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Time to Reassess the Media Coverage of Israel
by Baruch Kimmerling
August 29, 2004

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Jerusalem, Recently, the two leading American newspapers, the Washington Post and the New York Times, made serious and sincere efforts to review their editorial and coverage policies regarding the Iraqi war and their uncritical approach to the Bush administration's justification for that war. This trend of self-criticism is very good and encouraging news for American democracy. These two publications, while being directed at and read by a relatively narrow 'intellectual' readership, also serve to 'pull' with them the widely circulated local media, TV reporters, and popular press.

As a responsibility of my profession I have been reading a wide spectrum of the American press for many years. Much of the time, I find myself puzzled by the uncritical and biased coverage of the Israeli political scene. American media is uncritical even in comparison to Israel's quality media. All too often, the American media sounds just like a mouthpiece of the Israeli government's propaganda, such as the flattering and ill researched profile of Ariel Sharon in the New York Times Magazine (August 15).

Presently Israel is a highly divided society in which most of the intellectual community is extremely critical of the government's policies. The criticisms are predominantly focused on two main areas. The first is the serious deterioration of the Israeli welfare state; not since the 50s have so many Israelis found themselves below the official poverty line. The second concerns the ways in which Israel chooses to manage its relations with its Arab citizens and with the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Many Israeli intellectuals, experts and professionals, including former high-ranking generals and intelligence officers perceive not only the failures of these policies but also address the inter-linkage between them that could lead Israel towards a suicidal position despite its military strength. The enlightened and informed American public, for its part, is not granted the opportunity to hear any of these non-peripheral voices.

The most recent example concerns the coverage and analysis of the advisory ruling of the International Court of Justice at the Hague regarding the fence/wall. The majority of the American press regurgitated the official American and Israeli propaganda which proposed that the court had singled out the Israeli nation from other nations by its very acceptance to rule on the subject and by its determination that it has the jurisdiction to rule on the subject. Furthermore, they argued that the court had ignored Israel's right to defend itself from suicide terrorism. The bottom line, which was either implicitly or explicitly stated, was that the ruling was driven by pure anti-Semitism.

I find it simply impossible to comprehend why a decent commentator writing for an esteemed newspaper would print such nonsense or why an editor would allow such nonsense to be printed. A simple visit to the website of the ICJ reveals dozens of cases against states which have been brought before this court from 1946 onwards. Among them is not only the recent trial of Serbian Milosevic, but also cases against Belgium, India, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, Rwanda genocide operatives, the USSR and on and on.

Furthermore, the ICJ did not ignore the right of Israel to self-defense but objected purely to the route of the disputed wall. The court simply ruled that Israel must protect itself within the confines of international law, which stipulates that unusual measures - such as the construction of a wall in occupied territory - should be undertaken only in cases where no other option is available. The building of the wall along the designated route did not constitute such a case (clause 140). I cannot help but wonder how many of the op-ed writers even bothered to read the ruling.

It seems reasonable that the uncritical reporting and dealing with the invasion of Iraq and of the various Israeli activities are rooted in the same phenomenon - the American cult of power-oriented, exemplified by the weird machoistic quarrel about John Kerry's past as war-hero in the not so heroic Vietnam War. Ignoring and even encouraging power oriented politics does not just contradict the standards of good journalism, but it also exposes both nations, and especially the Israeli one, to unnecessary risks of becoming soon a pariah nation. Please do not forget that Israel does not engage in such adventures as its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 or the destruction Palestinian social and political infrastructures - without American consent.

I strongly believe that the time has come for good and unbiased American journalism and coverage of issues relating to Israel and the US administrations policy toward it.

Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent books are Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians (Verso, 2003), Immigrants, Settlers and Natives (Alma and Am Oved, Hebrew, 2003), and  The Palestinian People (Harvard University Press, 2003) with Joel S. Migdal.

Other Articles by Baruch Kimmerling


* Fencing, Unrest in Gaza and the US Election
* Ill Bred: The American Eugenics Movement
* The Crumbling of Apple Pie
* Sacred Rage: Exploring the Motivations Behind Terrorism
From Barak to the Road Map

* Why is the United States Scaring Me?

* The Politicide of Palestinian People

* The Battle over Jenin as an Inter-ethnic War

* My Holiday, Their Tragedy