Monday, June 7, 2010


Israel given a pass again by U.S. media

By Reginald Johnson
June 7, 2010

So ships carrying humanitarian aid to a country with desperately poor people are attacked in international waters by men firing automatic weapons. The assailants kill nine passengers and wound dozens of others.

The passengers were unarmed at the time and did nothing to provoke the violent assault.

It’s pretty clear the attackers acted in a totally illegal way, committing criminal acts. Right?

Wrong! The attackers were Israeli, so international law and accepted norms of behavior don’t apply --- at least in the eyes of the major U.S. media, not to mention American leaders.

The Israeli military can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. And no matter how outrageous their actions, the Israelis are always in the right, and they are always the victims.

Proof of this dictum has been laid out over the past few days with the pro-Israel coverage by U.S. media outlets, concerning the deadly attack on the flotilla the morning of May 31. The ships were bringing aid to the beleaguered land known as the Gaza Strip, part of Palestine.

The flotilla of six ships, carrying 10,000 tons of emergency food and building materials as well as 700 activists and representatives of 40 nations, was attempting to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The siege by Israel has been underway for three years and barely any supplies are being allowed in.

The shortage of food and other necessities has been growing more and more acute in Gaza, particularly since the brutal invasion of the territory by Israel in January of 2009, an attack that gutted Gaza’s infrastructure and caused 1,400 mostly civilian deaths.

The flotilla had been warned by the Israelis not to try to enter Gaza. Israel had maintained that the ships could be Trojan horses, secretly carrying weapons to the Hamas leaders who govern Gaza, and who Israel considers terrorists. In response, the flotilla organizers offered to have a neutral third party check the boats to guarantee the absence of weapons. But Israel did not agree to this, and the flotilla proceeded.

Around 4 a.m. on May 31, the Israeli navy surrounded the flotilla, which was 70 miles off the Israeli coast. Helicopters hovered over the lead ship, a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara. Soldiers rappelled down ropes onto the ship and began firing their guns at close range. This continued even after a white flag was raised. Some passengers did try to fight back, using sticks and metal bars.

The Israeli forces took control of all the passengers, forced the boats to an Israeli port and put them all in detention, prior to deportation.

Immediately, there was world-wide criticism of the Israeli action, and demands at the UN for an official condemnation.

President Barack Obama and U.S. officials simply expressed concern, but worked to block an official UN condemnation.

And mainstream U.S. news outlets, from the get-go, soft-pedalled the Israeli atrocity and took sides with Israel. The first report I heard was on News Radio 88 (CBS) in New York Monday afternoon. After describing the attack, the reporter quickly noted that there were “two sides” to the story, and then gave the Israeli view, that their soldiers shot only in self-defense at violent passengers.

Later Monday, NBC’s evening news with Katie Couric did not directly quote any eyewitnesses or officials of aid organizations, who had gotten reports back from passengers. Instead she gave direct audio clips from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and another high Israeli official, who both said the soldiers had acted in self-defense, since passengers had attacked them with clubs. They also alleged that there were pro-Hamas terrorists among the passengers.

The report was very-one sided and begging for a rebuttal. But since Couric apparently didn’t try to get the other side, none was given.

The Washington Post was outrageous with its knee-jerk defense of Israel, saying in a June 1 editorial: “We have no sympathy for the motives of the participants in the flotilla --- a motley collection that included European sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, Israeli Arab leaders and Turkish Islamic activists.”

Cable TV pundits, even those considered moderate, were also biased in their comments on the Israeli attack on the ship. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, apparently upset with the widespread criticism of Israel, said he felt that Israel was being hit with “a bad rap” or something to that effect.

It was also upsetting that liberal talk-show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow did not deal with the Israeli ship attack on their shows last week, at least what I saw.

So there you have it. Even the liberals of mainstream journalism won’t touch the issue of Israeli conduct with respect to Palestine and its allies. It is the sine qua non of American mainstream journalism. Don’t go there. But in my view, if you don’t go there, you’re not being a journalist.

It was left to the alternative media on radio and on the Internet to pursue the truth. The same night that NBC and others were running their one sided reports, Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio newsmagazine interviewed Ramzi Kysia, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that sponsored the flotilla.

Kysia said international journalists were on board the ship and they reported via a satellite feed at the time of the attack that Israeli soldiers had killed people by firing their guns as soon as they landed. There was no indication of provocations from the other side. He also said officials in different ports had checked the ships during the trip, and found no weapons, putting the lie to the claim that the ships were secretly carrying arms to Hamas.

Kysia said that the attack was “an attempt to frighten off future
humanitarian aid efforts for Gaza.”

Other shows like Democracy Now! and articles on sites like Common Dreams also presented viewpoints on the attack from people other than “the usual suspects” (Israeli and American officials) to get a fuller account of what happened to the flotilla.

The lack of courage by the mainstream media to report candidly on the brutal policies and actions of the Israeli government --- as well as the American policy of condoning the actions --- is a chief reason why there continues to be no resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and why the Palestinians, such as those who live in Gaza, remain oppressed and living in abject poverty.

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