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Media Analyses





EYE ON THE MEDIA: News and Jews in Britain


Jews in a north London community have been physically assaulted in eight anti-Semitic incidents in six weeks. A gang is suspected, and anger over the Arab-Israeli conflict is cited. A young woman from the area told a reporter: "Jewish people in London have been getting all kinds of grief for a long time now."

That would have to include "grief" from much of the British media in their coverage of the Jewish state. So pervasive and extreme has been the denigrating of Israel in recent years that a recent poll by the Daily Telegraph found sharp public disapproval of the nation, which was ranked among the least democratic, safe, friendly and attractive in a list that included China, Egypt, Dubai, South Africa and India. Only Russia scored worse.

The Telegraph explained that "the violence and Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza appear to have done immense damage to its standing."

Not exactly.

The media's distorted rendering of events in the Middle East has done the damage. In much of British coverage, Ariel Sharon, for example, is relentlessly caricatured and disparaged, whatever his actions and regardless of the violence by Palestinians that elicits Israeli response.

A Financial Times editorial of January 7 is representative. It lavishly hails the impending Palestinian elections as an event that should "command universal support, but especially from Israel" and then dredges up canards about Sharon. The FT charges Sharon's government with having "undermined" Abbas during his brief tenure as prime minister in 2003 because Israel "opted to ignore a unilateral Palestinian ceasefire... and continue its campaign of assassinating leaders of the intifada."

The paper is either oblivious to the facts or totally indifferent to the loss of Jewish life. On June 29, 2003 Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared a hudna, or ceasefire. During the next six weeks, until August 12, these groups launched at least seven terrorist attacks, three of which were suicide bombings. Five Israelis and one foreign national were killed. There were also scores of shooting attacks, and another 40 attempted assaults were prevented by security forces. Then on August 19, Hamas carried out a major terrorist attack on a Jerusalem bus, killing 23, including children, and wounding 130.

In the face of such a "Palestinian ceasefire" Israel resumed targeted killing, and on August 21 assassinated Ismail Abu Shanab, who was connected to the murders in Jerusalem as well as to other attacks. (One wonders whether The Financial Times would insist the British government not respond if, say, an IRA faction declared a ceasefire and then blew up a score of English men, women and children in Piccadilly.)

Financial Times readers are, of course, unlikely to remember the actual details of July–August 2003; they will likely accept the paper's version and agree that Sharon was an obstructionist, prolonging violence.

The remainder of the same editorial would only add to reader disdain.

Sharon's difficult and nationally wrenching disengagement plan is scorned as "the Gaza gambit" and dismissed. The editors demand instead the sweeping concessions offered at Taba in 2001. Of Abbas, gently termed "much the weaker party in the dispute," nothing is asked, and not a hint of criticism is given.

The BBC, The Independent and The Guardian all provide a diet of unhealthy distortion about Israel. Glance at any of them on almost any day and Middle East coverage skews against Israel. A Guardian story on January 20 by Chris McGreal on the departure of UNRWA chief Peter Hansen reads like a hostile editorial, blaming the move on "a campaign by conservative and Jewish groups in the US."

The supposed news report refers to Israel's "wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes" and to "the killing of children by indiscriminate Israeli gunfire hitting UN-run schools." These are not quoted or alleged statements of a source, but McGreal's own words.

There is nothing in the story about UNRWA vehicles being used to transport arms and explosives, or its camps being centers of terrorism and incitement. Unmentioned are financial links between UNRWA and terror-sponsoring Saudi, Syrian and al-Qaida groups.

Lacking such essential information, once again British readers could only conclude from McGreal that bullying Jewish groups colluded with Israel to eject a harmless defender of innocent refugees.

The steady flow of such toxic falsities, not surprisingly, produces enmity toward Israel in all too many readers.

Ironically, a Guardian column by David Smith on January 23, entitled "Jews 'still face discrimination in Britain,'" quotes Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the UK's Commission for Racial Equality, who warned: "Britain's powerful elite is still infected with a 'deep strain of anti-Semitism' and there is a growing hatred of Jews in the country at large."

One essential step to begin reversing that trend is for the Guardian itself and other media to start applying journalistic standards of accuracy and balance that would halt the demonizing of Israel and provide a truer picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post on February 4, 2005.


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