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Inside the War on Israel By: David Pryce-Jones
New York Sun | Thursday, September 22, 2005


Many people, so polls say, think that Israel is a danger to world peace and often go so far as to conclude that the state ought not to exist.

Some of these, in Europe especially, are classic anti-Semites who cannot live with the novelty of Jews responsible for a country of their own. But there is more to it than that. In the first decades of its existence, Israel was widely admired as the national refuge which Jews deserved and an egalitarian society as well. The Six-Day War of 1967 was the turning point. The Soviet Union and its clients, Egypt and Syria, were humiliated. Vengeful Soviet propagandists worldwide threw the book of communist insults at Israel, calling it Hitlerite, imperialist, an occupying power, the tool of the United States, and the rest of it.

Here was a blinding example of the kind of manipulation of public opinion that George Orwell immortalized in "1984" as a Two Minute Hate - and it worked. The hard and the soft Left concur that Arab armies have indeed attacked Israel repeatedly, and might do so again, but Israel ought in response to empower a Palestinian state. This irrationality is one of the most damaging legacies from the Cold War.

Without Yasser Arafat, the idea that aggression should be rewarded with statehood would never have got off the ground. He was quick to volunteer as a Soviet client. With his innate publicist's skill, he dramatized the Palestinians either as underdogs or as violent triumphalists - both approaches that excited the press and folded them into his cause of nationalism. Reporters willingly ignored Arafat's despotism and corruption, as well as the brutalized misery he obliged his people to endure. The legitimacy of Israel could not have been called so glibly into question without this false and sentimentalized representation of Palestinian reality.

The journalist Stephanie Gutmann can hardly bring herself to believe that things have come to this pass, and "The Other War" (Encounter Books, 280 pages, $25.95) is her response. She is qualified to ask how it has happened, and to wonder whether it can be rectified. Her family were refugees from tsarist Russia, and her father, a psychologist, might well have settled in Israel rather than the United States. He often took his children to Israel - once for a stay of nine months. After the failure of the Camp David talks, and the outbreak of another intifada in 2000, she saw at first hand that the press portrayal of a vicious Israel wantonly persecuting virtuous Palestinians was not true. She accepted assignments that allowed her to investigate how bias was transformed into received opinion.

The fate of little Muhammad al-Dura is her first case in point. Looking terrified - as well he might - this boy was photographed with his father at a dangerous crossroads in the Gaza Strip. Moments later, a bullet killed him, and that photograph became an international symbol of the assault on Palestinian innocence. But the evidence arising from the event has many gaps and discrepancies, and Ms. Gutmann is only one of a number of researchers who conclude that in all probability Palestinian gunmen fired the fatal bullet, and not Israelis.

Early in the intifada, two Israeli reservists lost their way on the West Bank and were lynched. The press connived with the Palestinians in suppressing coverage of their deaths, and Italian journalists went so far as to surrender their tapes and write apologies for filming these scenes of murder.

In reprisal for repeated suicide bombings, the Israelis later cleared out terrorist bases in Jenin on the West Bank, killing some 50 people, and losing almost half that number themselves. With few exceptions, the press reported that there had been atrocities on an unprecedented scale, thousands of victims, war crimes, massacres, genocide, and the rest of it. This fantasy revealed prejudice extraordinary in itself, and which could only encourage terror.

Ms. Gutmann does a good job examining the way supposedly independent-minded Western journalists willingly relay whatever the Palestinians tell them and believe the worst of Israelis. All sorts of factors are in play. From her own experience, she blames the official spokesmen of the various Israeli ministries and the army, each of whom jealously guard their turf and do not liaise; are starved of money and resources; and too often speak an incomprehensible English. Their poor performance tends to drive the journalist pack straight over to the Arab side, to congregate all together in the famous American Colony Hotel. In addition, these spokesmen, like all Israelis, see themselves as fighting for their lives and care little what others think of them.

She further describes her own reporting on the Palestinian side. Without the help of a friendly young Palestinian "fixer," she would have been blocked altogether. As it was, she was prevented from carrying out minimal inquiries into local corruption. To do the routine work of asking questions on the West Bank or in Gaza is to risk death. The Palestinian press itself is rigidly controlled. The murder of those accused of collaborating with Israel, the abuse of women, tribal and family feuding, are among the many taboo subjects. Journalists are allowed to report only the drama of the Palestinian national cause.

The New York Times, CNN, Associated Press, and the BBC - the last in the particularly egregious examples of its correspondents Orla Guerin and Barbara Plett (who wept on television at the news of Arafat's last illness) - are among the outlets Ms. Gutmann singles out for an animus against Israel that is systematically leading them astray and falsifying the perception of Israel available to the public. In contrast, she devotes a chapter to Khalid Abu Toameh, a Muslim Arab from the West Bank who has Israeli citizenship and writes for the Jerusalem Post, among other outlets. Reporting fully and objectively on the Palestinians, he shows neither fear nor favor to anyone. Remember his name: More than professional, he is a hero.

Biased Western journalists flatter themselves that they are obtaining justice for the victimized Palestinians, but in fact they only drive these unfortunate people toward ever more violence and death. The phenomenon described in this book is a compound of self-righteousness, stupidity, and group-think, completely characteristic of modern times. Someone, someday, will have to take up the subject where Ms. Gutmann leaves off, and explain this ongoing Two Minute Hate.

Mr. Pryce-Jones is senior editor of National Review. His "The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs" is published by Ivan R. Dee.

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