It must be insanely frustrating to do media outreach or public diplomacy for Israel. It’s not only that media outlets seem to have an endless supply of anti-Israel storylines that they just mix and match regardless of context, from lurid descriptions of imagined atrocities to old standbys about Palestinian dispossession.
It’s also that journalists and editors seem to pick their themes with something approaching reckless abandon, throwing against the wall one thinly sourced anti-Israel libel after another. If something sticks they congratulate themselves on brave journalism. If a smear is debunked they just shrug and move on.
The problem isn’t so much a resistance to specific facts, though the BBC has indeed been conspicuously ignoring Israeli evidence that contradicts their preferred take on reality. It’s just that being wrong is a functionally costless proposition if the error works against Israel, so journalists can publish an endless stream of sensational accusations with minimal concern for their veracity. All they need is a quote, which anti-Israel partisans are more than willing to provide, and that qualifies as fact-checking.
The reporting surrounding Israel’s Monday raid on the Mavi Marmara ship is a veritable textbook on how that coverage plays out in real time.
The flagship of the Gaza “Freedom Flotilla,” transporting ostensibly humanitarian aid to Iran’s ostensibly impoverished proxies in the Gaza Strip, was part of the ostensibly nonviolent fleet seized by Israeli naval commandos. The ship was contacted by Israel and asked to unload its cargo for inspection, the captain explicitly declared the fleet’s intention to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the Israelis dispatched commandos to intercept it.
That was when the gentle humanitarians on the Marmara executed a carefully planned ambush, attacking the Israeli commandos with knives and metal pipes while the soldiers waited 40 minutes for permission to use live fire. Meanwhile they tried to defend themselves with paintball rifles, while one commando after another was brutally assaulted. Several ended up in the hospital in critical condition. One has reportedly been beaten beyond recognition.
That much we know because the IDF released a torrent of video and audio proving it, much of it posted to YouTube before Americans were awake on Memorial Day. But they still weren’t fast enough to beat the first wave of articles, most of which conveyed fantastic tales of innocent humanitarians getting sprayed with gunfire by bumbling, blundering IDF thugs. That those tales turned out to be wrong has done very little to dampen the media’s enthusiasm for anti-Israel propaganda.
Even before the raid, Reuters had pointedly juxtaposed Israel’s concerns about the fleet with a reminder that “a Turkish human rights group is one of the organizers.” That organization was the International Humanitarian Fund (IHH), which a later Reuters article outlined as an international charity group whose members “don’t have anything against Israel.” Except the IHH is actually an Al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization according to multiple countries, Turkey included. As for their members’ lack of concern with the Jewish State, the characterization squares poorly with videotapes of flotilla members chanting genocidal antisemitic war chants before departing.
Just a few hours after news of the raid broke, the New York Times had already published an article with prominent quotes declaring that “it was inconceivable” that the flotilla passengers had used live fire against the commandos. A video subsequently published by the IDF showed not only that it was eminently conceivable, but that Israeli commandos walked into a lynching party. The overhead and close up videos were incontrovertible, though fringe conspiracy theorist are certainly working on explaining how the IDF manufactured them.
Stephen Walt of Walt and Mearsheimer fame took to his Foreign Policy blog to denounce Israel’s attack on an “unarmed ship.” Elsewhere the AFP quoted a flotilla leader stating flat out that “nobody had a weapon.” So the IDF produced tape of protesters detonating stun grenades and stabbing commandos, plus an entire video carefully cataloging all the arms that were on the unarmed ship.
According to quotes in Al Jazeera and the International Herald Tribune, the flotilla jihadists didn’t anticipate any violence. Except the IDF showed them writing up wills, preparing gasmasks, bringing night vision goggles and bullet-proof vests, and arming themselves with metal pipes, rods, slingshots, and broken bottles.
The Washington Post’s musings over whether Israel had violated international law or committed piracy were answered as soon as someone bothered to read international law or look up the definition of piracy.
And so on.
None of which has slowed down the anti-Israel invective. The new tactic is simply to assert over and over again what a disaster the raid was, with the hope being that it eventually becomes exactly that. The Huffington Post has naturally been leading the way, mixing ominous declarations of a “botched raid” with unseemly headlines about how Barney Frank is ashamed “as a Jew.” The Los Angeles Times editorial about “Israel’s self-inflicted wound” is another fine example of the genre.
Ditto for the Associated Press’s analysis of how Israel’s “bloody, bungled” operation has strained Israeli/US ties. And of Bloomberg’s description of how the Israeli raid has ruined Israeli/Turkish relations. And of the NYT’s discovery that the raid has undermined Israeli/Palestinian proximity talks.
Meanwhile the US/Israeli special relationship was already heading for a collapse and if anything has recovered ground during this crisis. And the Israeli/Turkish relationship has been over for months as a result of Turkey’s strategic decision to pull away from the West. And the only thing that Palestinians and Israelis agree upon is that the proximity talks have always been a waste of time.
But somehow all of these are still more tenable than the demonstrable lies that dominated the news cycle for the first few post-raid days.
So the Israelis have a right to feel a little bit frustrated. They’ve been pouring millions of dollars into documenting their excruciatingly careful military operations, building on lessons stretching back a decade. In April 2002, after a string of horrific suicide bombings, Israel invaded the “the martyrs’ capital” of Jenin as part of Operation Defensive Shield. The fighting was brutal and flood-the-zone media coverage of a “massacre” immediately ensued. Fabrications of murders and atrocities – entire families bulldozed, thousands dead, etc – became ubiquitous. By the time the true facts came out and it was proven that only 52 mostly combatant Palestinians had died, the libels had hardened into conventional wisdom.
Israelis became determined not to let anti-Israel media feeding frenzies get ahead of facts ever again, with the assumption being that media outlets simply couldn’t simply lie in the face of evidence.
They were half-right: journalists gave up the easily disprovable lies, and moved on to incoherent arguments. Instead of trying to sustain new storylines, they just fell back to older talking points.
Two days before the Gaza flotilla raid, the Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Israel military official saying that “it makes no difference what we do, or how careful we are… whatever we do, they’ll all be against us, they’ll condemn us.”
* Big Journalism
* UPDATED: BBC News website ignores Israeli soldier’s testimony [Just Journalism]
* Activists say bound for Gaza despite Israeli warning [Reuters]
* Factbox: Turkish charity group behind Gaza-bound convoy [Reuters]
* Press ignores controversial IHH profile [Just Journalism]
* Shooting the Messenger: A Look at the Facts on the Turkish Aid Group IHH [CT Blog]
* All aboard the peace thug flotilla: “The army of Muhammad will return!”; Update: Israel is ready for the next jihadi ships; U.N. condemns Israel, of course [Malkin]
* So A Bunch Of Stoners, Some Hamas Thugs, And Two Well-Armed Antisemites Float Into A Blockade… [Mere Rhetoric]
* Flotilla Passengers Fire Live Ammunition at IDF Soldiers [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Demonstrators Use Violence Against Israeli Navy Soldiers Attempting to Board Ship (With Sound) [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Close-Up Footage of Mavi Marmara Passengers Attacking IDF Soldiers [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Israel’s latest brutal blunder [Walt / FP]
* No-one armed on Gaza flotilla: German activists [AFP]
* Mavi Marmara Passengers Attack IDF Before Soldiers Board Ship [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Video: Gaza Flotilla Thugs Stab Israeli Soldiers, Use Immediate Extreme Violence (Important Updates) [Solomonia]
* Weapons Found on the Flotilla Ship Mavi Marmara Used by Activists Against IDF Soldiers [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Passengers recount mid-sea horror [Al Jazeera]
* On Flotilla, International Herald Tribune Editors Asleep at the Helm [CAMERA]
* Arab Media Reports on Flotilla Participants: Writing Wills, Preparing for Martyrdom, Determined to Reach Gaza or Die [MEMRI]
* Weaponry Overview and Footage of Mavi Marmara Passengers Preparing Weaponry [idfnadesk / YouTube]
* Photos of Bullet Proof Vests, Sawn-Off Rods, Night Vision Goggles and Rifle Scope Found on Mavi Marmara, 2 June 2010 [IDF]
* Flotilla Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers [idfanadesk / YouTube]
* Israel’s flotilla raid revives questions of international law [WaPo]
* Israel, the Flotilla and International Waters [Yaakov / Newsvine]
* Did the Israeli Defense Forces Commandos Commit “Piracy”? Nope. [Opinio Juris]
* UN chief urges Israel to lift Gaza blockade [AFP]
* Israel Publishes Gaza Travel Guidebook For Pro-Hamas Freedom Flotilla [Mere Rhetoric]
* Egypt pilloried over Gaza [Economist]
* 6/2/10: HuffPost’s total blackout of "the rest of the story" regarding the "Peace Flotilla" [Huff Watch]
* Israel’s self-inflicted wound [LAT]
* Turkey Alliance With Israel May Rupture on Gaza Raid (Update3) [Bloomberg]
* Raid Complicates U.S. Ties and Push for Peace [NYT]
* Israel recoils as US backs nuclear move [Breitbart]
* ‘We’re the only ones who believe them’ [Politico]
* Israel and Turkey Look to Salvage Their Damaged Military Alliance [WSJ]
* Turkish (blood)bath [NY Post]
* AN ISRAELI VIEW Just plain lucky [Alpher]
* Proximity talks doomed to fail [YNet]
* Jeningrad: What the British Media Said [Honest Reporting]
* Siege Fatigue and the Flotilla Mistake [WSJ]