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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Barry Rubin on media lies

An excellent piece by Barry Rubin:
Israel is subject daily to scores of false claims and slanders that receive a remarkable amount of credibility in Western media, academic, and intellectual circles even when no proof is offered.

Palestinian groups (including the Gaza and Palestinian Authority regimes), associated local and allied foreign non-government organizations, Western radical and anti-Israel groups, and politically committed journalists are eager to act as propaganda agents making up false stories or transmitting them without serious thought or checking.

So the key question is to understand the deliberateness of this anti-Israel propaganda and evaluating the credibility of the sources.

Some of these are big false stories—the alleged killing of Muhammad al-Dura and the supposed Jenin massacre—others are tiny. Some—like the claim Israel was murdering Palestinians to steal their organs-- get into the main Western newspapers while others only make it into smaller and non-English ones.

Taken together, this campaign of falsification is creating a big wave not only of anti-Israel sentiment but of antisemitism on a Medieval scale, simply the modern equivalent of claims that the Jews poisoned wells, spread Bubonic Plague, or murdered children to use their blood for Passover matzohs.
Here are three actual examples of well-educated Westerners believing such modern legends reported to me recently by colleagues:

--A former classmate, one told me, claimed that the Palestinians are living in death camps, being starved, etc. Asked to provide facts and provided with evidence to the contrary, he could provide no real examples. Finally, he remarked, `The truth is always somewhere in the middle.’”

--Hundreds of American college professors signed a petition claiming that Israel was supposedly about to throw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of the West Bank though there was zero evidence of any such intention and, of course, nothing ever happened.

--A British writer of some fame claimed, on the basis of an alleged single conversation with a questionable source, that Israel was preparing gas chambers for the mass murder of Palestinians. When asked if she was really claiming this would happen, she stated that it wasn’t going to happen but only because people like her had sounded the alarm to prevent it.

There is no limit. When stories are proven wrong, the damage remains, apologies are non-existent or muted, and no lesson is learned because the same process is soon repeated.

 Here is one example plucked from today’s mail. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry claim Israel has seized seven oxygen machines intended for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and paid for by the Norwegian government. It said that a protest was being made to Norway. The story was picked up by several European newspapers. No evidence or specifics—what Israeli agency held them up? What dates? What hospitals were these for?--was provided.

Asked to look into the oxygen machine story, an Israeli official did so and pointed out that there are no controls over such imports into the West Bank so there would be no basis for holding up anything going there. As for Gaza, those directly involved in the process of sending in aid note that no applications to import such machines has been filed, there is no record of any such machines arriving, and thus nothing had been held up.

In short, the story is completely false, presuming that the Palestinian Authority health ministry won't provide documents and specifics. But that isn't going to happen as it will just be on to the next false story, hoping for a bigger media response.

Having seen so many such stories disproved over the years—as Israel’s credibility, while not perfect, has compared favorably with that of any Western democratic state—one might think a lesson would be learned. But as the great American journalist Eric Severeid remarked many years ago, nothing can protect someone when the media sets out deliberately to misunderstand and report falsely about them.

 Honorable journalists and scholars should take note and approach these false stories more skeptically. They should also reexamine their stereotypes and remember that their political views should be kept as much as possible out of their professional work.

Not so long ago, the above points would have been taken for granted as the most basic and obvious principles. They need to be relearned.
Read the whole thing.
(h/t sshender)