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Ignoring reality in the Gaza Strip is the problem, not the “mainstream media”

No doubt Ethan Bronner will be attacked by both the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd and their ideological adversaries for his wonderful piece in today’s NY Times, which conveys the impossibility of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without offending someone. No doubt the attacks on him will prove his point:

Trying to tell the story so that both sides can hear it in the same way feels more and more to me like a Greek tragedy in which I play the despised chorus. It feels like I am only fanning the flames, adding to the misunderstandings and mutual antagonism with every word I write because the fervent inner voice of each side is so loud that it drowns everything else out.

In their incessant complaints about the mainstream media’s distortions of the Gaza conflict, Israel’s critics miss a vitally important point about public opinion, at least within the American Jewish community. While the war was going on, of course one could find plenty of examples of stories that were weighted in Israel’s favor. One could also find examples where Israel’s POV was barely mentioned, especially in the dumbed-down 24-hour electronic media, like CNN International. But the main problem has not been “media bias.’ That is just an easy target that gives the likes of Philip Weiss fodder for their posts. In fact, the sufferings of the Palestinians in Gaza have NOT been hidden by the MSM and other readily available media. Neither have Israel’s military tactics. Quite the contrary, it’s all been there, plain as day, for anyone who has turned on a television or read a paper or surfed the Web, which is how most people get their information these days.

The problem is not that reality has been distorted. The problem is that it has been ignored or rationalized. I believe that many liberal supporters of Israel were appalled by the streams of white phosphorus in the alleyways of Gaza, by the bombings of what were clearly civilian outposts, by a military assault on densely packed neighborhoods whose ends, they concluded, did not come close to justifying the means. After after weighing the evidence that was readily available to them, they were deeply disturbed by Israel’s by-any-means-necessary philosophy of war. Yet they said nothing and did nothing.

A few pro-Israel American Jewish groups criticized the Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire and called for an early ceasefire, including Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, and J Street. They clearly supported Israel’s right to defend itself, just objected to its disproportionate response. They tried to rally American Jews to press Congress not to tow the mainstream lobby’s line when it voted on the conflict. They got some response from the community but, truth be told, a tiny fraction of Jews who agreed with them weighed in and tried to help. Groups further to the left, like Jewish Voices for Peace and the Shalom Center, offered other ways for opponents of the war to make their voices heard. But, for the most part, the dissenting voices were drowned out by the American Jewish groups that stuck to the party line supplied by Israel.

Now, there are people I respect who believe that, despite the terrible price paid by Palestinians in Gaza, Israel was doing what it had to do. There are others who are simply too uncertain to form an opinion, who didn’t and still don’t know what to think. But I know for a fact that within the mainstream American Jewish community, within Reform synagogues, Jewish charitable federations and other groups, there are people who did not support Israel’s military tactics and its approach to the complex challenge of Hamas. And these people chose to stay behind the circle of communal wagons rather than venturing forward.

Sure, the MSM is important. What is more important is that too many American Jews allowed supporters of the war in our community to speak for them, even though they were horrified by what the MSM told them about the attack on Gaza, even though they didn’t accept the version of reality that was filtered and then conveyed by Israel’s spin machine.

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