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„Raketen gegen Steinewerfer“ – Das Bild Israels im „Spiegel“

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„Raketen gegen Steinewerfer“ – Das Bild Israels im „Spiegel“ Powered By Docstoc
					Misreporting the Intifada
The media‟s coverage of Israel is threatening the “special relationship” between Germany and Israel By Rolf Behrens
The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) expresses concern about peace in the Middle East. Under the headline “A new attack?” it reports in its August 18, 2003, issue on an “allout military strike,” which it claims Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon is planning according to Arab secret services. The target of this “war of aggression” (“Angriffskrieg,” a term normally used to connate to Hitler’s Blitzkrieg) would be the “Syrian military units, that are safeguarding Lebanon’s interior peace.” The article ends with an alleged horror scenario: “An Israeli assault on Syria would have grave consequences and change the political realities in the Middle East profoundly and with a lasting effect.” All this is garnished with a picture of an Israeli howitzer firing “on the Golan Heights” (Spiegel 34/2003: p. 94). Israel - the Middle East’s aggressor? Ariel Sharon - a warmonger? The Syrian occupying forces, whose presence in Lebanon constitutes a breach of the Lebanese-Israeli cease-fire agreement of May 1983 - deserving peace keepers? For a long time many Israelis and Jews have been complaining about the international media’s unfair coverage of Israel. And, indeed, this subjective impression can be documented empirically. A content analysis of 345 articles published in Der Spiegel - Germany’s uncontested opinion leader among the media - shows the frequent complaint that criticizing Israel is not allowed in Germany to be an absurd myth. Some of the study’s results are appalling: The magazine recurrently portrays the State of Israel as a brutal occupier who arbitrarily uses excessive force. Throughout the time frame of the analysis (the Intifada 1987 - 1992 and the so-called “Al-Aqsa Intifada” 2000 - 2002) the allegedly deplorable state of affairs in Israel, especially its would-be moral decline, is emphasized, and the end of Israel’s existence is more than once reported to be imminent. Similar to the example mentioned at the beginning of this essay an all-out-war between Israel and its Arab neighbors is regularly described as being likely in the near future. During the Intifada in 1988, the magazine wrote that Likud’s victory in the upcoming general elections would “probably lead to a new war - with Syria in the coming summer” (Spiegel 44/1988: p. 201). Thirteen years later, it’s the same story all over again: “The region is at the edge of the abyss right now. Israel’s airforce has attacked Syrian positions in Lebanon several times.” (Spiegel 28/2001: p. 114) Der Spiegel‟s charismatic founder and publisher, Rudolf Augstein (who died recently), regularly predicted a “horrible war whose consequences cannot be estimated” (Spiegel 42/1990: p. 188) and into which “all countries and peoples would be drawn” (Spiegel 11/1988: p. 181) - caused by Israel’s intransigence. Stereotypes like these dominate the reporting. Hardly any of the texts do not bear expressions like these; statistically speaking, the average is 0.96 stereotypes per article. A central motif of the magazine’s coverage is the description of the allegedly brutal tradition of Judaism. Violence seems to be a core value, ideal and characteristic of Jewish tradition: “Already since the time of the kings David and Salomon the history of the Israelites is teeming with war, murder and manslaughter” (Spiegel 41/2001: p. 162). How fitting then is the allegation that the Israeli Defense Forces are displaying senseless brutality. This image is promoted through a characteristic pattern of Der Spiegel‟s reporting: The magazine
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never gives any background on Israel’s wars. In all, the Israeli-Arab wars are mentioned 23 times without naming their cause. In only three cases were explanations for the outbreak or results of a conflict given - and then these were incomplete and biased. In general the reader is left in the dark about the reason behind a war. For example: “When Aghassarian was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1950, there were no Jews there. The first ones he ever saw were the soldiers conquering the Old City in 1967.” (Spiegel 3/2001: p. 127) Typically, Der Spiegel has concealed why there were no Jews in 1950: They had been killed or evicted by Jordanian troops who had attacked the nascent Jewish state shortly after its Declaration of Independence, along with the armies of four other Arab states. This fact, obviously, is not worth mentioning for Der Spiegel. The stereotypical description of the Six-Day War as an Israeli war of aggression with expansionist intentions (without any provocation at all) is probably the most egregious distortion of the whole coverage: The reader who understands this war as an aggressive and expansionist attack on the part of Israel will never be able to understand the Jewish state’s feeling of uncertainty and fear of a lingering threat. Since Israel is described numerous times as an aggressive, “ethnically defined state that oppresses another people” (Spiegel 9/2002: p. 168), it follows that the magazine compares Israel openly with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1988, Der Spiegel alleged that Israel is using “terror as a method of state rule, like the racist white-relic of South Africa” (Spiegel 12/1988: p. 175). In total there are 20 comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. Explicit parallels are most often concealed in quotations. Arguably the most tasteless quotation comes from the thenambassador of Norway in Israel: “What the Germans did was something evil. But we cannot remember them going on the street just to break the arms and legs of people.” (Spiegel 12/1988: p. 175) Similar are the exaggerated attributes Der Spiegel has used to portray Israel’s current prime minister Ariel Sharon, over the years: “Superhawk,” “butcher,” “nationalist demagogue who built his career on the fears, xenophobia and prejudices of the masses,” and “Arik, the horrible.” In many cases Sharon’s life is reduced to just one incident in his history: Ten times the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatilla is mentioned. This emphasis is all the more significant as the magazine fails to address Yassir Arafat’s terrorist “past” altogether. Statistically speaking, Sharon is rated negatively in 93 percent of cases, while Arafat is negatively rated in just 48 percent and positively in 52 percent of cases. But the negative image of Israel is not tied to the person of Ariel Sharon alone. An analysis shows a direct correlation between the Jewish state’s image and its defensive behavior. If Israel is threatened and doesn’t act militarily to counter the threat, the country is assessed positively. When it deploys its military, Israel is generally portrayed negatively. Ehud Barak, for example, was rated positively as long as he was making an effort to come to a peaceful solution. As soon as he reacted to counter violence, negative statements about him increased. When Israel did not react to Iraq’s attack with Scud missiles in 1991, even a “hardliner” like then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir got positive grades from Der Spiegel. The role of the innocent victim apparently guarantees Israel sympathy. This fact turns Israel’s efforts to achieve a better media image into a losing battle: When push comes to shove, Israel will always “fight for its life rather than for its image,” as Shimon Peres once put it.

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“It is not the totalitarian Arafat with his terror war who is denounced by the European media these days - but democratic Israel,” writes German author Wolf Biermann. This view accords with the results of the analysis presented here. But what are the reasons for this development? I would like to propose three explanations for the incomplete and biased coverage of Israel: 1) There is a subtle racism underlying reports about Israel/Palestine; it is not anti-Semitism directed at the Jews, but rather a diffuse sentiment toward “the Arabs.” According to PalestinianAmerican scholar Edward Said, Westerners often see “the Arab” as a backward person, whose deeds need not be measured by civilized standards. At the same time, Jews are measured sometimes by superhuman standards. Maybe this explains why the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla of 1982 - with indirect involvement of Jews - is still reported frequently today, whereas a similar carnage three years later at the same place, during which Syrian-backed Lebanese killed hundreds of Palestinians, is hardly ever mentioned in the Western media. Similarly, you will search in vain for articles in the German media about the virulent state-sponsored anti-Semitism of Israel’s neighboring Arab states. 2) A number of journalists and writers try to assuage the guilt and responsibility for Nazi crimes, which they find a hard burden to carry. Julie Burchin put it this way during the Intifada: “How convenient then are the disturbances in Gaza, proving the TABAU of history – They’re As Bad As Us. It is a great comfort that the Jews are as bad as us, because then the Holocaust becomes a much lighter burden of guilt for Gentiles to carry. If no one is innocent, then no one is guilty. Knocking Israel has become the Ovaltine of the conscience, making a good night’s sleep much easier to come by.” 3) Working conditions in Israel/Palestine also play a role. About 90 percent of all television footage from the territories is filmed by Palestinian stringers - who know exactly what to frame in their own and their people’s interest. This footage has an influence on print journalists and distorts their reporting as well. Probably the most dramatic outcome of this analysis concerns the political fallout of such reporting: Germany and Israel are loosing their common historic and contemporary viewpoint. While most Israelis feel threatened by their neighbors, the majority of Europeans these days see Israel as the aggressor and troublemaker in the Middle East. In the not-so-long run the coverage of Israel practiced by Der Spiegel and other media will lead to the eventual end of the “special relationship” between Germany and Israel. It must be in the interest of all responsible Germans to decisively counter such a development.

Rolf Behrens is the author of “‟Missiles against stone throwers‟ - the image of Israel in the German newsmagazine „Der Spiegel.‟ A content analysis of the coverage about Intifada 1987-1992 and „Al-Aqsa Intifada‟ 2000-2002,” Hamburg: LIT 2003 (German). Contact: rolf_behrens@hotmail.com.
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