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The limited public space available to question the Zionist narrative in the 1990s disappears as the Israeli media adopts an entirely uncritical perspective.

When the al-Aqsa or Second Intifada broke out in September 2000, after Defence Minister Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, both the military and the media willingly echoed the right-wing agenda even without a significant presence of settler officers in the army. The media allowed the army to become its only source of information and interpretation from the moment the Intifada erupted. This process reached an unprecedented level of moral corruption in 2006 during Israel’s attack on Lebanon - the Second Lebanon War - and even more so when Gaza was attacked in 2009.

In all three events: the Intifada, the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza War, the media was engaged in what one scholar called ‘hermetic self-persuasion of righteousness’.[1] The printed and electronic media presented their constituencies with a one-dimensional and distorted picture of reality. The message was simple: Israel was once again at war against a barbaric enemy that had attacked it for no good reason.

We now know, with the help of research, that the message broadcast was not the natural consequence of what flowed from the field, through reporters, onto editorial desks. On the contrary, a strenuous effort of selection and distortion took place in order to fit news items to the required image of reality. In the Second Intifada, the end result in terms of tone and news selection stood in stark contrast to what reporters brought in from the Occupied Territories. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, and nowadays, these Pravda-ish tactics by the media’s editorial boards turned the Israeli press and television news into one of the world’s most biased and nationalist media, providing a twisted picture to their readers, viewers and listeners. The media behaved as they did because they were motivated by hate, fear and ignorance. But more than anything, they adopted uncritically the government’s and the army’s narratives and interpretations. A few years after the Second Intifada broke out, you could not find any counter-narrative to that provided by the army of why the violence erupted: the official Israeli explanation was the only one we knew about.[2]

Against this background, it was very easy for the army to dictate the media’s language as the Intifada progressed. Abiding by the army’s structure of images, values and interpretations meant first and foremost portraying the Intifada as a war. A war demands a consensus and a recruitment of the media, just as it demands the calling up of reservists and a recruitment of the economy. Journalists in the print media and TV and radio personalities were asked to form a national consensus. This meant re-embracing the settlers, after they had been somewhat marginalised in the wake of Rabin’s assassination. It also meant the exclusion of the Palestinian minority in Israel from what was considered to be ‘our society’ and their inclusion in the enemy camp, and it required the silencing of any alternative thinking, as well as a condemnation of any ‘subversive’ acts such as the refusal to serve in the army of occupation.

The central actors in the local media must have surprised the army by going even further than was required of them. From the very start, the electronic media in particular made an effort to exclude any reference to the conflict as the ‘War of the Settlements’ and frequently used the term ‘War of Survival’, or in the words of the Labour party leader and defence minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, ‘A war for the survival of our homes’. When this was the opening gambit, it was very hard to introduce a wider outlook or alternative perspective.

When one adopts a military perception of reality, certain questions that would be essential for a conventional journalistic investigation disappear. For instance, the army’s direction of media coverage absolved it from dealing with the question of why Palestinians resorted to terrorism and guerrilla warfare in the first place, and allowed it to focus instead on how to combat such threats effectively. Needless to say, the term ‘occupation’ has vanished from the media’s vocabulary. Similarly, the army was absolved from providing an explanation of its overall objectives. The result was that the task of the media became to present audiences with information on tactical moves and successes, like a daily bulletin read aloud by commanders to their troops, rather than referring even obliquely to an overall strategy or to the political horizons behind military action.

Notes

[1] Daniel Dor, A Press under Influence (Bavel: Tel Aviv 2001): 2 (Hebrew).

[2] Daniel Dor, A Press under Influence.

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Tagged under: Middle East Israel
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