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Occupation: The missing context in Matti Friedman's 'inside story'

For several months now, a former Associated Press reporter in Jerusalem has been on a mission to ‘expose’ the media’s bias against Israel. Glaringly missing from his argument, however, is the occupation.

By Daniel Reisel

Following this summer’s bloody campaign in Gaza, former AP journalist Matti Friedman has dedicated himself to a series of media analysis articles purporting to provide the “inside story of the story.” In a widely reported piece for Tablet, with a follow-up piece, CNN interview, Haaretz coverage and now in The Atlantic, he has tried to make the case for media bias against Israel.

Friedman wants to look at context, but it would be fairer perhaps to question the context of all this context-seeking. Israel finds itself at a crisis point today. There is bad news from successive European governments lining up to recognize Palestinian national rights, there is bad news on the home front with unprecedented racism, arson attacks and renewed violence in the streets of Jerusalem. In all this, Matti Friedman tries to convince us that there is a media bias against the Jews and that the world should stop obsessing about Israel. Does that not feel a bit disingenuous?

Disregarding the current fires, Friedman picks sour grapes with the media coverage of the Goldstone Report which investigated Cast Lead, and the reporting of the 2008-9 Gaza war itself. He accuses his former employer, AP, of burying stories that might present Israel in a better light. The relevant AP bureau chief, Steven Gutkin, has written rebuttals here and here, calling Friedman’s Tablet article “well-written hogwash.”

Friedman bemoans the fact that right-wing outfit NGO Monitor is being silenced by powerful editors. Could it not be that many editors believe NGO Monitor to be a morally bankrupt, hysterical organization obsessed primarily with harming and delegitimizing those who tirelessly work for peace and coexistence? Do no other right-wing sources satisfy his sense of objectivity because NGO Monitor has been kept out?

Perhaps the most insidious of Friedman’s claims is the wrongful reframing of the conflict. In his mind, the problem is is not the occupation and the growth of settlements. He writes, “This summer, with Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds falling back before the forces of radical Islam not far away from here, this ideology’s local franchise launched its latest war against the last thriving minority in the Middle East.” This statement captures how Friedman views the conflict: the Jews are the beleaguered victims of an Islamic onslaught, defending themselves against the tyranny of radical Islam. Is this not a bit too convenient?

Friedman writes that the real problem is not the occupation and continued lack of a solution for the Palestinians, instead the problem is the Arab world’s hatred towards the Jews. Inconveniently for him, the Arab League Initiative is currently being revived, showing that with withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, Israel would in fact find itself with a completely new diplomatic horizon.

Sure it is important to be critical of one’s sources. Friedman is quite obviously biased himself. So the question in this conflict is not, where can we obtain a neutral point of view, but rather, which set of biases are you working with? What are you foregrounding and what are you treating as secondary? Is the problem really that the world has it in for the Jews?

I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of race politics in America, but say for instance that with Ferguson burning, America is having a much-overdue conversation about race and police brutality. If a journalist insisted on making the case that the real story is how African-Americans are more likely to be involved in violent crime and that this is being repressed  and under-reported by a conspiracy of global media, would this not outrage our sense of justice?

Every point of view should be given a fair hearing and Friedman has of course every right to claim that Israel is the victim of a global Hamas-scripted conspiracy to silence him and others. But his case is so riddled with its own bias and inconsistencies that it’s hard to understand why anyone would take him seriously.

Daniel Reisel is a research fellow at University College London and a founding board member of Yachad.

What Palestinian media is saying about the Jerusalem violence
How Israeli media obscures Palestinian humanity

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    1. Brian

      Thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure to read an articulate, clear debunking of nonsense. But it’s an even greater pleasure when that nonsense is repetitious and calculated to deceive.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yonatan

        Wow. I’m not sure what happened here. Matti used to be this young AP reporter with promising career prospects. Instead of a Pulitzer prize, he ends up becoming an icon for ‘Honest Reporting’ and other hard right-wing websites. Something sad must have happened.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Richard

      Wow! The AP (which Friedman has soundly discredited) and Dan Reisel, a guy with no experience whatsoever that qualifies him to disagree with Friedman about how the press actually functions in Israel, disagree with him. Shocker! This piece reads like pure desperation – just a lot of stupid questions and distracting nonsense. Basically a concession speech.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sharon

      I love Matti but I burst into laughing after reading the part where he complains that no one wants to interview Gerard Steinberg. Anyone who has read the outrageous, ridiculous claims made by Steinberg knows why media don’t want to talk to him.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        NGO Monitor has presented credible information about many facets of anti-Israel ngos. NGO Monitor has presented who funds these ngos to carry out their activities against Israel.

        Ngo Monitor has also pointed how Europeans support with tax payer dollars payment of terrorist salaries by the PA and the publication of anti-Semitic material by Palestinians. For instance a number of European agencies funded a PA children’s magazine which presented Adolph Hitler as a role model for children to admire.

        AP censored the information which NGO Monitor could have provided to reporters who should have been allowed to make their own assessments whether to talk to NGO Monitor on any particular article on which NGO monitor might have been able to provide comment. The fact that NGO Monitor is viewed as having a right slant is no reason to prevent reporters from talking to it.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Mikesailor

      Richard you are truly comical. Friedman has discredited nobody but himself. Actually, if one puts oneself through the trouble of reading him, one is reminded of Stephen Colbert and his character on the Colbert Report. Is there bias against Jews? Or, more likely, is there bias in favor of Jews? Frankly it seems far more the latter. Why should Israel get a 10 year commitmernt for foreign aid from the US when absolutley no other country gets that benefit? Why does the US veto resolutions in the Security Council chastising Israel for building settlements when such building is against stated US policy? Why does the US allow the IDF to recruit in the US when no other foreign military is allowed to do so?
      Why wasn’t Israeli aid cut during the last financial crisis in the US? When domestic budgets were slashed Israel was immune from any like suffering? Why do private donations to Israeli “charities” get subsidized by US taxpayers as US tax deductions? And, finally, why does Israel get to jail, brutalize, detain and even murder US citizens with impunity? Answer those questions. And then whine how nobody understands Israel and their Zionist supporters. We understand only too well.

      Reply to Comment
      • GilGamesh

        Clearly you aren’t even vaguely familiar with what Friedman’s articles were about. They had to do with press coverage. Rather than post a non sequitur rant you should really try and address the topic.

        Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        The answer to many of your list of angry questions is straight-forward. Because doing so benefits the United States.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bar

      This has to be one of the lamest, most meaningless articles in the history of 972mag. Congratulations.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        I know, informed comment is SO lame

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          The idea is to use your knowledge to say something.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Mike

      Let me start out by saying Mikesailor your comments have nothing to do with this article. The answer is because that is what the majority of American people want. Check out any poll out there.

      The line in this article “there is bad news on the home front with unprecedented racism, arson attacks and renewed violence in the streets of Jerusalem” covers exactly the point the Friedman was making. It is a fact the Palestinians are extremely more racist/Anti-Semetic than Israelis as Abbas said “There will not be one Jew in a future Palestinian State” but this does not get reported. Meanwhile any Palestinian that sells their home to a Jew will get the death penalty. Imagine if Israel had the rule for Palestinians. Please tell me how this isn’t a double standard. The proportion of extremest Jews committing arson is a tiny tiny fraction of the tiny Israeli society. Meanwhile, Palestinians are celebrating in the streets the murder of 4 praying Rabbi’s in a synagogue and praising the cold blooded murderers as martyrs. The point being made here, is only bad things on Israel are reported while only good things about Palestinians are reported. If one Israeli says they hate Palestinians it will be printed in every newspaper but if 1000 Palestinians say something along those lines they didn’t really mean it and it’s not news worthy or they are only saying it due to the oppression. It’s not like Israeli’s have any grievances having to live with terrorist attacks since it’s existence which made lead Israeli’s to do things they normally wouldn’t, just like the Palestinians (sarcasm). If the world isn’t holding Jews to a higher standard than everyone else, then why if an Israeli says they don’t want any Palestinian in a future Israel state they are racist but Abbas can say it about Jews and it’s fine? Why can Israel have a better civilian to militant kill/death ratio than any other Western army in the world in a tougher situation and be accused of Genocide when other Genocides are actually occurring in the world (Syria and Iraq)? Could Israel not easily kill all the Palestinians if it wanted to? What other country transports their enemies to hospitals for treatment at the same time the enemy is trying to kill them? Why is the occupation of Cyprus, Tibet and Western Sahara not get any attention? Why is there a standing agenda in the UN HRC on Israel and no other country? Is Israel really the worst human rights violator in the world? If Israel is so terrible, why do Palestinians that are currently Israeli citizens want to stay in Israel even if future Palestinians state is created?

      To compare Palestine to Ferguson is absurd as history is important. Blacks in America were forced into slavery and then discriminated against for no reason other than they were Black. The Palestinians went to war and literally tried to drive the Jews into the sea. Since then, the threats of destruction have never stopped, even before the “occupation” in 1967. A better example would be the confederates losing the Civil war and then demanding they get to keep all of their land and keep Blacks enslaved anyway. When they don’t get their way, they just start bombing civilian places across the north.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mike

      I forgot one thing. This line “Could it not be that many editors believe NGO Monitor to be a morally bankrupt, hysterical organization obsessed primarily with harming and delegitimizing those who tirelessly work for peace and coexistence?”

      The question Friedman would ask these editors, is how did they come to that conclusion? Did they check the facts? Is what NGO monitor is saying true? The point is the editors are liberal and don’t like that narrative, so they will consider it hysterical and whatever just because they don’t like the story behind it even if it’s what is happening.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sluggo

      The ending of this article reminds me of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Sort of abrupt

      Reply to Comment
    9. Adam

      Not only was that massively dishonest article published, but shortly afterward a flood of trolls showed up to flag into oblivion any comment mildly critical of Israel.

      Friedman was serving as a vanguard for the authoritarian right, and boy did he bring them out.

      Reply to Comment
    10. robert e litman

      IS this article a joke? The author entriely misses the point of Friedman’s article concerning press coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, which is that Western media reporting, as exemplified by the AP, is ethically damaged goods, due to a media culture of close and cozy relationships with Arab totalitarian, anti-free speech, representatives and similarly biased NGOs. By cooperating with these new sources overtly and covertly, and crossing journalistic ethical boundaries, they distort the truth. Just the fact that virtually no news sources covered, photographed or videotaped Hamas soldiers or the embedding of missle launchers among the civilian population is enough — not to mention what Friedman was aware of personally as a reported concerning the policies of the AP regarding NGO monitor. This article is really really lame +972 should be ashamed of posting such drivel

      Reply to Comment
    11. Victor Arajs

      Matti Friedmann should have his journalistic licence revoked. He is worse than Goebbels, In addition, he needs to get an IRS Audit for opposing the policy of President Obama

      Reply to Comment
    12. The funny thing about being held to a higher standard is that the israeli govt has consistently claimed they are above reproach, that their standards are higher than everyone else, they have “the most moral army” in the world, they are so full of love and compassion and look – we even give medical treatment to the people we failed to kill (photo op). Then when the truth is revealed (again and again and again, ad nauseum) they are trigger happy, reckless cowards, shooting anyone, children, women, men, elderly, the right has their seizures of indignation that the truth was actually told. Over 70% of the 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza were noncombatants. Hamas did not and has not used human shields, that is what the “most moral army” in the world has done and continues to do. After the assurances to the world they practice “surgical” precision, they proceed to bomb the crap out of an area that is jam-packed with civilians who have no where to run. And when they find safe haven in UN structures, the IDF knowingly bomb those buildings. The hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed “most moral army” in the world finally woke up the world this past summer. There’s no turning back and they have no one to blame but themselves. The world community (with the glaring exception of the US, but they are most of the problem) is thoroughly disgusted by the behavior or the state of Israel.

      You can console yourself with Mark Regev and his BS for old time’s sake –



      or vintage Mark Regev

      or comical Mark Regev (must see)

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Why provide cover for Hamas? We know you don’t like Israel. We get it. Some day, you will forget the Jewish guy who sweet talked you, But why excuse Hamas? What makes you so confident that they did not use human shields? Does your hate of Israel make you say things like this? You realize perpetuating such lies harms the Palestinian innocents that you purport to care for. And this is not some propaganda or advocacy site like where you alter ego dwells. So your answer can not be 1) because,the IDF said it so it must be false or 2) I don’t judge what people do when they are not free or under occupation. Yes, that is common on Momdoweis. So, why would you put your reputation on the line and deny with all your being the use of human shields? Is the hate so thick?

        Reply to Comment
        • For a while now you’ve been attaching yourself to my posts with nothing but nonsense – I’m not who I say I am (really “Sluggo”?), I’m not Jewish, I don’t live in Israel, I’m supposedly Annie Robbins a contributing editor at Mondoweiss and live in San Francisco. First off, that’s just stoopid Sluggo. What is your creeping crawling slime trail doing all over my posts? You are not addressing the topic at hand, you are deliberately and foolishly (a proper tool) misleading and misdirecting. This is incredibly lame and rather bitchy of you. You are from the same mold as the other trolls here and at Mondoweiss. You and your volk bear some responsibility for the unfavorable status the state of Israel, not to mention fearless leader. You and your volk are the match ready to blow the whole thing to smithereens, fiddle while Jerusalem burns or take the faithful to the cause of feiglin and bennett to Masada once more for the 2.0 version. The state of Israel is a pariah among the civilized nations of the world, and it’s that way simply because of people like you. You took your mask off too soon, you’ve not kept your hand safe, you let the cat out of the bag and people do not like what they see at all. Then you blame us, me, anyone but yourselves that the love fest with zionism and the state of Israel is on a funeral pyre. Well, you’ve always got Sheldon Adelson and his handsomely paid whores to cling too.

          Reply to Comment
          • Suggo

            Nice summary. Yes, these are my claims and I stand by them.
            Now please answer the question as to why you are so convinced that Hamas never used human shields. That one is more important.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            Yes, that is a summary of my claims which I stand by.

            Now please tell me why you are willing to claim that Hamas does not use human shields.

            Reply to Comment
    13. Average American

      Media coverage of Israel in America is obviously biased in favor of Israel. So is our Congress. Mikesailor’s questions are valid because they raise the real question of why isn’t there any media coverage or discussion of the points he raises?

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Because it’s an evil plot! You are so smart. You should really,leave the US because they will come for you soon. Before the NFL season ends. You don’t even have time to pack!

        Reply to Comment
    14. Daniel

      How ironic that an article that seeks to whitewash away the existence of foreign-funded NGOs that are out to “get Israel” and have an unhealthy relationship with the press… only arrived in my Facebook feed because someone paid to have it placed there!

      Reply to Comment
    15. Steve Kowit

      If the US media was anti-Israel you’d think they’d occasionally remind their readers & listeners that Israel is built on land stolen from the Palestinian Arab people in 1948, that every inch of that land belongs to the people from whom it was brutally stolen. And you’d think that an anti-Israel media would sometimes remind its audience that Israel refuses to abide by international law & permit those millions of refugees to return to their land. Or that they would sometimes mention that non-Jewish “citizens” of Israel have many fewer rights than Jewish citizens, that is to say that Israel is a thoroughly racist anti-democratic state. But on those subjects the US media is silent.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        This is in response to Steve Kowitz. Your comments are exactly what Friedman is referring to, baseless and built on lies. There was no state called Palestine pre 1948 nor has there ever been a Palestinian state. The name itself was what the Romans called the land of Israel. Israel never stole any land, Israel was attacked in 1967 by three arab armies , Jordan included who at that time occupied the West Bank. When Israel repelled the Jordanians to beyond the Jordan river. Jordan then agreed that they did not want to take back the land and officially gave up any claim to it. Your comments are based on the lie that is told over and over again till morans like you just accept it and take it as the new fact.

        Reply to Comment
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