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The Second Battlefield - Israel’s fight in the media

 article about israel media
2010-01-22 07:55:53
The shul president walks into the Rabbi's office and horrified, sees that the Rabbi is watching Al Jazeera TV. "Rabbi", he exclaims, "how could you. Are you becoming, G-d forbid a self-loathing Jew? The Rabbi replies, "On the contrary, when I read the newspapers like the New York Times I see that Jews are victims of anti-Semitism, others call for our destruction and we are at a perpetual state of war in our homeland. But when I watch Al Jazeera I hear that we are running the world, controlling world economies and the media. I feel so much better."

It is easy to couch Israel's media war using humour but as they say, many a true word said in jest! The reality is far more serious and few understand just how vicious and how far reaching this war extends. During this lecture we will examine why Israel is a target, we will look at examples from recent events and coverage and we will discuss the impact this has on the international community and on our own press and community in South Africa.

Since time immemorial, war has traditionally been fought on land, at sea and in the air, for numerous reasons that have included glory or power and to conquer territory. Kings have been crowned; great leaders have been honoured in the aftermath of a successful war.

Today, the battleground is far more complex. The battle for public opinion and balanced media coverage had become yet another strategic front that needs to be conquered. Long after ceasefire agreements have been signed and the inevitable hand wringing and calls for accountability have been heard, public opinion and the ramifications of biased reporting continue to shape world events.

One country is at the forefront of this battle – the State of Israel. This has accelerated drastically since the infamous UN Conference against Racism that was hosted in Durban 2001. An all out campaign was launched to portray Israel as a pariah State, the evil comparison to Apartheid South Africa seemed to become the cause du jour and not since World War 2 had we seen such blatant Anti-Semitic rhetoric in international discourse.. Quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion became the popular sound bites that turned this conference into a feeding frenzy of delirious Anti-Zionism. Rampant anti-Semitism and anti- Zionism means that the battlefield has moved to University campuses around the world, newspapers, broadcast media and the rapidly growing online environment. The term electronic Jihad is no longer just a catchy name for a website that rallies the militant Muslim community against Israel and the "infidels" but can in fact, be used to describe a very complex, technology driven war. The raison d'etre of such a vitriolic attack is to try, convict and condemn the State of Israel in the court of public opinion with the ultimate end goal of calling into question her status as a legitimate sovereignty.

Joseph Goebbels the Nazi propagandist once said that if you told a lie enough times, it would become believable. The opposing propaganda juggernaut has taken this philosophy to new heights. Those who subscribe to the Joseph Goebbels School of Public Relations understand the effectiveness of branding propaganda in sexy packaging, using phrases such as collective punishment, occupation, Zionism = racism and the current favourite, Israel the Apartheid State. To use marketing speak, it is not necessarily the functionality of the product or in this case factual functionality, that sells but the sexy packaging and catchy brand phrasing that determines if your product is "bought" over that of your competitions.

Drawing a parallel between Apartheid South Africa and modern day Israel is the most brutal and libellous in the effort to question Israel's legitimacy and paint her as a pariah State. We could argue that during the time of Apartheid South Africa was sanctioned but her sovereignty never questioned and neither for that matter is the legitimacy of rogue states such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela and the great bastion of human rights abuse, China. It seems as if Israel is singled out for opprobrium and held up to a different standard than the rest. The press have a field day pointing out any Israeli transgressions but are eerily quiet when 17 year old boys, suspected of being homosexuals, are executed in Iran.

The Apartheid analogy is the most worrying, especially for our community in South Africa. This is the hottest selling "product" in the political and very leftist, South African media. We need to look at this in historical context, in order to understand why we have the battle on our hands that we do.

It has been noted by certain high level officials in Israel that outside of the Arab world, South Africa has the most hostile press when it comes to the Arab-Israel conflict.

It is no secret that the South African media take a decidedly slanted view on issues when it comes to the conflict. The majority of the SA population side with the Palestinians as they feel a sense of historical solidarity with their struggle against occupying "apartheid" Israel. The then PLO contributed financially to the struggle against apartheid and offered a place of refuge to South African anti-Apartheid activists. Since then, the ANC has felt a natural kinship towards the Palestinians and their cause. Today, members of the ANC feel that the Palestinian "struggle" is a mirror of their own. It has been said by several supporters that there will never be "true freedom until the Palestinians are free". This is reflected in the editorial mandates of our newspapers and the calls from hostile listeners on radio stations. While the official government party line supports a two state solution, the reflection of the ordinary man on the street is that the South African solution is "one size fits all". Not only does this show a lack of understanding of the greater issues facing the conflict but dangerously undermines both peoples right and acknowledgement of nationhood and self-determination. This philosophy is shared and encouraged by Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils (himself a Jew) and his "Not in my name" proponents which include a number of Jews. NGO's such as the South African Human Sciences Research Council and the nebulous FXI or Freedom of Expression institute are at the forefront of the media war in SA, closely followed by what can only be described as every SA Zionist's natural nemesis….the Media Review Network. Ironically, a popular poll featured on their site asking subscribers if they believe Israel is an Apartheid State is currently holding at 61% - in Israel's favour. No, voting on the site is not a favourite pastime of Media Team members!

The technology age has brought with it not only the means but the ability to participate in current events. Satellite television with24 hour newsfeeds, the internet with its increased blogging culture and cellular technology means that not only can you see what is happening at a moments notice but can play armchair general from the safety of your office – or couch! In the arena where the ratings war tops all else and "if it ain't bleeding it ain't leading" policies of news breakers have resulted in amplified competition, creativity and socio-psychological journalism has taken on a whole new dimension.

During the recent Israel-Hizbollah war if you turned your television on to CNN or Sky News, you were able to be a spectator to the war. We were treated to sights of the IDF seemingly blowing Beirut to smithereens. Correspondents neglected to mention that the footage of bomb struck buildings only constituted a small part of Hizbollah-controlled Beirut known as the Harat-Hareik quarter or that militiamen controlled the footage you were watching. Nic Robertson, CNN's correspondent noted a couple of months after the ceasefire was signed that it was virtually impossible to get coverage of Hizbollah without them sanctioning the footage, on pain of death were western correspondents allowed to show anything that was not Hizbollah approved. And by approved we mean threatened by gunpoint. Nic was also asked if the numbers for civilians killed by Israel were accurate and his response was that nobody could distinguish between civilian and militia and therefore it is hard to tell. A case of too little too late after Israel was accused of "collective punishment" and "the massacre of civilians'. Words like disproportionate became instant buzzwords when describing the Israeli response to Katyusha attacks on her citizens. Notably missing was footage of the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Haifa. You could be forgiven for thinking that the war was a one sided event.

The Arab world is decidedly more organised at public relations than Israel. There is a perpetual battle for the opinion of the street and the more Israel looks like the occupying aggressor who is one of the greatest enemies of Islam. America and Israel are referred to as the "great satans", responsible for all the world's evils. We have seen coverage in the Arab media that deems the current global financial crises as retribution for the "evil" that America and her close ally Israel visit upon the world.

Many have asked why does Israel tolerate this? After all, being painted as the world's greatest pariah does not do great things for Israel's image. Why does Israel not do more to more to counter the negative image portrayed in the media?

The answer is this. Israel is a transparent democracy and Israelis are fiercely protective of this. Journalists from all over the world know that they can report from Israel and criticise the government freely and without sanction. Could the same be tolerated in any other Middle Eastern country? Imagine criticising the Syrian government or any others. Not only would you be denied access to these countries, but you would also run risks to your personal safety. Sometimes Israel's open democracy is too its PR detriment but would you want Israel to be the type of country that sanctions free thought and expression?




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