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November 21, 2012
The Immorality of Mideast Media Coverage
A single sentence in a front-page article in the Nov. 21 edition of the Washington Post encapsulates the complete lack of a moral compass in media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sentence appears in a piece by reporter Anne Gearan about President Obama's involvement in attempts to reach a cease-fire.
It reads as follows: "Diplomatic pressure is building for a cease-fire that would end Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks, both of which are killing civilians."
There, in a few words, is displayed the media's equivalence game -- putting Israel and a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the Jewish state on the same moral, or if you prefer, immoral scales -- ''both are killing civilians." Never mind that Hamas intentionally fires rockets against civilian populations, while the Israeli military goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, even as Hamas rocket launchers use Palestinian civilians as "human shields"
The distinction of one side making every effort to kill civilians while the other side seeks to spare civilians is completely lost on Gearan and the rest of the mainstream media. In her twisted world view, "both are killing civilians."
Yet, the distinction between deliberate use of violence to kill civilians as against unintended collateral civilian casualties is crucial. It goes to the heart of which side commits war crimes, where intent to kill civilians is determinative. Thus, the Goldstone commission, which investigated the conduct of both sides after Operation Cast Lead in 2009 libeled Israel by declaring in its initial report that the Israeli military deliberately killed civilians. This reckless charge was later retracted by Richard Goldstone, the head of the commission. Under international law, Hamas committed two war crimes - deliberate attacks on civilians, and firing rockets from within populated neighborhoods. Israel's conduct was entirely within legal bounds.
Sadly, such moral media equivalence about Hamas and Israel has a long history. It all started when the Post, the New York Times, the wire services and other elements of mainstream media resolutely refused to describe Hamas and other such groups as terrorist organizations. The "T" word became taboo. Never mind that the United States tags Hamas as a terrorist organization and thus properly and fittingly uses the "T" label -- terrorism after all denotes a deliberate attempt to kill civilians as part of a political agenda. This fits Hamas to a "T" but not to the Post et al.
To sanitize Hamas and put it on the same moral scales as Israel, the media came up with their own substitute -- "militant." No longer is any pejorative designation attached to Hamas. "Militant" is acceptable in civilized company.
In reporting the current round of fighting, there are no Palestinian "terrorists" firing rockets at Israeli towns. And Israel never kills any Palestinian "terrorists." Israeli only kills "Palestinians" -- by latest count, more than 170 "Palestinians." No indication of approximately how many of these "Palestinians" were terrorists, or even combatants. They're carefully disguised and lumped together with noncombatants.
Yet, according to official Israeli estimates, Palestinian fatalities included about 120 combatants and only 60 non-combatants or civilians. The resulting two combatants for every one civilian ratio is truly astounding when you factor in Hamas' use of Palestinian civilians as "human shields," firing its rockets from within populated neighborhoods.
On the other side of the equation, in the coverage of Israeli actions, the key media strategy is to pounce selectively on unintended Palestinian civilian casualties resulting from Israeli airstrikes. The result is to depict Israel in uncaring, brutal terms, and the Palestinians as victims of superior firepower. Pejorative hues, carefully erased from Hamas depictions, are shifted over to the Israeli side.
In pursuit of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel spins, there is one other aspect that deserves mention. In all the copious coverage, there has been no mention whatsoever of truckloads of food and medicines that Israel continues to transfer into Gaza to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Nor has there been coverage of a continued flow of Gaza patients moving in the opposite direction, into Israel, to receive special treatment in Israeli hospitals.
To put Hamas on the same moral scales as Israel, you also have to brush out all signs of decent Israeli behavior.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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