A French court has acquitted Philippe Karsenty of libel charges over his claim that TV network France 2’s news report from the Netzarim junction in September 2000 was staged. The ruling constitutes an achievement in the effort to expose the truth around the incident that has become known as the Muhammad al-Dura affair. However, this is just the first stage in the struggle against international media coverage of the Middle East, which has been biased for many years now.
The revelations of the deceit in the al-Dura affair are a result of intense work by physicist Nahum Shahaf. He was followed by many good people from academia and the world of journalism who exposed the methods used by the Palestinian industry of lies to produce images that are etched in the collective memory via global media. This was succinctly defined by American Professor Richard Landes as “Pallywood.”
The al-Dura affair is the most conspicuous and blatant of the phenomenon of media manipulation undertaken by Palestinian workers employed by international media outlets. These employees stage, produce, and edit events and photos in a bid to slander Israel in the world. Media reports and photos such as the al-Dura case affect global public opinion and governments. The stages events undermine Israel’s ability to conduct itself within the conflict and affect our ability to maneuver and secure targets in times of emergency.
Media manipulation has in fact turned into an strategic Arab weapon used against the State of Israel. It is used as an equalizer vis-à-vis Israel’s military advantages while boosting the Arabs’ global status vis-à-vis Israel. During the Second Lebanon War, international media personnel on the ground reported of an “IDF massacre in Qfar Qana,” while bloggers at homes around the world quickly and without much effort revealed that the incident was in fact a Hizbullah production.
Yet this did not prevent the international community from pressing Israel to end the war. Several weeks before that we saw the photos of a Palestinian girl on the Gaza beach – later revealed to be the reenactment by a Palestinian photographer of an event the IDF was not involved in. Just recently, a mother and her four children in Gaza were hit by an explosive device carried by Hamas men, an incident that was immediately attributed to the IDF by the media.
The bias is not only reserved for times of emergency. Often we see reports about some kind of harm done to the Palestinians by Israel that immediately make headlines worldwide. In many cases, the charges turn out to be false, yet the damage to Israel is already done. This stems from the fact that foreign networks do not do the minimum they should be doing – verifying sources and crosschecking information. After all, they always attribute reports to Palestinian reporters and always find “credible” sources that would confirm the charges.
This may be forgiven the first and possibly second time. Yet once these revelations emerge time and again, we could expect foreign media outlets to be stricter and exhibit proper professional conduct before again leveling false charges at the State of Israel.
Therefore, exposing the truth behind the Muhammad al-Dura events is vital for the elimination of the phenomenon of staged media reports and for undermining the natural manner with which this phenomenon is accepted by global media outlets and the leniency they show to it. This tolerance sometimes stem from reasons of political sympathy, but mostly for reasons of financial profitability. Israel must make clear to global media outlets that they bear responsibility for the reports of their employees and must insist on adherence to journalistic ethics and accurate reporting, even when dealing with the State of Israel.
The establishment of a public relations office in the Prime Minister’s Office could be an important factor in this struggle. In order to truly succeed in the media war, a structural bureaucratic change and additional funds are not enough. It is vital to internalize the essence of the struggle which the state contends with in
the media. Members of the office must be willing to dedicate the required effort, while displaying public courage at times, in order to disprove and thwart the blood libels formulated by the Palestinians and to force global media outlets to adhere to professional standards.
In addition, as proven by Karsenty, Shahaf, Landes, journalists Gérard Huber and Stéphane Juffa, and others, the state can and should enlist the assistance of private professionals who are willing to fight for the State of Israel’s good name and for the truth.
Danny Seaman is the director of the Government Press Office