FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Media and the Middle East

by RAMZY BAROUD

There is little disagreement on the indispensable role of the media in influencing political debate and narrative, thus shaping public discourse.

Among progressives, liberals and most political minorities in the United States and Europe, there is an equal consensus regarding the troubling alliance that is bringing warmongering politicians, ideologues, religious zealots and media moguls together. They alone possess the capabilities to sway the public in any way they wish, or so it seems; they stack a nation’s priorities in the way they find most fit; they concoct wars and justify them when they go awry. In short, they manipulate democracy by manipulating the public, using whatever means necessary: fear, misinformation and all the familiar rest.

No other issue has been the victim of such treachery like the Middle East discourse in the West, and particularly that concerning Palestine and Israel. This is a subject that is as old as the conflict itself. Even before the establishment of the state of Israel upon the hundreds of conquered and mostly destroyed Palestinian towns and villages in 1947-48, the founders of Israel seemed utterly aware of the destructive impact of their action on Western public opinion. Israeli historian Benny Morris’s commanding book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem is dotted with instances where–in their secretive dealings–Zionist politicians bickered over the massacring of Palestinians or their overt ethnic cleansing particularly because of how such blatant actions could damage Israel’s image in the West, not because of the moral dilemma of the acts themselves.

This ‘image’ problem has indeed irked Israel since day one and continues to do so; this is why the term ‘PR disaster’ has always constituted a nightmarish scenario for Israeli politicians throughout the years, and subsequently turned Israel into a master in media spins and crisis management. Israel understood well that in order for its habitually indefensible policies, so evident in the illegal confiscation of land, the oppression of people and the defiance to international law, and so on, to be justified, facts have to be spun, truths have to be hidden and a new discourse, one that defies reality altogether would has to be woven, as it has.

Thus, despite the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most reported media story on earth, it’s the least understood, seemingly the least rational, and most certainly one with the least potential to be resolved. The media’s skewed narrative makes the conflict an end in itself; it creates a status quo that is most suitable for Israel’s colonial policies and least desirable for Palestinians, who are silently–or so it seems–losing their land, their livelihood and any prospect of freedom, let alone their refugees’ right of return.

Israel’s impact on the media however, has metamorphosed throughout the years, from that seeking to influence to the one doing its own molding of public opinion. Israel’s dedicated media friends, from the New York Times to the British Telegraph are perhaps the largest and by far the most influential interest groups in the media anywhere around the world, a fact that they–understandably so–often rebuff. But the facts are too apparent to deny. According to the findings of a recent study conducted by two top American scholars–Professor John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago and Professor Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University–the single largest influence on US foreign policy in the Middle East is Israel’s interest, even when it is at odds with the United States own interests. The study cited the Israeli lobby, AIPAC as chiefly responsible for hijacking US foreign policy in the Middle East and has based its apparently thorough research on diverse sources, including uncountable media reports.

Many are already familiar with the ‘special’ ties between the United States and Israel, which arguably allowed for the latter to steer the foreign policy of the ‘greatest democracy on earth’ into the Middle East political abyss–whose injurious consequences are likely to diminish the US global import. But most might not be aware of the fact that the media is largely responsible for manufacturing that ‘special relationship’. In fact, US interests in the Middle East–be they political, economic, i.e. strategic–have been greatly hampered, thanks to the perpetual, albeit misguided advocacy by Israel’s allies in the administration, Congress, media and ‘independent’ think tanks and endless lists of ‘experts’ unleashed whenever Israel’s image is at risk.

But what has in fact magnified the impact of the Israeli lobby and its influence in the media–whose work on behalf of Israel has exceeded Palestine, Palestinians and even the Middle East as a whole to all kinds of geopolitical boundaries as far as Africa, Asia, Latin America, and of course, Washington itself, also known as ‘the other occupied territory’ by a former US congressman–was the pitiable and most disorganized response of Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs. Some out of fear, perhaps, chose to disown the matter altogether using whatever injudicious logic they could drum up. Others tried to develop their own media alternatives, which is commendable. However, such mediums have failed–unlike the Israeli media machine–to carry any depth, strategy or sense of unity toward a fixed goal. In fact, it reflected Arab factionalism and brought into question the actual motives behind these ‘alternative’ ventures.

The result has been catastrophic. Israel’s decades-long quest to bolster its media image has done wonders as American public opinion either sees Israel as a lone defender of democracy amid uncivilized Arab polities or not at all aware of the facts, basing its inane understanding of Middle East politics on media half truths that see Arabs as irrational, lazy and inherently violent, with the Israeli being the embodiment of the complete antithesis.

I am afraid that many Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are themselves content with the status quo and are the least interested in reversing their misfortune or appreciating the immense impact of the media on politics, wars and indeed peace. There is an overall inclination that associates media bias with racial categorization–always the easy answer to all enigmas – which is usually followed by a shoulder shrug and the defeatist impression that ‘all is lost’, an echo of the same defeatist sentiment that has accompanied the Arab-Israeli conflict since its inception, which is now directly involving the United States, its military, its resources and reputation.

However all is not lost, for even the most focused misinformation can be reversed, no matter how humble the initiative, how modest the resources. I have said so for many years and many have said it before me and many will continue to echo the same idea: with all due respect “it’s the media, stupid.” And if one is foolish enough to neglect its import, then maybe one deserves to be burnt by its fire.

RAMZY BAROUD teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology and is the author of forthcoming The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. He is also the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com. He can be contacted at: editor@palestinechronicle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail