By Ron Forthofer
The Israeli propaganda effort has been really active in spreading disinformation about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Deflection, distraction and disinformation are used to obfuscate about something that should be straightforward.
For example, suppose it were Iran or China instead of Israel that had attacked a flotilla of unarmed ships carrying human rights activists and aid in international waters. Suppose that the attackers killed a number of the passengers, severely beat many more, seized the ships, kidnapped the passengers, stole their possessions, and detained them for days. Wouldn’t things be crystal clear then? There wouldn’t be any questions about the legality of the attack or about the killing of unarmed people. We certainly wouldn’t have questioned defensive measures taken by those being attacked.
To cloud this straightforward issue, Israel immediately attempted to control the coverage by kidnapping and holding the human rights activists incommunicado for several days. Israel also took the activists’ recording devices and videos. Thus Israel was able to spread its version of events without challenge in the crucially important first few days.
Unlike most of the U.S. mainstream media that simply parroted Israeli military sources, a few reporters including Max Blumenthal (http://maxblumenthal.com/) actually investigated Israeli claims. They found several Israeli misrepresentations and, as a result, Israel retracted or clarified some of its key false charges. Blumenthal said: "The lesson of the debacle is that nothing the IDF [the Israeli military] says can be trusted by anyone. Not ever."
Most of the activists are now free and their stories strongly contradict the Israeli version. However, since many of the mainstream media have now moved on to other stories, Israel’s false version of events is still out there and accepted as gospel by many.
Unfortunately, even when the media did focus on this issue, they failed to emphasize two key points – blockading Gaza and attacking the flotilla are illegal (see the June 8th Christian Science Monitor article by Robert Marquand here and the column by MJ Rosenberg here).
In addition, Israel’s claimed rationale for blockading Gaza – stopping homemade rockets from Gaza – is problematic. Although the media didn’t provide much coverage, there was a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that had stopped the firing of rockets for almost five months in late 2008. After the ceasefire ended in December 2008, Hamas eventually offered Israel a new ceasefire if Israel would lift its siege, the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel responded to this offer with its illegal and devastating 22-day attack.
A recently released Israeli government document admits that the siege is not for security purposes; rather, it’s "economic warfare" against Hamas. An Israeli government official added that Israel "could not lift the embargo altogether as long as Hamas remains in control" of Gaza.
Regarding the media’s proclivity to adopt Israel’s perspective and narrative, Alison Weir examined media covering the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Here are a few of the many reporters she found with apparent conflicts of interest:
• Ethan Bronner (New York Times) — son serves in the Israeli military
• Joel Greenberg (New York Times) — served in the Israeli military
• Isabel Kershner (New York Times) — an Israeli citizen and married to an Israeli citizen
• Jeffrey Goldberg, pundit and Atlantic staffer — served in the Israeli military
• Linda Gradstein, NPR — husband served in Israel military; husband and children are Israeli citizens.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, also has a son who served in the Israeli military. Lerner, a critic of many Israeli policies, said: "…there is a difference in my emotional and spiritual connection to these two sides [Israelis and Palestinians]. On the one side is my family; on the other side are decent human beings. … but I have a special connection to my family."
Although such connections don’t necessarily imply biased reporting, conflicts of interest certainly should be disclosed and preferably avoided.
– Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.