Ohad Zemet

Why journalists love reporting from Israel

It's easy, with free-flowing critical opinions


DBXGXD Skyline of the Old City and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

July 09, 2021 15:50

“Why does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict get so much more attention than any other conflict in the world?” Often, when Israelis ask this question, they are accused of “whataboutism”. However, I am constantly asked this by friends and colleagues who are genuinely puzzled.

As noted by Jonathan Freedland, this is certainly not the bloodiest conflict in the Middle East: hundreds of thousands have been murdered in Syria and Yemen recently. It is also not the only conflict that involves a democracy, though Nato involvement in Afghanistan has not received the same level of coverage.

While Former AP reporter Matti Freidman offered a plausible explanation in the Jewish component of the conflict, there are additional factors that might help us understand this media obsession.

Covering Israel is easy. As one journalist told me, people are so open and opinionated in Israel. all you need to do is pull out a microphone in the middle of the street, record five people who give five different opinions, wrap it up and send it back to your editor.

The liklihood of these opinions being unfiltered and therefore critical of the Israeli government is very high, while if you interview citizens of any other country in the region (as well as in the West Bank or Gaza), they know the lines they need to rehearse in front of journalists.

It is not easy to bring out nuances and critical voices in countries that are not open and free. In fact, unlike anywhere else in the Middle East, Israel’s press is so free, and human rights NGOs are so prolific and accessible, that you do not even need to go to Israel to cover the story.

Covering Israel is free of risks. Israel is an open society and there are no repercussions for those who criticise it. I have met many journalists in other countries in the Middle East. They have to operate in accordance with the government position or suffer severe consequences. While you take a personal risk in criticising Iran, Syria or Iraq, you take no personal or professional risk in criticising Israel.

Indeed, it is not only easier but also safer for a media outlet to send a reporter to Israel than to other conflict areas. Rather than undergo the risk and costs of sending a brave reporter to a hostile environment, you can send anyone to Israel instantly.

Journalists love to come to Israel. A correspondent sent to Israel wakes up in a plush hotel on the beachfront of Tel Aviv, goes to Gaza or the West Bank with a helmet and protective gear and then arrives back in time for dinner in one of Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants. Even when Hamas attacks Israel, the Iron Dome defensive system and bomb shelters protect anyone in danger.

Israel has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and a stable economy. You can cover Israel without challenging your quality of life.

Israel is famous. Everyone knows Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, the cradle of both Judaism and Christianity. On social media and in celebrity culture, people often conflate “famous” with “important”. We see celebrities obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sometimes demonstrating a lack of factual knowledge and context.

The story of Israel means something to everybody. It rests on our deep collective religious and historical memory. We should be aware of that when watching the extensive reporting of this one of many conflicts in the world.

Ohad Zemet is spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London. He writes in a personal capacity

July 09, 2021 15:50

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