Backwards Headlines and Dehumanizing Israelis: BBC and Co. Run Rampant

It's not just the misleading headlines and selective context - western media outlets have long since eschewed journalism to act as the Palestinians' official propaganda arm.

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Ari Soffer,

Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

International news outlets are often accused of displaying an anti-Israel bias, highlighting Palestinian claims and narratives while playing down or ignoring the Israeli viewpoint altogether.

Selective headlines, misleading and selective use of terminologies and blind trust of Palestinian (or pro-Palestinian) sources - fact-checking be damned - are just some of the more obvious examples of this phenomenon.

Former Associated Press journalist Matti Friedman famously went a step further earlier this year, blowing the whistle on the ingrained anti-Israel bias within his own former company, and shedding light on how international journalists have long since eschewed objective reporting in favor of hostile propaganda where Israel is concerned.

The latest case in point is the saga over the BBC's outrageous initial headline announcing a brutal attack by an Islamist terrorist in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday night.

A 19-year-old Islamic Jihad terrorist went on a deadly stabbing and shooting spree, murdering two innocent civilians and injuring several others - including a two-year-old boy and his mother, the latter of whom was then beaten and mocked by Arab passersby - before the terrorist was shot dead by Israeli police. 

In a now-notorious choice of headline, the BBC incredibly cast the murderer as victim, declaring: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two."

Despite the BBC later changing the headline to more accurately reflect the story, the Israeli Government Press Office took the unusual step of reprimanding the BBC's Israel desk, prompting an admission by the British media corporation that it had indeed erred - though no apology was forthcoming.

The BBC was not alone in its ridiculous "style" of reporting; Al Jazeera at least apologized for its own egregious tweet and headline ("Palestinian shot dead after fatal stabbing in Jerusalem; 2 Israeli victims also killed").

Neither is this phenomenon anything new. Following the massacre at a synagogue in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood last year carried out by two Arab terrorists, CNN informed us of an attack on a "Jerusalem mosque," while blandly announcing: "4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians Killed in Jerusalem."

The list goes on and on. Backwards headlines leading with the killing of a "Palestinian [Terrorist]" are by now practically the norm. (To cite just one example of many: "Israeli Police Shoot Man in East Jerusalem" is how AP described an attack last year by a "man" (Palestinian) who plowed his car into Israeli civilians, killing baby Chaya Zisel-Braun and injuring scores more.)

In fact, Israelis have become accustomed to this perverse tag-team of sorts between terrorists and supposedly objective media outlets, the latter of whom regularly supplement terrorist attacks with free propaganda, including bogus justifications, omitting context or details which could undermine the Palestinian narrative, and downplaying Israeli suffering or suggesting that it is somehow self-inflicted.

I've written about this before, following the upside-down coverage by almost every news network of the attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick by an Islamist terrorist. After that attack, CNN, BBC, AP and co. went into full propaganda mode, portraying the victim as an "extremist" practically begging to be shot, and the attacker as just a regular Palestinian guy legitimately upset at Jews "invading Al Aqsa" ("Temple Mount"? What Temple Mount?).

All of these instances have been highlighted repeatedly by media watchdog groups such as Honest Reporting, CAMERA and others, and the Government Press Office deserves credit for speaking up in the face of such galling bias in this case.

But the problem goes far beyond outrageous headlines and one-sided reporting. As exposed by Tuvia Tenenbom's best-selling book, Catch The Jew, Western media outlets embedded in Israel for all intents and purposes function as Palestinian propaganda outlets, working not merely to delegitimize the State of Israel, but to dehumanize Israeli Jews in general.

Sometimes, it is a case of ideologically-driven anti-Zionism (take for example former Electronic Intifada hate-blogger, now New York Times Middle East Correspondent Diaa Hadid). But more often, it's simply a matter of business; news is a commodity, and editors are increasingly more interested in what "sells" (or clicks) than in actually reporting the facts. If anti-Israel propaganda is in-vogue, then that's what they'll produce.

And it's an industry which feeds itself: The more outlets encourage the perception of Israel as a legitimate target for violence, the more audiences will "expect" to receive such stories.

Yet regardless of the motives, this propaganda is key to the campaign to destroy Israel pursued by the likes of Hamas et al. As propagandists from Nazi Germany to Hamas have understood, to legitimize annihilating an entire people you must first make doing so appear unobjectionable and palatable - even desirable.

Which brings me to a facet of western media coverage far worse than any horrendous headline: its use of imagery.

Consider the following: When a Palestinian is the victim of an attack, what pictures will BBC or CNN use to illustrate the story? A crying mother or father, often holding a picture of their lost loved one; touching photos of the victims themselves before their death; someone somberly carrying the coffin or corpse of the dead or helping the wounded; furious demonstrators.

What emotions do such powerful images evoke? Sympathy, solidarity, perhaps even a sense of righteous indignation.

Now consider: From the Fogel family murders to the brutal attack on Saturday night, how do BBC et al. illustrate their stories when Israelis are the victims? With pictures of vaguely menacing Israeli soldiers; bland, meaningless photos of the surrounding area; or, at best, some vague distant image of people milling about the attack scene.

BBC's coverage alternated between the first and last of these options, initially showing Israeli border police pointing their guns, and only after several days changing to this relatively bland image of paramedics at the scene.

But why would they choose to do so, when readily-available pictures such as this one - showing an Israeli man holding the toddler wounded in the attack - would surely make for a far more eye-catching choice?

Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The answer, of course, is that such images are only deemed appropriate for use when involving Palestinians - the only side in the conflict allowed any form of grievance by most mainstream media outlets.

By avoiding such otherwise obvious choices of image time and time again, outlets are consciously and cynically trying to play down the human tragedy where Israelis are concerned. We are merely a state of soldiers and militant "settlers", with some blurry paramedics and other people lurking somewhere in the background.

With this in mind it is worth asking where the Israeli authorities have been in the face of such relentless, insidious dehumanization. 

Much as they have allowed European-funded far-left NGOs - whose sole objective is to undermine Israeli government policy and delegitimize the State of Israel - to operate with impunity in their own backyard, the government has done little if anything to curb their journalistic counterparts.

I am not, of course, talking about Turkish- or Hamas-style curbs on free press, but when Netanyahu himself talks of the "threat" of delegitimization, surely he and his government must do more to end this phenomenon of dehumanization. Press credentials are a privilege, not the God-given right of every journalist looking to launch his or her career via some juicy, anti-Israel propaganda.

Of course, the most effective answer is the construction of a powerful counter-narrative.

That begins with exposing and deconstructing the way media outlets manipulate the discourse, and challenging by them, as consumers, when they propagate such a coarse, one-sided narrative.