It’s a long time since the media in Western nations was primarily sympathetic to Israel. This was the case in 1967 when there was widescale support for the Jewish state in the West during what became known as the Six-Day War.
Israel, established by the authority of the UN in 1948, was less than two decades old when it survived against the armed might of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel in 1973 again fought successfully for its survival against Egypt and Syria in what was termed the Yom Kippur War. But by then its support in the West was in decline. In time Israel was to reach a peace agreement with Egypt, and it has been in relative peace with Jordan and to a lesser extent Syria since then.
Israel has retained the strong backing of the US along with some other nations, including Australia, and in recent years has improved relations with some of the Arab Gulf states. However, followers of the English language media in the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will be aware that, these days, Israel’s media critics probably outweigh its media supporters and even more so in Europe.
So it came as some surprise when, late last week, several individuals signed what was termed an “Open letter from journalists, media workers, writers and commentators” using the hashtag #DoBetterOnPalestine. The signatories include several prominent journalists who work for the ABC, SBS, Nine Entertainment newspapers (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald), Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper and Crikey.
Any fair-minded consumer of news and current affairs would come to the conclusion that these outlets carry considerable reportage and opinion that is critical of Israel. Which is not to say that all these outlets are devoid of material favourable to Israel — but some are.
However, the signatories are not happy. As their open letter states: “We recognise a growing dissatisfaction, both in this country and elsewhere, with the media’s treatment of Palestine. As journalists, reporters and other media workers, we know that the media can do better. Many of us are seeking change but lack sufficient power in our organisations to push back against the status quo.”
The level of push-back demanded amounts to yet another advance in what has been termed the cancel culture. They demand that the Australian media prioritise “the voices of those most affected by the violence”.
What’s more, they want editors and publishers to avoid the “ ‘both siderism’ that equates the victims of a military occupation with its instigators”.
In fact, the avoidance of “both siderism” would negate the need to prioritise what it terms “Palestinian perspectives” since they would be the only perspectives heard. Opposing the reporting of both sides of the current conflict means only one side would be covered. This is a form of censorship dressed as a plea for fairness.
What’s missing from the open letter is any reference to Hamas (which controls Gaza) or rockets. However, the statement does refer to Israel and Palestinians. Anyone reading the open letter who is unaware of recent developments in the Middle East would get the impression that Israel is at war with Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
It is true that in recent times there has been an increase in tension between Jews and Arabs within Israel — particularly in parts of East Jerusalem where some Jews are attempting to remove some Arab families in what is in effect a property dispute. This is before the Israeli judicial system. And there have been disputes between the Israeli police and Arab demonstrators around the al-Aqsa Mosque and near The Damascus Gate.
But these disturbances have little to do with the battle between Israel and Hamas. This began only after Hamas fired hundreds of rockets indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel early this month. Israel retaliated with air and missile strikes specifically aimed at targeting Hamas military and intelligence sites along with the terrorist organisation’s military leadership.
This follows similar conflicts in 2008, 2012 and 2014 following Hamas’s rockets falling on Israel.
Before the 1967 war, Gaza was controlled by Egypt. From 1967 until 2005 it was occupied by Israel, which abolished its settlements and withdrew its military forces, handing over control to the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas effectively took over Gaza in 2007.
Hamas depicts itself as an Islamic resistance movement. Its intention is to destroy Israel. Hamas’s rockets fall mostly on that part of Israel that is inside the Green Line — that is, the land that has been part of Israel since 1948 and not occupied after 1967. Gaza City to Tel Aviv is about 70km; the town of Sderot to Gaza City is about 10km.
No nation is going to allow a neighbour to fire rockets, aimed at killing as many of its citizens as possible, without retaliation aimed at destroying its weapons. That’s what Israel has done.
Certainly the death toll has been disproportionately high, with Palestinian deaths in Gaza at about 230 and deaths in Israel at about 12. But that’s primarily because Israel has the Iron Dome defence system, which destroys most rockets along with highly developed bomb shelters.
If the open letter signatories have their way and “both siderism” is outlawed in the media, then Australians would be informed about Israel’s strikes against Hamas but not Hamas’s rockets falling indiscriminately on large parts of Israel.
What’s also missing from the open letter is any reference to the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, based in Ramallah on the West Bank. Israel and the PA are not at war. But Hamas, which is supported by Iran, wants to control the territory presided over by the Palestinian Authority. There is little chance of peace between Israel and Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. But there is a chance of peace between Israel and the PA under some form of two-state solution. In the meantime, Israel will protect its citizens until permanent ceasefires are in place. Israel will protect its side irrespective of what some Western journalists demand.