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Expel the Journalists!

There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?

For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.

The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.

Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.

[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.

He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.

The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.

Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.



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