in one single hour if the IDF was organised to do this. It would involve using experienced PR and Field Security people to review the tapes and certify their release. I assume that transfer from the ships to the shore would be electronic.

    This would have stopped in its tracks much of the lies and negativity which the ‘peace activists’ spread.

  18. “Why the media laps up the anti-Israel campaign”

    Is it because we tolerate it ,and allow them to get away with it,we allow their reporters into Israel allowing them to report distorted and slanted articles about Israel without Question,Because most of the foreign stringers reporting from Israel are biased palestinians feeding untruths to the rest of the world.

    Stop kowtowing to these people there is no need for it.Leave kowtowing to Obama who is good at it,he is the one that kowtows to every low life on earth.

    Start by squeezing these anti-Israeli reporters would be a good start,the next step should be a one way ticket to where ever they come, from never to return.

    Kick that Guardian stooge that reports from Jerusalem,for the Guardian.Zero tolerance,toe the line or piss off.

    Come down hard on these Israel NGO’s do gooders who are financed by the EU and UK.The game is up.

    ZERO TOLERANCE.