Articles

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Write About Israel

Writing about Israel is a booming field. No news agency, be it ever so humble, can avoid embedding a few correspondents and a dog's tail of stringers into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to sit in cafes clicking away on their laptops, meeting up with leftist NGO's and the oppressed Muslim of the week.

At a time when international desks are being cut to the bone, this is the one bone that the newshounds won't give up. Wars can be covered from thousands of miles away, genocide can go to the back page, but, when a rock flies in the West Bank, there had better be a correspondent with a fake continental accent and a khaki shirt to cover it.

Writing about Israel isn't hard. Anyone who has consumed a steady diet of media over the years already knows all the bullet points. The trick is arranging them artistically, like so many wilted flowers, in the story of this week's outrage.

Israel is hot, even in the winter, with the suggestion of violence brimming under the surface. It should be described as a "troubled land." Throw in occasional ironic biblical references and end every article or broadcast by emphasizing that peace is still far away.

It has two types of people; the Israelis who live in posh houses stocked with all the latest appliances and the Arabs who live in crumbling shacks that are always in danger of being bulldozed. The Israelis are fanatical, the Arabs are passionate. The Israelis are hate-filled, while the Arabs are embittered. The Israelis have everything while the Arabs have nothing.

Avoid mentioning all the mansions that you pass on the way to interviewing some Palestinian Authority or Hamas bigwig. When visiting a terrorist prisoner in an Israeli jail, be sure to call him a militant, somewhere in the fifth paragraph, but do not mention the sheer amount of food in the prison, especially if he is on a hunger strike. If you happen to notice that the prisoners live better than most Israelis, that is something you will not refer to. Instead describe them as passionate and embittered. Never ask them how many children they killed or how much they make a month. Ask them what they think the prospects for peace are. Nod knowingly when they say that it's up to Israel.

Weigh every story one way. Depersonalize Israelis, personalize Muslims. One is a statistic, the other a precious snowflake. A Muslim terrorist attack is always in retaliation for something, but an Israeli attack is rarely a retaliation for anything. When Israeli planes bomb a terrorist hideout, suggest that this latest action only feeds the "Cycle of Violence" and quote some official who urges Israel to return to peace negotiations-- whether or not there actually are any negotiations to return to.

Center everything around peace negotiations. If Israel has any domestic politics that don't involve checkpoints and air strikes, do your best to avoid learning about them. Frame all Israeli politics by asking whether a politician is finally willing to make the compromises that you think are necessary for peace. Always sigh regretfully and find them wanting. Assume that all Israelis think the same way. Every vote is a referendum on the peace process. A vote for a conservative party means that Israelis hate peace.

The Israelis can also be divided into two categories. There are the good Israelis, who wear glasses, own iPads and live in trendy neighborhoods. They are very concerned that the country is losing its soul by oppressing another people. They strum out-of-date American peace songs on guitars that they play badly, but which you will describe them as playing "soulfully", and they show up at rallies demanding that the government make peace with the Palestinians.

Your good Israelis invariably volunteer or work for some NGO, a fact that you may or may not mention in your article, but you are not to discuss who funds their NGO, particularly if it's a foreign government. Write about them as if they are the hope of an otherwise brutish and unreasonable Israel too obsessed with killing and destroying to listen to the hopeful voices of its children.

When writing about them, act as if they are representative of the country's youth and its best and brightest, which for all you know they might be, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like them, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like you. When you do it's either a taxi driver, repairman or some working-class fellow whom you have nothing in common with, and who turns out to be a raving militant when it comes to the terrorism question.

These are the other Israelis. The big swarthy men who have no interest in alternative art exhibits. If you have to deal with them at all, get a quote from them about their hopes for peace and how much they dislike the government. Pretend that the two things are connected, and that everything that your friends, who are aspiring artists and playwrights, as well as volunteer humanitarians, told you about the country being ready to rise up against right-wingers like Barak and Netanyahu, to demand peace, is absolutely true. Don't ask yourself why the country keeps electing right-wingers; if you do, turn it into an essay that touches on Holocaust trauma and biblical hatred.

At some point, you will have to write about the thin bearded men in black hats rushing through the streets on their inscrutable errands. Describe them as "Ultra-Orthodox", even if the word does not seem to mean anything, and pretend that they're all the same. If anyone tries to explain the distinctions to you, ignore them. When writing about them, be sure to imply that they are ignorant and fanatical. Mention their growing numbers as a danger to the survival of the state, associate them wrongly with the right wing and throw in some of the complaints from your friends about the "Schorim", the blacks,  moving in and destroying secular neighborhoods.

Israeli soldiers should be depicted looming menacingly over children. Your stringers are already experienced at urging a child into camera range, then getting down on one knee and tilting the camera up just as an Israeli soldier walks into the frame. If there isn't time to set up the shot, get what you can. The photo can be cropped afterward to show just the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian child, even if the two are not actually interacting in any way.

In print, contrast the bored detachment of the soldiers with the prolonged miserable suffering of the Arab Muslims. Checkpoint lines should consist entirely of old and pregnant women waiting to visit their families. If you are Jewish then mention that the soldiers have given you special treatment on account of your race, even if the actual reason is because you are a journalist and your kind doesn't set off bombs, your kind acts as the propaganda corps for those who set off bombs.

When visiting "settlers," a term that currently covers a sizable portion of the country, describe them as "dogged" and "fanatical." Dwell on their beards and on their assault rifles. Find some American ones and disarm them with hometown mentions of Brooklyn or Baltimore and then dig for a hateful comment. If you can't get a properly damning quote from one of them, get it from one of their children. If you have no luck there, hit up one of your NGO friends, preferably with a degree, to give you a quote on the danger that they pose to peace.

Convey to the reader that there is something disturbing about the tenacity with which they cling to the land, while making it clear that they will have to be ethnically cleansed from the land for there to be peace. Do not use the word "ethnic cleansing," use "evacuation," it sounds cleaner. Be sure to mention that they believe G-d gave them the land. Mention something about the Caananites and the Amalekites. Talk to the girls and contrast their fresh youthful faces with their unwillingness to make peace with their neighbors.

Pay a visit to Jerusalem. Mention a place or two that you like to eat, make sure that it is owned by Arabs, accept their tale of being here for thousands of years with complete credulity. If they mention that they are worried about East Jerusalem being taken over by the Palestinian Authority, don't report that. Do report any complaints that they have about the Judaization of Jerusalem. Draw a picture of the neighborhood as a wonderfully multicultural place dating back to when the Jordanians expelled all the Jews—that is now under assault by the returning Jews. Mourn all the tourists and the Jewish families who are getting in the way of your orientalism. Be sure to remind readers that the Muslim name of the city, or as you will write, the Arab name, is Al-Quds, and that it is holy to three great religions.

Visit with politicians. Israeli Prime Ministers will invariably be unpleasant obstructionist types, if they make jokes, describe it as a transparent effort to curry favor with you. Generals are even worse. Press them about the separation wall, checkpoints, misery and deprivation in the territories. Then get your NGO friends to introduce you to friendly left-wing pols who will commiserate with you about the state of the peace process and the leap of faith that needs to be taken to make peace. Get a quote from them about the next generation and describe them as saddened by their government's unwilling to make peace.

Palestinian politicians are always willing to make peace, even when they aren't. Work at it and you will get a hypothetical quote about their willingness to one day live in peace with the Jews. Turn that quote into the centerpiece of your article. Contrast it with Israeli leaders who still refuse to come to the table. Never ask them any tough questions about the budget, their support for terrorists or why they refuse to negotiate. Instead feed them softball questions, take their talking points and plug them into the template for the same article that your predecessors have been writing since the seventies.

If an Israeli tells you that there is no such thing as Palestinians, that they're gangs of Muslim militias who have no interest in running their own country, or that Jordan is the actual Palestinian State, ignore him. Details like that don't matter and you're not here to litigate history, you're here to tell a story. The same story that has been told for generations about villainous Israelis and the heroic resistance fighters battling against them.

Don't dig into the relationships between Arab clans, the depth of nepotism within the Palestinian Authority or the lack of elections. Don't discuss Israeli poverty except when your NGO friends ask you to write about their work. Don't mention the epidemic of car thefts or land seizures. Don't try to understand what all the different religious subgroups are really all about. You were sent here to tell a simple story and your job is to tell that story.

Write about the hills and the blood-red sunsets, mention all the armies that probably passed over them in a history you never bothered to learn. Talk about your mixed feelings as a Jew or part-Jew or someone who has Jewish friends, at the sight of Jews oppressing another people. Describe the black soulful eyes of a Palestinian leader or terrorist or terrorist leader. Write up the settler children who are taught to hate. Write about how all the guns make you uncomfortable. Close with an old man who expresses hope that one day peace will come to this troubled land.

Then go home.





24 comments:

Devorah said...

Thank you for the time and effort you put into wrting this article. I hope people will take the time and effort to read it and recognize the truth.

Lemon said...

Yes, you said it nicely.

Anonymous said...

So insightful. Too bad pieces like this one don't get distribution in the MSM, which has become less than worthless, and has become an impediment to people learning how the world really is.

Edgar Davidson said...

Indeed - and a full set of guidelines for the Western media can be found here:

http://edgar1981.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/rules-and-guidelines-for-westerners.html

Anonymous said...

Every time that I think you have written your best piece, you trump it!

This article should be required reading for anyone who is an " official" in any American Jewish organization, together with rabbinic groups.

At some point there needs to be a real push back.

Anonymous said...

The worst of the bunch in my opinion are the members of the American media that are at least nominal Jews and act, again in my opinion, as useful idiots for the anti-semites, by calling for divestments or boycotts, or refer to the power of the "Jewish lobby", while using their alleged judaism as some kind of moral authority/ backup for their "progressive" at any cost politics and limited intellectual analysis.

Certainly eating pastrami and attending a jewish summer camp once gives you the weighty authority to pontificate and preach to a country under siege how they should commit national suicide in order to please your progressive friends and not embarass you as you try to assimilate even more?

Personally I can only shake my head and wonder what the pathology is.

Rita said...

Daniel, Daniel, Daniel !! What have you done now!!!

This will probably become the bible for teaching "creative reporting" in Arab...errr....sorry...Palesteeeeeeenian and assorted leftist journalist schools.

They are literalists,you know, and probably wouldn't recognise irony if it hit them.

Anonymous said...

Excellent once again Daniel.

I have often thought: "What does it say about the attitude of the entire Western media towards their readers when they outright lie to them over and over again?"

The word "contempt" seems most fitting.

As for their attitude towards Israel, we we know what that is and we don't have to go back that far in history to identify it.

Proud Brit.

Anonymous said...

That's true Proud Brit. But the public is more than willing to swollow the media's tripe hook, line and sinker. The most obvious examples being the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Gush Katif.

Anyone with half a brain would have stopped and wondered why an entire people are being forced out of their small village. Jews being forced out of anywhere should have sent off alarm bells.

This sort of thing isn't limited to the news media either. I've waiting for Globe Trekker on PBS to do a show from Israel. They finally did a few weeks ago. It was all about the Palestinians.

The trekker visited a Palestinian community and focused on local foods. No problem. The host thought the food was delicious and kissed a Palestinian woman's hand.

The others explained that she was married. Okay. Innocent enough until I plane flew overhead and the trekker joked, "There go the Israelis" as if the IDF were monitoring every mundane activity in Gaza.

Keliata

Anonymous said...

"Ask them what they think the prospects for peace are. Nod knowingly when they say that it's up to Israel."

Unilateral peace is also known as surrender.

but pygmies said...

http://frontpagemag.com/2011/10/26/guide-for-the-perplexed

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I have been reading your blog for about a year (never commenting). Your articles are always well written, timely, and obviously the product of much contemplation. They are so good I feel unworthy of offering my praise of them. Please continue your banquet for thought.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I appreciate the comment. It always helps to know that more people are reading

Yigal said...

Daniel
As always,great article.
Thank you for all you do.
Yishar Coach.

Anonymous said...

Very good, as usual. I understand why a lot ofMuslims propagate this rhetoric: the reason is the Medinan suras replaced the Meccan ones; making the former (nicer ones) void. These included the covenant land of greater Israel and Jewish ownership of that land. I cannot understand why the majority of Muslims who don't know about the Mansook suras are not vocal on behalf of Jews especially when they know of Jewish return in the end of days, sura 17:104iish.

Also their little ditties call for the ummah to make Jerusalem (al quds) the capital of the Jew-free, global ummah. WHY??? You won't find al quds, or even Jerusalem or "Palestine" in the Qur'an. As Mohamet changed the qibla so worship faces Mecca, surely Mecca is now the centre of veneration for Muslims.

I really don't get christians who are Pro-pal in the first place, but also have their pro-pal conferences in places like Bethlehem and have their pics taken on the Temple Mount with the WAQF and not speaking out when they are told there is no evidence of any Jewish Temple ever being there! kate b

Anonymous said...

Here is one of those little ditties I mentioned

http://www.memri.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/3431.htm?nomobile=1

Kate b

Anonymous said...

I often meet Ethan Bronner of the NYT at the neighborhood grocery. He lives and transcribes his NGO press releases from an occupied Arab villa in Jerusalem's old Katamon neighborhood. (16 or 18 Mishmar HaAm St to be exact)

Anonymous said...

Excellent writing. You are truly gifted when it comes to describing complex situations in a few simple sentences. Unfortunately, for every reader you have, the despicable Tom Friedman's and Amos Oz's have 20. If these numbers were reversed, people would start to get a more objective view of what really goes on in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

OT/FYI--

In defense of some journalists...even when they do include truth about the threats facing Israel there's almost always someone in the newsroom ready to hit the spike key to kill the story.



Keliata

Anonymous said...

All part of the expected results when the system demands equal outcomes as opposed to equal opportunities.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you do never use Thomas Friedman as a frame of reference.

Anonymous said...

A typical example: http://www.guydelisle.com/jerusalem/jeru-index.html

It was published entirely on the italian newspaper not long ago.

Fed.

Anonymous said...

It really is up to Americans to demand accountability and honesty from their media. While I normally just toss out the New York Times subscription solicitations, this time I am going to send them a nice letter explaining why (Friedman and Israel coverage) they will never get my money. Maybe CC to Carlos Slim. Say, when are they going to "cover" Mexico the way they do Israel? Say never, and you would probably be right.

Jackie said...

Thank you for that wonderful piece of journalism that quite literally reeks with something not found in the media (for the most part) these days, "truth." It is such a refreshing change to actually see the truth about the Israelis printed somewhere and with such an intelligent and genious slant/angle. Isn't that what the mainstream media would call this?

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