Is Israeli society losing touch with the rest of the world -- and with the reality of the on-going conflict with the Palestinians in the course of the Intifada? Israeli scholar Daniel Dor measures the breach between Israel's collective consciousness and international public opinion, and concludes that Israeli society has dangerously withdrawn into a sense of isolation and victimization -- in very large part because of the role played by the Israeli media during the reoccupation. Dor examines the ways in which the major Israeli media not only reported on events (or failed to do so) but played a key part in shaping opinion, setting the agenda and waging the propaganda war that accompanied the military offensives on the ground.
Originally published in Hebrew, this English-language version is revised, updated and recontextualised for non-Hebrew readers who might be less familiar with the minutiae of the Israeli media. Dor's study offers a damning indictment of the varied ways in which journalists and broadcasters abandoned any attempt at impartiality or so-called objectivity in their reportage, preferring instead to comply with an ideological imperative which in effect rules out any prospect of peace, justice or mutual understanding.
All the News that Fits: The Israeli Media and the Second Palestinian Uprising
The outburst of the second Intifada, in October 2000, marks one of the most dramatic changes that Israeli public opinion has gone through in its entire history. It did not simply move to the right, as things are sometimes described: The very terms of public discourse have changed. The seven years which passed between the beginning of the Oslo process and the outburst of the Intifada were characterized by fierce political struggles between the supporters of the Oslo agreement and its opponents - struggles which have reached their tragic peak in the assassination of Prime Minister Izhak Rabin. The beginning of the Intifada saw the Israeli collective consciousness withdrawing once again into the defensive, enraged consensus of a society that saw its dream of peace vanish in a cloud of smoke. In this long period of violence, following what seemed to be the final failure of the diplomatic negotiations, public discourse in Israel re-invented itself in a new form - basing itself on a new narrative, which was instantaneously subscribed to not only by the right, but also by the majority of the traditional left.
According to this narrative, Ehud Barak's government did everything possible in order to achieve a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority. In the Camp David summit, convened in July 2000, it presented the Palestinians with extremely generous offers for withdrawal from Palestinian territories. The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, refused the generous Israeli offers, and initiated a massive Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, which quickly developed into an organized terror attack on Israel. Faced with the severe violence of the Palestinian Intifada, Israel responded with restraint, doing everything in its power to protect its civilians - while refraining from the use of military resources against Palestinian civilians. This sharp contrast between Palestinian and Israeli conduct provided additional proof of the "inherent" differences between the two national cultures.
The most important characteristic of this narrative is that it seems, on the face of it, to be absolutely non-ideological - a non-controversial factual story which naturally allows for a simple and common-sensical interpretation: The traditional ideological debate within Israeli society centered on whether or not Israel should withdraw from the territories in exchange for peace - since October 2000 it "turned out" that the logical foundation of the debate was wrong: Barak's government offered to withdraw, and the Palestinians rejected the offer, which implies that peace does not depend on anything Israel could do: the Palestinians simply are not interested in peaceful solutions.
As I show in this paper, the Israeli media have played a key role in the dissemination of this constitutive frame within Israeli society. Since the beginning of the Intifada, the media provided their readers and viewers with a one-sided, partial, censored and biased picture of reality - a picture which seemingly supported the new hegemonic narrative, but hardly corresponded with events as they unfolded in reality. Much more importantly - and this is a point of special theoretical significance within the context of this conference - there was a stark contrast between this picture and the factual reports sent in by the reporters, the patterns of deviation being first and foremost the result of editorial policy. The editors systematically suppressed certain elements of reality, and emphasized and accentuated others, in a way which provided the 'factual' platform for the new hegemonic narrative, and has become ingrained in the Israeli collective consciousness ever since.
No conspiracy theory is implied here: This behavioral pattern results from a complex combination of converging influences and dynamics - which targeted reporters and editors in different ways: the surge of public fear and anger; the undercurrents of racist stances; the almost exclusive reliance on the flow of information from the Prime Minister's entourage and from senior officials in the defense establishment; the automatic adherence of the media to the task of national unity vis-à-vis what appeared as the clear and imminent danger of a 'general conflagration;' the systematic disregard of the fact that the Palestinians in the territories still live under almost complete Israeli occupation, even after the implementation of the first stages of the Oslo agreements; and, probably most importantly, the deep conviction that Barak did everything that could be done for peace, and therefore did not, and could not, have contributed to the deterioration of the situation.
Intifada Hits the Headlines - How the Israeli Press Misreported the Outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising
by Daniel Dor
In this nuanced and detailed study of newspaper reporting during the escalation of the second Intifada in the fall of 2000, Daniel Dor shows how real events are subject to distortion and manipulation by the media. In an analysis of the heart of Israel's media establishment—the newspapers Yediot Ahronot, Ma'ariv, and Ha'aretz—he finds a wide gap between the reality reported by field reporters and the eventual newspaper accounts framed by editors. Led by beliefs, opinions, and emotional responses rather than the facts provided by their reporters, these editors created a platform on which a new and fearful narrative for Israeli–Palestinian relations was built. Yet while Dor demonstrates that the media construct the news rather than simply report it, his sophisticated analysis also shows that no one entity or person is responsible. Rather than a supreme authority, Dor argues, it is the influence of fear, anger, ignorance, and a desire to please and sell newspapers that threatens the freedom of the press in a liberal democracy.
About the Author
Daniel Dor teaches in the Department of Communication, Tel Aviv University. A graduate of Stanford University, he has worked as a senior news editor at two of Israel's leading newspapers. He lives in Tel Aviv.