Els van Diggele
Els van Diggele, Claudia Kamergorodski

Interview with Els van Diggele, author of three books on internal disputes in Israel and the Palestinian Authority territories among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

"A central term in my new book, The Misleidingsindustrie (The Misleading Industry), is the expression “campaign journalism.” This refers to the way in which mainstream Dutch media report about Israel, Palestinians and the region from within The Netherlands. This is the result of ‘campaign journalism’, a type of journalism, which is based on personal engagement and does not primarily deal with facts.

"This reporting is very common in Dutch mainstream media. It comes down to reporting about the Palestinian Arab as a powerless victim of Israel, and presenting a negative picture of the Jewish state. Yet I emphasize that I don't want to give the impression that this is done intentionally.”

Els van Diggele was born in 1967 in the Dutch village of Warmond. After her history studies at Leiden University she followed a post-doctoral journalism course at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University. She has published three books on internal disputes in Israel and the Palestinian Authority territories among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Recently she published a book on one of the few Holocaust-survivors who is still alive.

Van Diggele continues, "I am only an observer not a participant. To be clear I am not an adherent of Netanyahu, nor a Zionist, nor a Nakba denier, nor do I work for the Israel Embassy or the Mossad." She adds, "To make it very clear, I am not pleading for Palestinian bashing."

Why is it necessary to say this or why does the interviewee consider them necessary? Van Diggele answers: "Due to the polarization of the subject, one needs to make these things clear. From experience I know it is best to be ahead of the people who want to stick a label on me.

"The term ‘campaign journalism’ was, as far as I know, created around 1970 by Jerome Heldring, a former editor of the Dutch daily, NRC Handelsblad. He said that campaign journalism is in fact propaganda. It is the duty of the journalist to report on the reality of the location where he (or she) is stationed.

"This campaign journalism in most cases happens unconsciously. It is largely an instinctive matter. Usually it seems the result of an emotional commitment. Yet, the foreign desk of a media outlet not being aware of this phenomenon is perhaps even worse than intentionally misleading people.

"In my book, I show that readers of mainstream media, viewers and listeners of the public news bulletins, are victims of campaign-journalism. This genre is not confined to reporting about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. It is, in fact, a widely spread phenomenon that also applies to other subjects like colonialism, Srebrenica, and the climate. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is the best and oldest example we have: it draws a deep divide in Dutch society.

The internal Palestinian, frequently bloody, struggle for power and the suppression of the ordinary Palestinian Arab by his own leaders is much less reported about by mainstream media than what happens on the Israeli side. Patience toward the Palestinian leaders, who are often described as peace doves, seems to have become a trademark. The consumer of news has been one-sidedly informed for decades. The damage caused is very hard to correct. The daily NRC has been tricking the public in this area already for years. This newspaper is however just one example of what is happening. It is a commercial product, so we can unsubscribe. But to the public news broadcaster NOS, we cannot.

“There are indeed a few rare articles published which state the truth, in particular if a Palestinian Arab writes them. For instance, a critical article from the Palestinian Arab academic, Sari Nusseibeh, appeared in the Volkskrant daily in 2017. In the same year, another Dutch daily, Trouw, published an objective article from the Palestinian journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh. Furthermore, publications from Human Rights Watch about the violation of human rights in Palestinian society draw the attention of Dutch journalists from time to time. Even more rare is an article with criticism of Palestinian Arab society written by a paper's own journalist.

"In 2017, Iraq legally removed Palestinians citizenship from all Palestinian Arabs living there. The European media barely gave this any attention. It is a typical example of the Anglo-Saxon journalist expression “no Jews, no news.” The obsession with Jews is an old deviation of the European moral compass. Conflicts where Jews are involved are usually given the highest priority by editors. This leads to news distortion.

“The Palestinians have understood that they do not have any news value without involving Jews. They know that demonstrations in Gaza at the Israeli border are always news. There is no indication that Dutch correspondents understand that the Palestinians are using them. Their instinctive involvement overshadows their judgment.

"If the love of the European journalist for the Palestinian Arabs derives from the aversion for the Jews and Israel, that is also unconscious. I think it plays a rather minor role. More important is the general conscious or unconscious European obsession with the Jews and Israel. We should be aware that the sympathy that we see in mainstream European media for Palestinians is related to this. This fixation has been common in Western culture for centuries. What we see now continues this obsession unintentionally and perhaps instinctively.

"The Palestinian Arab has attained a symbolic function in the media. The sympathy has become a sign of moral justice. Other nations who have suffered do not have this symbolic function. Symbolic functions are not relative.

“To mention one typical Dutch example: people from the Moluccans, an island group in Indonesia, are the victims of Dutch colonialism. They suffered the most merciless example of exploitation in history. Part of them are refugees, others indigenous and exotic. They have been fighting in vain for decades for their own state. They should qualify for a powerful solidarity story. That doesn't exist because their main opponent, the Indonesian Republic, is also considered a victim of the centuries old Dutch colonialism.

"An additional big problem in the Netherlands is the NOS. For decades this public news broadcaster provides misleading information. There should be an independent investigation of how NOS deals with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Yet the chance that this will happen is very small. Two things are not allowed in the Dutch mainstream media: Don't touch the Palestinian Arabs and don't criticize the media.”

Van Diggele explains: "Everything can be mentioned in Dutch newspapers, radio and television: failing politicians and authorities, adultery and sex. One thing is not permitted, the Palestinian cannot be subject to criticism. He is a powerless and indisputable victim of fifty years of Israeli occupation. He merits protection, which brings us automatically to journalism: journalists can write about everything, but woe to those who look critically at the state of journalism.

“Readers, listeners and viewers of mainstream media pay the price. They gave their mandate to the journalist in full confidence. This trust has been severely damaged. They count on receiving the entire story, but they get only a biased half-version. Under these conditions, is a balanced viewpoint even possible? Probably not. This injustice is what I want to draw attention to.”

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.