Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Censorship and Media Manipulation in Gaza, Part I

Hamas In Control

A couple of days ago we posted a piece on the strategy of Hamas in the recent turmoil in Gaza.  Further to that theme, we direct your attention to an article in The Atlantic back in November 2014 by Matti Friedman, then a member of the "Press Corps" covering Israel.  

That year was in the midst of yet another "Gaza War".  The "War" has began again: same issues, same actors, same duplicity, and same prejudice on the part of the media covering the events.  They are now the "useful idiots" on the scene, to take up Lenin's alleged phrase.
During the Gaza war this summer, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is also the least covered: the press itself. The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it, a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene.

An essay I wrote for Tablet on this topic in the aftermath of the war sparked intense interest. In the article, based on my experiences between 2006 and 2011 as a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s largest news organizations, I pointed out the existence of a problem and discussed it in broad terms. Using staffing numbers, I illustrated the disproportionate media attention devoted to this conflict relative to other stories, and gave examples of editorial decisions that appeared to be driven by ideological considerations rather than journalistic ones. I suggested that the cumulative effect has been to create a grossly oversimplified story—a kind of modern morality play in which the Jews of Israel are displayed more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure. This is a thought pattern with deep roots in Western civilization. [Matti Friedman, The Atlantic.]
He goes on to describe the incestuous relationships between the omni-present NGO's, the media and  the UN in Israel.  This leads to an institutional blindness to the activist roles played by NGO's and the UN.  It is only recently that some "bad press" has emerged on the immorality and moral depredations of the staff of organizations like Oxfam.
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.
These organizations long ago ceased to be "neutrals"; rather they became partisan actors doing the bidding of the Islamic extremists in the region.
These organizations had swallowed hook, line, and sinker the neo-Marxist narrative that Hamas and other militant Islamic groups were continuing the great cause of world revolution against capitalism.  That's the stupid Western, NGO take on militant Islam.  The Western press has accepted and in turn facilitated this "framing".
International organizations in the Palestinian territories have largely assumed a role of advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians and against Israel, and much of the press has allowed this political role to supplant its journalistic function. This dynamic explains the thinking behind editorial choices that are otherwise difficult to grasp, like the example I gave in my first essay about the suppression by the AP’s Jerusalem bureau of a report about an Israeli peace offer to the Palestinians in 2008, or the decision to ignore the rally at Al-Quds University, or the idea that Hamas’s development of extensive armament works in Gaza in recent years was not worth serious coverage despite objectively being one of the most important storylines demanding reporters’ attention.

As usual, Orwell got there first. Here is his description from 1946 of writers of communist and “fellow-traveler” journalism: “The argument that to tell the truth would be ‘inopportune’ or would ‘play into the hands of’ somebody or other is felt to be unanswerable, and few people are bothered by the prospect that the lies which they condone will get out of the newspapers and into the history books.” The stories I mentioned would be “inopportune” for the Palestinians, and would “play into the hands” of the Israelis. And so, in the judgment of the press corps, they generally aren’t news.
So, the overwhelming narrative amongst the media when it comes to the "repeaters" on the ground is: Israel bad, Hamas good.  The role of the media is to advocate for Hamas.
 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.

During my time at the AP, we helped Hamas get this point across with a school of reporting that might be classified as “Surprising Signs of Moderation” (a direct precursor to the “Muslim Brotherhood Is Actually Liberal” school that enjoyed a brief vogue in Egypt). In one of my favorite stories, “More Tolerant Hamas” (December 11, 2011), reporters quoted a Hamas spokesman informing readers that the movement’s policy was that “we are not going to dictate anything to anyone,” and another Hamas leader saying the movement had “learned it needs to be more tolerant of others.” Around the same time, I was informed by the bureau’s senior editors that our Palestinian reporter in Gaza couldn’t possibly provide critical coverage of Hamas because doing so would put him in danger.
In other words, the international media have been captured by Hamas.  They have become its stool pigeon.

Friedman concludes his November, 2014 account:
This summer, with Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds falling back before the forces of radical Islam not far away from here, this ideology’s local franchise launched its latest war against the last thriving minority in the Middle East. The Western press corps showed up en masse to cover it. This conflict included rocket barrages across Israel and was deliberately fought from behind Palestinian civilians, many of whom died as a result. Dulled by years of the “Israel story” and inured to its routine omissions, confused about the role they are meant to play, and co-opted by Hamas, reporters described this war as an Israeli onslaught against innocent people. By doing so, this group of intelligent and generally well-meaning professionals ceased to be reliable observers and became instead an amplifier for the propaganda of one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth. And that, as they say, is the story.
In recent weeks, the same pattern has emerged.  The complicit media are continuing to be facile repeaters of Hamas propaganda.  Hamas continues to use its own people as "human shields".  All the while it remains "one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth."  Israel continues to be framed as the bad actor by the media, in compliance with Hamas "rules of reality".

The bottom line is that the media are locked into group-think carefully manufactured and controlled by Hamas.  The media have become facile repeaters of a propagandist's lie. 

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