War Reporting under Scrutiny
"Was the war necessary?" asks the journalist and historian Tom Segev in Haaretz newspaper, referring to the 2006 war against the Lebanon – nuances rarely heard during armed conflicts, as the Israeli NGO "Keshev" has found out. By Mona Sarkis
The EU-funded Israeli "Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel", or "Keshev" for short, was set up by a group of academics, lawyers and political scientists after the murder of the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Its aim is not only to collect information on anti-democratic movements and their ideologies, but also to monitor the content of the Israeli media.
In its two most recent reports from July and December of last year ("War till the Last Minute - The Israeli Media in the Second Lebanon War" and "Women, Media and Conflict - A Gendered View of Israeli Television Coverage of the 2006 Lebanon War"), "Keshev" takes the media and its reporting to task. It is particularly critical of the three major Israeli newspapers Ma'ariv, Yediot Ahronot and Haaretz, but also looks at the TV channels Channel 1 and Channel 2.
"Keshev" remarks, for instance, that the most absurd of all the standpoints taken by the media when a violent conflict breaks out is that you should not pass criticism while the war is in progress, but have to wait until the war is over.
As Israel is in a state of permanent war, "Keshev" notes, there has been little evidence of that criticism to this day. The media only criticised the management of the 33-day war, but not the act itself, the report remarks. Quite the opposite; the media backed up the claim that the war was necessary to secure Israel's existence.
This "nightmare" situation, the report states, leaves no room for studying the facts, let alone the conflicting statements in the Knesset, the Defence Ministry and the ranks of the "Israel Defense Forces" (IDF), nor for informing the public of the destruction wreaked by the Israeli army.
Evil genius, sophisticated devil
Instead, the Israeli press portrayed Beirut as a city "as if hit by an earthquake", also suggesting that higher authorities had influenced the Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah. Articles painted a picture of Nasrallah as an "evil genius" and "sophisticated devil", able to strike at Israel time and again and survive against all odds.
For "Keshev's"' chairman, Daniel Dor, none of this is new. Several conservative and right-wing media outlets in Israel were previously obsessed with the "demon" Yassir Arafat, he wrote in his 2005 book The Suppression of Guilt. The explanation is obvious, according to Dor: anyone fighting against an organisation like Hezbollah is doing nothing wrong, but merely defending themselves – at least according to the prevailing opinion in the press.
Even statements made in the liberal Haaretz are contradictory. In its front-page stories and headlines, the newspaper joined the rest of the press in heartily defending Israel in the Lebanon conflict – yet also published articles by Amira Hass, presenting the perspective from the occupied territories and very much capable of prompting feelings of guilt in the readership. However, the fact that these reports appeared on the back pages of the newspaper, with small-print headlines, minimised their effect.
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire