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The myth of balance

Media coverage of Israel is still hopelessly skewed

24 November 2012

9:00 AM

24 November 2012

9:00 AM

It isn’t just the shelling that has to stop. So too does the sneering. To listen to any number of our ‘probing’ newsreaders question Israelis about the tragedy of Gaza is stomach-turning. And that’s before you even get to see footage of any of the wounded.

Bias against Israel in the Australian media is hardly a new story. What is new is the cynical contempt with which journalists — hiding their distaste for Israel behind a smokescreen of ‘balance’ — instinctively treat every Israeli pronouncement with outright derision.

In this vacuous world, context is irrelevant. Both sides are as bad as each other.

A quick recap. Forget getting over-excited about who started what and when, a game both sides play, picking different starting points. The Jews arguably have the Old Testament as a decent historical document to back up claims that they owned the joint first, and, from an Australian point of view, if we acknowledge Aboriginal kinship to the land thanks to an unbroken religious connection over thousands of years, it’s hard to see how the descendants of Moses don’t deserve the same accommodation; particularly considering their primary religious ceremony involves raising a glass of red and praying for a return to Jerusalem. But that’s another story.

After the Romans had a stab at ethnic cleansing and kicked a large number of Jews out of their homeland, any number of different nomadic tribes wandered through the place for a couple of millennia, including the odd marauding Anglo-Saxon, so theoretically you can mount an argument that any of them could claim ownership of various bits and pieces of the old Judea, including the Arabic clans who now call themselves Palestinians.

So for argument’s sake, let’s draw a line in the sand in July 2000 (a nice round figure) when Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak strode happily around the leafy grounds of Camp David.

In essence, although nobody was taking notes, what was agreed that day was that Israel withdraw from the Gaza strip and the West Bank in exchange for peaceful Palestinian co-existence with the state of Israel. Other details, such as the final status of Jerusalem, the right of return and statehood to be settled peacefully later on.

Five years later, despite the intifada, Israel lived up to a decent chunk of their side of the bargain, and after great internal political anguish expelled Israeli citizens — some by force — from all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Handing the land to the Palestinians, they assumed they would get, in exchange, a decent chunk of peace.

At the UNSC, Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari announced: ‘Israel has demonstrated that it has the requisite maturity… to achieve lasting peace.’

The Palestinians now had part of their promised land, and squillions of dollars in aid for schools, hospitals and so on. But instead of offering part of the promised peace, newly elected rulers Hamas chose the opposite, sending more children into Israel as suicide bombers and launching waves of deadly Qassam missiles over the new border.

Backed and funded by Iran, whose leader has called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’, the Hamas military strategy is in line with its own charter, which calls for the obliteration of all Jews and Israel. The current increase in Hamas missile activity, targeting for the first time Tel Aviv with Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets, is certainly at the behest of Iran, presumably to spark further Middle East conflict with Israel and distract the world from the atrocities their allies are committing in Syria.

The Israeli strategy is to ‘take out’ the military leaders of Hamas, surgically if possible, but with troops if necessary. As Barack Obama says: ‘There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’

Yet to those sterling media sleuths who decorate our late-night news programs, Israel’s actions are to be treated with cynicism and contempt. Repeatedly, under the guise of ‘balance’, news anchors portray Israeli actions to defend her citizens as of equal moral value to Hamas’s attempts to butcher them.

Interviewing Israeli spokesperson Yigal Palmor, the ABC’s Emma Alberici was curtly dismissive of his claim that Israel sought to avoid civilian casualties. ‘I’m wondering how you can honestly make that claim while at the same time announcing that your Defence Forces have hit 105 targets, killing 13 Palestinians, including at least two children, while Hamas has killed only three Israelis.’

Leaving aside that such figures prove the success, not the failure, of the IDF strategy, for Alberici to seriously draw some kind of moral parallel based on the tally of dead people (like some sick computer game) is disgusting. Ever heard of the word ‘intent’, Em?

The cynicism towards her interviewee was not repeated when she sat, doe-eyed, in front of Palestinian spokesperson Rami Khouri. His blatant lie (‘the Arabs have given the Israelis a peace plan and accept to live with… a Jewish majority state’) went completely unchallenged. Hamas have never even accepted such a premise.

On Sky, Helen Dalley conducted her interview with Colin Rubenstein with an air of amused cynicism, unwilling to draw any distinction between the two sides in the conflict.

Over on Ten, Hamish McDonald launched his own pre-emptive strike on spokesperson Mark Regev. ‘We see pictures of a BBC cameraman whose baby was killed in these strikes. Where does that fit in with the picture of these militants you are targeting?’

As Regev patiently tried to explain the concept of surgical strikes, McDonald wouldn’t let go of the baby.

‘Are you saying that the child of this BBC cameraman was deliberately embedded among the Hamas militants?’

Hamish, it’s the militants who embed themselves among the population, not the other way around.

But for today’s telegenic anchors, moral equivalence and sneering cynicism is all the rage.

‘Excuse me,’ McDonald blurted out, ‘if you’re killing civilians aren’t you doing exactly the same thing as them?’ Ah, now I get it: Israelis trying to stay alive are no better than the leaders of Hamas who are determined to wipe them all out.

Pass the sick bag.

Rowan Dean, a columnist with the Australian Financial Review, will be acting editor of The Spectator Australia during the southern summer.

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