Media Bury Israeli Dead

Statistics bare stark truths. What they reveal about media coverage of atrocities committed against Israelis is a relentless lack of interest–despite, at the same time, intense journalistic focus on other events in Israel. The meager reporting of major terror assaults since the Oslo Accords is all the more dramatic when contrasted to the massive coverage of the deranged action of a lone Israeli gunman who killed 29 Arabs in Hebron.

The January 22nd suicide bombing in Netanya, one of the worst such attacks in a year of unprecedented terrorism against Israelis–an attack that prompted the nation’s President, Ezer Weizman, to call for reevaluation of the peace process–flashed across American TV screens and newspapers and disappeared in little more than a day.

ABC’s "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" gave the deaths of the twenty-one young men and women, some with heads blown off, and the wounding of 60, a sum total of four and a half minutes in two days of coverage. Then the story vanished. The killings in Hebron, in contrast, drew more than thirty minutes over the first five days. Jennings described Baruch Goldstein as "An Israeli with a history of hating Palestinians…" No such language was applied to the Arab murderers of Jews. Yet while the Israeli government and Jews around the globe overwhelmingly denounced Goldstein’s action, many Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank, and throughout the Arab world, exulted at the carnage in Netanya.

Neither Jennings nor his correspondent in Israel, Dean Reynolds, reported the mass jubilation over what many Arabs in Gaza called the "killing of 20 pigs and the wounding of 60 monkeys." From Kuwait’s Al-Qabas newspaper, that hailed the Arab terrorists of Netanya as "heroes," to Bahrain’s Akhbar al-Khaleej, where the "fresh glad tidings from occupied Palestine" were cheered, to Arab papers based in London that applauded the "exalted spirit of martyrdom," the outpouring of pleasure at the killings was pervasive, but unreported by ABC. Nor did ABC use the moment to remind viewers of what should have been a prominent and shocking story–Yasir Arafat’s unabashed incitement to slaughter Jews when he said on January 1, "We are all seekers of martyrdom."

It cannot possibly be argued that the murder of Jews in Netanya was less significant politically and thus by some news standard less urgently relevant to events in the region than the Hebron massacre. The attack had a shattering impact on Israeli public sentiment, marking the point at which a sense of personal vulnerability overtook any conviction that the Palestinian Authority would curb terror against Jews. This collapse of Israeli trust in the face of savagery such as that committed at Netanya was reported everywhere in the Israeli press. It was, in fact, the preeminent news story in Israel.

Important print media have done no better than ABC. Coverage of terror assaults against Israel by The New York Times has been similarly indefensible when contrasted to the immense volume and interest elicited by the Hebron massacre. The October, 1994, Tel Aviv bus bombing, for example, which killed 22 and injured more than 50, prompted dramatically less coverage than Hebron. In the first three weeks after Hebron, The Times ran seventeen front-page stories on the event. But the Tel Aviv attack, part of a calculated campaign of violence by a terrorist organization and not the random act of an unhinged killer, drew only three, as did the Netanya murders.

While it is impossible to measure the influence of the nation’s premier newspaper on the public and on other media, there can be little doubt that The Times’ historic, systematic minimizing of the persecution of Jews has had an impact on Americans’ understanding of the extreme difficulties faced by the Jewish state. From its shameful near-indifference to the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust, when the meager coverage of mass murder never made the front page (The Times had also refused to open its letters-to-the-editor column to discussion of the Nazis and their attacks on Jews in pre-war Germany because, the publishers claimed, the paper would then have to provide the balancing Nazi viewpoint!), to its massive and apoplectic coverage of such actions of Israeli self-defense as the surgical bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, the paper has displayed an inability to report with balance and objectivity.

Coverage of the Iraqi event, for example, focused not on the dictator’s buildup of unconventional weapons but on Israel’s action. Forty-eight stories, 19 of them on the front page, ran in the first month after the bombing. The paper called the attack, which cost two casualties and was later shown to have protected the West from incalculable peril in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, "an act of inexcusable and shortsighted aggression."

In the absence of sustained public clamor over The Times’ demonstrable bias, there is likely to be little real change. While occasional corrections are made in the case of blatant errors, the problem is a far more vast and intractable one involving a highly skewed perspective about Israel and the region that obscures the complete picture readers deserve. It seems apparent that neither The Times nor ABC presently feel compelled to undertake the kind of radical examination of their flawed and shoddy product that could lead to genuine adherence to basic principles of journalism.

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