Unflattering image of Netanyahu
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Demonizing Israel in Spain

Monica Cooper slams lacking, biased news reporting by leading Spanish daily El Pais

A few weeks back, the well-known author Alfonso Ussia wrote in Spain’s La Razón about a young Catalan woman picked up by Israeli police in Ramallah. Ussia relates that she was presumably campaigning against the Jewish state while holding an expired entry visa on her Spanish passport. Had she been in an Arab state doing something similar, writes Ussia, she would be - most probably - stoned to death in the public square. Instead, Ariadna Jové Martí was sent in good health back to Spain, with an airplane ticket – probably paid for by the State of Israel.


How was all this viewed in Spain? The Foreign Relations Office expressed outrage to Israel’s diplomats over the affair, while the press got busy lambasting the Jewish state. All this, as Ussia rightly points out, while ignoring or justifying every ignominy of any other country around the globe.


Are Israelis aware of the Israel-bashing and demonizing carried out in the Iberian press?


Do they know, for example, the case of Madrid’s El País? With 430,000 daily copies and an Internet readership of over two million, El País is considered the “leader of the mainstream press in Spain.” And alongside every single article about Israel on the website of this pre-eminent newspaper is a profile of Israel that lists Tel Aviv as the country’s capital.


In its section “Corresponsales” (reporters), El País explains that reporter Juan Miguel Muñoz reports from “Jerusalem, Near East.” No other reporter is identified like this as based in a geographic area; they are all in a named country (except those who report on the EU from Brussels).


ReVista de Medio Oriente, a Spanish media watchdog organization, asked El País’ editors why this different treatment of Israel. About their placement of Israel’s capital in the “Near East,” they said that Muñoz “reports from Jerusalem on Lebanon and Syria too” - hardly a convincing answer on the face of it, and even less so because the reporter almost never writes about those countries but writes practically daily on Israel. About Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, the editors told ReVista that the “directive to maintain this designation the way it is comes from the paper’s directors and can’t be changed.”


Analysis of Muñoz’s biased reporting has been published at ReVista for two years and recently, a further, in-depth review examined all his articles in El País during an arbitrarily-selected three week period in January and February of 2010. The study showed that Muñoz mainly picked up material from the “local press” (as he calls the Israeli press) and re-wrote it in Spanish. He selectively chose topics that cast Israel in a negative light and presented them without context, creating an image of a nation populated by lunatics and killers.


In this vein, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is portrayed continuously as cynically posing for the press, and his concerns about Iran are all cast as politically motivated rather than justified on security grounds.


In two such articles (February 7th and 10th) Muñoz includes not even one sentence on Iran’s threats to world order. Although many nations in the West and Middle East are increasingly alarmed at the peril posed by a nuclear Iran, to read and believe Muñoz is to conclude only Netanyahu has problems with Iran (and they are actually just political posturing). “Benjamin Netanyahu has a fixation: To stop Iran’s nuclear program”, Muñoz writes. “Possessing atomic weapons, and not a signer of the Non Proliferation Treaty, Israel will not accept losing the monopoly in the Middle East.”


Relentlessly derogatory 

In the Muñoz rendition, Israel is overbearing and unreasonable and Iran doesn’t seem to deserve sanctions or isolation. The only mention of Iran’s policies is: “In any case, it doesn’t seem to be sufficient for Israel that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad agrees to have the uranium enriched in Russia and France”.


Another Muñoz story on February 7th lashes out at Netanyahu’s family with familiar interjection of editorial comment; his 15-year-old son, described as a “know-it-all”, is ridiculed for winning a Bible contest; and his wife Sara is judged as guilty of being a tyrant with her house help. “On the stage (of the child’s contest) the image was perfect: flag, religion and army, since, for the idyllic picture to be complete, his brother Yair showed up dressed in khakis.” Muñoz’s stereotype of the Likud leader’s family is crudely signaled as nationalistic, religious and militaristic.


Two more articles (on the 1st and 2nd of February) deal with white phosphorus allegedly used “profusely” in the Gaza war, and two officers being “disciplined” for that, according to the “local press.” Although the army denied that the officers were disciplined about white phosphorus use, and although the report sent to the UN doesn’t mention white phosphorus in this regard, Muñoz repeated a Ha’aretz article by Anshel Pfeffer to serve his purpose of vilifying Israel as much as possible, regardless of the accuracy of the information he repeated.


To complete the lineup, Muñoz reports on a fashion model who refused to serve in the army, only saying that army leaders attacked her mercilessly and publicly for her action but never producing any context to explain the army’s point of view, which is that all citizens are required to serve.


All in all, like Ms. Jové Martí, Muñoz enjoys Israel’s hospitality while indulging consistently in biased reporting in his native language unbeknownst to his naïve hosts. His reporting on Israel is relentlessly derogatory, typified by omissions of key information, lack of context and informational errors. In his rendition, Israel is violent, irresponsible, or plain ridiculous. In contrast, his treatment of Hamas is always respectful and understanding.


As Mr. Ussia writes about the Jové Martí story, perhaps Israel should encourage Muñoz to live permanently in one of the other Near East countries he covers, whose oppressive policies he almost totally ignores. At least then he wouldn’t be able to enjoy living in Israel while making any “insignificant thing something big against Israel” as Ussia writes.


Perhaps when El País reports on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Muñoz gets his facts straight on the Middle East as a whole, Israel could consider welcoming Muñoz back.


Monica Cooper is the Director of ReVista de Medio Oriente, the Spanish outlet of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America


פרסום ראשון: 03.14.10, 11:09
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