HOW IS IT THAT the State of Israel has become the bête noir of our time? As the journalist Matti Friedman has pointed out, the situation in many parts of the world, not to say the Middle East, is or ought to be of at least equal if not greater concern. “Israel is after all a sideshow: The death toll in Syria in less than four years far exceeds the toll in the Israel-Arab conflict in a century. The annual death toll in the West Bank and Jerusalem is a morning in Iraq.”
This phenomenon has been shaped by some more or less obvious elements, among them a perverse left-wingism in league with a rising tide of anti-Semitism and some formidable and persistent big media bias. The BBC, CNN, the Associated Press (AP), The New York Times and others do not appear inclined to produce balanced reports from the region.
In the summer of 2014, Hamas rocket fire from Gaza forced the nation to go to war once more. CNN had to be prodded into pointing out that Hamas missiles were found in UNRWA schools. No amount of prodding could persuade the network to fess up to the restrictions imposed by Hamas on CNN reporters operating in the Strip.
The BBC in 2007 spent £200,000 to block the release of the Balen Report. The report found a clear pro-Palestinian bias in the corporation’s coverage of Middle East news. It was completed in 2004 by Malcolm Balen, a BBC editorial advisor. The 200 were not well-spent; the report’s content soon leaked out over the net.
Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, claimed in February 2015 that Israel had deliberately opened dams causing serious flooding that forced residents of the Gaza Strip from their homes. The story was picked up not only by Al Jazeera but repeated by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency and Britain’s Daily Mail. Al Jazeera retracted when it learned that the actual culprit was a winter storm. There are no dams in the area.
Big media’s anti-Israelism tends to bolster Palestinian antagonism to the Jewish state, damaging the prospects for a peace settlement and helping sustain abusive regimes in Gaza and the West Bank. There is little indication that these administrative structures enjoy much genuine popular support.
Israel’s enemies and some of its friends claim the post-1967 occupation is the main obstacle to peace. Not so says Friedman: “Israel currently has Hizbollah on its northern border, al-Qaeda on its northeastern and southern borders, and Hamas in Gaza. None of these groups seek an end to the occupation, but rather openly wish to destroy Israel.”
Inside Israel, domestic politics is a rough-and-tumble hothouse of political ambition amid the clash of regional visions.
Ruled by fractious coalition governments, the nation remains divided between the religious right, those who believe in a greater Eretz Yisrael, the land Hashem promised his chosen people, and those on the secular left, some of whom argue for a smaller State of Israel, some for the end of the state altogether.
Fatah and Hamas may be at odds, but their charters make it clear that they both oppose the existence of a Jewish state in the region of any dimensions within any borders.
The hostility of the international community grows and encourages outbreaks of violence against Israeli civilians, men, women, and children, the occasional war, and the spread of anti-Semitism.
I have in the writing of this account relied on conversations with various individuals – members of Israel’s religious right, an anti-Israel Jewish academic, the ex-wife of Abu Nidal, a former member of the PLO, a retired Israeli intelligence specialist, Holocaust authority Yehuda Bauer, and others.
Ex-Knesset member Einat Wilf is not convinced Palestinian leadership is seriously interested in any agreement that would leave the Jewish state standing, that the future may depend much more on the progress of the reformist transformation underway among Israel’s Arab neighbours. Could, she told me when we spoke, take generations, perhaps a century or more. Till that happens, things are likely to get worse.
Among the book’s intended readers are the folks in big media – the BBC, CNN, AP, etc. – Israeli peacenowniks, the members of the Knesset, EU officials, White House policy specialists. and the men and women in the Arab world.