Matti Friedman helps us understand the Guardian’s coverage of Israel

In carrying out our mission, CiF Watch often attempts to contextualize the Guardian’s coverage of Israel by explaining not only what they get wrong, but also why they get it wrong.  So, in August we posted excerpts from a superb article by former AP Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman, in Tablet Magazine, which masterfully dissected the widespread institutional bias which distorts coverage of Israel and the Middle East.


Friedman’s latest essay (What the media gets wrong about Israel),  published on Nov. 30th in The Atlantic, is another must-read for those who’ve thought seriously about the skewed coverage of Israel at the Guardian – and within much of the UK media.

Here are a few of the more interesting passages from Friedman’s essay.

Human Shields

Hamas’s strategy is to provoke a response from Israel by attacking from behind the cover of Palestinian civilians, thus drawing Israeli strikes that kill those civilians, and then to have the casualties filmed by one of the world’s largest press contingents, with the understanding that the resulting outrage abroad will blunt Israel’s response. This is a ruthless strategy, and an effective one. It is predicated on the cooperation of journalists. One of the reasons it works is because of the reflex I mentioned. If you report that Hamas has a strategy based on co-opting the media, this raises several difficult questions, like, What exactly is the relationship between the media and Hamas? And has this relationship corrupted the media? It is easier just to leave the other photographers out of the frame and let the picture tell the story: Here are dead people, and Israel killed them.

Western Media as Hamas “assets”

When Hamas’s leaders surveyed their assets before this summer’s round of fighting, they knew that among those assets was the international press. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn’t report it. (This also happened.) Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying. (This too happened; the information comes from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents.)

Surprising signs of Hamas moderation

During my time at the AP, we helped Hamas get this point across with a school of reporting that might be classified as “Surprising Signs of Moderation” (a direct precursor to the “Muslim Brotherhood Is Actually Liberal” school that enjoyed a brief vogue in Egypt). In one of my favorite stories, “More Tolerant Hamas” (December 11, 2011), reporters quoted [in an AP story headlined “Hamas in Gaza says it’s learning from Arab Spring“, authored by AP staffers Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub, dated December 11, 2011] a Hamas spokesman informing readers that the movement’s policy was that “we are not going to dictate anything to anyone,” and another Hamas leader saying the movement had “learned it needs to be more tolerant of others.” Around the same time, I was informed by the bureau’s senior editors that our Palestinian reporter in Gaza couldn’t possibly provide critical coverage of Hamas because doing so would put him in danger.

Media fails to report Islamist war against “the last thriving minority in the Middle East”.

This summer, with Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds falling back before the forces of radical Islam not far away from here, this ideology’s local franchise launched its latest war against the last thriving minority in the Middle East. The Western press corps showed up en masse to cover it. This conflict included rocket barrages across Israel and was deliberately fought from behind Palestinian civilians, many of whom died as a result. Dulled by years of the “Israel story” and inured to its routine omissions, confused about the role they are meant to play, and co-opted by Hamas, reporters described this war as an Israeli onslaught against innocent people. By doing so, this group of intelligent and generally well-meaning professionals ceased to be reliable observers and became instead an amplifier for the propaganda of one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth. And that, as they say, is the story.

We strongly encourage you to read the entire 4,800 word essay, here.

39 replies »

  1. Read the article. Very interesting and well put. Group-think can happen and this may well be an example of it. Journalists must break out of it.

    I think it is also important to remember that despite knowing Hamas’ strategy for human shields, Israel still pressed ahead with Operation Protective Edge which resulted in the deaths of, at least, over 1000 civilian Gazans. But Israel suffered civilian deaths too – 6.

    Perhaps it is this history of disproportionate response (eg Operation Cast Lead was condemned by the UN fact finding mission of 2009) that has coloured journalists’ opinions.

    • Sure , it is Israel`s fault according to this silver tongued antisemite, despite ‘knowing’ came a ‘disproportionate response’. That`s colouring the opinions of journalists, not Hamas, not the terror. He puts his case against Israel politely, unlike the primitve way TamaraKelvin Holocaustdenier chooses, but nevertheless he supports the Hamas strategy.
      Well, a proportionate answer would be to let terror happen as dhimmis have to according to Islamists and their supporters.

      • Are you referring to me as the antisemite? If so you really need to learn to distinguish between criticising a group because of what there are, as opposed to criticising them for what they do. I utterly reject your crude assertion. I disagree with Israel’s policy and strategy and actions on many occasions, but it is not because of who they are or what religion they follow. It is because of their actions.

        I do not support Hamas’ strategy of the human shield. It is sacrificing civilians for the sake of PR. Hamas believe they can win a PR battle which *could* shift world opinion so much that Israel have to give in to some/all of their demands.. As long as they believe they can win, they have no real motivation to agree peace, on what they consider, Israel’s terms. So why does Israel continue to keep providing the fuel for such a PR strategy?

        How can the Israel government think that its a productive thing to launch Protective Edge for, what is seen by many, as ineffectual rocket launches and the kidnap of 3 teenagers (ball of these actions I condemn and do not support) which results in at least a 1000 civilian deaths? Why does the Israeli play into their hands so, handing out PR victories?

        • You can twist and turn all you like, but you are fooling nobody. You want Israel to refrain from responding to ongoing attacks on its citizens. That is all that needs saying about your despicable attitude: you criticise Israel because of who they are, because you would not expect any other country to simply sit back when its citizens are murdered by a Nazi terrorist group.
          This is made even clearer when yuou recycle the lie about so-called “ineffectual” rocket launches.

        • “Why does the Israeli play into their hands so, handing out PR victories?”

          Do you have a better way to stop rocket attacks? Or do you think a country should just accept constantly exploding rockets and sirens in its skies (some of these actually do hit the ground you know)

          Have YOU even been under a rocket attack? You are either a madman or a moron to think any country on earth could afford not to respond to that.

          • I doubt that he’s been within 1000 miles of a shooting war. He is just getting a thrill, telling Jews what they are and aren’t entitled to do against murderous savages. We know his type very well.

        • Thanks for the confirmation, antisemite.
          ‘Ineffectual rocket launches’ (stop short of calling them harmless firecrackers, like most antisemites), kidnap of 3 teenagers (in fact murder of pupils studying Jewish faith) and ‘1000 civilians’. Well EOZ convincingly shows one case after another where so called civilians turned up as honured and commemorated martyrs of Hamas, Islamic Djihad, Fatah, …
          It contains the complete line of Hamas propaganda as M. Friedman already demonstrated in former cases.

            • You insist on opening your mouth time after time, removing all doubt regarding your stupidity (and bigotry). Everyone here knows exactly what you are.

            • Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
              Whether Jews just are (doing nothing), or Jews do, they will never live up to the expectations of so called well-meaning friends, another word for antisemites who don`t dare.
              When they were characterised as villains without doing anything, when they were described as the devils behind the rise of modern age, they were nearly annihilated, despite their ‘power’, and left alone, without any protection, now, after the holocaust, when they actively decide and do, when they have a protective state of their own, they have to be the angels and fallng short on that, they are again characterised as devils, demons, inhumans, using disproportionate force against civilians, they again are left alone, but they have a strong state, to the disppointment of the ‘well meaning friends’.
              So the only way for this kind of antisemites towards Endsieg is to divide the Jews, to alienate them from Israel, to weaken the stand by playing the well meaning friend without any real commitment and loyality, all under the pretext of helping Israel on the right way. Well, this kind doesn`t know anything about the ‘right way’.
              Some will be lured into this simulacrum of friendship like Atzmon, Blumenthal, .. which works with the blackmail * if you support the state of Israel without restraint, without confirming our view, we can`t and won`t protect you, then you are not one of us, but one of them”. And who are them? Right, Jews.
              Therefore some of the hottest “critics of Israel’ are Jews, self evidently. Some like Weiss and Atzmon even turned into out spoken Antisemites.

              Yes, I`m stupid enough to see you without clothes.

            • You are an apologist for Hamas!

              What the hell are you doing on a website that seeks to disseminate balanced reporting and truthful representation of Israel?

              The posters on here are not opposed to criticising Israel. But I, for one, will not stand by and allow antisemites [like yourself] to continue to think that they can get away with this Jew-hating rhetoric. I will no longer collude in the lies that you and the media perpetrates against the Jewish state.

              • “The posters on here are not opposed to criticising Israel”

                Have you actually read most of the posters comments in here?

        • Dinkle,

          Degrading Hamas’s arsenal of rockets and terror tunnels is not ‘playing into their hands,’ but rather protecting Israel from supremacist, genocidal maniacs. If you read Friedman’s article and/or paid attention, and had any common sense at all, you would realize that it is the media who is playing into their hands. Obtuse, a little?

        • Dinkle: “you really need to learn to distinguish between criticising a group because of what there are, as opposed to criticising them for what they do”.

          Oh yeah, that’s the progressive spirit. Your sanctimonious bigotry must be justified, after all, Jews are renowned for what they do. Just ask your medieval European ancestors about Jewish perfidy and their murderous blood lust for Christian children, but if you don’t want to associate yourself with medieval anti-Semitic barbarity and the justifications for it, you can just ask those cuddly Hamas boys down in Gaza about the Jews being responsible for just about every war and revolution in recorded history. Think I’m exaggerating? Get yourself an education about the pathological fantasy world that your family and friends inhabit.

    • A note on the numbers:

      900 combatants killed by the IDF +
      760 dead from natural causes +
      120 Fatah members killed by Hamas +
      400 opposition members killed +
      50 protestors killed +
      38 “collaborators” killed =

      That figure does not include those killed by the 1000 IEDs and the 875 rockets. It does not include those forced to stay in their houses during the fighting. It does not include those killed when their homes were used as combat posts. It does not include the total number of those summarily killed for violating whatever rule Hamas deemed violated. It does not includethose killed as the collateral damage of terrorist offensive and defensive ground operations. And it does not include those killed in “false-flag” operations, such as Operation Four Little Martyrs or the Hamas assault on the UNRWA school at Jabalia.

    • “despite knowing Hamas’ strategy for human shields, Israel still pressed ahead”

      You are right, They should have just accepted the constant rocket barrages and just learn to live with it. Callous Israel.

      “But Israel suffered civilian deaths too – 6.”

      Hint hint. How cheeky. We get it. Dinkle doesn’t think the number is high enough.

    • Love the Righteous Indignation and Moral Outrage as represented by our very own Europeon, Little Lord Dinkelberry III. Nevermind the 3500 missiles launched into sovereign territory! Little Lord Dinkleberry III has declared those concerns as Misnomers at best.

      Those were love taps, people. And the tunnels mere amusement for Pitiful Palestinians who can only find enjoyment through all out war.

  2. I honestly didn’t believe that Matti Friedman could top his searing illuminating Tablet Magazine article. But this new piece is amazing and even better! Friedman has manged to distill a myriad of disparate aspects of the ‘Israel reporting antisemitism story’ into one clearly understandable narrative.

    Friedman is brilliant. If only his articles appeared on the front pages of the Guardian, Times of London, Independent, Telegraph, New York Times, etc…

  3. You lot are Nazi nutters – poor Dinkle! no wonder the world thinks you’re idiots!

    ps. Dinkle, you have yet to reply to my other post, I think. Moshe too.

  4. The IDF has a kill ratio of about 1:0,8 ( Islamofascist : civilian ) . I am only a lowly arm chair Colonel but I think that has no precedent in the history of urban warfare. Not even the British Army can keep up with that.
    Looking at alternatives being deployed in various locations I can only say kohl hakavod. The Egyptians are simply clearing a one km deep urban belt next to the border. That means they dynamite and bulldoze a one kilometer strip of apartment buildings, granted no one is dying. But the IDF could go into Aza and ‘simply’ clear a one kilometer stretch deep away from the fence in addition to where we are now.

    The USMC simply gave Falujans a few days to get out and then declared a free fire zone ( my personal favorite ). The USMC did not get on the phone and set up an Arabic call center to remind people. Or text for that matter.

    Sadr City was also no liberal ‘bleeding’ heart operation. Shit was just blown away.

    In Syria we have very innacurate strategic missiles flattening entire blocks a la V2, again, no calls from Assad missile corps beforehand here either. Never mind the Sarin attacks, I won’t be petty here.

    The Russians manages to grind Grozny to rubble. That was after one million people made it their home. That is two Edinburgh’s or one Munich.

    Matti Friedman writes the truth.