Saturday, January 17, 2009

US media shows 'a bit of courage'

Israel's Free Ride Ends
Michelle Goldberg, in The Guardian: It's a common, almost clichéd observation that the American media is less critical of Israeli policy than the Israeli media. In mainstream American depictions of the ceaseless misery of the Middle East, Israeli righteousness and Arab violence are routinely emphasised. The reality of Israeli settlements and Palestinian suffering have been, at best, a footnote...

Slowly, though, something is changing. As Israel pulverises Gaza, questions and doubts about Israeli policy are becoming more prominent in the American media. The failure of the war in Iraq and the attendant discrediting of neoconservatism has opened up new space in the American conversation. With the American right dejected and weakened, there's less pressure on the press to display the kind of boorish one-sidedness that self-congratulatory conservatives like to call 'moral clarity.' Israel's disproportionate retaliation in Gaza is increasingly recognised as both brutal and, in all likeihood, ultimately futile. In destroying Gaza, Israel is also destroying the American taboo that has ensured the country such unstintingly favourable media coverage.

No doubt, some of Israel's most aggressive partisans are going to be alarmed by this sudden shift in the American discourse. They're used to dismissing the world's criticism of Israel as the mutterings of antisemites and bien-pensant third-worldists. The US has been a cocoon that protects Israel and its advocates from facing harsh judgments. But Israel has been ill served by America's endless indulgence. What is happening in Gaza endangers, first and foremost, the benighted people who live there and who are dying by the hundreds. It also endangers Israel itself, pushing already elusive prospects for peace ever more out of reach.

An American media that turned a blind eye to Israeli expansionism and human rights abuses ultimately made the Jewish state less, not more, secure. Without the US putting pressure on Israel to dismantle the settlements and loosen the blockade in Gaza, leaders there had neither the incentive nor the political cover to do so. Now that the American press is displaying a bit of courage in facing an unfolding catastrophe abetted by American leadership, perhaps our politicians will have room to do the same.