November 18, 2001s
by David Kopel
Are the American media dominated by the Israel lobby? Are journalists who complain about the Israel lobby necessarily anti-Semitic? No and no.
Rocky Mountain News International Editor Holger Jensen is a well-established critic of Israeli policy, but his Oct. 27 article, "American policy toward Israel under attack as hypocritical," was particularly incendiary. Quoting the rather obscure Internet columnist Joseph Sobran, Jensen claimed:
" 'Israel has a very powerful lobby in this country, with a highly accomplished propaganda corps. And that lobby is not content with making the case for Israel and putting fear into nearly all the politicians in Washington, who are supposed to be representing the interests of the United States. It also tries to shut up opposition in the free press.
"That is why 'nobody thinks it odd that there should be 20 columnists who are apologists for Israel,' said Sobran, 'but apparently it is unfathomable that there should be one or two who are critical of Israel.' "
Are these claims accurate? First of all, the term "Israel lobby" is a misnomer. Jensen / Sobran are referring to Americans who are exercising their constitutional right to write or lobby on public affairs.
The phrase creates a false impression that pro-Israel Americans are acting under the control of the government of Israel, rather than acting independently in support of policies they think are best for America. A better term would be "pro-Israel lobby."
Is it really true that there are "20 columnists who are apologists for Israel" and hardly any critics? Certainly there are plenty of columnists - many of whom can be found in the pages of The Denver Post and the News - who tend to be strongly supportive of Israel.
The truly anti-Israel perspective, on the other hand, is basically non-existent in the Post and the News, except in letters to the editor, or very occasional op-ed pieces.
The middle viewpoint, which happens to be Jensen's, is that Israel has a right to exist, but that Israeli policies have been too aggressive: building settlements in the West Bank, invading Lebanon, taking indiscriminate military action against Palestinians, annexing part of the Golan Heights, and refusing to make sufficient concessions for peace. The middle, moderately critical view thinks that the Oslo "peace process" was a great idea, and blames many of the current problems in the Mideast on Israeli intransigent refusal to "give peace a chance."
Notwithstanding Jensen's complaints, this middle view is the dominant one in American media. It is the frame for most network news coverage of Israel, especially from CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC's Peter Jennings. It is pervasive in New York Times reporting on Israel (and thus, pervasive in the Post and the News, who use the Times for a large share of their foreign coverage). It is even more pervasive in Times editorials, also heavily represented in the Post and News.
So whatever the so-called "Israel lobby" might wish, the mainstream media in Colorado and the United States are hardly in the hands of "apologists for Israel."
And while pro-Israel Americans are hardly the only people who play the media criticism game, they do happen to be particularly adept and experienced at it. There are even groups whose entire function is to serve as pro-Israel media watchdogs, such the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, and Honest Reporting ( www.honestreporting.com ). Conversely, criticism of the media for favoring Israel comes from the leftist mediawatch group FAIR ( www.fair.org/international/middle-east.html ) and from the Media Monitors Network ( www.mediamonitors.net ). Given the large number of American media outlets, all the above groups have no shortage of things to complain about.
Unfortunately, incendiary, inappropriate charges are sometimes hurled. In this vein, columnists like Jensen or the Post's Reggie Rivers may be called "anti-Semitic."
These charges are nonsense. The debate between critics like Jensen/Rivers on the one hand and pro-Israel advocates like William Safire/George Will on the other hand is a simpler version of a debate that goes on within Israel itself. And since Israeli Jews are, obviously, not anti-Semitic, it is wrong to suggest that American journalists who hold similar views are necessarily anti-Semitic.
My advice to people who don't like the viewpoint in Jensen's columns (or in somebody else's for that matter): instead of asking the newspaper to fire them, ask the newspaper to add someone with a different perspective. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, after years with a very narrow-minded and very hard left editorial section, recently added a third page to editorials, to make room for some conservative columnists and op-eds from readers.
In my last column, I castigated the Post for not interviewing a Circuit City
employee who was fired for allegedly racially profiling some Arab customers.
Although the Post's Oct. 18 story did not contain an interview with the
employee, their Oct. 19 follow-up story did.