|Don't ask, don't write
How the media spin works in favor of Israel
By John Mohammadi
July 3, 2002
A recent article on MSNBC listed US editorial writers, and how they stood on the
topic of Israel. According to this article - which I think was copied from The
Nation - the majority of US editorial writers can be classified as either always
supporting Israel or at least usually supporting Israel.
These editorial writers not only have a single view - the seem to act in collaboration
with each other. For example, it was quite interesting to see how they tried to manipulate
and use the events of September 11 for their own purposes.
There was in fact a campaign to do so. This campaign consists of a number of very
charactertistic easily identifable spins which are repeated - almost verbatim - over
and over again in editorial after editorial. Things which are often repeated tend
to become conventional wisdom and accepted as being true - even if they are entirely
unsupported or even contrary to the facts. Lets see if we can identify some of these
1- Stop justifying terrorism by asking "Why"!
They just hate us, that's why!
One of the biggest concerns for the pro-Israeli right was that Americans may start
to attribute the events of Sept. 11 to US foreign policy in the Mideast, and more
specifically, to continued US support for Israel. They saw a potential threat: that
people may start to question continued US support for Israel, and - God forbid -
even pressure the Israelis to recognize the right of the Palestinians to exist.
The solution was to spin the events of September 11 so that had nothing to do with
the Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact - as they assured us - Osama was opposed to the
US and the West in general, not just Israel. This was a War of Civilizations! Betwen
Good and Evil! "They" just hate "Us" (Israel conveniently being
one of "Us") because they "Hate our Freedoms and What We Stand For"
... and certainly not in the least bit because of anything Israel does.
The appeal in this spin is obvious: first, it feels good and is self-aggrandizing:
We're good, they're bad, and that's all there is to it. Its patriotic. Who wants
to question that? Second, the spin is facile & simple: no need to ask or answer
uncomfortable or difficult questions. No need to read a history book. We're lazy.
Just tell us who to hate.
How does this spin work? Again, quite simple: one common way to spin facts is to
remove them from their context, and place them in a new context. If you control the
context, you control the meaning of the facts. So, the events of September 11 were
removed from their context of the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict, or the other the
injustices and hypocricies in US foreign polcy that produce such acts.
Instead, we are told that the events of September 11
should be understood solely in the context of some mythical grand Clash of Civilizations
between "Them" and "Us": Islam versus the West, the forces of
Darkness versus Enlightenment, Freedom versus Oppression, etc etc etc. Iran, Islam,
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, 2 billion Moslems, etc. were all conflated to fit into the Evil
"Them" category along with Osama and his Talib band.
The fact that Osama was opposed to the Saudi regime, that Iran was opposed to the
Taliban at a time when the US was flirting with them, or that our current "ally"
in the War against Terrorism (Pakistan) was the primary backer of the Taliban - all
these and other inconvenient facts which did not "fit" in this new context
- were dealt with in two fashions: First, these facts were ignored, de-emphasized
or brushed under the rug.
Second, all sorts of rumours were initiated to suggest that there was some real connection
between all of these actors: We were treated to lurid - and entirely unsupported
- speculation that Saddam had a role in September 11, that Iran gave safe haven to
the Taliban, that the Lebanese have backed al-Qaeda, and that al-Qaeda represented
all 2 billion Moslems and Islam in general, etc.
And just to make sure everyone stuck to this line of thinking, anyone who wasn't
satified with this facile, self-congratulatory spin and who insisted on asking the
Why question was accused of "justifying terrorism" by doing so.
2- They should blame themselves: It's their fault we take their
Another common motif is to claim that the injustices of the world US - especially
the injustices in US foreign policy and in US support for Israel - is unfairly blamed
by "Them" on "Us". This spin goes something like this:
"The US has ever done anything wrong - rather we are blamed because They are
jealous or unhappy with their own lives and need to blame it on someone else. They
have repressive government, repressive religions, repressive social values; They
are susceptible to conspiracy theories instead of dealing with the reality of their
backwardness; They are silly children who can't possible have any legitiamte gripes,
and who are instead merely throwing tantrums."
This of course is the classic blame-the-victim spin. As if by magic, it absolves
us of any guilt, and shifts it back onto them. It is accompanied by the relentless
Islamophobic caricature with which we are all familiar: The Violent, Woman-Hating
Middle Easterner who Can't Deal with Modernity and so Resorts to Violence and Lashes
Out Blindly. This is the favorite schtick of many "Orientalist" Mideast
experts such as Bernard Lewis - which is why he's so popular with the Pro-Israeli
3- They can't possibly have any real complaints - they're just anti-semitic, and
This is an oldie which has started to make a comeback: use of the anti-Semite or
Jew-hater label to silence critics of Israel, and to stir up visceral support for
Israel by portraying it as facing a "New Holocaust".
The spin goes something like this: Complain loudly about the Protocols of Elders
of Zion and other such acts by Them to attribute ALL of Their gripes - whether legitiamate
or not - to Anti-Semitism. Exploit real instances of anti-Semitism and use it as
a wide brush to tar all of them as Anti-Semitic.
At the same time, expand the definition of Anti-Semitism
to minimize the range of constitutes "acceptable" criticism of Israel.
Concentrate especially on breaking down any distinction between Zionism and Judaism
so that criticism of Zionism is automatically equated the Jew-hatred. And certainly
don't pay attention to our own racism against them or our own equivalents of "anti-Semitic"
For example, you can complain about HOW the settlements are built, but not WHETHER
they should be built. You can complain about HOW the Palestinians are being ethnically
cleansed, but not WHY: To ask WHY Palestinians should be driven from their homes
and WHETHER settlements should be expanded into their lands would be to question
Israel's "right to exist" and is therefore anti-Semitic - or so the spin
goes. These are just a few of the motifs I have noticed. No doubt there are more.
They have become quite familiar - so much so that I can scan an editorial and spot
them by reading only a few key words.