This odd obsession which distorts how Israel is viewed

November 24, 2016 23:25

In his book Science of Logic, the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel examines the transition from quantity to quality - that is to say, the moment when a gradual quantitative process brings about a significant qualitative change.

The terms "quantity" and "quality" are central to understanding the effect that media coverage of Israel is having on how the country is perceived.

Let's take the Guardian for example: the paper's homepage for Middle East and North Africa (presumably covering more than 30 countries) usually contains approximately 13-15 news items.

On Feb 25-26, six of these items reported on Israel or Gaza, while three out of the seven photographs on the homepage illustrated these items.

A cursory glance at the layout of the page will reveal the worldview that guides it: an analysis piece titled: "Is Netanyahu out to foment war with Iran" sets the stage, and if anyone needed any proof of Israel's warmongering, three pieces on Gaza are on offer, all focused on humanitarian aspects of this summer's conflict. A piece about aid agencies states that Israel bombed Gaza, "claiming that it was reacting to rocket attacks by Hamas". Who knows, perhaps the 4,300 rockets that Hamas fired at Israel over the summer were an Israeli invention, a cunning plot to enable it to bomb Gaza, for no reason at all.

A second piece on UK doctors visiting Gaza manages over 1,200 words without mentioning the word "Hamas" once, meanwhile freely making unproven accusations such as Israel having bombed the Gaza power plant (a statement since corrected following a complaint to the paper).

If the reader were interested in the alleged victim of the war Israel wants to start, he need not despair. Iran does appears on the homepage - the country currently under Security Council-mandated sanctions for developing nuclear weapons, which hangs gays from cranes and jails bloggers, and sponsors countless terror groups, is represented with a touristic photo tour of a historic Tehran neighbourhood.

It does not end there, unfortunately. As part of the joint Guardian/Al-Jazeera exposé of leaked intelligence cables, we are told that Israel's Mossad intelligence service was planning to use water-gobbling plants to dry up the Nile and threaten Egypt (Israel's close ally in fighting terrorists in the Sinai).

Rather than report these as the outlandish conspiracy theories that they are, the piece gives them credence by stating that "it could either be true or preposterous".

I always thought that journalism consisted of making the distinction between those two, and reporting on the "true" part, but apparently when covering Israel the rules are flexible.

The truth is that the sheer quantity of skewed reporting on Israel is making a qualitative dent in how the country is perceived. A mistake can be corrected, a flawed analysis criticised and a half-truth runs the risk of ridicule; but it seems that if you place enough of these side by side, they morph into another being altogether, no longer bound by fact or even common sense. If you believe Israel bombed Gaza for no reason, and that Hamas rocket fire is just "an Israeli claim", perhaps you're likely to believe the water-gobbling plants story as well.

But maybe the wider point here is not the bias or skewed reporting, but the simple, sheer volume of coverage.

When over a third of the news out of the Middle East (not exactly an uneventful region) on an influential website consists of coverage of Israel, is it not time we understood that an intentional choice is being made, to dictate what we should know, think and feel about the Middle East?

How should we regard this selective coverage? Medical science has a name for "a compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion" - it's called obsession.

November 24, 2016 23:25

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