Over the past few years, media coverage of Israel has experienced a subtle but distinct change in tone. The mainstream media is taking a harder look at Israel’s policies and finding that not everything is to its liking.
There are several reasons why coverage of Israel has traditionally been positive. First, Israel is a country with a culture very similar to that of the U.S. Israel is considered part of the West in that it shares Western norms and values.
Furthermore, there is a large Jewish population in the U.S., including many members of the news media who present a viewpoint sympathetic to the struggles faced by their Israeli peers.
Moreover, many in the media (and the vast majority of our country, myself included) believed that Israel was in the right prior to 2006. Israel has a democracy and a free press and all the things we like a country to have; the Palestine cause and their Arab supporters, essentially, do not. Israelis such as Tzipi Livni are calling for peace; Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas are sending suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians on a daily basis.
Three events, however, changed media attitudes. At the very least, they have damaged Israeli prestige.
The first was the Israeli military’s attack on Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009. This was not the first army incursion; there was also the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. However, many civilians died during the Gaza attacks, and Israel’s justification of its actions was less than convincing. It did not seem that an all-out military assault was a proportional reaction to the rocket fire initially unleashed by Palestinians, yet most members of the media seemed to ignore this moral inconsistency altogether.
The second factor has a name: Avigdor Lieberman. Far to the right, controversial, and often criticized for its attitude toward Arab Israeli citizens, Lieberman is currently Israel’s foreign minister, one of the most important posts in the Knesset. However, the U.S. media openly disapproved of Lieberman.
TIME Magazine wrote: “In Lieberman’s view, peace doesn’t mean cohabitation… It’s an appealingly simple vision, but also a cynical one. Any final agreement between Arabs and Israelis will require them to share some territory—in Jerusalem, for instance—to which both can make rightful claims. Insisting on physical separation as a prerequisite for a peace deal is a safe way to ensure that one is never struck. Lieberman’s views may be finding acceptance in the Israeli mainstream. But they are not the way to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East.”
The final strike came with the Obama administration’s insistence on a settlement freeze, with which Israel has been deliberately uncooperative. While this is a story suitable only for a slow news day, it has occasionally been reported upon. Generally, the media’s tone has been on the side of the U.S.
A New York Times article, for instance, reported: “‘We are rebuilding the land of Israel,’ [said] Rabbi Yigael Shandorfi, leader of a religious academy [in the West Bank]… The message to President Obama, he said, is that this is Jewish land. He did not use the president’s name, but an insulting Hebrew slang for a black man and the phrase ‘that Arab they call a president.’ None of the hundreds gathered—mostly couples with large families, but also armed young men and teenagers from other outposts—objected. Yitzhak Shadmi, leader of the regional council of settlements, said Obama was a racist and anti-Semite for his assertion that Jews should not build here, but Arabs could.”
As in most critical articles, the author attempts to maintain a veneer of neutrality and conceal his disapproval. This quotation is the section most explicitly critical of Israel, yet it is just a description of disagreeable behavior.
Our media still covers Israel more positively than the majority of other countries, and its coverage will never be as pro-Palestinian as the coverage of an outlet like Al-Jazeera. Nevertheless, there has been a pronounced shift in its coverage; it is less pro-Israeli than it has been for years. In my opinion, this balance is a good thing.