Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Idiotic Rantings

I.

The past few days of Israeli counter-terror operations in the Gaza Strip were bound to create a media frenzy and the UK press doesn't disappoint.

Honest Reporting UK which monitors media coverage of the more recent conflagration in Gaza, notes:

The Guardian devotes a great deal of column inches to the Gaza story. Paying lip-service to what it terms "makeshift rockets," the paper completely avoids addressing the sheer number of missiles fired at southern Israel from Gaza or the suffering of the Israeli civilian population that has been under constant bombardment for the past several years.

To compound this, The Guardian notes the following, buried in one of its articles: "it [Hamas] has begun to launch a larger make of rockets with a longer range, enough to reach the Israeli city of Ashkelon, 11 miles away." Why has The Guardian failed to impress upon its readership the serious escalation that GRAD-type Katyusha missiles fired at a city of over 100,000 residents represents? (Read the rest, here).

This is all water under the bridge for me, since I've grown very used to this kind of coverage, with its subliminal toxicity the staple of certain British media outlets (BBC, The Guardian, to name the two most popularly watched and read).

So you can imagine my amazement when I read this Ha'aretz article (via: Engage):

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor, was speaking together with former Haaretz editor David Landau about reporting in the Middle East to a crowd of about 600 people when he responded to a question from the audience about the Israeli incursion into Jenin in April 2002.

In response to his publication's coverage of the operation, Rusbridger said it was unfair to blame the reporter. Following Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Guardian's editorial commented in its April 17 edition that: "Israel's actions in Jenin were every bit as repellent as Osama Bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11."

"I take full responsibility for the misjudgment," Rusbridger said.

And during a response to a later question, he apologized for the editorial on Jenin - unprompted.

So it took 6 years after the event for the Guardian to cough up this apology. Who hears it? Who reads it? Who knows that it is now acknowledged as a defamation and a lie?

None, but the readers of Ha'aretz, who knew that anyway, and the fewer readers outside Israel, who are interested in truth, and not fanciful arabesque myth parading as truth.

And of course, the big question that remains to be seen is whether this new enlightenment and self-criticism is going to be reflected in the way the "Guardian" reports about Israel in the future. Judging by the way they have reported the latest Gaza conflagration (see above), looks like lessons learned are not always applied.

Norm makes a succinct comment

II.

And about the recent storm in a teacup about the use of the word "shoah" ...

Rusbridger was also taken to task by Landau over his publication's explanation of the word "shoah" in an edition last week, in reference to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i's comments that the Palestinians would be "bringing a greater shoah because we will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in air strikes or on the ground."

Landau said that he could not accept that the Guardian would choose to use a headline with the word "Holocaust."


"I can't accept that the correspondent or sub-editor, or whoever was involved in the story, seriously thought that they could justify the use of the word Holocaust, with uppercase 'H,' in the headline attributed to the Israeli minister, and that with all sincerity and with no disingenuousness reflecting it as honestly meaning what the man said," Landau said.

The second paragraph of the article says that the word "shoah" is almost invariably used to mean the Holocaust; Landau questioned whether that was meant to imply that the deputy minister had that in mind. The former Haaretz editor said that as someone who has been speaking Hebrew for the past 40 years, he knew that it was not always the case.
Rusbridger conceded that Landau "may be right"
and talked about the difficulties in news reporting and the way in which writing has changed over the years, with the Internet pulling information out of context.


For an idea of how this story played out, I recommend reading Engage post and comments.

And the comment thread on same on Simply Jews also offers some extraordinary insight.

Normblog has a post, too:

Matan Vilnai could certainly have chosen his words better than he did when he used the word 'shoah' last week to refer to the disaster that Israel could bring upon Gaza. The word in Hebrew means, precisely, disaster, but is now also linked by longstanding usage with the Shoah - the attempted destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. Vilnai has subsequently acknowledged that he might have chosen a different word. That he did not is a culpable oversight for an Israeli politician. He invited misunderstanding in a context where there are many people only too ready to misunderstand.

But what is one to call it when a group of more or less well-known signatories several days later, when there has been ample time to register the danger of a misconstrual of Vilnai's meaning, when the ambiguity of reference has been widely aired, can write, brazenly, as follows?

In a clear threat of genocide and ethnic cleansing the Israeli deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai, has said that the Palestinians are risking an invasion of Gaza and a "shoah" (Hebrew for disaster).


Despite showing their knowlege of the word's general meaning, they are happy to run with 'a clear threat of genocide'....

III.

Media coverage which demonizes instead of criticizing, which monstrifies instead of reporting, and does so willfully and knowingly and single-mindedly, is responsible for perpetuating myths and lies which can cause a great deal of damage, even catastrophes.

The case of the boy Rami Al-Durah is one such. If you are interested you can follow the links to get the full picture.

IIII.

Compare the way the "shoah" word was immediately and unquestioningly taken up by the British media to mean only and nothing but a direct threat of "Holocaust' to the Palestinians, with the way the media doubted and argued ceaselessly about whether Ahmadinajad's threat to Israel was formulated this way: "wiped from the map" or that way: "wiped from the page of history", (as though this nuance in any way changed the gist of his expression).

Ahmadin was given the benefit of a doubt, remarkably, he still is. Vilnai was demonized immediately, not only by Palestinians (who are quite predictable) but also by the British journalists reporting it (also predictably, sadly enough).

Natan Sharansky offered, a few years ago, a very simple tool for judging antisemitic practice and intent, the 3D test:

The first "D" is the test of demonization. When the Jewish state is being demonized... [its] actions are blown out of all sensible proportion... comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis ....

The second "D" is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored

The third "D" is the test of delegitimization: when Israel's fundamental right to exist is denied - alone among all peoples in the world -

this too is anti-Semitism.

In the cases I discussed above, the two first D's are clearly present in the way the media treat the news from Israel.

If someone has a problem calling the Guardian and the BBC "antisemitic" based on these kinds of examples, it's fine with me. Seems to me that "antisemitic" has become something of a honorific, a respectable attribute in some quarters: Look, they are accusing me of being antisemitic when all I'm doing is criticise Israel... So goes the usual whine, which is accompanied by a sense of great courage, for speaking out against Jewish power... So, to call some reporter or a newspaper or an author, or a Nobelized archbishop or an American president or a TV news channel, "antisemitic" comes with its own entourage of sanctimonious indignation and self-sanctification, which has its own rewards. I predict that the epithet "antisemitic" as a badge of shame is being cleansed of its horrific connotations, so that to say the Guardian or the BBC are antisemitic in their portrayal of Israel is to praise them in some perverse way.

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