A common refrain in the pro-Israel community is that the media are biased against Israel. Coverage of the recent fighting in Gaza has been such that even Gary Rosenblatt of The (NY) Jewish Week, who previously has been a staunch defender of the media against charges of bias, felt forced to admit that there was something untoward in the media's coverage of the conflict. In addressing the media's bias, it would help to look at how the narrative frames developed that lead to today's skewed coverage in order to develop our own strategy to counteract it.
Recently, Columbia Journalism Review recarried an article about The New York Times' coverage of Israel. Early in to that article was a vignette about how narratives at the Times changed from Israel as a scrappy upstart fending off those who would exterminate her to Israel as cruel overlord:
During the winter of 1974, Seymour Topping, the assistant managing editor of The New York Times, and his wife, Audrey, visited Jordan as part of a tour of the Middle East.What this episode demonstrates is that King Hussein caught on to a strategy that I have seen mentioned during my days following the DLC: if you want to convince the public to support you against your opponent, tell them something that they don't know about your opponent but would not like if they did. Before the West saw how the Palestinian refugees were living, the narrative was that the victims of the worst genocide from Europe were attempting to restart their lives in the face of nihilist opposition. The new information that Jordan presented to Topping showed that instead of the opposition to Zionism being nihilistic, there was an actual victim of Israel's birth. This led to a new narrative that the victims of Europe's worst genocide sought to rebuild their lives at the expense of innocent, as most westerners came to see them, others. Unfortunately, when this new narrative began to gel, our only response has been to reiterate the facts underlying our old narrative more loudly.
On their stops in Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, Topping often had to confront criticism that the Times’ coverage was too favorable to Israel. It was a familiar enough situation for him; to be the editor of the Times in charge of international coverage meant you were a magnet for complaints. They were usually about the paper, but sometimes about US policy, which foreigners often believed was refracted through the Times’ coverage.
In Jordan, King Hussein took a different approach: He arranged for the Toppings to visit a nearby Palestinian refugee camp. The visit affected Topping markedly—he saw both the squalor of the camp and the festering hatred of Israel—and he recounted afterwards that he realized he had not understood the role of the Palestinians in the region’s future until then.
In the absence of facts supporting the Palestinians' claims, the facts underlying our narrative would carry the day. However, if the Very Serious People of the world think that the facts underlying the Palestinian narrative are more significant, no amount of telling our old narrative will change their perception. This applies equally to Holocaust and Hamas' rockets. What we need to do is to tell the Very Serious People something about the Israeli-Palestinian that they don't know, but would make them not like the Palestinian national movement if they did. Since the Very Serious People's love affair with Fatah is based on the belief that Fatah is the last-best hope for peace, the facts we reveal would have to undermine that notion. Further, the Very Serious People are loathe to admit that there is no hope for peace, so undermining the notion that Fatah is the last-best hope for peace will require showing that there is an alternate partner to get to peace.
Accordingly, the next time dignitaries (political candidates, media editors) visit Israel, instead of showing them what Israelis are living through under Hamas terror, show them genuine voices for peace on the Palestinian side. The first example should be a gathering of Sheikh Jabari with what the Very Serious People call "settlers." This information would serve two purposes. It would show that if Fatah is dethroned, that hope is not lost for attaining peace. Further, it would show that the "settlers," are an excuse for Fatah to refrain from making peace rather than a real obstacle, as proved by the willingness of Palestinians like Jabari to meet with them. Preferably, the dignitaries would witness one of these meetings in Jabari's home in Hebron, but if they are unwilling to go where Israel "has no right to be," the meeting should be moved to where the dignitaries would be willing to go to witness it. This could be followed by more similarly minded Palestinians, such as the followers of Mohammed Daoudi Dajani's Wasatia movement. However, more important would be to see how the Palestinian national movement reacts to the Palestinians who genuinely seek peace as is evident in the anti-normalization crusade.
Ultimately, the goal is to supercede the current narrative the way the Arabs got the current narrative to supercede the one that existed until 1967. The new narrative should be one which acknowledges that there is Palestinian suffering, but which attributes that suffering to the national movement using the people as pawns and that the people who actually are trying to help the Palestinian people do not measure their progress by how far they roll back Jewish aspirations.