Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Israeli media’s "third intifada"

The bottom line is that Israel’s media set an agenda this past week – “the third intifada.” The most troubling aspect of this “documentary production” is that when it becomes clear that it presents the facts just as accurately as in the Five Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, no one in the media will have to pay for their irresponsibility.

Yisrael Medad/Eli Pollak..
Media Comment/JPost..
27 February '13..

To many Israelis, the news coming out of Los Angeles at the beginning of this week that the two nominated Israeli films did not win Oscar awards was received with more than a sigh of relief.

The two Israeli-produced candidates in the Documentary Feature category, the films 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers are a prime example of how Israel successfully manages to subvert its national ethos and Zionist raison d’être; the two films were funded not only by left-wing sources but also by official state bodies. The question debated, and our local media did reflect it, was how is it that the Israeli candidates for the Oscar/Hollywood professional recognition in recent years all presented a one-sided, less-than-positive view of Israel, its life style and its politics? Or, as one observer noted, “Israel’s domestic films... have long been much more self-critical” than those Hollywood has produced.”

Documentaries are the result of an extended period of filming and creative investment. They are directed, edited and produced and benefit from hindsight.

Funding usually comes from ideological sources, interested in promoting a message. These films are more opinion column than news. Yet they possess the potential to inflict immense damage, since they try to present themselves as “objective” truth. Newspapers, which are published day in and day out, are perceived by the public as having biases. Such bias is much tougher to discern in a one-time “documentary” production. Perhaps it is high time a rating agency for documentaries is created, which would provide the viewer with some indication as to the reliability of the content being presented.

But sometimes agenda-setting by the media is even more damaging. The media can create the material which is the basis for the documentary of tomorrow.

Perhaps the so-called third intifada is a prime example.

As this paper reported on December 15, purported members of various armed Arab factions announced in Hebron that a new group, the Brigades of National Unity, had been established and that a third intifada had begun. Did this group read Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group who, in the New York Times on June 22, 2012, claimed that a “third intifada is inevitable”? He based his dire prediction on what he described as “a private meeting” earlier that month during which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his security advisers were warned by a group of Middle East experts and former intelligence officers that “a third Palestinian intifada was imminent.”

The Brigades of National Unity may also have based themselves on an Iranian, Hamid Dabashi, who Al Jazeera carried on October 11, 2011, as touting that “The Third Intifada has already begun” (we discovered a deleted Wikipedia page from October 6, 2011 which mentioned the term “third intifada”).

They could also have been in touch with local Israeli correspondents such as Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, who, this past September 29, raised the “specter of a third intifada,” based on a conversation he had had at the Jenin refugee camp with a Jamal Zubeidi, who promised “an uprising even more violent than its predecessors.”

The “third intifada” is a headline which has been broadcast and printed numerous times for over half a year, if not longer, and has been just waiting for a write-up. This past week we witnessed the fruitful nucleation of this movement. It started with a page one Sunday headline in Yediot Aharonot: “The IDF is preparing for a third intifada.” It took only a few hours on that same morning for the broadcast media to latch on to the “story.” Arieh Golan, in his morning news show, took pains to ask Mr. Jibril Rajoub: “Will there be a third intifada?” Rajoub was introduced by Golan as one of the Fatah leaders, no more, no less.

Most of us tend to forget that Rajoub was sentenced to life in prison in September 1970 for throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus near Hebron. He was released in 1985 as part of an exchange of 1,150 terrorists freed in exchange for three Israeli hostages held by the PFLP. He was shortly thereafter again arrested for his activities in the first intifada. Palestinian Media Watch notes that on November 5, 2012, Rajoub stated on Palestinian TV that “we still believe in all forms of the struggle. No one has removed the rifle from the equation.”

Yet, none of this was even hinted at in Golan’s interview. Perhaps Rajoub’s conclusion from the “interview” was that it was high time to start the third intifada.

The “third intifada” headline gave our media a chance to once again interview a plethora of Palestinian representatives. These included Qadura Fares, president of the Palestinian society’s prisoners club, who in an interview with Ma’ariv earlier this week said, “We are facing an intifada.” His pronouncement promptly made it to the New York Times. Another figure shown on Channel 1 TV was Abu-Mujahid, the spokesperson of the Popular Resistance Committees.

This character is cited as “blessing the operation” in which six Israelis were killed in Eilat on August 18, 2011. And there were more.

Our media also made sure to publicize the “hunger strike” of terrorist inmates of Israeli prisons. Ma’ariv’s headline on Sunday morning was: “3,000 Palestinian prisoners will go on a hunger strike today.” Was it necessary to advertise this “hunger strike” before it took place? The army radio station did report that two of the four hunger strikers of the past week were freed in the Schalit prisoner exchange and then re-arrested for violating the terms of their release. But this was kept secret from most listeners and viewers of other media outlets.

Even the left wing in Israel is criticizing the media for playing up the imminence of a “third intifada.”

Amos Harel of Haaretz in an op-ed article on January 4 noted that the “third intifada lives primarily in the headlines.” The left-wing media review organization Keshev reached the same conclusion and decried the incessant discussion of the topic, which it said just gave the Palestinians an unjustified black name.

The bottom line is that Israel’s media set an agenda this past week – “the third intifada.” The most troubling aspect of this “documentary production” is that when it becomes clear that it presents the facts just as accurately as in the Five Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, no one in the media will have to pay for their irresponsibility.


The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch

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