Why no outrage over West Bank family slaughter?

By Anshel Pfeffer and Robyn Rosen, March 17, 2011
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Tamar Fogel at the funeral of her family in Jerusalem

Tamar Fogel at the funeral of her family in Jerusalem

The negligible coverage in the international media of the terror attack in Itamar last Friday night, in which five members of one family died, has enraged the authorities in Israel.

The horrific murder of Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children - the youngest a three month old baby - received minimal coverage either on TV or in newspapers. While there was understanding that a huge amount of attention was given to Japan and Libya, many Israelis could not help but feel the world's media preferred not to highlight the brutal attacks as part of an agenda that sees Israel, and the settlers, as the aggressors in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

There was further anger that what coverage there was focused on the announcement immediately after the murders of new building in the settlement.

One news outlet was singled out for criticism. CNN's website had the headline "Israeli Family of 5 Killed in 'Terror Attack,' Military Says." The scepticism implied in the quotation marks prompted the director of Israel's Government Press Office, Oren Helman, to demand an apology.

In a letter to CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief he wrote: "Your remarks sound as if we are talking about an IDF 'claim' that this was 'a terrorist attack' and that this is not necessarily the case. If this is not a terrorist attack, then what is?"

CNN said that it was "standard journalistic practice for news organisations to put quotation marks around remarks attributed to third parties."

There was also criticism of other broadcasters. A government PR adviser said: "Even Sky News, which is usually a more friendly channel, did not report on the story until two days later when it reported on the settlement building decision. It is simply mind-boggling that anti-Israel bias is so deep now that the media cannot challenge the preconceptions by reporting on such an atrocity."

The BBC was accused of "burying the story" after it appeared on its website under the headline: "Israel approves new Jewish settler homes in West Bank" and only referred to the murders three paragraphs later. A BBC spokeswoman admitted that it wrongly used quotation marks in its initial story, which had the headline: "Palestinian 'kills five Israelis' in West Bank. It also described the victims as a "Jewish settler family".

Michael Dickson, director of Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs, said: "I think the BBC dehumanised the victims of this gruesome murder. They would have not done so if it was any other victim and that is bias."

Honest Reporting said: "The BBC does report that the attack 'has shocked many Palestinians'. Of course, the BBC failed to mention that Hamas described the attack as a 'heroic operation,' while sweets and candies were handed out in Gaza in celebration."

Lorna Fitzsimons, chief executive of BICOM, said: "We all have to be absolutely and utterly meticulous with our language never to give the impression that violence or terrorism is justified.

"The real question is: why did the BBC think it was important to say these people were settlers? What was it that made that judgment?"

Israel's departing ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, accused the media of "moral equivalence" in dealing with the Fogel murders. He said: "The crime, surely, was horrible enough. Anyone who is half a mensch and not a complete beast would have to distance himself from the political issues, rather than making a link to the settlement issue, as if giving people the right to murder.

"Look at the pictures the media outlets used: most of them showed Israeli soldiers in pursuit, or the fence, or Itamar. There were very few pictures of the whole family. It seems to me not coincidental that we did not see such pictures."

One way the Israeli government tried to deal with the seeming complacency of the foreign media was to use shock tactics. Minister of Information and Diaspora, Yuli Edelstein, instructed Israeli embassies around the world to publish a series of gory photos taken in the Fogel house immediately after the bodies were discovered. Mr Edelstein said: "Our goal in sending out the photos was clear: to show that this attack crossed all lines."

Despite very few media outlets publishing the photos, he said that after news editors had looked at them, "maybe they will pause and think."

In the wake of the murder, the Israeli cabinet authorised the immediate building of 408 new homes, mainly in the larger settlements near the Green Line.

While officially there was no correlation between the two events, few tried to hide the connection. The ministerial committee which approved the building was hastily convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Saturday night, as soon as Shabbat was over. The next day, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who had participated in the meeting said that the permits were not sufficient and that "we need at least 1,000 new homes for each murder."

His colleague, Housing Minister Ariel Atiass, said: "We need to build in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. We have to strengthen the settlements, and now is the time."

But government spokesman Mark Regev was reluctant to make the link. At a meeting in Jerusalem with foreign journalists, one told him that "it looks as if Israel is saying to the world, you kill us and we build".

Mr Regev responded: "I understand this perception. All I can say is that we did not make a direct policy connection between the two."

Last updated: 12:33pm, March 17 2011