Criticize Israel? What's In It For Me?
By Raff Ellis Columnist (US)

In a strongly worded piece of mail received from an Israeli about one of my previous columns, I was asked the question: "Can you tell me where, except in, you could publicize your ideas in the American media?" That this question comes from an Israeli, betrays the expectation he and his countrymen have of U.S. news outlets. Does this mean that America's media suppresses criticism of Israel? Is he saying that Israel's supporters are so strong that they control the media in these United States? If I said that I'd quickly be labeled an anti-Semite.
This, of course, brings up the question: Why would any mainstream journalist in his right mind go up against the Israeli lobby when he knows it would generate a loud and orchestrated chorus of grief? The simple answer is he won't.
In today's world there are a handful of sensitive topics such as abortion, gay rights and the death penalty that are guaranteed to bring out the strongest advocates, pro and con, to the front lines, guns a blazing. But criticism of Israel, which is at the top of the sensitivity list, sends publishers and pundits alike into overdrive in favor of the latest AIPAC position. The pro positions way outnumber the cons because con is seldom permitted.
Behind closed doors some news types will admit they firmly adhere to the pro-Israeli line because it is editorial policy. This issue has long ceased having anything to do with right and wrong, it has simply become policy. Positions taken are now sanitized by the ubiquitous opinion polls that seem to be running our country these days. Polling has become the golden calf of government, to be chosen over common sense even though history tells us that the majority view has often been wrong. A good example is Germany in the 1930s where the vast majority voted for Hitler. We all know how that turned out.
When public opinion gets slightly squeamish, as is now the case with the apparent human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank, the media will work overtime to influence the next poll. Recently we have seen an avalanche of articles about Jews; Jewish culture, the Holocaust revisited, Munich massacre anniversary, the high holy days, etc., etc. These articles are augmented by a slew of negative pieces castigating Arab States for a variety of reasons and continually alluding to their involvement in terrorism. Newspapers can even look fairly impartial by letting a few dissenting letters to the editor creep in while insulating themselves from those by printing twice as many for the opposing side. They create the appearance of balance by permitting an occasional opposing op-ed, but always cheek to jowl with a strong contrary view.
But it isn't adequate to just adhere to the party line; it has to be sufficiently skewed as well. The plan is designed to disparage and vilify anything Arab in order to enhance Israel's image in the eyes of the American audience. No area is spared, not even the arts or fashion world. Recently, George W's niece, Lauren Bush, while appearing in a fashion show in Spain, refused to model some of designer Jorge Galinanes fashions because they were "too Arabic."
George Orwell certainly knew what he was talking about. The manipulation of headlines; slipping in of unfounded allegations; the use of unattributed sources and the selective choice and placement of pictures all contribute to the mass of disinformation thrown at the general public on a daily basis.
As an example, I recently read an article whose headline screamed, "Plotters targeted Capitol with jet." This was a news story revealing that the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 was headed for the Capitol building in Washington. In the third paragraph, the reporter noted this claim was made by the "London bureau chief for Arab television channel al-Jazeera, which has ties to al Qaeda that clouds the credibility of its reports."
So, what was accomplished here? An Arab media outlet, which is viewed apprehensively by the region's dictatorial regimes because of its editorial freedom, was convicted of terrorist activity without trial or evidence. In everyone's mind now, al-Jazeera TV is a mouthpiece for terrorists. This is just another in a series of vilifications of Arabs and their news media. Either they are to be suspect as terrorist collaborators or they are censored government mouth organs, and in any case not to be believed. We can only trust Middle East dispatches coming out of Tel Aviv's news bureaus. And we can certainly rely on the total honesty of those.
Several years ago, the Fourth Estate decided for reasons of fairness (and potential liability), that they would use the politically correct adjective "alleged" when dealing with those accused but not yet convicted of criminal activity. After all, this is simply an acknowledgement of the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of the democratic process. What we have seen when dealing with Middle Eastern countries, save Israel of course, is a presumption of guilt without the need for such qualification. People and organizations are labeled terrorists or "militants" (whatever that means) on the basis of suspicion. No proof necessary.
You might ask why would the media relax its standards when dealing with this particular issue? It's because there is nothing in it for them to be honest. The outcry by Israel's apologists, even for the mildest criticism, is strident to say the least. They brook not the slightest dissent from anyone. You must be stringently pro-Israel or else, because you are either "with us or for the terrorists." Where have we heard that before?
When protesting, Israel's supporters loudly cancel subscriptions, pull advertising, boycott products and fund the political opponents of those who do not pass their exacting litmus test. Not long ago, Israel threatened to pull the plug on CNN in their country because the station was "biasing" its reports in favor of the Palestinians. Anyone who watches CNN knows just how biased they are, and it's not in favor of Palestinians.
So, what's in it for those who slavishly toe the Israeli line, besides the avoidance of intimidation and criticism? Well, there are all expense paid trips to Israel, speaking engagements, book deals and appearances on TV talk shows, to name a few. Such largesse, especially ascendancy to the vaunted punditocracy, can considerably increase one's prestige and earning ability as well as augment their already over-inflated egos.
So when it comes to the carrot or the stick, mainstream media types have chosen the carrot. Truth, justice and the American way will have to stand in line.
It's enough to make reporter Clark Kent cry.
-- Raff Ellis lives in the United States and is a retired former strategic planner and computer industry executive. He has had an abiding and active interest in the Middle East since early adulthood and has traveled to the region many times over the last 30 years.
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