As CAMERA prepares to take students on the annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Mission to Israel, these future trip participants share their knowledge and experiences regarding Israel and bias in the media. Stay tuned for more pieces and scroll below to learn about the author!
On Thursday, April 10, the sanctuary of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland, was packed with people attending “An Evening with Ambassador Gideon Meir.” The much anticipated community event was hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Action Center.
The wonderful evening began with Gideon Meir’s daughter informing the audience of her father’s truly outstanding career. His lifetime achievements include, first and foremost, serving in the Israel Defense Forces from 1965-1967. Working for the Israeli Foreign Service, Meir had the pleasure of working extensively within the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well as the Israeli Embassy in London, England.
In addition to his honorable positions at the Israeli Embassy in the nation’s capital as Consul and Administrative Officer, Meir became the Deputy Director General for Media and Public Affairs in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. As a culmination of his career, from 2006 to 2011 Meir was honored to become the Israeli ambassador to Italy. After this post, Meir was appointed the head of the Foreign Ministry’s public affairs directorate and the Ministry’s Deputy Director General. His remarkable diplomatic work totaled 45 years. Meir’s dedication and passion for the State of Israel resonated throughout the room, as embodied in his daughter’s words.
Meir was a pivotal figure, representing Israel on the world’s stage during his time working for the Israeli government, including the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War. Most notably, Meir was a member of the negotiating team that drafted Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.
The evening focused on Israel’s public diplomacy through the lens of media and public relations. At this event, Meir shared in depth insights on Israel’s successes and challenges.
As the event took off, the room was buzzing with questions from the audience. To start off the discussion, one audience member asked whether Israel gets a fair hearing in the U.S. media. Meir instantly responded “no”. He followed up on this question by saying, “It is legitimate to criticize [the Israeli government], yes. Is it okay to delegitimize the Jewish state, no.”
Meir and his presentation reminded the audience of the many factors that culminate unfair representation of Israel in the media, especially European coverage.
Anti-Semitism was first on the list of inaccurate representation of Israel in the media. Meir said that much of the world believes that a “victim of yesterday is the victimizer of today.” Europe has guilt from the past, mainly World War II, and attempts to push this guilt onto Israel with negative and deceitful media coverage.
The other factors include the issue of occupation and human rights. The issue of “occupation” and allegations of human rights violations is a distortion of the truth in the global media. Meir cites this inaccurate reporting as it connects to the growing number of Muslims in the world. “They are bringing values they ran away from and changing Europe,” Meir said. He specifically referred to France and Great Britain, saying they need to wake up regarding the issue of Muslim control over the media image of Israel that they want to portray. Meir notes that Italy is excluded in the grouping and generalization of Europe because their government’s surveillance on Muslims is strict and careful.
“In the European press- Israel has no chance to win the hearts of Europeans,” says Meir. They humanize the victimizer and do stories on the suicide bomber, not the victims. This is not only a problem in Europe, but an international issue which Israel faces every single day.
One example of this, published falsely by the highly credible New York Times and the Associated Press, was a picture of a “Palestinian on the Temple Mount beaten by an Israeli policeman.” This picture was seen by millions on September 30, 2000.
Pro-Israel sites, such as Fraudfactor.com, are “demand[ing] competent, accurate, objective, balanced and fair reporting from the Middle East.” They will not stand by idly as inaccurate reporting of Israel continues to perpetuate on the global media market.
Fraudfactor dove into the facts of the September 2000 Temple Mount picture. The site begins by stating, “The false and deceptive caption manipulated readers into believing that an angry Israeli policeman severely beat a helpless Palestinian boy until he was drenched in his own blood. It appears that the New York Times wants its readers to believe that Israel engages in severe police brutality against helpless Palestinians.”
Meir shared this picture with his audience and explained it piece by piece. “Every Israeli knew it was not the Temple Mount because there is no gas station on it.” Secondly, it was not a Palestinian pictured but really an Israeli Jew; his mother noticed her son in the picture. They reveal the truth behind this picture and what really happened: a group of Arabs were trying to lynch this boy, and an IDF solider was helping him.
This is just one example of what Israel is up against in the international media. During the course of the event, Meir showed half a dozen examples of incorrect, biased lies published against Israel, from “credible” news outlets such as the New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, and BBC, to name a few.
“Media organizations want to create Israel as the new Nazis,” says Meir. Journalists are twisting the story and not giving the correct and needed background information to their audience. The pictures and stories are falsely framed and taken out of context.
The focus of the event was to raise debate over Israel in the media now, what the country has done to help its image, and what the State of Israel needs to focus on. Throughout Meir’s presentation and audience discussion, it became clear that Israel needs to focus on its public relations campaigns to combat this inaccurate reporting. Stronger and more aggressive public relations will shed a positive light on the State of Israel, as well as expose the inaccuracy of so many media reports.
“Who is winning the public relations war?” Meir asked the audience. He responded to his own question by saying that the Palestinian narrative has won, and points to the strength of their “public relations machinery.”
Meir says that if you ask most Europeans about Israel, they know only conflict: Israel-Iranian tension and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, Meir notes that when one asks Americans what they know about Israel, a much broader spectrum is described. Most Americans, Meir said, would paint a more wholesome picture of Israel then just conflict, such as Israel being the “start up nation,” its products, culture, etc.
Meir posed another question to the audience: how can we, as supporters of Israel, get people to change their views and bypass the traditional media? Meir explains that this is done through social media and “branding Israel.” Many audience members noted that Israel’s image can improve internationally by having more non-Jews visit the State of Israel.
Meir responded to this by stating: “’I/we didn’t know’… that is the response.” Meir said that he very often hears this response to combating inaccurate reporting. People travel to Israel and become addicted to its modern and vivacious culture, beauty, and uniqueness. After visiting the country, they can now form their own opinions and share them in their home countries. After visiting Israel, those who only believed what was reported in the media about Israel suddenly “came to a reality that they didn’t know existed.” Meir connects this feeling back to biased media coverage, which previously blinded them.
If Israel could be characterized in three major categories, they would be the following: education, research, and defense. Israel is known as the “start up nation” for a reason. According to Mashabale, the “leading source for news, information & resources for the Connected Generation,” “companies such as Get Taxi, Brow.si, Tracx, Fiverr, Viber, ClearSky Apps, TireCheck, Swayy, EatWith, PrimeSense, Tomodo, LATTO, BillGuard, Say Media and MyHeritage are all a part of the growing list of ‘hot’ start-ups from Israel.” Israel’s outstanding accomplishments in education, new companies, and the strength of the military are the topics that need to be broadcasted to the world. A country should highlight its success in an attempt to drown out and debunk faulty international news coverage.
Meir concluded this fantastic and thought provoking event by making an interesting connection: linking public relations with national security.
Promoting a positive, truthful image of Israel is a “a joint venture of world Jewry.”
This piece was contributed by Alexa Lazerow. Alexa is a May 2014 Journalism and Electronic Media graduate from Towson University, located right outside of Baltimore.