Bias in Vogue

Among its glossy images of fashion, wealth and glamor, Vogue magazine editors have once more inserted an article on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Like others in recent years, the feature in the October 2006 issue, “The Quest for Peace,” proffers distorted charges and innuendo against Israel. Author Janine Di Giovanni’s 4000-word, incessantly self-referencing account prompts the question: Why does Vogue think it’s chic to defame Israel?

Why is the only non-fashion, non-product, non-beauty-related article in such a publication one patently tilted against the Jewish state? Editor Anna Wintour, (the fictionalized editor in the book and movie The Devil Wears Prada), is known for shrewd guidance of Vogue and Di Giovanni, a correspondent for The Times of London, is a known quantity where Israel is concerned.

In April 2002, she filed stories from the Jenin refugee camp, infamously writing:

Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.

In fact, Jenin in the scale of war zones cited was minor casualty-wise; 56 Palestinians, mostly men of fighting age, were killed and 23 Israeli soldiers. Moreover, to spare Palestinians, Israel took risks that cost soldiers’ lives.

The writer revisits Jenin in her Vogue piece, writing:

This was in the spring of 2002, a time of repeated military incursions into the West Bank, of killing, bombing, helicopters, and tanks. The peace process had stalled. A defiant but weakened Yasser Arafat was trapped in his headquarters in Ramallah, in the West Bank; Ariel Sharon was refusing to budge on his hard-line position.

This, of course, is the Palestinian version of the period, not the complete or accurate picture. That spring of 2002 was a time of unprecedented Palestinian terrorist onslaught against Israeli civilians in their homes, cafJs, buses, streets and religious festivals – a detail Di Giovanni neglects to mention or, at best, alludes to in the vague reference to nameless “killing, bombing.” Likewise her observations that “the peace process had stalled” and there were “repeated military incursions” give no hint that Arafat did the stalling when he rejected a landmark peace deal and launched a terror war that triggered “incursions” to halt the attacks. In Di Giovanni’s universe Ariel Sharon is “hard-line” for defending Israel against terrorism while Arafat, the terror fomenter, is the “defiant,” “weakened” and “trapped” victim.

The same distortion and erasure of violence directed against Israel by Arab entities crops up elsewhere. She mischaracterizes the Hezbollah aggression that sparked the war of 2006, writing that the conflict was “begun after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in early July, to which Israel responded with swift – and, many say, excessive – force.”

In fact, Hezbollah also launched missiles across Israel’s north at the same time it crossed an international border in an act of war to kill – not just kidnap – Israeli soldiers. Di Giovanni’s colleagues in the British press may have termed Israel’s response “excessive” but that was not the general view of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll in August, which found 59 percent believed Israel had acted “about right” or had gone “not far enough” in its conduct of the war.

The writer’s anti-Israel tilt is signaled in her description of first visiting Israel for the express purpose of meeting Felicia Langer, a member of Israel’s Communist Party, a ferocious detractor of the Jewish state and an avowed non-Zionist. Di Giovanni calls her

a Jewish mother and wife, [who] had escaped the Holocaust in Europe and now worked as a lawyer defending Palestinians in Israeli military court. It was a terrible job – she lost most of her cases – and she was not loved by Israeli society. Most people saw her as a traitor.

What Langer did to anger fellow Israelis was not merely to defend Palestinians in military court, in the bland, admiring terms of the writer, but to denigrate continuously Israel’s genuine defense needs in the face of Arab aggression. After decades of assailing Israel and its judiciary, Langer moved to Germany where she continues her virulent denunciations in speeches and academic lectures.

“The judicial system in Israel has to be exposed and condemned to death,” she is quoted saying in a 1991 Independent story by Di Giovanni. Speaking years later in 2005 to an Arab audience Langer continued to decry the supposed “moral erosion of the majority of Israelis…”

The writer says admiringly that the Israeli lawyer changed “the course of [Di Giovanni’s] own life.” Unfortunately, the change was not in the direction of fair, accurate and balanced treatment of Israel – as the distortions and inversions in Vogue underscore.

In one section, in a morally obtuse pairing, the writer connects the personal stories of a suicide-bomber killer and her victim. Israeli teenager Rachel Levy was murdered by a female terrorist, Ayat Al Akras, whose life the writer presents in sympathetic detail. Israeli brutishness, she suggests, prompted her to blow up Rachel. Al Akras

grew up in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a refugee camp as one of eleven children. In her short life, she lived through two intifadas. From the time she could walk, she encountered curfews, the sound of helicopter gunships, and the sight of Israeli soldiers coming to drag one of her neighbors away.

There’s no hint anywhere that Al Akras and her fellow Palestinian youth have been intensively indoctrinated by their teachers, political leaders, imams, camp counselors, television and folk heros to believe Israelis have cruelly dispossessed them of their rightful patrimony and that honor requires the destruction of the illegitimate Zionist entity.

How radically different the picture would be had Di Giovanni not excluded key facts. She might actually have written:

Ayat al Akras grew up in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a refugee camp that, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars received by the Arafat regime during a dozen years of Palestinian autonomy, never enjoyed a single new medical clinic, school or recreation center. Instead, funds were used to inculcate young Palestinians in hatred and rejection of Israel, fueling intensified violence that erupted in the terror war beginning in September 2000. The violence reached a peak in the spring of 2002 around the time Al Akras took the life of Rachel Levy and a guard posted to protect her and other shoppers at the grocery where they died, a grim reminder of the way Israelis as a society live under threat of terrorists.

But Di Giovanni’s angle is unwavering. She tells of setting Rachel Levy’s mother straight about the root cause of the murder of her daughter. When the mother observes that “she cannot understand why the Palestinians ‘hate us so much’,” Di Giovanni, says: “I gently mention the humiliation that the Palestinians feel as a result of the occupation.”

Those concerned about Vogue becoming an insidious vehicle for bias against Israel might “gently mention” to the magazine’s publisher and the British-born editor Anna Wintour (whose brother Patrick Wintour is political editor of Britain’s sharply anti-Israel Guardian newspaper) that plying distortions about the Jewish state is out of fashion with many readers.

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