Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe they have been treated with consistent fairness and understanding in the American media—particularly now, when both Israelis and Palestinians are increasingly in mortal danger.
An August 13 interview concerning this contentious press issue on Brit Hume’s ‘Special Report’ news hour on Fox News Channel received more viewer response—much of it furious—than any interview aired since that program’s inception in January 1998.
Hume, as he later told me, had noticed for some time—as have I—that while many Western journalists assigned to Israel arrive with a relatively sympathetic attitude toward the Israelis, they end up with growing empathy for the Palestinians. And, I would add, this change in attitude often is reflected in their reports.
For an explanation, Brit Hume looked to Keith Graves, currently reporting on the U.S. for the British Sky News operation.
Previously, Graves had been the Middle East correspondent, based in Jerusalem, for Sky News. And before that, his 25 years with the respected BBC news had included a stay in the Middle East.
Sitting opposite Brit Hume, then, was a well-credentialed journalist with an unmistakable air of authority. Hume began by asking why some Western journalists, after they’ve been in the Middle East for a while, begin to treat the two sides engaging in ever increasing violence as “moral equals.”
Graves, to begin with, praised the Israelis’ “very, very good PR machine, which gives people the impression that here you’ve got a tiny nation—it is a small nation—beset by enemies.”
This is not true? Israel is not beset by enemies?
“But when you get to Israel,” Graves continued, you become aware that “Israel is a very, very powerful military nation.”
That is true.
Moreover, said Graves, with his customary assurance, “They are very arrogant people, to my mind, and to most journalists who go.”
Hume asked, “Is it the Israeli people, or is it the government officials that you deal with?”
Graves answered, “I’ve been accused of being a racist for saying this, but it is the Israeli people.”
I grew up hearing such generalizations about blacks from people who resisted being called racists. They said they were just telling it like it was: “Negroes are shiftless, and they don’t do well in school because they don’t have the capacity.” Some of these generalizers would go on to say, “But listen, some of my best friends are Negroes.”
And in the Fox News interview, Keith Graves immediately told Brit Hume, “I’ve got a lot of Israeli friends.”
As I’ve written in the Voice, I have great respect for Brit Hume as a reporter and a penetrating interviewer. But this time, as Hume said to me after this broadcast, “I didn’t challenge Graves enough.”
I would have reminded Graves that on July 19, after Israeli settlers had murdered three Palestinians, including a baby boy, in a drive-by shooting, they were reviled by Israelis across all political lines. This was Israeli “arrogance”?
Graves cited another act of terrorism, a “shooting by an Israeli settler in the mosque in Hebron. He killed 28 people.” Graves might have added that the massacre occurred while the victims were praying. But Graves did not mention that this murderer, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, was bitterly condemned by the vast majority of Israelis. Israeli “arrogance,” again?
Keith Graves did emphasize that “no Western journalist, no journalist in his right mind, would condone what these Palestinian suicide bombers are doing.” But he added, “You might well ask what drives them to that.”
I would have asked Graves to be more precise and to further illuminate the mind-set of the suicide bomber in the Jerusalem pizzeria on August 9, as he carefully situated himself among the children and infants eating there before he set off his explosive pack of ball bearings and nails that killed 15 Israelis and mutilated more than 100 others.
What was the reaction of Palestinians? After the Israelis’ body parts had littered the Jerusalem street, thousands of Palestinians in Ramallah celebrated that glorious act of religious nationalism and revenge. In other West Bank cities—as the August 11 Washington Post reported—joyous “Palestinian boys clapped and chanted slogans.”
Similarly, after the June 1 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed 22 Israelis, most of them teenagers, Palestinians in Ramallah and elsewhere danced in the streets.
In an August 11 Washington Post story, “Palestinians Find Heroes in Hamas,” Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which believes there can and should be no negotiations with Israel—only escalating violence—declared:
“We are a people not afraid of death, and when one of us dies, it’s like a wedding day for him. One who is martyred attains a very high spiritual level, and so his death is like a celebration—we offer candy, sweets, and cold drinks, because we know he’ll be so high in heaven.” Hamas, it should be noted, is gaining more and more strength among Palestinians of all classes.
Would Keith Graves call this spiritual arrogance?
I have written here and elsewhere of appalling violence committed against Palestinians by Israelis—torture of prisoners, destruction of homes, the seizing of lands, and more. But to speak of the “moral equivalency” of what is going on now is to recall that these Israeli brutalities against Palestinians have been most persistently exposed by Israeli civil liberties organizations through the years. Israeli lawyers have frequently defended Palestinians in the courts.
And until this time of the suicide bombers, the Peace Now movement in Israel was a mass movement. There has never been the equivalent of a mass Peace Now movement among Palestinians, although individual Palestinians have tried to organize such a movement.
I would suggest that Western journalists covering the Middle East tell us whether they agree with the views of Keith Graves as they file their stories.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 28, 2001