Israel’s treatment by the main stream media is not exactly positive under any sane analysis, but not according to the Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Fisk. Of all the subjects he could pick to complain about, he claims that Western media is too soft on Israel — a claim that can be easily disputed.
The Jewish state has been hounded, collectively by the UN, and individually by European, Third World, and certain North American nations (The Great White North, eh?), for years regarding its “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza. In contrast, asking someone on the street if they ever heard of Indonesia’s 56-year occupation of Aceh, the person would most likely return a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his/her face.
As of last August, Jakarta maintained approximately 15,000 police and 35,000 soldiers in its captured satellite state or “province” (what about “independent republic” as the Soviets called Armenia or Lithuania?).
Yesterday’s LA Times spared a few paragraphs vaguely describing Aceh’s separatists disbanding their militias and Jakarta agreeing to withdraw its troops. No words like “occupation” were used in the article. No mention was made of Indonesia’s contractual addendums to the peace agreement hedging that it “is committed to stationing no more than 14,700 soldiers and 9,100 police in Aceh, all of which are to be locals.” I’ll believe the “locals” claim when I see it — like the Soviet tactic, inherited from Caesar’s divide et impera practice, of making sure Russian soldiers made up the majority of “invited peace-keepers” in Armenia and Latvia.
Also in yesterday’s LA Times, it published a rant by Robert Risk, bemoaning what a colleague described as “enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East” — like this:
“I used to call the Israeli Likud Party ‘right wing,’ ” he said. “But recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of our readers objected.” And so now, I asked? “We just don’t call it ‘right wing’ anymore.”
Ouch. I knew at once that these “readers” were viewed at his newspaper as Israel’s friends, but I also knew that the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu was as right wing as it had ever been.
This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly “colonies,” and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word “settlements.” But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word “settlements” was replaced by “Jewish neighborhoods” — or even, in some cases, “outposts.”
Similarly, “occupied” Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into “disputed” Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory.
Then there is the “wall,” the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel’s 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a “fence” rather than a “wall.” Or a “security barrier,” which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a “wall,” even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.
The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely.
If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly “neighborhood,” then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a mindless terrorist act.
And surely there is no reason to protest a “fence” or a “security barrier” — words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the entrance to a private housing complex.
For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them.
Fisk sounds pretty sure of his paranoia about censorship, but the “enormous pressures” he describes do not exist. All’s you have to do is go to the Washington Post, New York Times, or BBC’s websites, and you’ll still see “journalists” using the terms “right wing,” “settlements,” “wall,” “occupied,” etc.
Fisk’s Los Angeles paper itself referred to the “Israeli army and its occupation of the West Bank” on Sunday.
The NYT used the term “Jewish settlements” twice today (see also here). The WP called Israel’s fence a “wall” on Sunday. The BBC labeled the Iranian President as “conservative” after he called for the genocide of the Israeli people, while Britain’s same national news agency tagged a democratically elected Israeli politician — ex-Likud — as “right wing.”
In addition, I recently pointed out that a full text search of the BBC news site for the term “Syrian occupation Lebanon” yields 135 hits, while a search for “Israeli occupation” yields 847.
Wouldn’t you think that Fisk would’ve done a little fact-checking before expressing his fears of these “enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East?”
In fact, the LA Times is one of the most anti-Israeli newspapers out there, according to Join the Boycott – Protesting Anti-Israel Propaganda in the Los Angeles Times and Beyond.
How many times has the Jewish state made concessions to the Palestinians? Returning Sinai to Egypt, Oslo, unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and, most recently, permitting Palestinians to pass between Egypt and Gaza through the Rafah border crossing — after which senior members of Hamas wanted by Israel have returned to the Gaza Strip through Rafah, unheeded by Palestinian Authority border officials.
Technically speaking, Israel tried to negotiate with the Arabs in 1918, 1949, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1993, and 2000.* Even though Israel is a tiny sliver of land, she gave up territory in 1957, 1974, 1975, 1982, 1988, 1994, 1995, 1998,* and 2005.
But the average shmo on the street would not have a clue of these positive facts — because Israel’s side of the story is/was swept under the carpet by iconic American anchor-people like Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. On the other hand, listeners to mainstream media bias have heard Israel described with the loaded terms “right wing,” “settlements,” “wall,” and “occupation” over and over and over again…
But as a minor footnote to today’s headlines, Indonesia finally provisionally agreed to end its occupation of Aceh — after decades of repression and 70,000 dead.
What newspapers does Mr. Fisk use as sources for his claim of “enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East?” And why the equivocation about all the world’s current “occupations,” if as Fisk says, the media is “Telling it like it isn’t?”
Editor’s notes: Hat-tip to Join the Boycott.