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Media Censorship and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Dual Challenge

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a complex and enduring struggle, unfolds on two parallel battlefields.  The shameful escalation of violence that has reached unprecedented levels in recent weeks distinguishes the first battleground as being physical. The second battleground, although less conspicuous, is equally intense – a conflict waged within the realms of media and public information in North America and Europe. In recent times, Israel and its collaborators have intensified their efforts to suppress journalists, academics, and activists who openly express pro-Palestine or impartial views that are grounded in historical context.

For many years, pro-Israeli right-wing organizations such as the infamous Canary Mission and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) have worked to silence critics of Palestinian perspectives. The goal is to establish Israeli perspectives as the predominant narrative. In numerous cases, individuals who experience fear regarding potential job termination or limited career opportunities have opted to adhere to this storyline, thereby contributing to a phenomenon known as the chilling effect on freedom of expression and journalism.

The Emerging Strategy: Social Media Censorship

An alarming pattern has arisen within the context of this campaign aimed at restricting media coverage. Journalists are currently facing targeted investigation, not solely based on their professional reporting, but rather due to their historical social media viewpoints, occasionally shared several years ago. This strategy has sparked concerns regarding the gradual decline of freedom of speech, the right to express individual opinions, and the repercussions of previous engagements on social media platforms.

Since the outbreak of the latest Israeli military conflict in Gaza, there have been occasions where multiple media professionals have been terminated or temporarily suspended from their positions. Jackson Frank, a sports reporter based in Philadelphia, was terminated from his position at PhillyVoice.com as a consequence of posting tweets endorsing the Palestinian cause. Due to her social media posts drawing attention to the plight of Palestinians, Zahraa Al-Akhrass' employer, Global News Canada, terminated her employment. Kasem Raad experienced the same scenario when he was terminated from his position at Welt TV, a subsidiary of German media conglomerate Axel Springer, due to his inquiry into internal pro-Israel policies. This phenomenon also affected Issam Adwan, a Gaza reporter for the Associated Press, who was suspended as a result of both recent and previous social media posts that expressed criticism of Israel's policies.

In addition, at least six Arab journalists are working for the BBC who are being investigated for their "anti-Israel bias" due to their participation on social media. These journalists are accused of revealing their "bias" through social media.  Such actions have raised questions about media organizations' commitment to unbiased reporting and the stifling of diverse voices.

Media Companies' Instruction to Downplay Palestinian Casualties

There are reports that certain Western media companies have instructed their staff to either omit context regarding the Israeli war on Gaza or to minimize the reporting of Palestinian casualties. These directives undermine journalistic ethics and the obligation to deliver accurate and comprehensive reporting.

The Root of the Issue: A Story About Israel

Georgetown University Professor Nader Hashemi, an experienced academic analyst of North American-Middle East interactions, provides valuable insight into understanding this trend. He argues that the Western media and politicians tend to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict primarily from the perspective of Israel, considering the Palestinians as secondary characters in this narrative. Hashemi links this to a lengthy Western history of anti-Semitism and the lingering impact of the Nazi Holocaust. The prioritization of other factors over the humanity of Palestinians is evident in this framework, leading to media coverage that reflects this reality.

A Shift in Advocacy Tactics

Rami G Khouri with extensive experience spanning five decades in documenting and countering Israeli propaganda in the United States, it is apparent that proponents of the Israeli viewpoint are growing more concerned. The previous strategies, which were formerly successful, no longer hold the same influence over Western audiences. Accusations of anti-Semitism and support for terrorism, once influential and frequently employed, appear to have lost their efficacy in targeting individuals who are not anti-Semitic or advocates of terrorism.

The Culture of Fear in Newsrooms

Journalists experience both dismissals and suspensions, as well as stories of receiving support from their media employers. Sara Yasin, the Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, faced accusations of pro-Hamas bias due to her retweets criticizing Israel's actions. However, the management of the newspaper strongly denied these allegations as untrue. Abdallah Fayyad, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated opinion journalist, provides insights into the prevalent culture of fear within newsrooms, drawing from his three-year tenure on the editorial board of the Boston Globe. The author observes that many editors lack specialized knowledge in foreign policy or the Middle East, resulting in their coverage often reflecting the perspectives of the pro-Israel US State Department and White House. Journalists often choose the path of least resistance in this context, encouraging the mainstream media's pro-Israel bias, especially when confronted with criticism or threats that challenge more impartial reporting.

The marginalization of Palestinian perspectives

The culture of fear also affects the choice of commentators on Israel-Palestine events. Over the past three weeks, several Palestinian American commentators have claimed that they were excluded from television appearances or had their pre-recorded commentary disregarded. Noura Erakat from Rutgers University, Yousef Munayyer from the Arab Center-Washington, and political analyst Omar Baddar are marginalized for their critique of mainstream US TV networks, which tend to exhibit bias towards Israeli and US government perspectives.

A Resistance to Oppression

Amid increasing pressure and intimidation campaigns targeting individuals who advocate for Palestine, Arab Americans, and progressive allies have organized efforts to safeguard constitutional rights, record incidents of pressure and harassment, and promote awareness of these concerns. Palestine Legal, a civil rights organization based in the United States, has documented more than 260 cases of "harassment and censorship attempts" directed at individuals who openly express support for Palestinians in Gaza. The McCarthyite backlash has a consistent impact on the personal and professional lives of advocates for the Palestinian cause.

 

The Role of Journalists and Media Outlets in Society

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association has expressed concern regarding reports of bias against journalists of Middle Eastern and North African descent. These journalists are reportedly being marginalised and excluded from reporting or providing commentary on the ongoing war. This association promotes the importance of nuance, balance, and accurate and precise language in news reporting, emphasising that these principles should be upheld in newsrooms.

The equitable and unbiased portrayal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict holds significant significance in the current media landscape. Advocates of balanced reporting are currently challenging and countering the tactics employed by advocates of the Israeli perspective, marking a significant shift after a century. The ongoing struggle for free speech, responsible journalism, and human rights has the potential to bring about a fairer and more equitable future for all parties involved.

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