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A rally in support of Islamic Jihad at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, in November 2013 (Courtesy of Matti Friedman)

A rally in support of Islamic Jihad at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, in November 2013 (Courtesy of Matti Friedman)

= IMO Blog = 

Matti Friedman werd geboren in Canada en woont sinds 1995 in Israel. Hij werkte als journalist in verschillende landen, en was voor persbureau AP van 2006 tot 2011 verslaggever over religie en archeologie in Israel en de Palestijnse gebieden, waarna hij overstapte naar de Times of Israel. Afgelopen november publiceerde hij een kritisch artikel over de media-berichtgeving over Israel. Ik geef hieronder een aantal citaten die de problemen die ik in mijn vorige blog besprak wat betreft de verslaggeving over Israel verder verduidelijken en toelichten.

In “What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel” vertelt Friedman over een rally in 2013 ter ondersteuning van Islamitische Jihad op de Al Quds Universiteit in Jeruzalem. De Hitlergroet werd gebracht, en acteurs speelden dode Israelische soldaten. Het was een fotogenieke gebeurtenis, in de buurt van de kantoren en hotels van buitenlandse journalisten. AP was in het bezit van foto’s van de rally, maar besloot er niet over te berichten. Friedman:

The rally is interesting for the visual connection it makes between radical Islam here and elsewhere in the region; a picture like this could help explain why many perfectly rational Israelis fear withdrawing their military from East Jerusalem or the West Bank, even if they loathe the occupation and wish to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors. The images from the demonstration were, as photo editors like to say, “strong.” The rally had, in other words, all the necessary elements of a powerful news story.

Wel nieuwswaardig was een bericht over een lichte verhoging van de Amerikaanse bijdrage aan de Palestijnse Autoriteit. Dit soort ideologisch gemotiveerde keuzes worden volgens hem voortdurend gemaakt:

To offer another illustration, the construction of 100 apartments in a Jewish settlement is always news; the smuggling of 100 rockets into Gaza by Hamas is, with rare exceptions, not news at all.

Een belangrijke oorzaak voor de gekleurde berichtgeving zijn de nauwe banden tussen journalisten, mensenrechtenorganisaties en (veelal door Europa gesubsidieerde) NGO’s en VN instituties:

This confusion is very much present in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where foreign activists are a notable feature of the landscape, and where international NGOs and numerous arms of the United Nations are among the most powerful players, wielding billions of dollars and employing many thousands of foreign and local employees. Their SUVs dominate sections of East Jerusalem and their expense accounts keep Ramallah afloat. They provide reporters with social circles, romantic partners, and alternative employment – a fact that is more important to reporters now than it has ever been, given the disintegration of many newspapers and the shoestring nature of their Internet successors.

In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends – fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps, particularly in East Jerusalem; and foreign reporters. (There is also a local component, consisting of a small number of Israeli human-rights activists who are themselves largely funded by European governments, and Palestinian staffers from the Palestinian Authority, the NGOs, and the UN.) 

In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry.

Journalisten werken soms ook freelance voor deze organisaties, of hebben er gewerkt voordat ze hun baan als correspondent kregen:

Confusion over the role of the press explains one of the strangest aspects of coverage here – namely, that while international organizations are among the most powerful actors in the Israel story, they are almost never reported on. Are they bloated, ineffective, or corrupt? Are they helping, or hurting? We don’t know, because these groups are to be quoted, not covered. Journalists cross from places like the BBC to organizations like Oxfam and back. The current spokesman at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, for example, is a former BBC man. A Palestinian woman who participated in protests against Israel and tweeted furiously about Israel a few years ago served at the same time as a spokesperson for a UN office, and was close friends with a few reporters I know. And so forth.

In een dergelijke constellatie is kritiek op NGO’s niet welkom, en een verhaal hierover van Friedman werd geweigerd. Maar de bias ging nog verder dan dat:

Around this time, a Jerusalem-based group called NGO Monitor was battling the international organizations condemning Israel after the Gaza conflict, and though the group was very much a pro-Israel outfit and by no means an objective observer, it could have offered some partisan counterpoint in our articles to charges by NGOs that Israel had committed “war crimes.” But the bureau’s explicit orders to reporters were to never quote the group or its director, an American-raised professor named Gerald Steinberg. In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.

Het verhaal over Israel dat men naar buiten toe presenteert, is volgens Friedman in de kern het verhaal van Jewish moral failure. In dat verhaal passen geen berichten over nog erger Palestijns moreel falen, zoals die blijkt uit de verheerlijking van geweld tegen Israel, het virulente antisemitisme, de vele verijdelde aanslagen en hoe Hamas haar eigen burgers moedwillig aan gevaar blootstelt. Hamas maakt handig gebruik van deze vooringenomenheid:

Most consumers of the Israel story don’t understand how the story is manufactured. But Hamas does. Since assuming power in Gaza in 2007, the Islamic Resistance Movement has come to understand that many reporters are committed to a narrative wherein Israelis are oppressors and Palestinians passive victims with reasonable goals, and are uninterested in contradictory information. Recognizing this, certain Hamas spokesmen have taken to confiding to Western journalists, including some I know personally, that the group is in fact a secretly pragmatic outfit with bellicose rhetoric, and journalists – eager to believe the confession, and sometimes unwilling to credit locals with the smarts necessary to deceive them – have taken it as a scoop instead of as spin.

Een verwant probleem is dat westerse journalisten in bijvoorbeeld Gaza vaak gebruik maken van zogenaamde fixers, een soort gidsen die hen met de gewenste mensen in kontakt brengen, als tolk optreden etc. Deze mensen kunnen uiteraard alleen laten zien wat Hamas wil dat de internationale media zien. En hoewel de journalisten dat wel weten, wordt er bijzonder weinig bericht over de rol van Hamas en de onmogelijkheid om objectieve informatie te krijgen omdat bijna iedereen zich houdt aan de beperkingen die Hamas oplegt. Er is in Gaza geen vrijheid van meningsuiting; er mag alleen gefilmd worden wat in het belang is van Hamas. Vandaar dat het tijdens de Gaza oorlog leek alsof er alleen maar burgers werden getroffen door Israel. Pas na de oorlog kwam er mondjesmaat wat aandacht voor dergelijke problemen in de berichtgeving:

In previous rounds of Gaza fighting, Hamas learned that international coverage from the territory could be molded to its needs, a lesson it would implement in this summer’s war. Most of the press work in Gaza is done by local fixers, translators, and reporters, people who would understandably not dare cross Hamas, making it only rarely necessary for the group to threaten a Westerner. The organization’s armed forces could be made to disappear. The press could be trusted to play its role in the Hamas script, instead of reporting that there was such a script. Hamas strategy did not exist, according to Hamas—or, as reporters would say, was “not the story.” There was no Hamas charter blaming Jews for centuries of perfidy, or calling for their murder; this was not the story. The rockets falling on Israeli cities were quite harmless; they were not the story either.

Hamas understood that journalists would not only accept as fact the Hamas-reported civilian death toll – relayed through the UN or through something called the “Gaza Health Ministry,” an office controlled by Hamas – but would make those numbers the center of coverage. Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation; Western news organizations tend to see no ethical imperative to inform readers of the restrictions shaping their coverage in repressive states or other dangerous areas. In the war’s aftermath, the NGO-UN-media alliance could be depended upon to unleash the organs of the international community on Israel, and to leave the jihadist group alone.

Het wordt tijd dat kritische onderzoeksjournalisten hier eens achterheen gaan, en proberen meer concrete feiten en voorbeelden boven tafel te krijgen. Helaas besteden de zogenaamde kwaliteitsprogramma’s en kwaliteitsmedia alleen aandacht aan thema’s die binnen de door Friedman zo treffend geïllustreerde ideologie vallen, en is dit dus niet interessant. En rechtse media zijn doorgaans te druk met het roepen hoe fout de islam wel niet is, hoe arrogant links is, hoezeer we door Europa worden genaaid en hoezeer Wilders toch wel een punt heeft.

Ratna Pelle

PS: als je dat nog niet had gedaan, lees dan ook dit artikel van Friedman.