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Unfair and Unbalanced

Lazy Journalism and Israel’s Punitive War

by SERGE HALIMI

The Israeli army’s punitive expedition in Gaza has revived a major aspiration of modern journalism: the right to be lazy. In professional terms, this is known as “balance” (the far-right US television channel Fox News describes itself, not without irony, as “fair and balanced”).

In the Middle East conflict, where the wrongs are not equally divided, “balance” gives the occupying power an advantage. It also enables western journalists to escape the anger of those who dislike hearing inconvenient facts by “balancing” them against the words of other commentators explaining them away. The same concern for balance is not apparent, however, in other international crises such as Ukraine. In any case, true balance — between pictures of protracted carnage in Gaza and warnings of a rocket attack on a Tel Aviv beach — should tip the scales a little. If only because one side — the Israelis — use professional communicators, while the other has only the sufferings of their civilians to show to western media.

But inspiring pity is not an effective political weapon; it is better to control the account of what has happened. For decades, we have been told that Israel is “responding” or “retaliating”. The story is always that of a peaceful little state, poorly protected, without a single powerful ally, which manages to win through, sometimes without a scratch. And the confrontation always starts at the precise moment when Israel appears as the victim, shocked by misfortune — an abduction, an attack, an act of aggression, an assassination. A commentator will express indignation that rockets are being fired at civilians; then another will argue that the Israeli “response” was much more murderous. Score, one all, ball still in play.

And everything else, everything that matters, is forgotten: the military occupation of the West Bank, the economic blockade of Gaza, the colonisation of the land (1). News channels never take the time to go into details… How many people know, for instance, that between the Six Day war and the Iraq war, between 1967 and 2003, Israel failed to comply with more than a third of all UN Security Council resolutions issued, many of them concerning the colonisation of Palestinian land? A simple ceasefire in Gaza would therefore mean perpetuating a recognised breach of international law.

One can no longer rely on France to remind the world of this. François Hollande declared on 9 July that it was for the Israeli government to “take all necessary measures to protect its people in the face of the threats”, without a word about Palestinian civilian victims. Thus he abandoned any semblance of balance and became another messenger boy for the Israeli right wing.

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.