ZioNation: Covering Israel in European Media

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[Hat tip ZioNation]

Are Western correspondents in the Middle East biased against Israel, as pro-Zionists often claim? Many people acknowledge that a neutral stance in the Israeli-Arab conflict is close to impossible, and journalists are people. As Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has shown, omitting positive news about a country will quickly make people to view that country in a more negative light. Media bias is not necessarily a result of bad intentions or conscious distortions. It often works very subtly, and journalists generally believe that they are covering the news accurately and fairly.

Last May my friend Wouter and I were in Jerusalem, and we had the opportunity to talk to Dutch RTL TV correspondent Conny Mus, who has been covering the news from the Middle East for 25 years. He introduced himself as a ‘street fighter’ from Amsterdam. Some Dutch Israelis we know consider him a good, balanced reporter on the conflict; some others disagree.

One of our main topics of discussion with Mus was whether Dutch media present a balanced picture of the conflict and what difficulties he encountered in his efforts to cover the news accurately.

It turns out he has been discussing the issue of balanced reporting on the conflict for years in panels and interviews. He showed no doubt of his own ability to remain neutral at all times. I wondered aloud whether it is not inevitable to be influenced by what you see and experience, by what people tell you, by the shows that they sometimes perform, and by your own sympathies. The fact that some things are easy to spot and other things are more hidden also influences our view of the conflict.

A former Dutch correspondent to the Middle East, Joris Luyendijk, had recently written a book about his frustrations in covering the news and the facts objectively. He had felt especially unable to cover Palestinian and Arab positions in a sufficient way, as according to him they lacked the professional propaganda apparatus that Israel has, and also their ways of expressing themselves are different from what is common in the West. This book started a discussion in the Netherlands about journalism and objectivity in the media.

Mus felt that Luyendijk was too young and had not been not up to his task. Mus has lived and worked in Jerusalem for 25 years, and felt that he knew how to get the job done, using a broad network of contacts to get the story from all perspectives. Mus told me that he had received angry responses to his recent TV interview with then Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh, including the accusation of being an anti-Semite. He had been accused of anti-Semitism several times, like the time he had remarked that a Jewish colleague was not able to report the conflict objectively because of his family history. One reason he gave for having such harsh criticism of Gerstenfeld’s media experiment, is that Gerstenfeld had apparently linked the media bias in the Netherlands to anti-Semitism, and thus accused Dutch journalists of being anti-Semites.

The accusations of anti-Semitism infuriates Mus. ‘I have Jewish friends; it is nonsense to call me an anti-Semite’, he said. Anti-Semitism, he felt, was something related to World War II, and had nothing to do with the current conflict. Moreover, he thought Arabs cannot be anti-Semitic because ‘Arabs are Semites themselves!’ Discriminating against them – as Israel does – would then make Israel anti-Semitic too, according to Mus’s reasoning. Wouter and I were quite amazed that a journalist with his experience would display such ignorance of the common dictionary meaning of the word anti-Semitism.

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