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The Israel press and disengagement

09/08/2005

The current Columbia Journalism Review (September-October 2005) presents a long article by Gal Beckerman about the Israel press and disengagement.

Beckerman's thesis is that is that the press looked the other way to enable Sharon to pull off the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Beckerman writes that, "by avoiding certain troubling questions, by not looking too far into the future, by never really dissecting Sharon's deeper motives or long-range strategy, Israel's press helped turn a poorly articulated national undertaking into an inevitability."

The publishers call Beckerman's piece "a psychological portrait of an Israeli press that, at a critical historical moment, simply stopped asking questions."

The piece contains noteworthy material, but some of Beckerman's judgments are off the mark. Here are comments on three aspects --- quotes, judgments, and some errors of fact.

1) The article gives some interesting quotes.

David Landau of Haaretz confirms that he eventually concluded that any examination of what he called Sharon's "peccadilloes" had to "go by the board when compared to what moral and ethical benefits we can achieve with disengagement."

Beckerman quotes Landau: "You're right --- I subjugate, consciously --- it's not that I'm doing it in an unconscious or careless way --- I consciously have subjugated those values to the overriding advantage I see for Israel's democracy."

The article quotes Amnon Dankner of Maariv as saying that the way his newspaper covered the conflict helped pave the way for the unilateral disengagement.

"Definitely," he [Dankner] said. "We were for it from day one. I think we helped in preparing the public opinion for it."

There are lots of other interesting quotes.

2) The article is very judgmental. It engages in hyperbole and exaggeration, and it draws unfounded conclusions.

Beckerman finds the Israel media guilty of going easy on Sharon and the disengagement plan. He does not mention that the press granted the settlement movement at least as easy a ride over the years, and more recently has failed to follow up the Sasson report's allegations of widespread violations of law. Nor does Beckerman mention the largely sympathetic and uncritical coverage which the media, particularly television, gave to the settlers and to Sharon's opponents once the disengagement was in progress.

It's not true that the press ignored the policy issues. The media did give coverage to the policy and its implications. In minimizing this, Beckerman represents the Israel public as a mindless mass, disillusioned by Oslo, turned racist by the intifada, and unable to see the conflict in anything but emotional terms. He writes that, "Sharon's genius was in coming up with a plan that the press could never reject. One that did not ask most Israelis to think differently about the conflict. One that did not ask them to think differently about the Palestinians. They would not have to learn a new story, just continue repeating the same old one to themselves."

One problem with that interpretation is that it ignores new policy lines which Sharon announced to the country. Sharon committed Israel to supporting the Road Map, which calls for an independent Palestinian state. Sharon acknowledged Israel's role as an occupier. Beckerman wrote more than 6,500 words without once mentioning those developments. Nor did he mention the separation barrier, a Sharon-era project which may turn out to have great significance.

3) Beckerman's article contains errors of fact.

Beckerman writes that "nearly every car antenna in the country" displayed a colored ribbon showing the owner's position on disengagement. This is untrue.

Beckerman writes about "the killing of two Israeli police officers in a Ramallah police station." He repeatedly refers to the victims as police officers, which they were not. They were army reservists who made a wrong turn while driving near Ramallah.

Beckerman writes that the settlers regarded their abortive anti-disengagement march toward Gaza as "akin to Martin Luther King Jr.'s march from Selma." Actually, settler leaders didn't liken it to King's Selma march, which took place under the protection of thousands of U.S. soldiers. Settler statements referred to the 1963 Washington demonstration at which King delivered his "I have a dream" speech.

Beckerman writes that the Gaza settlers "abandoned the cemeteries where they buried their dead." This is not quite true. Reburying the dead inside the Green Line was a highly publicized part of the withdrawal.

These are details. Mistakes like this are unacceptable in newswriting, though, and especially in a publication of a prestigious journalism school. They raise doubts about other material in the article.

Particularly questionable is his assertion, about Haaretz, that, "No one in the power elite can afford to ignore its daily, unsigned editorial." This does not seem to be what guides Israel's power elite.

--- Joseph M. Hochstein


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000378.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Joseph M. Hochstein @ 12:22 AM CST [Link]

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