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The Palestinian Side Must Be Told
23 April 2002
Is there media bias against Israel? The claim, hotly expressed in thousands of angry e-mails and subscription cancellations, that the U.S. media are anti-Israel is so absurd as to suggest hysteria. Are American Jews in such deep denial about the brutality of Israel's recent actions that they would damn those who report the truth?
Certainly the American media are far more sympathetic to Israel than publishers and journalists in the rest of the world. This is particularly true in Western Europe, perhaps reflecting the widespread public sympathy there for the Palestinians, as measured in recent polls. Not that sympathy for Israelis, bloodied repeatedly by a merciless bombing campaign targeting civilians, is not equally warranted. It is my view that the prime historical responsibility for the failure to make peace in the Mideast lies with the refusal of the Arab nations to accept the justifiable existence of the Jewish state. However, the traditional absence of acknowledgement in U.S. news reporting of the ongoing victimization of the Palestinians, powerless from the beginning of their displacement half a century ago, is callously immoral.
Moreover, no group is so safely denigrated in the mass media of this country, particularly in film, as 'the Arabs', who became the enemy of choice in post-Cold War movie-making in such films as 'True Lies'. And no group is as underrepresented in the media work force; there are more than 3 million Arab Americans, yet it is exceedingly rare to find one working as a newspaper reporter or TV news personality.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors doesn't even include Arabs or Muslims in its annual monitoring of groups underrepresented in the nation's newsrooms. Surely, if there were even a sprinkling of people in the news biz who were hearing from relatives in Ramallah or Jenin, it would influence the way events are interpreted.
Jews are not underrepresented in the U.S. media ranks, and it is a testament to their professionalism that their coverage is balanced. Odd, though, that other Jews deem their work prejudiced against Israel and at times even anti-Semitic; the convenient denigration is that a Jewish journalist who dares disagree with the more hawkish actions of Israel must be consumed with self-hate.
Full disclosure: I am Jewish and I daily converse with Jewish friends and acquaintances whose relatives, including their children, are living through the hell that suicide bombers have brought to the heart of Israel's civic life. Meanwhile, I have not a single acquaintance who is personally connected with anyone on the Palestinian side of events.
I would hazard to guess that most Jewish editors and reporters living in the United States are in a similar situation. Shouldn't that make us less likely to be deeply affected by the traumas visited upon Palestinian civilians by Israeli tanks and helicopters because they have not been recounted by our own friends and family?
It is to the immense credit of U.S. journalists of whatever background that they stand broadly accused of being sympathetic to the Palestinians - not because the charge rings true, but because it indicates they have somewhat succeeded in humanizing the face of an otherwise alien people. To humanize a people does not mean to apologize for the behavior of murderous individuals, movements or institutions representing the dark revenge fantasies of a people's consciousness, of course. But to blindly endorse the outrage of one side while ignoring the pain of the other does both a disservice.
It would have been irresponsible for the media, Jewish or not, to fail to report the depressing accounts of United Nations and other observers that the Israeli onslaught was aimed at destroying all signs of civic life as well as the stated purpose of rooting out terror. Or to treat Palestinian civilian deaths as a necessary evil made legitimate because they are caused by U.S.-supplied tanks and choppers rather than by suicide bombers. There was a time when the Zionist pioneers did not have tanks and helicopters and also placed bombs to get rid of the British occupiers.
The truths on both sides of this war are unfathomably ugly; the media have performed a great service in alerting the world to them. Now, it is up to all of us to demand that the powers of the world intervene to halt the tragic carnage and push both sides toward negotiations for a lasting peace.