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Karl Sabbagh

Israel: Lying abroad for your country

Western media typically has an implicit pro-Israeli bias [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 April, 2015

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Comment: By failing to analyse and understand the rationale behind Israel's propaganda, Western media is complicit in its lies.

The 16th and 17th century English author and diplomat Henry Wotton described an ambassador as someone "sent abroad to lie for his country".

Nowadays, the principle of "lying abroad" enables Israel to hammer home its message and drown out that of the Palestinians throughout Western media.

It is not surprising that nations use propaganda to cover up their sins. What is surprising is that so-called intelligent, informed journalists report Israel's fabricated stories time and again, and rarely dig deeper.

Even worse, when the truth becomes known weeks, months or years later, it is buried in NGO reports or academic papers and rarely gets reported at all.

It may seem naive to complain about this - surely no government tells the truth?

Well, there is a difference between not telling the whole truth and telling blatant lies. Blatant "black is white" lies by a British or US spokesperson would be quickly revealed for what they are by a free and assiduous press.

But look at how long it took the parents of Rachel Corrie or Tom Hurndall to establish how their children were murdered, in the face of institutional denials by Israelis at every level.

One tiny recent example from the Guardian, not the worst offender by any means, was a headline to a recent news story which read: "Confrontation looms after Hizballah missile strikes kill two Israeli soldiers."

"Here we go again," the reader is led to think, "those dreadful Arabs attacking Israel." In fact, the headline failed to reflect the fact that ten days earlier, Israel had attacked a Syrian town and killed two senior military figures, and Hizballah was retaliating.

     There is an all-pervasive willingness to accept Israel's own excuses for even the most criminal and inhuman acts.


Every justification Israel has given for its successive wars on Gaza, widely repeated in the Western media, has later turned out to be fabricated to appear as if Hamas triggered them.

By taking at face value anything said by Israeli politicians or spokespeople without independent corroboration, the press is presenting Israel in the best possible light, a stated aim of Israel and Zionism.

Yitzhak Shamir, the seventh prime minister of Israel famously said: "It is permissible to lie for the sake of the Land of Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Irrespective of whether you're right or not, you must always present your side as right."

Akiva Eldar, an Israeli journalist, also wrote: "In Israel, lying has become the norm among the army, the legal establishment and the diplomatic corps. Lying has become a way of life for commanders and soldiers, lawyers and clerks, most of whose views are far from being right-wing, and who loathe the occupation."

British journalists are among the best and most sceptical in the world. Why then, with a few honourable exceptions, do they fail to be sceptical when it comes to Israel?

There is an all-pervasive willingness to accept Israel's own excuses for even the most criminal and inhuman acts. This extends beyond journalists to the establishment as a whole.

In the recent debate over Palestine in Britain's House of Commons there was a dramatic volte-face by Richard Ottaway, a Conservative MP who had been a staunch supporter of Israel. The MP finally withdrew his support because of the 2014 Gaza war.

While this is encouraging, what is more surprising is that, for decades, Israel's crimes and atrocities have been a regular occurrence in the West Bank and Gaza. However, during that time Ottaway - and many MPs who are members of the three Friends of Israel groups in the Commons - have given unqualified public support to Israel.

Like the media, these people all fail to spot - or choose to ignore - that all of Israel's accounts of its actions aim to deceive. It is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of anyone who might otherwise believe the Palestinian arguments for justice, freedom and an end to persecution.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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