Media Spin &the Israeli Occupation

Norman Solomon

The formula
for American media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simple:
Report on the latest developments in the fragile “peace process.” Depict
U.S. officials as honest brokers in the negotiations. Emphasize the need for
restraint and compromise instead of instability and bloodshed.

In the world
according to news media, the U.S. government is situated on high moral
ground—in contrast to some of the intractable adversaries. “The conflict
that had been so elaborately dres- sed in the civilizing cloak of a peace
effort has been stripped to its barest essence: Jew against Arab, Arab
against Jew,” a New York Times dispatch from Jerusalem declared as
fierce clashes in occupied territory neared the end of their second week.

afterwards, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed: “The cycle
of violence has to be stopped.” Such pronouncements from Washington get a
lot of respectful media play in our country.

Rarely do
American journalists explore the ample reasons to believe that the United
States is part of the oft-decried cycle of violence. Nor, in the past couple
of weeks, has there been much media analysis of the fact that the violence
was overwhelmingly inflicted on Palestinian people.

Within days,
several dozen Palestinians were killed by heavily armed men in
uniform—often described by CNN and other news outlets as “Israeli
security forces.” Under the circumstances, it’s a notably
benign-sounding term for an army that shoots down protesters.

As for the
rock-throwing Palestinians, I have never seen or heard a single American
news account describing them as “pro-democracy demonstrators.” Yet that
would be an appropriate way to refer to people who—after more than three
decades of living under occupation—are in the streets to demand

While Israeli
soldiers and police, with their vastly superior firepower, do most of the
killing, Israel’s public-relations engines keep whirling like well-oiled
tops. Tilted by the usual spin, American news stories highlighted the
specious ultimatums issued by Prime Minister Ehud Barak as he demanded that
Palestinians end the violence—while uniformed Israelis under his authority
continued to kill them.

Beneath the
Israeli “peace process” rhetoric echoed by American media, an implicit
message isn’t hard to discern: If only Palestinians would stop resisting
the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, it would no longer be necessary for
Israeli forces to shoot them.

Extends Time For Peace,” said the lead headline on the October 10 front
page of USA Today. “Israel early today extended a deadline for
Palestinians to end rioting,” the article began. At this rate, we may
someday see a headline that reads: “Israel Demands Palestinians Stop
Attacking Bullets With Their Bodies.”

Of course,
the proper behavior of people whose homeland remains under occupation has
never quite been spelled out. But U.S. media coverage has reflexively
mimicked the themes coming out of the White House and State Department. It
all makes sense—as long as we set aside basic concepts of human
rights—as long as we refuse to acknowledge that without justice there can
be no real peace.

For American
journalists on mainstream career ladders, it’s prudent to avoid making a
big deal about Israel’s human rights violations, which persist without
letup in tandem with Israel’s occupation of land it captured in the 1967
war. Many pundits are fond of cloaking the occupiers in mantles of
righteousness. We hear few questions raised about the fact that the
occupiers enjoy the powerful backing of the United States.

The silence
is usually deafening, even among journalists who write opinion columns on a
regular basis. The U.S. government’s economic and military assistance to
Israel adds up to a few billion dollars per year. Among media professionals,
that aid is widely seen as an untouchable “third rail.” To challenge
U.S. support for Israel is to invite a torrent of denunciations—first and
foremost, the accusation of “anti-Semitism.”

I’ve written columns criticizing U.S. media for strong pro-Israel bias in
news reporting and spectrums of commentary. Every time, I can count on a
flurry of angry letters that accuse me of being anti-Semitic. It’s a
timeworn, knee-jerk tactic: Whenever someone makes a coherent critique of
Israel’s policies, immediately go on the attack with charges of
anti-Jewish bigotry.

American supporters of Israel resort to this tactic. Perhaps the
difficulties of defending the Israeli occupation on its merits have
encouraged substitution of the “anti- Semitic” epithet for reasoned

Like quite a
few other Jewish Americans, I’m appalled by what Israel is doing with U.S.
tax dollars. Meanwhile, as journalists go along to get along, they diminish
the humanity of us all.       Z

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is
Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.