Until recently, I could never comprehend why so many of my fellow Americans–good, educated people–side with Israel’s detractors. After all, Israel is a small, beleaguered democracy in a tyrannical region. One would expect Americans to be wholehearted in their support of the Jewish state. But many Americans assume the opposite stance.
Last summer, the Presbyterian Church (USA), 2.4 million strong, voted to divest from Israel and companies that do business with Israel. Comparing Israel to South Africa during apartheid, they denounced Israel’s "attacks on innocent people." Unlike Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli army does not intentionally targets civilians. Nevertheless, the church singled out Israel for condemnation.
As a new graduate of CAMERA’s student fellowship pilot program, I now realize that this unsettling phenomenon can be largely attributed to the chronic inaccuracy of much of the mainstream media.
When an incident occurs in Israel or the Palestinian areas, media outlets often jump the gun, assigning blame to the Israelis before the facts are clear. Sometimes journalists even print false, hateful quotes allegedly by Israeli officials.
What can be done about a problem that is so widespread? As a participant this fall and winter in CAMERA Fellows, I gained inside information about the tools of the media watchdog trade.
The first item on our agenda was learning how to counter campus media bias. We learned how to effectively respond to an inaccurate or unfair article about Israel with a letter-to-the-editor or an Op-Ed piece. Also, if an article contains a factual error, students should gather the information needed to document the error, and then press the editors for a correction. If bias is chronic at a particular paper, encourage university administrators to fund a new newspaper with higher editorial standards.
We also discussed strategies for dealing with anti-Israel professors. If a professor attempts to silence your views in the classroom, seek administrative assistance. If that fails, press for accountability by publicizing the problem.
In addition, we studied how to counter common myths about Israel. For example, is it true that Israel is not complying with U.N. resolution 242, requiring withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967? Not at all. The resolution does not actually specify particular territories or the extent of the withdrawal. (See www.camera.org to learn about other media myths.)
At our final session, we met Rachel Friedman, a National Review editor who, as an undergraduate at Harvard University, started Harvard Israel Review, a high-level campus Israel journal. Establishing a journal to promote honest discussion of Israel could be an attractive option for students excluded from printing pro-Israel views in existing campus newspapers.
Being part of CAMERA Fellows’ inaugural group was an empowering experience. Over five months, we met regularly to study inaccurate and biased reporting. For each case that was examined, we practiced proven strategies for responding. Every one of us left the final training session equipped with the knowledge, means and experience necessary to counter a variety of media misrepresentations about Israel.
Guest contributor Jacob Baime, a student at Brandeis University, is a graduate of CAMERA fellows.