I found myself nodding vehemently when reading one of the letters in a recent JC, headlined Give Israel credit, BBC. In it, the author asked — quite rightly — why the BBC can’t “provide any positive news coverage of Israel?”
This was, of course, concerning the incredible support Israel has been providing to Ukraine, having “built a huge field hospital in western Ukraine to treat those injured in the war” and in taking “thousands of Ukrainian refugees to Israel” on El Al planes.
“Israel’s great efforts in this crisis have not attracted a single word of praise from the BBC,” she wrote. And while she is spot on, this is not even half the picture.
Google “Israel Ukraine” and it’s all there. Within the top featured stories (at the time of writing), we have one from the Guardian headlined, “Israel blocked Ukraine from buying Pegasus spyware, fearing Russia’s anger” and another from iNews, “Israel is failing Ukraine by welcoming Putin’s friends and its actions cannot be ignored”. It falls on the Times of Israel to carry the gauntlet of the remaining two slots, and you can almost hear its wearying groan as it reports that “Israel’s field hospital in Ukraine welcomes first patients as air raid sirens wail.”
We know that in times of great and urgent need Israel springs into action and does what it can to answer global cries for help — no matter where those cries come from — despite falling into a void of media silence. This isn’t news to any of us. Yet there is so much being done for the greater good of the entire world, courtesy of our small-but-mighty state, that also fails to receive an iota of recognition.
You may have read a few months ago about a new medical advancement set to revolutionise the fight against cancer in the UK. You may be familiar with the name of said advancement — the PillCam, a tiny, capsule-encased camera, small enough to be swallowed, to film tumours in the gut.
You may even have read that around 11,000 patients in England, across 40 areas of the country, will take part in the initial trial of PillCam , backed by the NHS, in the hope that it will not only replace more invasive methods of screening but also save lives, too. This is against a current clinical picture of around 42,000 people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
What you may be less familiar with, however, is the fact that this pill — like so many of the world’s greatest inventions — was born in Israel.
But are you surprised that the latest medical innovation has been splashed all over the British media without mentioning PillCam’s developer, Rafi Nave, a Technion alumnus who is now a senior researcher at the Samuel Newman Institute at the Technion? Probably not.
Depending on how generously you view the British media, you’ll see this, along with the Ukrainian relief story silence, as either a deliberate snub or inadvertent omission.
If this was as murky as the relationship between the British press and Israel got, you could probably look past it.
However, given how quickly the former is to criticise this tiny state when it comes to anything with even the faintest whiff of the political, it’s not a good look.
Nor is it new. Back in 2012, the media was all over Claire Lomas, the first paralysed person ever to complete a marathon in a bionic suit, raising funds for spinal cord injury charities.
Crossing the finish line 26 days after starting the race with 36,000 others, you had to look very hard to find that, once again, this invention — the ReWalk bodysuit — was created by a former Israeli electrical engineer, Dr Amit Goffer, another alumnus of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, and these mentions were only after I invited Amit to meet Claire in London and I brought the press to attend.
This time last year, British news outlets were falling over themselves to report on the incredible achievement of one Norfolk man, Simon Kindleysides, who raised more than £12,000 for the NHS by walking 125 miles in this very suit, owing to paralysis from the waist down.
Yet to find any mention of Israel’s involvement is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, if not even less likely.
It simply doesn’t exist.
Even more mind-boggling is the fact that, in what is almost a parody of itself, research shows that the British public believes the very opposite is true and that the media is, in fact, unjustifiably pro-Israel!
We’ve all had those conversations and seen those views splashed all over Twitter. Take this recent example, courtesy of the Morning Star: “Why is no one talking about how senior Labour Party figures whitewash apartheid?”asks Ian Sinclair, following up with the most ridiculous statement imaginable that “the party continues to praise Israel.”
A BBC article from 2020, How the news changes the way we think and behave, concludes: “It turns out that news coverage is far more than a benign source of facts...From our attitudes to immigrants to the content of our dreams, it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways.
“It can lead us to miscalculate certain risks, shape our views of foreign countries, and possibly influence the health of entire economies.”
Yet while the British media — often led by the BBC — are only too happy to “shape our views of foreign countries” when reporting on conflict, their silence surrounding positive, world-changing coverage is deafening.
What speaks volumes, conversely, is the £333,000 spent by the BBC in concealing the Balen Report — a 2004 internal inquiry into the corporations’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, commissioned in response to allegations that it demonstrated an anti-Israel bias in its reporting.
This also reared its head recently, following Lord Dyson’s report into the Princess Diana Panorama controversy, with UK Lawyers for Israel requesting disclosure of the then 17-year-old report before pointing out the widespread belief that misleading coverage of Israel by the BBC has contributed to growing antisemitism in this country.
It is, as journalism professor Suzanne Franks said in a passionate polemic at the Religion Media Festival last year, as if “the British media doesn’t understand Israel”. A former BBC current affairs journalist, she is perfectly placed to sum up this heavily-biased relationship that it seems only British Jews are truly aware of.
It remains our prerogative — nay, our obligation — not only to speak up in defence of Israel when the media wants to shoot us down but to actively promote all the indisputable ways in which our small-yet-mighty country is changing the world for the better, one invention or emergency hospital at a time.
Alan Aziz is CEO of Technion UK