06 June '11
Yesterday was “Naska Day,” as Evelyn points out, the day on which the Syrians commemorate their failure to invade Israel by trying to invade Israel. Since we live in a media environment that’s fundamentally insane, partisans with press cards lined up to condemn the Israelis for defending their borders. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to justify hysteria over Israel when Assad has killed over 1,000 Syrians in the last few months. Critics would point to the disproportionate obsession with the Jewish State and suggest that it had long ago reached pathological levels.
The criticism would apply doubly since the IDF was blaring warning announcements across the border and limiting itself to shots at rioters’ feet. Assad’s snipers and thugs, in contrast, are mowing down people in the streets. Just yesterday 35 protesters were killed in Jisr al-Shughour and Khan Sheikhoun, a number that by qualitative and quantitative measures exceeds what happened at the Golan border.
Quite the quandary. How can one justify focusing on the Israeli-Syrian border when objectively worse violence is taking place deeper inside Syria? This is a problem analogous to the one that anti-Israel journalists and human rights activists always face. They have to justify condemning Israeli operations despite how Palestinian atrocities (brainwashing children into becoming terrorists, targeting civilian centers with rockets, etc.) are much worse. In response, an entire cottage industry has taken root to manufacture moral and tactical equivalences between Israelis and Palestinians.
Not coincidentally, media outlets yesterday stumbled into the same trick.
Yahoo’s approach was obnoxious but not blatant. Recognizing the need at least to gesture in the general direction of Assad’s atrocities in northern Syria, they posted a story about the violence headlined “35 reported killed in crackdown in northern Syria.” To illustrate the post, however, they inserted pictures of the riot on the Golan with the caption “Demonstrators flee Israeli fired tear gas as they gather along Syria’s border with Israel.”
Some people might accuse the editors of intentionally trying to obscure the nature of the violence, and of drawing a straightforward equivalence between Assad’s brutal crackdown and Israel’s defense of its sovereignty. But it’s more likely a function of how there just aren’t many pictures coming out of the cities that Assad is leveling, while the regime helpfully opened up the Golan area to stringers and journalists. Since Yahoo’s editors needed something to illustrate Syrian violence, they reached for the only pictures that were available—which is exactly, of course, what the regime was counting on. Why media outlets would want to make themselves willing dupes for tyrants is a different question, but at least this wasn’t an issue of explicit equivocation.
Bloomberg’s editors and journalists don’t have that excuse. The outlet published breathless a breathless report with the headline “Syria, Israel Target Separate Protests in Middle East.” The lead was even worse:
Israeli forces fired on a crowd marking the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War by trying to cross the border from Syria, which Israelis said was an effort by Syria’s regime to divert attention from its internal woes. Inside Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed 25 protesters and a general strike took place for the second day yesterday in the Syrian city of Hama in mourning for dozens of people killed there last week, according to the Web site Syrian Observatory, which monitors the unrest.
Anti-Israel partisans really, really want an excuse to focus on Jerusalem’s self-defense rather than Damascus’s atrocities. But this approach is lazy, and even putting aside the obvious lack of professionalism, it’s tired.
Media outlets should really switch back to the theory that Israeli self-defense on Golan bolsters Assad by giving him a distraction. That’s a transparently poor argument—Syrians know that Assad is just using the Golan to create a distraction, so in theory they’re not going to be unwillingly distracted if they’re already committed to reform—but at least it’s an argument. These equivocation gambits are just strained.
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