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Tel Aviv is the Capital of Israel, and Other Media "Facts"


The following Op-Ed imagines how the prevalence of anti-Israel media falsehoods can contribute to a cartoonishly hostile narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
 

Having carefully studied media coverage of Israel during the past several years, it is hard to avoid certain unpleasant conclusions about the country.

Consider what has been reported about Israel's conduct in the Gaza Strip. Only 92 out of over 1000 Palestinians killed during the 2008-2009 Gaza war — fewer than 8 percent — were fighters.1 Instead of learning from this dismal performance, though, Israel repeated it in the subsequent round of fighting a few years later. Already during the first hours of the violence that broke out in November 2012, Palestinian fatalities were almost all civilians.2 

But sterile numbers do not tell the whole story. It is the personal accounts that allow us to viscerally feel the horrors of Israel's immoral behavior. We cannot help but be emotionally touched by stories like that of Jihad Misharawi, a BBC journalist whose agony was caught on camera after his 11-month old son was killed by Israel.3 

Israeli bombs caused the same anguish when they took the life of four-year-old Mahmoud Sadallah.4

And yet again, when Israel bombed a soccer stadium killing four Palestinian teenagers doing nothing more than playing the sport they loved — who else would Israel expect to be harmed when it bombs a soccer pitch? — families were destroyed.5

It is no wonder that soccer star Didier Drogba signed a petition slamming Israel and calling on the under-21 soccer tournament to be moved from the country.6

Some observers argue that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups put civilians at risk by using built-up, populated areas to fire their rockets into Israel. But the reality is that virtually every square inch in Gaza is a built-up civilian area; the terrorists really have no choice but to risk the lives of fellow Palestinians.7 

Meanwhile, the West Bank has its own serious problems. Israel has been pushing forward with planning for a neighborhood east of Jerusalem that would cut the territory in half and prevent a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank.8 The region is crisscrossed with roads on which only Jews are allowed to travel, and from which anyone of a different religion or ethnicity is barred.And Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus, is completely surrounded by Israel's security barrier.10 (It's remarkable that, despite these horrific conditions, Palestinians still make sure their textbooks humanize Israelis, for example, by teaching that it is an obligation as Muslim Arabs to help Israeli soldiers.11)

Things are very different in Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel.12 Palestinians cannot be oppressed there, but only because there are no Palestinians in Tel Aviv. It is in fact the only Western city without Arab or Muslim inhabitants.13 For this we can thank Israeli founding father David Ben Gurion, who insisted before Israel became a state that "the Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war."14 

It is true that, outside of Tel Aviv, there are Arabs in Israel. But if the Jewish majority had its way, those Arabs would face more than just discrimination — a recent poll found that most Israelis support apartheid in their country.15 (And Israeli society is part of the way there. Arabs, for example, do not have access to Israeli military or national service.16)

 
Each of the footnoted assertions above appeared in a major media source. And each is patently false. (See footnotes below.)
 
Mistakes, of course, are inevitable, not least in the deadline-driven world of journalism. And a number of the errors that re-appear in the hypothetical Op-Ed were commendably corrected.
 
But the frequency, persistence and viral quality of falsehoods that cast Israel in a negative light is unusual, and leaves the sense that there is more than deadline pressures at play here. Indeed, a closer look at the errors above shows that, in many cases, professional journalism takes a back seat to ideology and hostility when it comes to Israel.
 
Consider Bob Simon's claim on 60 Minutes that Israel's security barrier "completely surrounds Bethlehem." 60 Minutes had been working on the segment for months before it aired, leaving plenty of time for basic research and fact checking. There was no one-day or one-week deadline to get in the way of journalistic dilligence. Much more telling, though, is CBS News's behavior after it was informed of its clear-cut falsehood. Instead of quickly investigating and straightforwardly correcting the misinformation, CBS responded to CAMERA's correction request with excuses, stonewalling, and a subsequent reiteration of the error by CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, who insisted before a a crowd at his home church that "Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall." At that lecture, which occured about one year after the problematic segment was first broadcast, Fager insisted that CBS was a victim of bullying by those calling on the organization to correct the error. This is not how a professional news organization behaves after committing an innocent mistake.
 
Likewise, why were BBC's Jon Donnison and The Washington Post's Max Fisher so reluctant to walk back their claims that Jihad Mashrawi's son was killed by Israel? Why did they seem so attached to the discredited anti-Israel narrative? Even the radical advocacy group Electronic Intifada eventually came clean, sharing with readers that the Palestinian Al Mezan Center for Human Rights determined the boy was most likely killed by Palestinians. When professional journalists are less forthright than an extremist anti-Israel organization, they cannot be said to have committed an innocent mistake. 
 
And what would impel a serious journalist to defend Hamas's use of residential areas to fire rockets with a patently false claim, as BBC's Paul Danahar did when he insisted there is no open space in Gaza from which Hamas can fire rockets at Israel? This is not a misspelling, nor a misremembered statistic. It is a reinvention of reality. 
 
The bad-faith behind some of the falsehoods is self-evident. Joseph Massad, who claimed that Tel Aviv is the only Western city without Muslim or Arab inhabitants, is not only a Columbia Universtiy professor but also a (rather hysterical) anti-Zionist activist. Ha'aertz's Gideon Levy, who falsely claimed that Amnesty International counted only 92 fighters among the Palestinian fatalities during Operation Cast Lead, is little different than Massad. 
 
Finally, it is worth pointing out that errors are only the tip of the iceberg. The media shapes people's views on the Middle East conflict in much more subtle ways, too. For example, CAMERA's monograph Indicting Israel points out that, during 6-months of New York Times coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, "Israeli views were downplayed while Palestinian perspectives, especially criticism of Israel, are amplified and even promoted." In other words, it is not only errors that lead to misunderstanding of the Middle East. The same ideology that produces those errors also affects what is reported, how it is reported, whose voices are heard most loudly, and what concerns are downplayed.
 
American support for Israel is at an all-time high. But considering how some reporters and outlets cover the conflict, it is not hard to imagine what shaped the opinions of the minority that does not sympathize with Israel.
 
 
 
1. Ha'aretz's Gideon Levy asserted, "One can argue ad nauseam about the numbers, but even the official IDF records − 1,166 killed, including 709 'terrorists,' 89 children and 49 women − leave no room for doubt. Amnesty International, for instance, enumerated only 92 Palestinian fighters among the dead" ("Israeli cruelty reached a point of no return in the 2008-09 Gaza war," Ha'aretz, March 31, 2013). However, Amnesty International made no such claim. Even Hamas has admitted that 600-700 of Palestinian fatalities were not civilians. After CAMERA challenged Ha'aretz about the claim, the newspaper published a correction explaining that the "92 Palestinian fighters" figure does not appear in Amnesty International reports on the conflict. (See details here.)
2. BBC correspondent Wyre Davies posted on Twitter that "In this 'limited operation' at least 13 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed - nearly all civilians" (Wyre Davies, Twitter post, November 15, 2012, 2:55am, https://twitter.com/WyreDavies/statuses/268978115554996225). But according to reports at the time, including from the Associated Press and Hamas's Ministry of Health, more Palestinian militants than civilians were killed at this stage of the fighting. (See details here.) Although a number of individuals and organizations informed Davies via Twitter of his error, he did not publish a correction.
3. The boy, Omar Misharawi, was seemingly killed by Palestinians. Although the Associated Press, Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian and Yahoo! Newsand many other news organizations had initially reported, without sufficient evidence, that Omar was killed in an Israeli air strike, the United Nations Human Rights Council eventually investigated the incident and determinedthat the infant appeared to have been killed by "a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel." Many of the organizations eventually updated, corrected, or followed up on their earlier flawed reports.
4. The UNHRC report cited in footnote 3 notes Sadallah was killed "as a result of what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short and hit a house" in Gaza. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reportedly concurredthat a Palestinian rocket was responsible. Major news outlets that initially claimed Israel killed the boy, including the Associated Press, Reuters and CNN, retracted. Agence France Presse chose not to correctits error.
5. CNN and The Guardian were among the outlets that repeated an inaccurateclaim that Israel killed four young boys playing soccer when it bombed the stadium in which they were playing. But according to the New York Times and a Palestinian witness related to one of the fatalities, the boys were not playing soccer, and were killed when the ran to a site that was being used by Palestinian militants. After discussions with CAMERA, CNN investigated the issue and revised its article. The Guardian left uncorrectedits false claim that the boys were killed while playing soccer.  
6. The CNN and Guardian reports mentioned in footnote 5 wrongly claimed that Drogba signed an anti-Israel petition. They both eventually corrected after the soccer star made clear that he was not a signatory.
7. On the radio program The World, BBC reporter Paul Danahar insisted that "pretty much everywhere in Gaza is a residential area unless you’re going right up to the kind of 'no man’s land' area between Israel and where Gaza kind of properly starts." It is "almost, probably, impossible to get entirely away from a residential area if you want to fire something off," he added. The claim is an outrageous fabrication. Landuse statistics and satellite imagry reveal that the Gaza Strips, although it includes large stretches of built up areas, is mostly agricultural land and other non-residential areas. (See details here.) Human Rights Watch, which is not considered sympathetic to Israel, arguesthat Palestinian groups are guilty of "repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas," thereby "unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire" and violating the laws of war. 
8. The New York Times and The Economist are among the manynews organizations that claimed building in the E-1 corridor east of Jerusalem would cut the West Bank in half. It would not. After discussions with CAMERA, the New York Times eventually published a correction noting that, contrary to its initial claims, building in the corridor would neither divide the West Bank in two nor make a contiguous state impossible. The Economist did not correct its false claim that building would "bisect the West Bank’s northern and southern halves."
9. The Associated Press, Boston Globe, Washington Post, CNN and Ha'aretz have published the erroneous claimof "Jewish only" roads in the West Bank. All but Ha'aretz corrected their mistakes.
10. Although maps of the security barrier route make clear that Bethlehem is not encircled by the barrier, CBS's 60 Minutes on April 22, 2012 broadcast the false claim of a "completely surrounded" Bethlehem. CAMERA informed CBS of the error and published an advertisementcalling for a correction as called for by journalistic ethics. A CAMERA analyst even told CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager that he would donate $5,000 to the charity if it could be proven that the barrier encircles Bethlehem. As of this writing, CBS has continued to stonewall and has reiterated its demonstrably false claim.
11. As an example of positive treatment of the other in Middle East textbooks, The Los Angeles Times reported that "a 4th-grade Palestinian textbook included a story of a Palestinian who helped rescue a wounded Israeli soldier because, he says in the text, it was 'my obligation as a Muslim Arab.'" In fact, that passage was taken from an Israeli textbook. (See details here.)
12. The Guardian and El Pais have insisted, on again and off again, that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. The Guardian eventually published a correction explaining that Tel Aviv is not the capital.
13. In Al Jazeera English, Columbia University professor Joseph Massad claimed that “Tel Aviv is the only Western city that does not have any Arab or Muslim inhabitants.” In fact, thousands of Arabs live in the city. (See details here.)
14. In the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Ilan Pappé claimed that Ben-Gurion sent a letter to his son Amos stating, "The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war." The quote is a fabrication. (See details here.)
15. On Oct. 23, 2012, Ha'aretz published the headline "Survey: Most Israeli Jews support apartheid regime in Israel." After the sensational headline was cited by a large number of journalists around the world, the newspaper had to publish a "clarification" acknowledging that the headline "did not accurately reflect the findings" of the poll. (See details here.)
16. The Los Angeles Times opinion pages, for example, twice published claims that Israeli Arabs "cannot serve in" or are "without access to" Israel's armed forces. (George Bisharat, "Two State Solution Again Sells Palestinians Short," 1/25/04; Aaron David Miller, "Why the Gaza Pullout Matters," 5/11/05.) It published corrections to both Op-Eds.

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