24 February '16..
A little over a month ago, the Gatestone Institute website ran an insightful article by Khaled Abu Toameh titled "Palestinians: Western Media and Ignorance." In it, Abu Toameh described the disastrous job that foreign journalists are doing at reporting truthfully or objectively about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He mentioned the known fact that "foreign journalists based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have for years refused to report on the financial corruption and human rights violations that are rife under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas regimes. Palestinian 'suffering' and the 'evil' of the Israeli 'occupation' are the only admissible topics."
But he also gave examples of the terrifying incompetence of some of the journalists here. He described how in December 2015, more than 10 years after Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip and evacuated every last Jew, two Western journalists asked to be accompanied to the Gaza Strip to interview "Jewish settlers living there." A few years ago, another journalist wished to visit former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, several years after his death. And one journalist sought to visit the "destroyed" city of Jenin, where "thousands of Palestinians had been massacred by Israel in 2002." She was referring to the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Jenin refugee camp where nearly 60 Palestinians, many of them gunmen, and 23 soldiers were killed in a battle.
The examples from Abu Toameh's article, which deserves to be read in its entirety, highlight a factor that is not discussed too often when the media bias toward Israel is debated: the ignorance and sheer incompetence of individual journalists.
The distorted media reporting is not only the result of an inherent bias, but is very often compounded by an appalling ignorance of facts.
This ignorance stems from the same source as the bias, namely that most journalists are schooled in a "Palestinian narrative" and not in anything rooted in historical or current facts. Abu Toameh mentions how some of these journalists assured him that before 1948 there was a Palestinian state here with east Jerusalem as its capital. When he told them that prior to 1967 the West Bank was under the control of Jordan while the Gaza Strip was ruled by Egypt, this was news to them.
The interview with PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi from Tuvia Tenenbom's book "Catch the Jew!" inevitably comes to mind. In this interview, Ashrawi tells Tenenbom: "To me, the startling fact is that the Palestinians have been living on their land historically for hundreds and thousands of years and suddenly they are told that they have to give up most of their land and that another state will be created."
Unfortunately, it is this kind of "startling fact" that foreign journalists subscribe to, and therefore it is little wonder that we end up with the kind of biased and hopeless reporting we are dealing with now. As Abu Toameh writes: "Some correspondents from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe are both very knowledgeable and very fair. Unfortunately, however, these represent but a small group among mainstream media in the West."
And most of these fair and knowledgeable journalists are clearly not employed by the most influential news agencies and news outlets, such as Reuters, CNN and the BBC.
Luke Baker, Reuters' bureau chief in Jerusalem and the current chairman of Israel's Foreign Press Association, responded to Abu Toameh's article with a little sarcasm on Twitter: "Oh dear, Khaled Abu Toameh trots out every silly anecdote that even foreign journos tell one another as a joke."
It is undignified for a man in Baker's position to be showing such arrogance in the face of legitimate criticism of the foreign journalists he is supposed to be representing here in Israel, especially when it comes from such a seasoned and respected journalist as Abu Toameh. Baker's embarrassing attempt to fend off criticism with a nasty tweet spoke volumes about the hypocritical stature of the foreign press here, which gladly doles out criticism of Israeli society whenever it can, but proves entirely unable to reflect on its own role in the region, let alone employ the self-criticism and honest introspection that it demands from everybody else.
Last week, Baker once more proved just how unable or unwilling he is to seriously examine the criticism levelled at him and the foreign media he represents. In an interview with Globes, he said: "I have been a professional journalist for 20 years now, and, like me, many of the journalists sent here are highly experienced. I work with very professional journalists who try to explain the complexity of the story to the international audience. The Israelis believe that it doesn't reflect their stance, but that isn't what the journalists are here for. I don't see lack of balance in the foreign press. There are stories that develop fast and the reports reflect developments on the ground. There's a report of fatal casualties and at first you don't know who's dead and from which side, and you try to explain what's happening as quickly as possible. The claims of bias in reporting are annoying. If there are mistakes, they are corrected as soon as possible. I reject the claim of lack of balance."
As HonestReporting pointed out in response, there is an abundance of evidence that runs contrary to Baker's claim of balance, including evidence that the international media is very far from self-correcting.
It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to make any progress, when there is not the slightest discernible will on the part of the international media to look at itself with critical eyes. Baker thinks the claims of bias are "annoying." He does not sound like the experienced and professional journalist he claims to be, but rather like a spoiled child who didn't get his way. Keep that in mind the next time you read a news report from Reuters in Israel.
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel.
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