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Guidelines for Reporting on Israel
By Jerry Glazer
With the abundance of Middle East correspondents, reporters, and journalists, one may logically conclude that Middle Eastern journalism is an art onto itself. Indeed, just as certain professional niches (for example, international law), require specific background and knowledge, so too Middle Eastern journalism requires specific background and knowledge.
I will be the first to admit that I do not have a journalist's background. I did not obtain a journalism degree, nor did present myself in any shape or form as a journalist. I do however have knowledge of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as someone who has lived in the area, visited often, and followed the region's events on a daily basis, from different perspectives.
To compensate for my inexperienced journalism, I took it upon myself to study the manner is which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reported and crystallize the apparent guidelines to reporting events related to this conflict. In an effort to help others, I hereby present a list of rules apparently employed by the media in reporting the region's news.
Rule #1: Accept anything Yasser Arafat says as being sincere without qualification. This rule may trace its origin to Arafat's style of governance. When his people seriously challenge his actions or intentions, their careers, if not lives, are suddenly spoken in past tense.
Journalists are quite familiar with this rule, as occasionally they must endure physical intimidation if suspected of breaking this rule. Just ask Newsweek's Joshua Hammer, who was kidnapped by Palestinians and was ordered to report on the conflict from a Palestinian slant.
Based on this rule, Arafat's quotes should always show an interest in peace. Accordingly, when Arafat says he condemns violence, believe him. When he states he wants peace, believe him. Never mind that the facts never back this. Over forty years of being the world's greatest terrorist (from killing Olympic athletes to initiating suicide bombers) may contradict this statement. True, but nevertheless, if Arafat says it, take it at face value (or consider the consequences).
Rule #2: Marginalize Israeli "settlers". This rule is based on a theory that if there are two sides, they must be presented equally, even if they are not equal. Accordingly, since the Palestinians have an element that encourages, empowers, and employs suicide bombers, the Israelis also must have a fringe element.
Since the Israelis do not target innocent children, cheer the destruction of the US landmarks, or advocate ethnic cleansing, a radicalization must be made of individuals whose mere "crime" is to live on disputed land. Never mind that this group claims a Biblical right to this land. Never mind that this group predominantly advocates peaceful coexistence with their Arab neighbors. Never mind that the population of some of these ''settlements" such as Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel, and Modi'in Illit, approximates those cities such as Hackensack, Rutherford, and Secaucus, New Jersey. Since the Palestinians have their fringe element (which incidentally always appears to be more mainstream than fringe), the Israelis must also have their fringe element. Hence, the Israeli settlers must be marginalized.
Rule #3: the United Nations must be considered the ultimate impartial judge. Interestingly, even though judges in any civilized country must have the proper credentials before they are selected as judges, the United Nations, which decides issues far more significant issues, decides such issues based on a majority vote.
Does it matter that the vast majority of nations cannot find it in their hearts to condemn Anti-Semitism without qualification? Does it matter than the majority of nations deem it appropriate that the fight against Human Rights abuses should be led by countries with the worst records regarding Human Rights abuses (e.g., Sudan, Libya, Cuba, etc.) And is it relevant that the majority of nations have made it reasonably certain that Israel can never serve on the Security Council, the body with binding authority? Since there is a United Nations, it must be considered an absolute impartial arbiter. It is not for the reader to ask why.
Rule #4: Historical perspective must be avoided and should be deemed as irrelevant to most issues. Using this rule as a guide, all Jewish Biblical claims to Israel are to be minimized. The sudden "right" of the Palestinians to areas not requested before 1967 should not be mentioned. The refusal of all Arab countries to accept Israel in 1948, and the continued refusal of most Arab countries to do the same today, should not be discussed. The acquisition of Jewish property in Hebron through Arab riots in 1929 should be ignored.
More recent history should also be dismissed. The fact that the Palestinian Liberation Organization began in 1964, before Israel had the territories, should be ignored. The demolition of Jewish holy sites that come under Arab rule nary merits a mention. And forget about the Palestinian commitment to change their Charter to eliminate the liquidation of Israel. That commitment (along with the many other Palestinian Oslo commitments), should simply be swept under a rug.
Based on this rule, history in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict can be defined as the period up to one week before a report is given. Thus all suicide bombings that happened in the past 10 years are generally irrelevant; unless the bomber is killed by the Israelis, in which case it should be written that the Israelis claim the person is behind the bombing, so that the United Nations can say the killing was extrajudicial.
Rule #5: Palestinians are always victims of Israeli aggression. Using this rule as a guide, mention of victimization of Palestinians by their leaders or by the United Nations is strictly prohibited. Sure Yasser Arafat may have over a billion dollars in foreign banks, unspent on his destitute people. Sure, he may spend over one hundred thousand dollars a week to keep his wife in France, while his impoverished people suffer. Since the Israelis must be the aggressors, this information doesn't matter. Similarly, the fact that Palestinian leaders continue to instill in their people the desire to take all of Israel is also insignificant. (After all, an official Palestinian map that shows Israel's existence is as rare as a spending freeze by George Steinbrenner).
The public flogging and hanging of Palestinian collaborator is also immaterial. The United Nations' complete dereliction of its responsibility of promoting peace by between Palestinian ''refugees" and Israelis is also not important. So the UNRWA can continue to flaunt these people as poor little victims instead of giving them proper education so they may contribute to society (which includes Jews, a thought unheard of in these refugee camps).
Continuing with this rule, when actions are committed against Israelis, it is important to note that the Israelis are aggressors and such actions are retaliatory as part of the "cycle of violence". Of course, articles should never state when the cycle of violence began unless it is an act of Israeli aggression, such as Ariel Sharon's "aggressive" walk to the Temple Mount, Judaism's most holy site. Any references to the cycle of violence beginning upon the Palestinian rejection of Ehud Barak's generous peace offer in 2001, their flaunting of the Oslo accords through suicide bombers, their terrorization of civilians in the air, at sea, in Olympic villages, etc., should not be mentioned as the cause.
And certainly the establishment of Israel by the United Nations, in a rare instance of doing what is just and proper, cannot be considered the beginning of the cycle of violence. Just because almost all Arab states still don't recognize Israel and even the ones that do, mark the day Israel was established as the "Day of Catastrophe", Israel's accepted status as the aggressor cannot be changed. Remember rule # 3. The United Nations is the ultimate arbiter. And since it has established Israel as the aggressor, it must always be presented as the aggressor; even when protecting itself from the world's worst terrorists.
Finally, there is one last rule that may be considered the cardinal rule of reporting events in the Middle East. This rule dictates that although there are clear inequities between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the focus should always be on Israeli wrongdoings. Jews are not allowed into many Arab countries, even to defend those countries, while Israel includes Arabs in its governing bodies. This juxtaposition is irrelevant and should not be mentioned. Jewish crimes against Israeli Arabs are investigated and prosecuted. Arab aggression against Jews need not be mentioned as it is not relevant or not possible, as when Jews are not allowed to be citizens of Arab countries.
Furthermore, even though Israeli actions may have been conducted in order to protect the greater population (including Jews and Arabs), any injury, even if done by passive means must be publicized and be mentioned prior to any mention of abuse in Arab countries or prior to ascertaining Israeli responsibility. This is even if abuse in Arab countries is by far more violent means, such as beheading, limb dismembering. etc., or if the reasons for abuse in Arab countries do not arise from self- defense. There is one standard for Israel and another standard for the Arab countries. The journalist or reporter is not required to and may even be discouraged from providing equal standards.
And so are the rules for reporting events concerning Israel and its neighbors. Now, here is the challenge for reporters and journalists. Break the rules! Provide the proper perspective. Tell the facts. Show the truth - the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Jerry Glazer is an occasional freelance writer who lives in northern New Jersey.
from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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