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Hasbara happenings: US media again propagandises for Israel

The US media, conservative or liberal, has become a loudspeaker for the Israeli government

Last week, Israel carried out a deadly drone strike inside the Syrian controlled portion of the Golan Heights, killing six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general. In response to Israel’s aggression, Hezbollah fired two anti-tank missiles that killed two Israeli soldiers as they drove in a occupied area along the Lebanese border. In turn, Israel responded with artillery fire, shelling several targets in southern Lebanon that killed a Spanish UN peacekeeper.

This is the irrefutable timeline of events in the latest Lebanon-Israel border clash. These are the facts, and facts do not possess a pro-Lebanon bias, nor do facts lean pro-Israel. Facts are facts, and the rest, as they say in the classics, is conversation. It’s the role of responsible and objective journalism to report the facts. The public should expect the facts, but in America facts are superseded by agenda-driven spin and self-serving opinion, and this dynamic is never more evident than when the centre of the story is Israel.

So that we are all clear and on the same page: Israel attacked Hezbollah in Syrian-controlled territory. Hezbollah responded with a strike against Israeli army military positions inside occupied territory. The Israeli army then kills a Spanish UN peacekeeper.

Here’s how the US media reported the above timeline of events:

CNN: “Israel under attack.”

The New York Times: “Hezbollah kills Israeli soldiers near Lebanon.”

Fox News: “Netanyahu blames Iran for Hezbollah attack on Israel’s border.”

The Washington Post wins the prize for delivering a headline that best represented the facts - “Deadly border clashes stoke fears of war in Israel, Lebanon” but then totally blew its commitment to objectivity by reporting a totally phoney account of the clash.

“The clashes, which began with a Hezbollah attack that killed two Israeli soldiers, marked one of the most serious flare-ups of violence in the area since a month-long war in 2006 and raised tensions in a volatile tri-border zone close to positions held by Syrian rebels, including Islamist factions. A UN peacekeeper was also killed, although it was unclear how he died,” states the Washington Post.

The US media, conservative or liberal, has become a loudspeaker for the Israeli government. When it comes to unfolding events in the Holy Land, Americans are told wholly and solely what the Israeli government wants them to hear. It’s astonishingly bizarre. It’s even more astonishing and more puzzling when you consider that even the Israeli press reports these periodical skirmishes in a more even-handed manner. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, for instance, reported: “Hezbollah considers the attack an adequate retaliation to the airstrike in Syria last week, attributed to Israel, that killed seven Hezbollah operatives.”

It’s also striking when you compare the US coverage of the latest Israel-Lebanon clash with coverage from other international media outlets:

The Guardian: “Spain calls for UN inquiry into death of Spanish peacekeeper in Lebanon.”

 Al Jazeera America: “Hezbollah offers Israel a draw but will Netanyahu accept?”

Sydney Morning Herald: “Israel threatens Hezbollah with full scale conflict.”

All in all, these non-US media outlets have reported in a way that entirely squares with the facts.

In America, it’s not just a case of the media shining a positive light on the Israeli government’s military actions, it’s that outlets actively propagandise for Israel. The cable news giant CNN is largely the primary source from where a majority of Americans are fed their international news.

On Wednesday, as breaking news of the clash was reported, CNN brought on five pro-Israeli spokespeople, and not a single pro-Lebanon guest. Even more concerning is that CNN ran a piece on its website that propagandised against Hezbollah by blaming the group for the 1983 bombing of US barracks in Beirut. “Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks. It is blamed for a 1983 bombing that killed 241 US service personnel at a Marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon, the deadliest attack against US Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II,” writes CNN.

The thing is Hezbollah has always denied responsibility for the bombing of the Beirut barracks. It has never been proven that Hezbollah carried out the attack, but CNN reports it as an irrefutable fact.

Similarly, the US media has always reported the Israeli bombing of the USS Liberty as a “grave mistake,” which is a remarkable piece of linguistic gymnastics given Israeli messages intercepted on 8 June, 1967 make it clear that the Israeli army absolutely intended to “destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew”. 2014 was the 47th anniversary of this unprovoked attack and as was the case of the 46 anniversaries that came before that, nowhere in the US media was this “act of war” against the US reported.

This is not journalism. This, instead, is agenda-driven spin: pro-Israel spin. It’s an effort to carry forth the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) narrative into the domain of American public opinion. Since the 1990s, Netanyahu skillfully and assiduously “cultivated Israel’s image as a Fort Apache on the frontlines against the Muslim menace - and the United States as a larger Fort Apache that could learn from the Israeli model,” writes Max Blumenthal in Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Israel.

With the former public relations director of the Israeli lobby (AIPAC), Wolf Blitzer, at the head of CNN’s news desk, the cable news network has played the willing hasbara accomplice. The day after last November’s Jerusalem synagogue attack, which left four Rabbis dead, CNN hosted seven pro-Israel guests: Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz​ (twice); Israeli historian Michael ​Oren; Israel UN representative Ron ​Prosor; chief spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister ​Mark ​Regev; Israeli politician ​Nir ​Barakat; and chief spokesperson for the Israeli police Mickey Rosenfeld, and not a single Palestinian to comment on the violence in Israel.

Each CNN guest presented the synagogue as a religiously motivated attack; despite the fact the families of the killers said they were motivated by the Israeli killings of Palestinian teenager Mohamed Abu Khadeir and the death of 31-year-old Yusuf Ramouni, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was found hanged in the bus he drove for a living. While Israeli authorities ruled Ramouni’s death a suicide, most Palestinians believe darker forces were at play.

Remi Kanazi is a journalist and editor of Poets for Palestine. Yesterday, Kanazi fired off a couple of tweets that highlighted the blatant double standard in the US media as it pertains to covering the Israel-Lebanon clash. Kanazi tweeted a picture of Israeli children writing “from Israel with love” onto the sides of Israeli army missiles during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. “Media covered this as ‘this photo makes Arabs angry.’ But if it was Lebanese children, the media would have said "Look at these barbarians!" tweeted Kanazi.

This one-sided narrative and double standard is what help drives Islamophobic sentiment in the US. It presents Israel as besieged by religious fanatics, rather than Israel being embroiled in conflict with people who have legitimate political, social and economic grievances against Israel. A newly published Pew Research Centre poll shows that 67 percent of Republicans and nearly half of all Democrats believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.

It is any wonder such fear of Muslims percolates in the collective American conscience given that US media presents Israel as a “Fort Apache” constantly besieged by radical Muslims on their doorstep?

 - CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: CNN headquarters, Atlanta (Wikicommons)