As we have looked on the, current, bloodshed taking place in Gaza, we are being reintroduced to a familiar theme. No, it is not the conflict itself, but rather the Israel-friendly propaganda being forwarded by the American media. At a time where solid journalism and an effective rendering of the facts is sorely needed, we are asked to believe that Israel is merely acting in self-defense and has done nothing to instigate the conflict that is occurring in Gaza.
In order to understand this media dynamic and widespread perception of the bias tilted in favor of Israel, particular attention should be paid to (what this writer calls) the “triple p” paradigm. In the maintenance of injustice and inequality there are three interdependent dynamics that work in a seemingly never-ending circle. Individual perception(s) generates public opinion which creates and supports governmental policies.
The longer the inequitable policies stay in place, the more they create conditions which appear to justify the prejudicial perceptions (these perceptions, by and large, are created by another “p”: propaganda). For example: the poor quality and lack of resources of inner-city public education = students lose interest in education and fail or drop out = the poor and people of color don’t value education.
Although, this conceptual framework was originally constructed to understand the maintenance of racist ideas and images against people of color in the US, it is equally effective in dissecting media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict --- it is, after all, the American and Western media.
American Media’s, Left and Right, Israel Bias
The American media coverage consistently ignores are easily observable realities, one of which is the fact that Israel, overwhelmingly, initiates the conflicts with Palestine. For example, in a report published by three researchers in 2009 (Nancy Kanwisher, Johannes Haushofer and Anat Biletzki) addressed the sequence of ceasefire violations thoroughly and produced a detailed analysis of which party -- Israelis or Palestinians -- broke truces, ceasefires, and periods of calm first.
What was found is that in “virtually all periods of nonviolence lasting more than a week were ended when the Israelis killed Palestinians first.” They included the data from all pause durations that actually occurred and what it shows is that a systematic pattern does exist and “it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.”
The report examined the entire timeline of killings of Palestinians by Israelis, and killings of Israelis by Palestinians, in the Second Intifada, based on the data from the highly-esteemed Israeli Human Rights group B'Tselem (including all the data from September 2000 to October 2008).
It goes on to state: “We defined "conflict pauses" as periods of one or more days when no one is killed on either side, and we asked which side kills first after conflict pauses of different durations. This analysis shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day).”
The researchers found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. In fact, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days.
And what do we hear from Western and American media about these egregious violations of international law and human right? Nothing… nothing at all.
It's astounding, to the point of frustration, to see how tilted US media discourse is: Israeli officials and pro-Israel "experts" are lined up in a seemingly endless parade on TV news programs, while Palestinian voices are either minimized or excluded altogether.
How The West Is Won Over
This lopsided pro-Israel reporting is hardly unique to the US however. In 2006, an independent panel of senior public figures published a report assessing the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The panel had been commissioned by BBC governors. Its task was to assess the impartiality of the BBC's news and current affairs coverage of the situation ‘with particular regard to accuracy, fairness, context, balance and bias, actual or perceived' and to examine whether the BBC's coverage gave ‘a full and fair account of the conflict.’
Some of their key findings were:
The BBC gave more talk time to Israeli spokespeople than to Palestinians.
Some important themes were ‘relatively overlooked' in the coverage of the situation, including (in 2006) the annexation of land in around East Jerusalem.
BBC broadcast news reported Israeli and Palestinian fatalities differently ‘in that Israeli fatalities generally receive greater coverage than Palestinian fatalities'.
Using data provided by the Israeli government and human rights group, B'Tselem, the report found that ‘the death of an Israeli killed by Palestinian forces or actors was more likely to be reported by the BBC than the death of a Palestinian killed by Israeli forces or actors'.
Any recent viewing of the BBC’s coverage on the siege of Gaza reveals that little has been done to correct those reporting discrepancies. It is near impossible for this writer to believe that some of the same racial prejudices and bigotries that framed the dialogue in places such as South Africa and continues to guide the debate amongst a great many people here in the US, isn’t controlling the starting point and context in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes place.
Simply juxtapose the images of marauding and murdering black and brown people in America that becomes the pretext as to why we can’t address things such as the prison industrial complex or immigration reform with pictures of the stereotypical jihadist and it is easy to understand why this nation can’t generate greater public support for equitable and just treatment of the Palestinian people.
AIPAC, the Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy
In March 2006, political scientists John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Steve Walt (Harvard), published the controversial article ‘The Israel Lobby and US foreign policy.’ Mearsheimer and Walt argue that "No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical".
They argue that "in its basic operations, it is no different from interest groups like the Farm Lobby, steel and textile workers, and other ethnic lobbies. What sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness." According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the "loose coalition" that makes up the Lobby has "significant leverage over the Executive branch", as well as the ability to make sure that the "Lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media."
They postulate that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in particular has a "stranglehold on the U.S. Congress", due to its "ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it."
Additionally, Mearsheimer and Walt criticize what they call misuse of "the charge of anti-Semitism", and argue that pro-Israel groups place great importance on "controlling debate" in American academia; they maintain, however, that the Lobby has yet to succeed in its "campaign to eliminate criticism of Israel from college campuses" (U.S. Congress Bill H.R. 509).
They conclude by arguing that when the Lobby succeeds in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East, then "Israel's enemies get weakened or overthrown, Israel gets a free hand with the Palestinians, and the United States does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding, and paying."
And it is within this paradigm that the vast majority of elected officials have formed their foreign policy perspectives in terms of the Middle East, and in particular, Palestine. One of the most unfortunate side-effects of the Obama presidency and his continuation of the American Israel-right-or-wrong stance is that it has all but silenced the, usually, more vociferous anti-occupation voices in the Congressional Black Caucus.
This conflict, although removed from this writer by culture and miles, feels personal. At my core I believe in peace; I believe that a non-violent resolution has to be found. I have grown up, lived and worked in places where success or failure was sometimes measured by how many funerals I did or didn’t have to go to.
Yes, I believe that there is a tremendous asymmetry of power between the sides (with Israel holding the overwhelming majority of the cards) and the Palestinian deaths and injuries are exponentially greater, there are innocents on both sides who should not suffer. Simply put… peace matters.
And yet, I cannot swallow; I can’t sing the Israel is never wrong refrain. I wonder, will any president or leading American or Western political figure ever utter the words … Israel you are wrong. The media, no matter where they stand on the ideological scale begins the conversation with the presupposition that Palestine is wrong and Israel is justified and so what essentially gets discussed is not the flouting of international law by Israel or their various human rights abuses, but rather how long and how hard should Israel shell Gaza.
The American and Western media, for all intents and purposes, has been consistently hypnotized by the shiny object of buzzwords such as “terrorists” and “militants” by pro-Israeli voices which has effectively made them parrots of Israel’s and the US government’s policies instead of the assessors of them.
And against this backdrop, who weeps for the mangled and scarred bodies of Palestinian mothers and fathers, sons and daughters? Against this setting, who cries for the starvation and deprivation of the people of Palestine? Who speaks for them?
The reality of the 51-year-old brutal occupation and ongoing Israeli domination over Gaza doesn’t even approach a whisper in the American conversation; meanwhile, every retaliatory and out-dated rocket that falls near Israeli soil is treated as Hiroshima reborn while the slaughter and terror in Gaza is treated as just deserts or a fleeting afterthought.
*another version of this piece appears on Mint Press News