At its core the internet is an ideal. I can arrange an online chat with a political scientist in South Korea, create an email focus group amongst my constituents, even discuss Islamic revolutionary theory with a student in Iran. But as with any movement or agent of change, an ideal can be undermined by the ideology of its users. For me, a clear example is the partisan coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict by some online magazines. This years output of two of these online publications, Crikey.com and New Matilda.com, is profoundly disturbing.
Both have pretensions to non-partisan coverage. Crikey is run by a staff who claim journalistic credentials in its mission statement to be fair and open. New Matilda similarly claims to provide non-partisan information and takes contributions, as it describes, from "journalists, current and former politicians, lawyers, critical and creative thinkers, bloggers, policy-wonks and satirists". Which is just about everyone in this room - and a good percentage of those outside of it.
Whatever their stated aims, a careful analysis of their output over the first three months of this year shows that when it comes to the coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Crikey and New Matilda are in fact manifestly partisan. Both consistently adopt the Palestinian narrative, characterise Israel as an oppressor, and ignore Israeli's legitimate security concerns. It is their right to criticize the only free society in the Middle East but it is nonsense to claim they are not strongly biased.
Following the last Israeli elections, Crikey contributor Jeff Sparrow stated as fact that Israeli society had moved sharply to the right, at the same time that that the centre-left Kadima party secured the largest block vote and Likud's Netanyahu sought to broaden his coalition into a ruling government whose final makeup included longtime advocates of peace with the Palestinians. In another article the same contributor looked at the decision of the Israel's Central Elections Committee to ban the participation of two nationalist Arab political parties in the elections, drawing odious parallels with South Africa's apartheid regime - whilst ignoring the democratic Israeli institutions, not found elsewhere in the Middle East, that a few days later saw the Supreme Court reverse that bureaucratic decision. Similarly, New Matilda correspondent Ben White accuses Israel of apartheid control over the Palestinians. He condemns outright the erection of a security fence without reference whatsoever to it or the fact that it has lead to a 95% drop in homicide attacks on civilians in Israel or the fact that it acts as a defensive measure against repeated terrorist attacks, or that the fence's route has always been subject to negotiation and moderation by the Israeli Supreme Court as part of the peace process.
Another Crikey contributor, Guy Rundle, downplays the genocidal policies of Iran's President Ahmedinajab to little more than populism, dismissing outright Israel's authentic fears of a nuclear-armed Iran, not to mention the apprehension of moderate Arab regimes at the prospect of an Iranian regional hegemony.
New Matilda is even more strident in its partisanship. Of the 18 articles run by newmatilda.com in the fist three months of this year concerning the Israeli Palestinian conflict, 17 presented a hardline Palestinian narrative.
Some themes emerge. Polemicist Antony Lowewentein is but one of the correspondents to claim as fact that Israel refuses to consider a two-State solution, despite the evidence of numerous peace overtures, the consistent views of mainstream Israelis in favour of a consensus solution, and the unprecedented territorial concessions offered by Israel at the 2000 Camp David Summit and later at Taba, and indeed reoffered by Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert. Unmentioned is Hamas's refusal to recognise Israeli existence, as is the barrier presented to any unified proposal by the ongoing blood feud between the Fatah rulers of the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
Time and again these articles refer to Jews, or the Jewish State, but rarely Israel as a sovereign entity . Paradoxically New Matilda contributor Michael Brull then complains that most Australian Jewish groups do not identify themselves as pro -Israel but as simply Jewish. Clearly he has not read the pro-Israel platforms of the Executive Council for Australian Jewry or the Australian Union of Jewish students, two of the organisations he mentions, he appears unfamiliar with the view of Australian Jewry, which is similarly pro-Israel.
In May this year in Crikey, Lowenestein attacked the Executive Council for Australian Jewry , this time because it fails to condemn other forms of racism as readily as antisemitism. But it is this gem that highlights the author's real intent: "Anti-Muslim sentiment has often been proudly displayed since September 11 by the Zionist establishment. In their world view, only what they find offensive should be censored". Here we have it, a shadowy unnamed Zionist elite that has the impudence to speak out against antisemitism, as though a Jewish group is not entitled to focus on racial attacks against its own ethnicity! This is a rigged rhetorical game. It doesn't matter whether Jews defend themselves or not, or whether the focus of critics is on Israel as a Jewish State or Jewish groups in Australia, the charge is relentlessly the same.
Journalism can be a democratic bulwark, but in doing so we assume certain principles of journalistic professionalism, including the training and commitment to place opinion in a factual context. Yet the rise of the bologosphere is often characterised by its proponents as a triumph against the elitism or corporatisation of the established media. It is all well and good to allege that the Australian newspaper's foreign affairs commentator Greg Sheridan is an Israeli propagandist, as one New Matilda correspondent suggests, but Sheridan has thirty years experience as a senior journalist and is the author of five widely-published books on foreign issues. The New Matilda correspondent may not like his views, but Sheridan works in an environment where facts are checked and factual errors are corrected. As former New York Times standards editor,Al Siegal has said, the most overt concern with accuracy at a newspaper can be seen in the volume of corrections. This hardly seems to concern the editors of Crikey and New Matilda in their coverage of Israel.
An exchange of letters between the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chair Tony Levy and New Matilda editor Marni Cordell highlights this problem. In April Levy sent to Cordell a sober, detailed and careful analysis of the magazine's content in the first three months of this year, explaining the ADC's concerns over partisan opinion and the broad slabs of hate-speak that appear regularly in the comments sections attached to each article. In her brief reply, Cordell failed to address the evidence of partisanship, instead championing her publication's contribution to ‘diversity of opinion' i.e Brull, Lowenstein et al all whom have broadly similar views. This thinking is explained by her charge that the one sided ‘diversity of opinion' is to balance what she asserts is a biased media environment - of course, without corroborating this charge. She does not address at all the allegation of antisemitic comment, nor does she respond to the ADC's concern that the magazine chooses not to censor these comments, even though it expressly reserves the right to do so if the commentary is abusive or promotes hate.
Nevertheless, is this antisemitism, or just sloppy journalism? Former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Natan Schrasansky distinguished the two by his "3D Principles" - he warns to look for demonisation, delegitimation, and double standards.
Looking at the coverage in Crikey and New Matilda, we see Israel as a manipulator of world events, an apartheid State engaged in ethnic cleansing, and an initiator of wars that have no strategic or defensive foundation. That is demonisation.
Israel as deserving of the rocket attacks on its citizens, or not entitled to defend its sovereignty? That is deligitimisation. Israelis portrayed as arch war criminals, while scant attention is given in the same publications to human rights abuses in Burma, or Darfur, or Zimbabwe, or Tibet, or North Korea, or Chechnya, or the Congo? That is a double standard. Cordell's pathetic excuse for the obsession with denigrating the Israeli's and ignoring other conflicts where far more people's lives are at stake is ‘As I'm sure I don't need to remind you, the Israel/Palestine question is not a conflict on the same level as other regional problems that you mentioned. Problems in the Middle East, within which Israel/Palestine is a major issue, are something that play out in innumerable ways across the globe'
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here