It will be surprising to most analysts to include “communications” as one of a very few areas in which to examine Israel as a failing state. However, if one is a Canadian and heir to the intellectual work of Harold Innis, Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan, the modes of communication, whether geographical and external (Innis), fictional and internal to the imagination (Frye) or in the link between the two in the role media plays in taking external forces and, by its very nature as well as role, shaping and framing the way we see and understand the world (McLuhan), are critical in comprehending the way in which we understand the world. This paper will focus only on the third and not on Israel’s geographical position in the Middle East nor the role that the Torah as well as Jewish writings of the nineteenth and twentieth century have shaped Jewish consciousness.
I will deal with the communications media on four levels: a) mainstream media and bias; b) mass media and false news; c) social media and fake news (different than false news); and d) intelligence. Believe it or not, even the last level can play a subversive role and undermine the prospect of good governance if it is seized and controlled by a party that desires to make intellectual work subservient to power.
- Mainstream media and bias
News need not be false to be slanted and biased. This is evident in the news coverage of the February 2023 murders in Harara near Nablus.[i] The February 27, 2023 Jerusalem Post made the story the headline after two Jewish brothers, Hillel Menachem (22) and Yagel Yaakov (20) Yaniv, from the nearby Har Bracha settlement, were killed by a terrorist on February 26th in Huwara south of Nablus when the gunman opened fire at a traffic junction.[ii] The terrorist attack may have been in retaliation for the Israeli raid on Nablus the previous week that killed 11 Palestinians, both militants and civilians, including 21-year-old Mohamad Hallaq and 43-year-old Mohammad Al-Juneidi Abu Bakr. The IDF had targeted the Makhfiyah neighbourhood, where they were confronted by Palestinian fighters from the local militant groups, “The Lions’ Den” and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Between January 1, 2023 and the end of March, at least 95 Palestinians, both terrorists and civilians, have been killed by the IDF and settlers. These included 17 minors and two elders.
Though covered in another back page report, there was no mention in the frontpage headline story that, in a price-tag reprisal attack, settlers torched 30 Palestinian homes in Huwara and set many cars on fire. When 60 settlers attacked Zatara, a village near Huwara, they shot Sameh al-Aqtash, 37, in the abdomen; the father of five died in an ambulance held up by the IDF when his family tried to get him to a hospital – the Israeli military had blocked the road. Sameh had just returned from Turkey where he had been a relief volunteer in Turkey’s devastating earthquake. Almost 100 others were wounded in the attacks, many of them stabbed and beaten with iron rods in the “pogrom” against the Palestinians. The Washington Post made the latter the lead story and included the former in a paragraph.
Israeli journalists, Shahar Glick and Josh Breiner, did report that on Sunday afternoon before the evening riot, “a Jewish gunman dressed in black clothes and a military vest and helmet fired at them and threw stun grenades at them.” Why did the IDF not take up positions in anticipation to prevent the settler rampage and murder? After all, Highway 60 is controlled by the IDF and the settlers in four settlements and Palestinians in Huwara and surrounding villages all use the same road. Instead, though one house had been torched on Sunday afternoon, settlers returned in the evening to set fire to thirty others and to attack Palestinians. Only later was it established that the gunman who murdered the Yaniv brothers was from Jenin and not Hawara.
Different stories. Different emphasis. Different angles on the same event. Each reinforces a different stance. But not one of them is false news. They have a bias, which distorts, but the truth was not compromised. But it also was not fully elaborated.
Huwara has always been a flashpoint, especially since one-third of its land is in Area B and two-thirds in Area C of the West Bank. Price-tag attacks have always been used as excuses or covers for establishing new settlements – Yitzhar was established this way. From 2010 to 2014. there were attacks every year on Huwara by vigilante settlers. Jews from Yitzhar in 2014 burned over 100 olive trees in one attack. Tzvika Foghel from the far-right Jewish Power party declared, “A Huwara that is burning — that’s the only way we’ll achieve deterrence.”[iii]
While Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Bezalel Smotrich, the Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, were chiding the settlers as an afterthought for taking the law into their own hands when, in fact, they were behaving as a lawless mob, the two ministers in the government should have threatened to bring the long arm of Israeli justice down on the rioting settlers’ shoulders. Instead, on Sunday, the Knesset pushed forward legislation to apply the death penalty to terrorists. But the Jewish vigilantes were not called terrorists, only the murderer of the Yaniv brothers. Despite arguments by both the attorney general and officials in the Shin Bet that a threat of a death penalty would not deter terrorists, Israeli legislators were so focused on revenge that they set aside considerations of justice or prudence.
Two English-Israeli settlers, Rina Dee15 and Maia Dee 20, were killed in a terrorist attack on the car in which they were driving in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank. Their mother, Lucy, who was critically wounded in the attack, died on Monday, one day after the girls’ funeral on Sunday in Kfar Etzion on April 2, 2023. They had died two days earlier on Friday and could not be buried on Shabbat. At Lucy’s funeral on Tuesday, hundreds of Israelis holding Israeli flags lined the roads leading to the funeral. Subsequently, a week after, Lucy’s death, and in spite of an agreement made that the illegal settlement of Evyatar would never be rebuilt, thousands of Israelis, led by seven Cabinet ministers in Netanyahu’s government, marched to that evacuated West Bank settlement even though the Israeli security forces had to divert thousands away from the search for the terrorist(s) who killed the three women in order to protect the marchers.
The Evyatar march was a reminder that another event had taken place while two Israeli settlers and an innocent Palestinian were being murdered. In Aqaba in Jordan, American, Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian officials were meeting to try to stop the rising tide of violence. They issued a joint statement: Israel would halt building plans for settlement units for four months and stop the authorization of outposts considered illegal under Israeli law for six months. “The Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures… [including] an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months.”[iv]
Smotrich, who claimed to have had “no idea” that the conference was underway, and declared that it had been “unnecessary,” insisted that Israel would not agree to a settlement freeze, “even for one day.” Ben Gvir went further; he vowed to “crush the enemies” in “the war for our lives.” “Our enemies need to hear a message of settlement, but also one of crushing them one by one.”[v] He insisted that Bibi stop the eviction of the outpost of Evyatar since Netanyahu had agreed that the status of Evyatar would be legalized. Smotrich had already tweeted that he had liked the tweet by deputy head of Samaria Regional Council, Davidi Ben Zion, that “the village of Hawara should be wiped out today.” For Smotrich, there had been “Enough with talk about building and strengthening the settlement; the deterrence needs to happen immediately and there is no room for mercy.”[vi] Visits to Eviatar had been officially banned by the military since its evacuation, but that prohibition has been loosely enforced since January when the new government was installed. The IDF approved Monday’s march, saying it would be “highly monitored and highly protected.”
When you read much of the Arab press (Al Jajeera, for example, is an exception), the murders of Israeli civilians are either not mentioned at all or underplayed. In Israel, the liberal press, such as Haaretz, tends to report the casualties on both sides, but not the right-wing press. Is the difference between the bias that initially appeared in the mainstream media and summarized above versus observing and responding by paying attention only to one side of what happened? In the latter, ideology, not perspective, deforms what is seen and that which is reported. Further, the ideological bias is intended to stir a response. But whatever the serious shortcomings of this much more extreme bias, it is not false news. Ideological bias is also not simply bias; it is much more insidious.
[i] Al Jazeera on March 7th reported that, “Israeli soldiers have been filmed dancing with Jewish settlers on the streets of a Palestinian village where settlers attacked five members of the same family. The five Palestinians were hospitalised after the attack on Monday night in Huwara, in the northern occupied West Bank, only a week after a settler rampage through the village that has been described as a “pogrom”…The Idris family were in their parked car outside a supermarket when at least three settlers ambushed them in an incident caught on surveillance camera footage. “The settler broke the car window and beat me with a hatchet. They sprayed tear gas on us all, we couldn’t open our eyes,” Omar Idris told local media. “When I got out of the car, I saw bullet holes on the car but I was too frazzled to notice in the moment,” he said. Omar said that settlers beat Idris’s father with a rock, cutting his head open. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said that Israeli soldiers were present at the incident but did not stop the attack.” The news outlet also reported that during the pogrom, the Palestinian Authority, responsible for security in the area, “was nowhere to be seen.”
[ii] The gunman was later identified as Abdel Fattah Hussein Kharousha, a Hamas terrorist, and he was killed in an IDF raid on Jenin along with 6 other terrorists who were members of either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades when they got into a firefight with the IDF. Honest Reporting noted that Canadian news outlets “failed to mention that the 6 Palestinians who were killed were all confirmed members of terrorist organizations, but also misled their readers by portraying this counter-terror raid as an act of aggression by Israel against innocent Palestinian civilians.” The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) led by Lara Friedman in its report and news quotations on the Huwara incident were virtually all anti-Israel.
[iv] Haaretz https://www.haaretz.com › Israel News
[v] Middle East Monitor https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20230227-ben-gvir-wants-to-crush-palestinians-one-by-one/
[vi] Haaretz https://www.haaretz.com › Israel News. The American milquetoast response called the events in Hawara “especially disturbing”, but, as US defense chief Lloyd Austin vowed, “nothing would get in the way of Washington’s support for Israel’s security as it faces threats from Iran.”