The Pregnant War Correspondent and Her Buddies: “Only in Israel…”

Yogi Berra was famous for his revealing bloopers. Someone once said to him, “Yogi, did you know that the Lord Mayor of Dublin is Jewish?” “Only in America…” he responded without missing a beat.

And where, asks Stephanie Gutman in her critical study, The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Battle for Media Supremacy, can one be a pregnant war correspondent. Only in Israel.

Now, with a variant on the theme, Stephen King (not the famous author, I think), has a piece in the Irish Times (i.e., from the land whose capital is the Dublin of Yogi Berra fame) that explores why, with seventy conflicts worldwide, almost all of which have higher casualty counts, is the Arab-Israeli conflict the obsession of the Western MSM.

There are 70 conflicts worldwide, so why do we focus on just one?

By Stephen King
Irish Examiner Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yes, there is public feeling about the Palestinians and their rotten deal. I’ve never heard Chechnya being discussed on the DART, whereas I have heard Israel being trashed on buses as well as at smart dinner parties. Besides, who’s ever heard of a “Sri Lanka out of Tamil Eelam” march through Cork or calls for a boycott of Russia?

I OWE Micheál Martin an apology of sorts. I admit that when I read media reports of his discussions with Ban Ki-moon in New York at the weekend my eyes rolled up to the heavens.

The country’s most senior representative to the rest of the world has a rare opportunity to raise Ireland’s issues with the UN secretary-general and what’s his top priority? Yes, you guessed it – Gaza.

It’s not that Gaza isn’t an important issue facing the world. It is. What Gaza is not, though, is an issue where Europe, let alone Ireland, can wield much positive influence. Gaza will only be sorted when the Arab states, the US and Israel – probably in that order – decide it should be sorted.

Probably not in that order. It’ll get sorted out when the rest of the world tells the Palestinians that they need to get their act together, shed the maniacs of Hamas, stop poisoning their youth with blood libels, and get on with their lives. This one is not for the outside to decide.

But I was wrong. I had swallowed the media line. Yes, Micheál Martin and Ban Ki-moon did talk about Gaza, but it was just one subject among others.

In fact, when you look at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) press release, the first item of discussion listed was one where Ireland has a very direct interest, namely Chad.

So what caused my blood pressure to rise? Was Gaza the topic the DFA’s spindoctors were pushing? Possibly. Was the position on Gaza the most objectively newsworthy? Again, possibly: the Pope is in the region and Ireland tends to be at one end of the European spectrum of opinion on anything to do with Israel.

The third possibility, and the one that seems to me most likely, is that the media has a fixation on Israel (and its supposed crimes) which is, for want of a better word, disproportionate. That’s why the line about Gaza led several media reports of Minister Martin’s meeting.

“For want of a better word”?! It’s magnificently apt. Just as the media criticizes Israel for disproportionate use of force, the media stands guilty of disproportionate use of both coverage and criticism. If the media used the same standards of sensitivity that they apply to Israel on any of the 70 other conflicts, their (moral) equipment would blow its fuses.

If I were Jewish, I would be told I’m paranoid for thinking the world and its media are out to get me. After all, the fact that Israel is the world’s one and only Jewish state – amidst a vast ocean of Muslim states – inevitably makes many Jewish people think it’s them, and not Israel as such, which is in the media’s sights. But I’m not Jewish. Besides, just because people are paranoid doesn’t mean others aren’t out to get them.

It’s one of the nastiest pieces of criticism when people get this condescending, “why are you so paranoid” attitude, which, alas, many hyper-self-critical Jews embrace (and therefore get interviewed on NPR).

A quick scan of the world’s trouble spots makes my point. The well-respected International Crisis Group is currently tracking 70 conflicts around the world, from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zimbabwe. Yes, 70: we live in a dangerous world.

Some of these are very familiar to us: Northern Ireland, Iraq, the Basque country, North Korea and, of course, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Others are not nightly news: Kashmir, Burma, Eritrea and so on. And then there are the conflicts we have forgotten about, or never really heard about too much because they are far away or poor, or both: Armenia versus Azerbaijan, Mindanao in the Philippines, Morocco/western Sahara and Aceh.

I am currently reading and preparing a review of Virgil Hawkins’ Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence is Ignored. I have previously posted on its astonishing revelations.

casualty footprint
Just reverse the names in order to get a rough estimate of the media footprint of the respective conflicts.

Some of the 70 hotspots are especially deadly. Millions of black Africans have died in Congo in the past decade, well below most people’s radar.

Sri Lanka has had a bit of a focus in recent weeks – though hardly the minute-by-minute wraparound coverage Gaza had in January. How many of us were really aware of the fact that more than 80,000 people have died in a quarter of a century of civil war?

Try this. Google “Tamil Tigers” and you will receive 2.3 million results. Google “Hamas” and you get 10 times as many – and Hamas hasn’t been around nearly as long. It’s the same if you Google “Tamils” and “Palestinians”. Is the difference that the Tigers might have killed Rajiv Gandhi but, unlike the Palestinians, have rarely brought their murderous tactics to Europe directly? The Sri Lankan conflict, at least in its military phase, looks as though it is coming to an end. The work of peace-building will last for years to come.

Coming to an end because of the brutal behavior of the Sri Lankan government, supported militarily by China. At the cost of tens of thousands of civilian casualties, wiped out the leadership of the suicide-bombing, civilian-shielding, Tamil Tigers.

As Belmont Club notes, this defies all the gentle rules of Western diplomacy and adds, dryly, “Some will probably regard this as a tragedy because now Colombo has no one to negotiate with.”

The same could be said about Chechnya. The Russians have just announced the end of their “counter-terrorism” operation. There are no solid figures for the number of civilians killed since the second war began there in late 1999, but estimates range anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000.

Put that in context. Israel might be geographically small – smaller than Munster – but in population terms Chechnya is absolutely tiny. A region with a little more than one million inhabitants has seen anything up to one-fifth of its civilian population killed in two decades of war. And one school siege aside, we have largely looked the other way.

By comparison, 6,000 Palestinians – armed and civilian together – out of a Palestinian population in the territories three to four times that of Chechnya have died since the second intifada of 2001.

It goes without saying that any civilian death is a tragedy – and, very often, an outrage – but search for Chechnya on the DFA website and you only receive one-tenth of the number of hits that you do for Israel. No-one believes the DFA is somehow in league with the Russians and supports their quasi-colonial war against Chechnya, but it does go to show some perspective has been lost somewhere along the line.

Yes, there is public feeling about the Palestinians and their rotten deal. I’ve never heard Chechnya being discussed on the DART, whereas I have heard Israel being trashed on buses as well as at smart dinner parties. Besides, who’s ever heard of a “Sri Lanka out of Tamil Eelam” march through Cork or calls for a boycott of Russia?

But whose fault is that? Dare I suggest, the media? As a result, Israel has learned a lesson from the Russians and the Sri Lankans: impose a media ban and the world leaves you pretty much alone. No one could condone the ban during the Gaza offensive – and being host to the world’s second largest press corps, after Washington, means you pay a high price in terms of stroppy hacks – but it does seem to work.

I don’t know about that. The absence of media just meant the Palestinian stringers in Gaza got to “do their stuff” which high-level dupes like Christiane Amanpour gobbled up eagerly.

SO WHY why the obsession with Israel? It’s the only country in the world whose existence is queried is one reason. It’s the Holy Land to the world’s two largest faiths is another. That al-Qaeda sometimes backs the Palestinian cause makes Israel/Palestine strategically important – but that’s true of Chechnya, too.

Maybe it’s the oil in the Middle East region that makes Arab countries important in western capitals (while distracting from their own despotism)?

Could it be some wrongheaded notion of guilt for having set up Israel after the Holocaust, when actually Israel fought British imperialism for its independence? Could it be, as many Israelis believe, that we see Israelis as Jews and, therefore, as bloodthirsty sub-humans in the latest manifestation of centuries-old anti-semitism?

Let me insert key steps in this description: “that we see Israelis as Jews and, therefore, feel morally challenged by them, and as a result have an enduring attraction to seeing them as bloodthirsty sub-humans…”

Or is it just anti-Americanism? Perhaps it’s a little to do with each of these factors. But could it actually be that we see Israelis as very much like ourselves – sophisticated, prosperous, well-educated, fairly pale-skinned democrats? Do we hate ourselves that much? It’s either that or Israel simply isn’t deadly enough to deter the journalists too afraid to work in fly-ridden Congo.

Yes! I’d put a lot of weight on the contrast between cost-free criticism of Israel and the high costs of showing the Palestinians in a negative light.

Gaza for breakfast, back to the pool at the American Colony Hotel in time for tea, and pick up an attractive girl or strapping lad at a bar after dinner. Same again tomorrow, please. Just try doing that in Darfur.

Or, as Stephanie Gutman put it, Israel is the only place you can be a pregnant war correspondent. What a gas. And what an appalling dishonesty to your audience at home when, behind the safety of the exceptionally tolerant Israeli civil polity, you portray them as the worst human rights violators in the world.

After all, it’s one thing to disproportionately cover the Arab-Israeli conflict, it’s quite another to disproportionately bring into play moral value judgments that the MSM apply nowhere else in the world.

9 Responses to The Pregnant War Correspondent and Her Buddies: “Only in Israel…”

  1. Lorenz Gude says:

    “But could it actually be that we see Israelis as very much like ourselves – sophisticated, prosperous, well-educated, fairly pale-skinned democrats? Do we hate ourselves that much?”

    I sense the self hatred is all unconsciously mixed up with the Jew hatred RL notes in the words “blood thirsty sub-humans.”

    I think the problem is the denial or repression of outer reality – many, including many Israelis supported, a two state solution, but the answer to Oslo was the intifada and the response to land for peace (ie Gaza) was more war. It doesn’t matter what the Israelis do or for that matter what the Palestinians do – the former are always the villains, the later always the victims. That is the giveaway – the ideology never changes. Denial grossly distorts both the inner and outer landscape. So self hatred and Jew hatred get all mixed up in a rich chaos of introjection and projection. It is quite possible to enjoy the bloodthirstyness of Palestinians while seeing the Israelis as systematically targeting civilians – particularly children – while they are working very hard to do the opposite. So I don’t think taking these journalists to the Congo or Chechnya would blow their moral equipment because they have already short circuited it with denial that Islamists are a real and present danger to all Western culture. For them the issue is Israel because they believe to the bottom of their Post Colonial souls that Israel’s defeat would pacify the Islamists.

  2. oao says:

    why, with seventy conflicts worldwide, almost all of which have higher casualty counts, is the Arab-Israeli conflict the obsession of the Western MSM.

    ask rich rostrom that.

    I think the problem is the denial or repression of outer reality

    because the alternative is impossible to contemplate. what, recognize and admit jihad must be fought?

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    OAO: Since you ask:

    The world can be divided into “white people” and “natives”. Americans, Britons, French, Germans, Japanese, Swiss, Canadians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Czechs – these are all “white”. Arabs, black Africans, Latin Americans, Russians, Serbs – these are “natives”.

    What is the distinction? The former are considered within the pale of modern (Western) and expected to live up to the standards of civilization. The latter are outside it, and thus not so expected. (There is also the “authenticity” issue: “natives” are expected to show passionate attachment to their traditional culture and their ethnic group that would be consdiered racist in “whites”, and are credited with special knowings and understandings that effete civilized peoples have lost.)

    Jews have become archetypically “white”. Thus the expectations around them are much higher than for any natives. And Israel is the contemporary scapegoat for the sins of “white” imperialism and colonialism. Those who cannot punish Leopold of Belgium, or Pizarro, or Rhodes, or Andrew Jackson, can instead condemn Israel.

    There is also the sheer prominence of Jews in the world. As Mark Twain wrote over 100 years ago:

    If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. [Less than 0.3% today.] It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

    That much success also draws disproportionate attention. Much of it is of course from Jews, who are disproportionately present in media and intellectual circles.

  4. Rich Rostrom says:

    OAO: Since you ask:

    The world can be divided into “white people” and “natives”. Americans, Britons, French, Germans, Japanese, Swiss, Canadians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Czechs – these are all “white”. Arabs, black Africans, Latin Americans, Russians, Serbs – these are “natives”.

    What is the distinction? The former are considered within the pale of modern (Western) and expected to live up to the standards of civilization. The latter are outside it, and thus not so expected. (There is also the “authenticity” issue: “natives” are expected to show passionate attachment to their traditional culture and their ethnic group that would be consdiered racist in “whites”, and are credited with special knowings and understandings that effete civilized peoples have lost.)

    Jews have become archetypically “white”. Thus the expectations around them are much higher than for any natives. And Israel is the contemporary scapegoat for the sins of “white” imperialism and colonialism. Those who cannot punish Leopold of Belgium, or Pizarro, or Rhodes, or Andrew Jackson, can instead condemn Israel.

    There is also the sheer prominence of Jews in the world. As Mark Twain wrote over 100 years ago:

    If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. [Less than 0.3% today.] It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

    That much success also draws disproportionate attention. Much of it is of course from Jews, who are disproportionately present in media and intellectual circles.

  5. oao says:

    rostrom,

    you seem to belabor under the belief that I don’t understand the roots of anti-semitism. i know all these arguments.

    let’s take them to their logical conclusion: given these circumstances, is there any reason for the jews to pay too much attention to morality?

    they shouldn’t be concerned with that, since nothing they do will get them accepted. yet they are much more than all those who hold them to account.

    if there is anybody who should blow up the world, the jews should do it, given what it was and is done to them. but they don’t and it’s the pals who scream about suffering and blow up the world.

    this in itself reveals the pals for what they are: bloodthirsty, treacherous barbarians.

  6. oao says:

    by which i mean that if your rationalization of the treatment of the indians (who are hardly like the pals) by the whites is justified, then the infinitely better treatment of the pals by israel is several folds more justifiable.

    my point was that the whites hold only israel, not themselves also to as high a standard. if they held themselves to the same there would be no problem.

  7. Lorenz Gude says:

    Remarkable how white Jews and Japanese have become in the post colonial world.

  8. Rich Rostrom says:

    OAO:

    White France gave up its colony in Algeria.

    White South Africa and white Rhodesia were forced to give up authority over their non-white subjects.

    White America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all give full citizenship and special legal status to indigenous non-whites.

    Israel’s situation is different from all of these, and Israel cannot be reasonably expected to follow any of these examples. But neither is Israel’s situation so different as to make Israel uniquely stigmatized.

  9. oao says:

    White France gave up its colony in Algeria.

    israel is not a colonial power.

    White South Africa and white Rhodesia were forced to give up authority over their non-white subjects.

    israel is not an apartheid state.

    White America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all give full citizenship and special legal status to indigenous non-whites.

    none of them were almost entirely exterminated and none of their indigenous populations were trying to exterminate them.

    i find it quite telling that you find everybody who did the wrong thing to have done the right thing, but only israel who had the greatest legitimacy for what it did of all those you specify, did the wrong thing. why don’t you take your place in line–claims like yours are a dime a dozen.

    Israel’s situation is different from all of these, and Israel cannot be reasonably expected to follow any of these examples.

    you don’t say.

    But neither is Israel’s situation so different as to make Israel uniquely stigmatized.

    the arab propaganda has got to you, which is hardly surprising. the jews were damned when they did not have a state, they are damned if they have it. nothing’s new under the sun. it does not matter what the jews do, they’ll be demonized. so they better do what they can to exist and to hell all the moralizers. including the shameless americans who have the nerve to kill indiscriminately far away from their country and then turn around and demand israel, whom they cannot even touch in terms of killings, and demand suicide.

    spare me the crap.

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