“We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media”
So said current Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri in November 2005. Indeed, the enemies of Western values and democratic states have long recognized how the media plays a key role in the battle for hearts and minds. While this can apply to any number of conflicts in today’s world, it is all the more potent in the Arab-Israeli arena.
The media is the vehicle through which Israel is demonized and falsely portrayed as the greatest violator in the world of human rights and international law. The media showcases the hijacking of language to paint Israel as an “apartheid” state capable of carrying out “war crimes” or “disproportionate force.” The media gives an easily accessible outlet for the publicity sought by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as it attempts to brand Israel as a pariah state. The media can even influence events on the battlefield as the IDF is forced to fight with one hand tied behind its back in the full glare of the television cameras.
Why should we be concerned about Irish media?
As a member of the European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner, the Republic of Ireland can play a positive role in shaping wider attitudes towards the Jewish state and influencing EU policies towards Israel. In addition, Ireland supplies many soldiers to United Nations peacekeeping missions in hotspots such as south Lebanon.
But from a local perspective and no less important are the negative effects on the local Jewish community of Ireland in the face of the demonisation of Israel.
In recent years we’ve witnessed a steady stream of Israel hate in the pages of the Irish Times. This has included thinly veiledsupport for the BDS movement through the publication of a guide to which Israeli products are available in Ireland and where they can be bought (or rather, boycotted)
We’ve seen Eamonn McCann given a platform to claim that “hatred that lies at the heart of Israel’s official ideology” – not an attack on specific Israeli policies or alleged indiscretions but a baseless accusation that Zionism, the ideology behind Israel’s very reason for being, is based on hate.
While the Irish Times denounces Israel, Palestinian views are treated with kid gloves as in the case of a full feature on the Visualising Palestine website, which, according to the Irish Times was sensational. It showed what happens during hunger strikes, giving examples from history and featuring Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan, who persevered for 66 days before Israel agreed to free him.
The Irish Times has even indulged in blatant anti-Semitic tropes such as the time when the Israel-Indian relationship was described as “strategic Freemasonry” in language more appropriate to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
But it’s not just the Irish Times that has displayed such open hate towards Israel. In perhaps the most infamous example, Irish broadcaster Vincent Browne referred to Israel as a “cancer” during his live show on TV3 channel’s Tonight With Vincent Brown.
In a discussion on a televised US presidential foreign policy debate, Browne lamented that Israel had barely been mentioned, stating:
Israel is the cancer in foreign affairs. It polarizes the Islamic community of the world against the rest of the world.
Unless you deal with the problem of Israel and the Palestinians in that part of the world, there’s going to be conflict and disharmony. It’s a massive injustice — they stole the land from the Arabs.
Browne’s first defence was to claim that he was not an anti-Semite and accusing his critics of “blackmail” by trying to brand everyone who was critical of Israel as anti-Semitic.
Peter Kearney of Near FM was equally unrepentant after being taken off air after his politics show ridiculed the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) for upholding a complaint made by the Israeli Embassy. Boaz Modai, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, complained the programme was a “propaganda platform” for Gaza Action Ireland as there were no neutral guests or advocates of Israel’s position. The BAI’s compliance committee ruled that the show was not “fair, objective and impartial” as current affairs programmes are required to be.
This ruling gives us hope that Ireland is not a lost cause. There is no reason not to hold Irish media to the standards of journalistic professionalism that they themselves claim to hold.
Through the work of organizations like Irish4Israel on the ground, allied to the thousands of voices worldwide taking action through HonestReporting, we can make a difference to the treatment of Israel in the Irish media, exposing their excesses and holding them to account.