In the past few months and years, media coverage of Israel has had subtle but distinct change in tone. The mainstream media is taking a harder look at Israel’s policies, and has found not everything is to its liking.
There are several reasons why coverage of Israel has previously been so positive, and why recently a slight change has occurred. In the first place, Israel is a country culturally very attuned to us. Israel is part of the West; it shares Western norms and values. Many Jews would be comfortable living in the West and do so to this very day. Some of them work in the media and are sympathetic to the struggles their peers face.
Moreover, many in the media (and the vast majority of our country) believed that Israel had been in the right before 2006. Israel had – has – a democracy and a free press and all the things we like a country to have; the Palestine cause and their Arab supporters by and large do not. Israelis such as Yitzhak Rabin were calling for peace; meanwhile, Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas were sending suicide bombers to kill Israelis civilians day after day.
Then came the 9-11 attacks by Muslim terrorists. In its aftermath media coverage of Israel was probably the most positive it had ever been.
There were three events, however, which changed things. At the very least, they have damaged Israeli prestige.
The first was the military attack on Gaza. This was not the first army incursion; there had also been the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Many many civilians died in those days, and Israel’s justification of the offensive was less than convincing. It did not seem that an all-out military assault was a proportional reaction to rocket fire. Most in the media just tended to ignore the question altogether.
The second factor has a name. Avigdor Lieberman, to be exact. Far to the right, controversial, and often criticized for his attitude towards Arab Israeli citizens, Mr. Lieberman’s party did extremely well during the 2009 elections; today he is Israel’s Foreign Minister. The U.S. media openly disapproved of Mr. Lieberman. For example, Time Magazine wrote
…in Lieberman’s view, peace doesn’t mean cohabitation…It’s an appealingly simple vision, but also a cynical one. Any final agreement between Arabs and Israelis will require them to share some territory — in Jerusalem, for instance — to which both can make rightful claims. Insisting on physical separation as a prerequisite for a peace deal is a safe way to ensure that one is never struck. Lieberman’s views may be finding acceptance in the Israeli mainstream. But they are not the way to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Finally came the Obama administration’s insistence on a settlement freeze, to which Israel has been uncooperative. While a story only suitable for slow news days, it has occasionally been reported upon. Generally, the media’s tone has been on the side of the U.S. The New York Times, for instance:
‘We are rebuilding the land of Israel,’ Rabbi Yigael Shandorfi…The message to President Obama, he said, is that this is Jewish land. He did not use the president’s name, but an insulting Hebrew slang for a black man and the phrase “that Arab they call a president.”
None of the hundreds gathered — mostly couples with large families, but also armed young men and teenagers from other outposts — objected. Yitzhak Shadmi, leader of the regional council of settlements, said Mr. Obama was a racist and anti-Semite for his assertion that Jews should not build here, but Arabs could.
Like most critical articles, the author attempts to keep a veneer of neutrality. He disapproves, but keeps it carefully hidden. The quoted section is part most expressly critical of Israel, and even it is just a description of disagreeable behavior.
Our media probably still covers Israel more positively than the majority of countries out there. It will never be similar to a place like Al-Jazeera. Nevertheless, there has been a pronounced shift in its coverage; it is less pro-Israeli than it has been for years. In my opinion, that balance is a good thing.