Israel and the U.S. Media

by Joe Auciello

The following article was submitted as an op-ed piece to a local newspaper in southeast Massachusetts.

Last month President Bush delivered a major speech on the Middle East that set new and more stringent conditions for a process that could eventually lead to a Palestinian state. Foremost among these conditions was the emergence of a new set of Palestinian leaders as negotiating partners with the U.S. and Israel.

In the major newspapers throughout the United States, most columnists and op-ed contributors unabashedly cheered for the president’s speech and derided Arafat and the Palestinian cause. Few writers even attempted to grasp the issue from the Palestinian perspective. And, needless to say, the mainstream media printed little to nothing that directly opposed the United States and Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

Israel, a state founded on the dispossession of an entire people, must continually go to war to maintain itself. This idea, applied to the Middle East, has been entirely absent from political commentary and analysis in the mainstream media.

George Will, in an article that appeared in the June 30 Cape Cod Times, declared the president’s speech “was the most clear-sighted U.S. intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the 35 years since the 1967 war, and perhaps in the 54 years since the founding of Israel.” Will went on to condemn “Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, a thugocracy that has been the real occupation force...”

That day the Cape Cod Times also reprinted an article by Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, originally published in the Los Angeles Times. Stewart opined, “So it is not Bush’s conditions that are preventing progress on a Palestinian flag over East Jerusalem; it is the willful obstruction through violence, and Arafat’s refusal to stop it or step aside.”

Of course, columnists, unlike reporters, are expected to present their opinions frankly and need make no pretense of even-handedness or objectivity. But the range of opinion presented in the newspapers and on television is narrow and repetitious, generally endorsing the U.S. government’s position, whatever it might be.

Mainstream columnists, prized for their individual viewpoint, discover they can’t help but agree with and applaud the latest speech of the president. You can practically hear their thoughts snapping neatly to attention.

Don’t the editors of newspapers recognize the value of expressing a wide array of informed opinion on a topic as contentious as the Middle East? A few dissenting voices do in fact find their way into print—usually unsolicited op-ed essays—but these exceptions to the rule are all but drowned out by the patriotic cheering of the paid professionals.

No one in the Democratic Party leadership has stepped forward to take issue with the Bush plan. Far from it. Instead, Democrats are eager to portray themselves as the best friends of Israel. Journalists are careful not to transgress these ideological limits. Writers who might otherwise have been outspoken were instead cowed and couched their comments cautiously, a concession to the rally-round-the-chief political climate.

Syndicated columnist Mary McGrory merely said, “Bush was being Bush rather than a world statesman” and that “he has nothing to contribute.” Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway remarked “there was a naïveté in Bush’s proposals…” These are the not entirely forthright voices of the subdued.

Political commentary of this kind is not without consequence. Readers whose opinions are shaped by the point of view of the daily newspapers and nightly news programs, that is, the huge majority of Americans, cannot adequately understand the continuing turmoil in the Middle East. If Americans regularly read a more diverse range of ideas (and news coverage that met its own standards of balance and objectivity),  popular opinion would be far more favorable to the Palestinian cause.

No one needs to support national liberation struggles in general or the Palestinian fight for self-determination in particular to realize that a people under military occupation will try to resist and throw out the occupiers, using whatever means are available to them. Even American schoolchildren, educated on the principle of “Give me liberty, or give me death,” can understand why the Palestinians, unorganized, outnumbered, ill-equipped, continue to fight.

Americans could also turn to Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck’s World War II novel The Moon Is Down to learn from a fictionalized account of an occupied people who fight tooth and nail, using even what might be called “terrorist tactics,” against their military invaders.

On July 4 Americans celebrated the struggle of an oppressed people who fought against a colonial power to forge their own nation. To honor that democratic tradition, Americans should oppose Bush’s Middle East plan and demand an end to U.S. aid to Israel. Those who truly value freedom should remember in their celebrations the just struggle of the Palestinians.