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Jewish World Review April 17, 2002 / 6 Iyar, 5762

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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How do you say 'media-bias' in Hebrew? | In a recent lead of a Page 1, above-the-fold story, the Washington Post stunningly announced that Israeli forces were pulling out of two "conquered" West Bank towns. Conquered?

Is the Post's bias so thoroughly ingrained that it can nonchalantly bandy about brazen words uttered only by fierce Palestinian partisans? Going town-by-town in the disputed territories to dismantle Arafat's terrorist infrastructure in a defensive effort can hardly be considered in the ilk of Spanish conquistadors plundering to acquire new land.

A city cannot have been "conquered" if there was no conquering in the first place. To conquer an area implies both aggression and an intent to hold or annex the "conquered" land, but neither applies to Israel's military actions. How could the nation's premier daily flub so badly?

Given the prominent placement and double byline, this was no mere oversight. There would have been no fewer than five people--any of whom should have known better--who approved the use of "conquered" in the lead.

Such an error, whether intentional or not, fans the flames of misinformation spread by Palestinian apologists. The Post plays a vital role in framing American perceptions about the unfolding developments in the Mideast, not just for the public-at-large, but also for other newspapers nationwide and TV and radio news outlets. Describing Palestinian cities as "conquered" undeniably fits hand-in-glove with Yasser Arafat's yelps about Israeli "aggression," which results in Sharon being cast as a hostile bad guy and Arafat as a victimized leader of an oppressed people.

Perhaps this biased blunder would be forgivable if the Post had been otherwise fair in reporting the Mideast crisis, but it hasn't been. Since the start of Israel's military actions, the Post has run more than 50 supposedly objective news stories labeling the operation an "offensive." Pardon the pun, but to dub defensive actions designed to protect innocent civilian lives as an "offensive" is utterly offensive.

It's not as if the word "offensive" is necessary in order to properly describe the situation in the Mideast. "Military sweep" or "military actions" both perfectly explain the course of events in objective terms, without resorting to characterizations embraced by partisans on either side. Why is it, then, that the Post compulsively feels the need to classify Israel's actions as an "offensive"?

The Post, and many other American newspapers, likely view the side that sends in tanks as the one engaging in an "offensive." But the world has changed. The new terrorist warfare doesn't march soldiers or roll tanks, it maliciously targets innocent civilians with lethal force to further a political agenda. In responding to terror at its doorstep, Israel 's initiating the use of conventional warfare does not render its actions an "offensive".

After 9/11, no mainstream American media outlet attempted to portray America's retaliatory strikes against al Qaeda as aggressive, so why the double standard for Israel? Watching planes smash into the World Trade Center and forcing the destruction of the towers was tangible to journalists here, and in our then-galvanized society, every sane mind understood the need for a swift, decisive response. But civilians getting blown up at cafes and religious gatherings halfway around the world apparently doesn't have quite the same salience to American reporters.

Part of the problem may also lie in the fact that there is a residual belief in the fourth estate that Arafat has no control over purportedly independent groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. So American media types don 't necessarily see the correlation between suicide bombings, often conducted by these "independent" groups, and Sharon's direct response to protect his people. Maybe American journalists will see Israel's military actions differently as more and more evidence from Arafat's Ramallah compound--showing that Arafat is intimately involved with the "independent" terrorists--comes to light.

There's a reason that even Israel's peaceniks are now hawkish, and Sharon' s military efforts enjoy over 70% Israeli public support. People in Israel know that to live there is to live in fear. No sovereign can sustain merciless and repeated deadly attacks in every area where people have a right to feel safe. Military reaction to neutralize the persistent terrorist threat is not only justified, but an absolute necessity.

If nothing else, out of respect to the scores of Israelis who have been brutally killed in the latest spate of suicide bombings, the Post should think long and hard about portraying Israel as launching an "offensive" to "conquer" the West Bank. Their families' suffering may be less tangible to reporters here, but it is no less real than ours.

JWR contributor Joel Mowbray is a lifelong, practicing Catholic. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Joel Mowbray