Audrey Gilmour: Israel's complicated relationship with Western media

Monday, May 21, 2018 - 10:17am

A month ago, University of Michigan Jewish leadership organization Hillel was celebrating Israel on the Diag with flags and a photo booth cutout of Israelis riding a camel. Meanwhile, the past few weeks have been a time of suffering and remembrance for Palestine and its diaspora as it reflects on the 70th anniversary of “Al Nakba,” or “The Catastrophe” in Arabic. Al Nakba was the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their family homes and land to neighboring countries where many of them still live as refugees today. On May 14, under President Donald Trump’s directive, the United States officially opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, recognizing the city as capital of Israel. Moving the Israeli capital has been a point of contention as the gesture seals Israeli sovereignty in the contested city of Jerusalem. In response, tens of thousands of Palestinians attempted to cross the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In typical Israel Defense Forces fashion, the Palestinians were met with gunshots and tear gas resulting in 58 dead and more than 2,700 injured.

Scrolling through social media over the past week, I’ve seen a mixture of reactions to the current situation in Israel and Palestine. Many of the strong, passionate activists I know on campus have been going out of their way to support Palestinians via social media by sharing articles and raising money for relief funds. Others in my social network have reacted differently, sharing articles and long posts about the bias against Israel, particularly in the media, and casting them as the victim in this situation. I can’t help but find these claims of bias against Israel ridiculous. Israel has always, and will probably continue to, receive blind support from much of the Western world – particularly its media – and it benefits from too much systemic power to be considered a victim in this case.

There has been a worldwide favorable bias for Israel since a little over a century ago when Britain released the Balfour Declaration proclaiming support for the concept of a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine. With the passage of United Nations Resolution 181 by a two-thirds majority, the global community solidified its support for Israel and its people by giving over half of Mandatory Palestine to Israel despite the fact that Israel’s population was a third of that of Palestine. As time has gone by, the United States in particular has shown unyielding support for Israel time and again. No country has received more economic or military aid from the United States than Israel since 1976.

The media is certainly not biased against Israel. Much of U.S. media today, both liberal and conservative, is considered to be largely in favor of Israel. According to “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, news sources like the Wall Street Journal predictably lean pro-Israel, but so do the liberal bastions of reporting such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. Despite this, the New York Times, Washington Post, and even Wall Street Journal have reported on the protests and Palestinian casualties despite these inherent biases. If even news sources that are considered part of the Israel Lobby are making out Israel to be the party at fault then that says something, and it’s not due to a bias against Israel.

All of this global support plays into the power imbalance between Israel and Palestine that makes it impossible for Israel to be the victim in this circumstance. The protests of tens of thousands of Gazans trapped behind a fence and multitude of blockades may not have been completely peaceful but were more than justified. Gazans protested using burning kites while the Israeli military responded with rifles, snipers and tear gas. Of the more than 2,700 protesters injured, at least half of the injuries were due to gunshot wounds. Among the 58 Palestinians murdered in the Gaza protests were teenagers and a baby girl; 8-month-old Layla Ghandour died Monday after inhaling large amounts of tear gas. Palestinians simply do not hold enough political or military power to be the villains in this situation.

When living on a liberal college campus full of clubs and activists drawing attention to important and controversial political issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be easy to lose perspective on these issues. While the pro-Palestine community may be significant on campus, this is simply not the case in a country where the president declares the international city of Jerusalem the sole capital of Israel. It is important to remember that, outside the bubble of university life, the government and media are still strongly in support of Israel and Palestinians continue to suffer due to that fact.

However, there are ways to influence the situation outside of Ann Arbor. An easy start is sharing articles and keeping people in your network aware of the injustices Palestinians endure every day. There are also plenty of relief funds that donate food and medical supplies to Palestine. However, if we want to see long term changes in the state of Palestine, it will take more than that. In order to change the way the United States treats Israel, we must be more conscious about not voting for politicians who are supported by the Israel lobby and pressure the government to stand up against Israel’s human rights violations.