Written by Tara Goldsmith
For many years there have been arguments as to whether or not the news media is biased, this argument has been particularly relevant when talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Often, as Jews it is an automatic reaction to believe that Israel is being discriminated against, however, after looking at different statistics and articles it is clear that this is not always the case.
The confusing nature of the conflict has led to the formation of many different opinions, these conflicting opinions are often highlighted in the news reporting of the events. Each side, the pro‐Israel and the anti‐Israel/pro‐Palestine, has claimed that news reporters are being biased towards the other.
The BBC has been covering this conflict from its earliest developments and there have been many reports on the institution’s bias. However, both sides believe that the bias is against them.
A report posted on the Guardian’s website showed pictures of a pro‐Palestinian group protesting outside the BBC’s London headquarters, complaining that the BBC had reported the Israeli air strikes in a biased way. They believed that the BBC’s news programmes were ‘entirely devoid of context or background’. This article states that many people believe that the BBC is not getting across the Palestinian point of view, saying that it hasn’t considered the background of the conflict enough in the report.
However, the Guardian also has a statement from someone on the other side, a columnist from the Jewish Chronicle, saying that the criticism of the BBC has been ‘made in exactly the same detail on the other side of the argument’, meaning that pro‐Israel groups would also say that the BBC hasn’t considered the history of the Jewish people and their historic right to have their own state.
The accusation of bias isn’t contained simply to mainstream media. According to research done in October 2013, Twitter has over 215 million active users, creating over 500 million tweets, which accumulates to just over 3% of the world’s population using twitter. During the summer of 2014 many trends and hashtags were started regarding the conflict. Many tweets including the hashtag ‘#freepalestine’ were shared among the site, with many celebrities getting involved. Singer Rihanna tweeted the hashtag to her 37.8 million followers, and received a total of 11,629 retweets and favourites. As well as this, former One Direction singer, Zayn Malik also tweeted the hashtag to his 13 million followers receiving over 130,000 retweets. However, many of One Direction fans are young and impressionable, many of whom will not know the full extent of the situation. Many impolite, incorrect and harmful comments have been made using these hashtags, including nods towards ethnic cleansing and other
insensitive or damaging ideas. Those that aren’t necessarily completely educated on the topic and history, may relay these opinions themselves without knowing the full consequence of what they’re saying.
The rise of social media has meant that the platforms have been increasingly used as a tool to coordinate campaigns of antisemitic harassment. Examples include the ‘runover’ campaign, with around 90 different Facebook pages dedicated to it, with thousands of followers. This campaign came about after several car attacks by Palestinian terrorists, resulting in injuries and deaths of several Israeli citizens in late November 2014. These pages have been described as glorifying and encouraging terror attacks against Israelis. Some of the posts on these pages describe the ‘run‐overs’ as part of a new revolution; a form of ‘car Intifada’. Other Facebook pages include anti‐Semitic posts depicting religious Jews with hooked noses running away from vehicles attempting to run‐over them. The campaign spread on Twitter as well; the Arabic hashtag ‘Daesh’ has attracted numerous posts celebrating terrorism. For example, one Tweet reads, ‘Nothing is more beautiful than a runover, lest stabbing’. These types of campaigns are dangerous and harmful, spreading glorification not only of attacks on Israel but terror attacks in general.
Many Twitter users have also used incorrect or out of context images to portray the abuse given to both sides during certain conflicts. During the most recent Israel‐Gaza conflict many of these images show an incorrect or bad representation of not only Israelis, but Jews as well. Twitter user ‘@InCapitol24’ tweeted an image of a Jewish man shouting at a seemingly defenceless and innocent Palestinian woman, with the caption ‘Israeli religious fanatics (Jews) stop Palestinians from praying at Al Aqsa mosque in #Jerusalem’, receiving 798 retweets and 233 favourites. However, when looking more closely at the image it is clear to see that the Palestinian woman is holding a Jewish book of Psalms. It is then easy to assume that this woman has taken it from the Jewish man as the book is upside down in her hands
and of no relevance to her. One blog found a video to prove these assumptions. Six seconds into the video you can see the women aggressively grabbing the book from the man. As well as this, it is clear to see that the Palestinians are pushing the Jews away and preventing them from praying, not the other way round as many sources would suggest.
A recent USA Today article reports on the different antisemitic attacks throughout Europe. For example in France, three consecutive weekends of pro‐Palestine protests turned into a string of antisemitic attacks. This supports the CST’s statistics; 1,309 antisemitic incidents recorded nationwide during 2016, a 36 percent increase from the 960 incidents recorded by CST in 2015. Examples of such antisemitism include: occupants in a group of cars, in Manchester, England, shouted and swore at Jewish pedestrians, yelling ‘heil Hitler’, and in Antwerp, Belgium, a doctor refused to treat a Jewish woman, telling her son to ‘send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain’. This sort of behaviour can be linked back to what people see or hear in the media. It has also proved that people tend to blame Jews for the wrongdoings of Israel.
CNN reported on the November 2014 attacks at a synagogue in Jerusalem, committed by a group of Palestinians. However, the headline of the news story, live on air, read; ‘Deadly attack on Jerusalem Mosque’. This shows that the news company could possibly have created the headlines before finding out the whole story. This theory becomes a little more evident when the next headline comes on screen; ‘Police: four Israelis, two Palestinians killed in attack’, this title is vague and leaves the viewers with questions. The report becomes confusing for the viewers as Jerusalem’s mayor is interviewed talking about the synagogue. Although there is no hard evidence, it can be seen that this news corporation has created the headlines prior to their own knowledge of the whole story, which highlights their bias, as they seem to have automatically decided that the mosque must have been the target of attack. This has also been criticised in UK news
outlets, with the press attaché at London’s Israeli embassy,
Yiftah Curiel, in early 2016 stating: ‘Headlines of news pieces on the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict will turn events on their head, portraying perpetrator as victim.’
Although this article cannot possibly show the whole story, nor examine every aspect of the on‐going conflict, these examples do show how media bias can affect people’s views on certain events. It’s important to remember that news outlets will often take sides before understanding a full story. This is not saying not to trust the news, but simply to be aware of the bias they may hold.