I recently watched the documentary “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land,” which explores the American media’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I found it to be informative and eye-opening. Several scholars, journalists, media critics and religious figures analyze the way language; framing and context can hide a major side of the conflict – Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – from the public eye.
Today he Israeli government (headed by Benjamin Netanyahu) and the Palestine Liberation organization (headed by Mahmoud Abbas) are the parties directly involved in negotiations at this time. Many Palestinians and Israelis are calling for the creation of two separate states, where the hypothetical state of Palestine would comprise of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 2013 is the Israeli occupation’s 44th year.
Though the film was released a decade ago (2004), many of the facts presented in the film still hold true. Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach any final peace agreement. The U.S. Government, as we all know, is partial to the Israeli cause. Professor Robert Jensen (Journalism, University of Texas-Austin) explained that Israel is fighting wars on two fronts. The first is a military campaign against Palestinians that may be in occupied territory. The second is a PR campaign to “ideologically occupy the American media.”
Throughout the documentary, we were presented with many examples of the American media’s favoritism toward Israel. For example, we will be shown images of riots taking place but news networks will not specify that the Israelis in the film are defending an internationally illegitimate occupation. Another tidbit the makers of the film presented us was that only 4% of news reports of events on the Gaza Strip and West Bank have mentioned that they were occupied – Israel has consistently been portrayed as defending itself rather than as aggravating any violence with their own actions. “The Israeli press office is spitting out press releases, statements, information… all the time,” says Alisa Solomon, journalist at The Village Voice in the USA. “The Palestinian Authority press office is almost useless and they certainly aren’t providing you with readymade stories the way the Israeli press office is.” The media is the biggest source of international news for Americans. The makers of Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land gave us a rather helpful diagram of the institutional relationships, or a “series of filters,” at work behind a news story about the events happening in the Middle East.
Business interests of the corporations that own the mass media – These economic interests span beyond the United States and to the Middle East.
Policymakers – These people have the power to influence mainstream media. They themselves are part of a system dominated by corporate interests.
Israel’s public relations efforts – The Israeli Government books several American PR Firms to help them with this campaign. Israeli Consulates help carry out these campaigns by forming relationships with journalists and monitoring media outlets. Several private American organizations fight any news coverage deemed unfavorable to Israel. Most important of these organizations is AIPAC, one of the most powerful foreign lobbies in Washington. Organizations opposing the occupation (such as, Jews Against the Occupation) rarely make it past these three filters.
Media Watchdog Groups – If any unfavorable stories do surface, groups like CAMERA pressure journalists to stop reporting these stories.
Sometimes just linguistically changing the narrative of a story could take away from one side. For example, Israeli colonies are often referred to as “neighborhoods” because that word conveys friendliness while colonies are hostile and meant only for Jews.
The Israeli government has made it impossible for thousands of Palestinians to live in their homes by demolishing their houses and confiscating their property. They are helpless in this situation and often the only way they can stand up for themselves is through guerrilla tactics. Suicide bombings by Palestinians are done in protest to Israel but in the American media, it’s framed inversely: the occupation is in response to suicide bombings.
Today, there are claims of media bias from both sides: some feel that the American news media favors Palestine and others feel that it benefits Israel. The fact of the matter is that the American media sells a product: our attention. Its funding comes from corporations and organizations that want to capture our attention. These are the entities that control what we see and hear on TV, on the radio, and online. In a day and age where we can be made fully aware of the forces acting behind the American news media, it is important to stay vigilant and to keep an open mind when processing this new information.
– Charumati (Charu) Ganesh
Jhally, Sut, and Bathsheba Ratzkoff. Peace, Propaganda, & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Northampton, Mass.: Media Education Foundation, 2004.
Lexington. “Media Bias: American Coverage of Israel.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.