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Anti-Palestinian bias in western media is off the scale since the war on Gaza

Since 7 October, western media peddling of anti-Arab hatred, pro-Israeli propaganda and justification of war crimes has gone into overdrive
People outside the New York Times building, New York, protesting against the newspaper’s coverage of Israel's assault on Gaza, 11 December 2023 (Michael M Santiago/AFP)

As a law professor, one of my favourite courses to teach is legal analysis, writing and advocacy.

This course lays some of the basic foundations required to succeed in law school and the practice of law by teaching students how to think, write and advocate. These are distinct skills.

During the first semester of the course, we delve into objective analysis and writing. This entails analysing issues in an unbiased manner.

The first semester is training them for what the media should ideally be doing. We expect the main job of the media to be to tackle topics objectively, educating citizens to make informed decisions, and ensuring that those in power uphold democratic principles of freedom, justice and human dignity for all.

Western media outlets, on average, would receive a poor grade in my class for objective analysis and writing on Israel's war on Gaza and many other issues. In fact, many would fail.

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However, most mainstream western media agencies would score an A+ for their persuasive writing and advocacy for the US and Israeli positions.

This is no surprise to many, of course.

'Islamic threat'

In their masterpieces Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media and The Political Economy of Human Rights, Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky demonstrated that the US media serve as effective ideological institutions, propagating the interests of those in power through subtle mechanisms of persuasion and self-censorship.

They asserted that this is particularly evident in issues involving significant US economic and political interests, where the media often function as state propaganda agencies.

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In Covering Islam (pun intended), Edward Said, a Palestinian Christian scholar, wrote about how those who control western media are powerful and dangerous because they are able to shape people’s thoughts.

In the post-Cold War era, the “green menace” and the “Islamic threat” were the flavour of the day, or more accurately, the flavour for the decades to come. Reading Said’s Orientalism (focusing on “us v them”) and later his Covering Islam in the late 1980s as a student activist opened my eyes and set me on the path to study and engage with the media.

War on Gaza: How US mainstream media incites hate of Arabs and Muslims
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Then as a lawyer in the wake of 9/11, the book’s thesis came alive again for me, but this time the zeitgeist broadened to go beyond foreign Muslims, to include people like me, western Muslims. Through western eyes, those living among “us” also became “them” and the “enemy”.

Since 7 October, this dehumanisation has gone into overdrive.

Israelis are killed, while Palestinians die. Israeli youngsters are “children” or “hostages”, while Palestinian children are “minors” and “inmates”. Bombs fall from the sky and leave casualties, but often we don’t know who drops the bombs and are not made to empathise with the thousands of children dying, because - of course - we can’t trust the numbers and they are not like “us”.  

Virtually all of the major western media outlets have intentionally or inadvertently peddled hate, disseminated incitement to genocide, dehumanising narratives, justifications for war crimes, and Israeli propaganda and disinformation.

The spin doctoring stinks to high heaven.

Israel-centred perspective

Two weeks ago, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting published a report entitled "Leading Papers Skewed Gaza Debate Toward Israeli and Government Perspectives". The study, focusing on the New York Times and Washington Post, found that despite efforts to include Palestinian voices, opinion editors have skewed the Gaza debate toward an Israel-centred perspective and given ample voice to government officials.

Another report by The Intercept concluded that major US newspapers had placed a disproportionate emphasis on Israeli deaths in the conflict, employed emotive language to describe Israeli casualties but not Palestinian ones, and covered antisemitic acts in the US, while largely disregarding anti-Muslim racism after 7 October.

New York Times and Wall Street Journal's op-eds provoke social media fury over anti-Arab racism
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In a span of less than a week, in a perfect demonstration of orientalist polemics, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled “Chicago votes for Hamas”, after Chicago City Council had voted for a ceasefire. Two days later, the same paper published a piece titled “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital”, again for calling for a ceasefire.

Even the coverage of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide hearings screamed of bias, with the WSJ story titled “World Court Rejects Demand for Gaza Ceasefire”. In actuality, the ICJ refused to dismiss South Africa’s lawsuit because it found a "plausible” basis to support the allegation of genocide and issued provisional orders against Israel.

As if not to be outdone, the New York Times then published a piece by veteran columnist Thomas Friedman using metaphorical comparisons from the animal kingdom to represent various countries and entities in the region.

The US and Israel were portrayed as noble animals and others were depicted as insects and parasites. The piece lacked coherence and logical consistency, but most importantly it was a simplistic and dehumanising portrayal of complex geopolitical dynamics.

Iran is the wasp and Hamas, among others, is the parasitoid wasp egg and a "trap-door spider". The only way to "safely and efficiently" destroy Iran is for the US - ostensibly through Israel - to burn down the entire jungle where there are only vermin.

Fuelling hatred

On 4 February, the Guardian published an expose on the conscious and concerted effort from CNN's top leadership to set a pro-Israel tone.

The situation in Canada is no better. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), The Breach and the Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Journalism’s Review of Journalism have documented numerous instances of pro-Israeli bias in the Canadian media space.

The worst offenders in the Canadian space are the National Post and the Toronto Sun, which is no surprise to Canadian observers.

A study covering one month ending 7 November by The Breach and the Review of Journalism found that the CBC and CTV respectively had 42 percent and 62 percent more Israeli voices, despite the death figures being more than 10 times greater on the Palestinian side.

The Breach also found that CTV directed journalists not to use the word “Palestine” and cultivated a “culture of fear” that is suppressing any critical coverage of Israel. The broadcaster has also been accused of terminating a Palestinian employee for her activism. 

Ban on 'Palestine'

The CBC was exposed earlier for its prohibition on the use of the word “Palestine”, but recently the CBC barred employees from sharing any information about the war on Gaza on social media. This contradicts the CBC’s broader social media policy, which permits sharing “outside journalism if the story or piece is not available on and the source is credible”.

The CBC's headline for the tragic story of Palestinian child Hind Rajab is an example of its biased coverage: "Days after she called for help, girl's body found in car in Gaza city, relatives say." This CBC headline makes it seem like the six-year-old was found dead.

The fact is she was killed by Israeli forces along with family members and two paramedics sent to rescue them. 

Another report in The Breach reported how in response to complaints filed with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) by a retired professor, Jeff Winch, CBC responded that: "The more evocative and sympathy-generating terms don't apply to Palestinian deaths, CBC argues, because Israel carries out its killings "remotely" instead of face-to-face."

The CBC further confirmed that it uses terms like "murderous", "vicious", "brutal", "massacre", and "slaughter" to refer only to Hamas's attack on Israelis on October 7, according to The Breach.

When Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate become socially acceptable forms of bigotry, we should not be surprised when it manifests in discrimination and violence

Said, who also authored The Question of Palestine, discussed how the media shapes public perceptions and selectively filters information to control what people know and don't know about Islam and the Muslim world.

This misrepresentation, underrepresentation and sometimes outright propaganda not only undermines disadvantaged communities' trust in the fourth estate of democracy, but also fuels hatred and tears at the very fabric of society.

When Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate become socially acceptable forms of bigotry, we should not be surprised when they manifest in discrimination and even violence. The rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate is well-documented globally.

In the wake of the Wall Street Journal’s hateful targeting of Dearborn, Michigan, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud ordered an increase in security across his city. 

He tweeted: "Effective immediately - Dearborn police will ramp up its presence across all places of worship and major infrastructure points. This is a direct result of the inflammatory @WSJ opinion piece that has led to an alarming increase in bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric online targeting the city of Dearborn. Stay vigilant.”

Edward Said’s thesis and filters are now in plain sight for all to see.

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

Faisal Kutty is a lawyer and legal academic. He is an affiliate faculty member at the Center for Security, Race, and Rights at Rutgers University and an Associate Professor of Law Emeritus at Valparaiso University. You can follow him @faisalkutty
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