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When Anti-Israel Bias Finds Its Way into Coverage Choices

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Our media’s acceptance of anti-Semitic narratives is eroding Israel’s standing in the world and, in turn, the nation’s ability to defend itself against an enemy that has long ago broken its borders and used its very liberalism against it.”

Anti-Semitism today has found a new target for its hate: the State of Israel. For centuries, anti-Semitism blamed the ills of the world on its Jewish minority by perpetuating the narrative that the world Jewry ought to be held responsible for various injustices. This was a distraction tactic often used by governments to deflect responsibility. In the time since the birth of modern Israel however, there is now an opportunity for a more centralized hate, one which has manifested in the advent of a new socio-political rationale, made strong by its water carriers: much of mainstream media and social media.

The preface to the 2021 volume Confronting Antisemitism in Modern Media, the Legal, and Political Worlds, a compendium of the history and discourse about anti-Semitism, put it well: 

“Extreme right-wing movements are no longer the only home for antisemitism. On the contrary, antisemitism is ever more present in all parts of our society. The unfathomable tradition of discrimination against Jews, insults, and antisemitic hate crimes is carried out by political, religious, and laygroups from all sides of the political spectrum. Modern media such as TV, the [I]nternet, and online social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are cauldrons of antisemitic agitation and unconsciously contribute to the dissemination of Jew-hatred around the globe.”

When pro-Palestine actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted on April 22nd that the “Israeli Occupation Authority…targeted by design” hundreds of Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque, few—if any—in the media challenged the claim, preferring instead to peddle a notion of victimization rather than admit that Israeli security forces only ever acted against rioters to protect civilians, regardless of said civilians’ nationality or creed. 

Whether or not individuals or parties support Israel’s right to be and to exist, to challenge its government’s ability to protect its people and borders from aggression sets a dangerous precedent: It dilutes the justification for any nation’s right to defend itself. Ultimately, such a rationale can be used to excuse Islamic terrorism. To this point, emboldened by the global narrative against Israel, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran has approved of himself being called, “the flagbearer of Jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

If we consider the imperialistic nature of Islamist movements today and the claims their actors put forward when it comes to their desire to add more territories to their influence, one must reflect upon the danger of challenging statehood as a principle of law. We must recognize that Israel today sits on the very front line of the war against terrorism. Israel, the bastion of a secular democratic tradition, is up against a system that wishes to revert the entire region to religious fundamentalism. We would do well to see in Israel’s fight the battle we could face tomorrow against such nihilism. Our media’s acceptance of anti-Semitic narratives is eroding Israel’s standing in the world and, in turn, the nation’s ability to defend itself against an enemy that has long ago broken its borders and used its very liberalism against it.

To put it simply, Israel’s fight to live freely within its borders away from violence is an existential one we should all accept as our own, regardless of our politics. More importantly, defending Israel’s right to exercise its sovereignty cannot be automatically interpreted as a condemnation of Palestinians’ interests: That would be reducing the issue to a zero-sum game, which it is not.

Many in the media today have been intent on perpetuating this idea that Israel has acted as a grand provocateur, an instigator of violence against a people whose only ambition is to be emancipated from the yoke of oppression. Such a narrative is divorced from reality.

And if indeed violence has exploded as of late in Jerusalem, it was architected with the knowledge that both much of the mainstream media and social media would act as propagandists by misleading the public. A recent report by Al Jazeera on acts of terrorism against Israel, for example, downplayed the extent of the violence while also failing to contextualize fully the motives which ultimately led to the murder of unarmed Israeli civilians. The Al Jazeera piece read: “Four attacks by Palestinians in four Israeli cities have taken place since March 22, killing 14 people, while Israel has increased its raids on Palestinian towns and villages, leading to daily clashes and arrests. Sixteen Palestinians have been killed in the same period, including those who committed the attacks in Israel.”

To describe Israel’s struggle against terrorism without its proper context only serves to perpetuate violence and rationalize it as legitimate, and this is an exercise to which many in the mainstream media have been party to for several decades. Stephen Daisley, writing in The Spectator, described how many in the press today characterize Israel and its national security decisions: 

“Western legal norms and the assumptions of rights-based liberalism are applied—often, though not always, dishonestly—to characterise Israeli laws, military decisions and security measures as arbitrary and discriminatory, motivated by racial and religious malice and a nationalist desire to dominate the Palestinians. Because Israel is not Sweden, it is damned as South Africa.

Yet this commitment to universalising western values only goes one way. It is not applied to Palestinian demands for a Jew-free state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, nor to Palestinian prohibitions—backed up by the death penalty—against selling property to Jews. Most noticeably, it does not apply when Israel discriminates against its Jewish citizens and restricts their liberty of movement and freedom to manifest their religious faith. Israelis often complain about double standards but there is only one standard and it is always against Israel.”

Too often, many in the media have peddled a narrative that eerily echoes the line of the Islamic Republic of Iran in reference to the victimization of Palestinians as opposed to holding Palestinian leadership accountable for its periodic violations of international norms, notwithstanding the berating of its own population should people voice their refusal to partake in calls for genocide. By criticizing Israel on its forces’ deployment at the Temple Mount—following what can only be described as acts of despicable and unwarranted violence against civilians—certain members of the media are being party to acts of terrorism.

Words matter. Those who feel inclined to hide behind their respective religious mantle by calling for freedom when in fact they seek destruction (and while sullying the very faith they claim to defend) are not liberators but, rather, abject ideologues wielding terror. Those who oppose them are by contrast the unsung heroes of a tradition we absolutely and without any reservation should defend.

A former consultant to the United Nations Security Council on Yemen, Catherine Perez-Shakdam has been one of the few Western analysts of Jewish heritage ever to manage to move within Iran’s corridors of power. 

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