On May 21, a New York Times front-page headline claimed that Israel’s response to Hamas’s unprovoked missile attacks had left “More than 250 dead, mostly civilians” in Gaza. However, later the article reports that 230 people were killed, “many of them civilians, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry.”
Not only did the Times parrot Hamas’s casualty figures—with no substantiation—it exaggerated them. It also said that the “high civilian toll—more than 60 children were killed—shocked the world.” Again, no substantiation for the Hamas numbers—which the terror group notoriously overstates.
Two days later, Israel’s estimate of 200 Hamas terrorists killed—which would represent the overwhelming majority of the reported Gaza deaths—received no headlines in the Times, but was buried near the bottom of a follow-up article on the ceasefire. Thus, most Times readers presumably remained shocked at Israel’s alleged killing of innocent Palestinian civilians.
American consumers of mainstream media coverage can be forgiven if they believe the conflict was started by Israel and dominated by its killing and destruction of “the impoverished territory’s infrastructure”—since that’s the way the Times and other media portrayed it.
We should also be forgiven for wondering why every Israeli defensive action—and they were all defensive in this most recent war—receives so much coverage. Indeed, this episode was one of the least bloody worldwide, yet it received more attention than almost any other globally. In the 2014 Hamas-Israel war, for example, some 2,200 were killed—10 times the toll of this one—largely because of the dramatically increased precision of Israel’s response to Hamas attacks.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict receives so much press for the simple reason that it is usually covered by more international media, more of which is based in Israel than in China, India, Russia and Sub-Saharan Africa combined, though those countries are home to many billions of people.
Far from independently observing the conflict, it is clear that these media carefully sculpt a narrative that pits good and against bad, with Israel always wearing the black hat.
While for many years, Israel observers had suspected that foreign media based in Israel would bury stories that made Israel look good and highlight stories that made Israel look bad, it wasn’t until former Associated Press journalist Matti Friedman pulled back the curtain on his former employers that we understood how bad. In 2014, Friedman wrote an expose of the tactics of the foreign media in general and the AP in particular. He observed that members of the international media have “a hostile obsession with Jews.”
According to Friedman, “Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate.” Their shortcomings are never published, whereas “Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported.”
An example of this obsession with the anti-Israel narrative is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s highly significant offer of a Palestinian state in 2009. It was not reported because it was deemed “unimportant”—or rather because it would tell the truth behind the story: That Israel wants peace, while the Palestinians reject it.
While Israeli defensive operations against Hamas are reported in excruciating detail, issues like Hamas’ intimidation of the media, terrorists dressed in civilian clothes, rockets launched from residential neighborhoods—every fact about Gaza—comes directly from a Hamas mouthpiece, and the group censors media reports. This means that American news consumers remain deceived about the real conditions and wider picture of the conflict.
Thus, we saw in the recent conflagration that Hamas was barely mentioned. The narrative was Israel’s highly sophisticated military pounding the Gaza Strip and killing people. Rather than depict Hamas as the Islamist terrorist aggressors they are, the Palestinian “people” were portrayed as helpless underdogs. The media were quick to confront all Israeli spokespeople with the fact of “disproportional” death tolls—as if that were the bottom line for deciding who is good and who is bad in any story.
Almost every media article on the conflict begins with Israeli “aggression.” For example, the BBC reported on May 14: “Israel intensifies attacks in Gaza as conflict enters fifth day.” AP reported on May 16: “Israeli warplanes stage more heavy strikes across Gaza City.” On both of these days—and every other day of the conflict—Hamas and other terrorist groups launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli population centers, sending half of the country into bomb shelters and killing those who couldn’t make it.
Headlines like these, which are highly representative of the reporting on the conflict, give the subtle and not-so-subtle impression that Israel is the sole aggressor.
Honest Reporting, an organization that monitors the international media, wrote on coverage of the recent conflict: “The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, CNN and other major media outlets produced misleading headlines about the conflict, many of which totally ignored Palestinian terrorism.”
Even more egregious, while the media usually likes to think of itself as not being an actual party in the conflict, sometimes the mask slips. In the recent conflict, the international media became even more intimately involved when Israel bombed a building that housed AP and Al Jazeera—because according to Israel, it also housed Hamas operations.
The Israeli military maintains that Hamas used the high-rise building for electronic warfare against Israel, attempting to interfere with the GPS signal that the Israel Defense Forces uses, as well as for offices of the terror group’s intelligence department. Rather than admit they were either negligent or complicit, the foreign media came out swinging, attacking Israel for bombing what was an entirely legitimate target under the laws of war.
These are just a few of many examples of media bias in the conflict. It creates what former AP staffer Matti Friedman called “the perception gap,” which is the difference between the media narrative and the reality on the ground.
Such biased media coverage of this latest Israel-Palestinian conflict is simply a more blatant example of how today’s news outlets are driven by political bias and the need for sensationalized conflict to attract news customers.
This strategy would be crass enough, but the underlying odor of anti-Semitism that causes the only Jewish state to be invariably represented as the villain—even as it defends itself from Jew-hating terrorists—makes the practice that much more despicable.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.