U.S. Media's Phrasing Targets Palestinians, Arabs
March 16 2023
blog Series: 

Editor's Note: This article is part of the Press on Palestine series, an initiative by Palestine Square. It includes selections from December 2022. Press on Palestine highlights bias in mainstream American reporting on Palestinian and Arab-Israeli affairs. 

     1. The New York Times – December 4th, 2022 
Arab Fans Confront Israeli Reporters Covering World Cup in Qatar, by Vivian Nereim and Patrick Kingsley 

Authors report that Israeli journalists covering the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar were hopeful for a friendly reception by local fans. Instead, they “have been berated or ignored by local residents and Arab visitors.”  

The reception that NYT frames as “hostile” is mild at best. Fans responded with “Palestine,” affirming the name of the Occupied land once they realized that the reporters they were speaking to represented Israeli channels. In many cases, propagandists for the Israeli regime intentionally misrepresented themselves, telling football fans that they were from Ecuador or European countries.  

The article describes an interaction between an Egyptian fan and an Israeli reporter that was incredibly amicable. Yet, it was framed as confrontational, as an attempt by the NYT to drum up reader sympathy for the apartheid regime, which is also heavily involved in the management of the newspaper. 

“One Egyptian initially agreed to an interview and patiently waited while an Israeli reporter introduced him as a new friend. Then, the Egyptian man leaned into the camera and said, live on Israeli television, ‘Viva Palestine.’” According to NYT, merely acknowledging Palestine is an altercation. 

Nereim and Kingsley further depict the Palestinian community in Qatar — descendants of those who survived  the 1948 Nakba — as “those who fled or were expelled” during war. The NYT journalists act oblivious to why an exiled people wouldn’t kowtow to those responsible for their displacement. 

NYT flattens the Palestinian experience for their readership. By minimizing the indignation of Arab fans – and even non-Arab fans – who express the idea of Palestine and reject apartheid in the face of Israeli propagandists, NYT tries to erase their history and reality. 

     2. The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2022 
As Israel’s Left Suffers Defeat, So Does Two-State Solution By Dov Lieber 

Dov Lieber writes about the dwindling support for a two-state solution amongst Israel’s left. Lieber connects the lack of Israeli support for the left to a decline that began following the Second Intifada, “...after a violent Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada that lasted from 2000 to 2005.” 

Firstly, by attempting to frame Israelis as belonging to the “right” and the “left,” Lieber applies a flawed lens to the apartheid state. The overwhelming majority of Israelis vote for political parties that advocate the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Most young Israelis, in fact, support political parties that are openly racist. While some parties within the Israeli regime advocate more socialist economic doctrine and are more careful with the language to describe Palestinians, every non-Palestinian party represented in the Knesset is inherently fascist. 

By choosing to not contextualize the Second Intifada, Palestinian resistance is depicted as inherently wrong and violent, thereby justifying the violence Palestinians have been subjected to for 75 years. 

Subtle choices of phrasing throughout the article reinforce flawed perceptions about Palestinians’ refusal to accept the occupation of their land. The occupation itself is referred to as a “longstanding conflict with the Palestinians.” This erases Israel’s culpability in the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people. 

In the middle of the article, two photos are displayed side by side. On the left is an image of Palestinian mourners carrying the flag-covered body of a Palestinian man, who was murdered by Israeli soldiers. On the right, an image of an Israeli man’s funeral, who was killed by a Palestinian. By displaying the two photos side by side, WSJ implies a parallel experience between the Palestinian reality and the Israeli one. 

By equating the experiences of full citizens of a nuclear power with the realities faced by Palestinians living under  apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and occupation, Lieber’s piece – along with WSJ editorial policy – demonstrates a fundamental unwillingness to depart from the propagation of a false “two-sides” narrative. 

Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people has only continued to escalate in the first weeks of 2023. 

     3. The Washington Post, December 6, 2022 
At the World Cup, the Arab world rallies to Palestinian cause, by Ishaan Tharoor

In this reported analysis, Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post includes multiple perspectives that allow readers to get a more complete picture as to why Palestine was represented so vibrantly by fans at the 2022 World Cup. 

The article explores the impact of the Abraham Accords and the ways in which “these normalization deals… only reflect elite interests in the region.” More people in the Middle East and North Africa live under governments that are unelected. In the case of some of these Arab rulers – specifically, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – gaining the unconditional financial and military support of the United States and the Israeli regime trumps any notion of human dignity. 

The Washington Post attempts to ground displays of support for Palestine in the present climate, which sees violence against Palestinians by illegal settlers and the IOF escalating on a daily basis: “During games, fans from Arab nations have chanted for Palestinian rights and against recent killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces.” 

Tharoor, however, maintains a perspective reported by many outlets, which is that Israeli reporters were “berated” by fans who support Palestinian liberation. The beration that is referenced is simply fans shouting “Palestine” at Israeli journalists— the very mention of Palestine by an Arab or Palestinian is instantly labeled as angry. 

Although The Washington Post attempts to be balanced in their reporting, by highlighting the concerns of many Arab people towards “...the political condition of Palestinians, millions of whom live lives circumscribed by Israel’s security interests, shorn of the same rights afforded to the Israelis around them,” the vague depiction of the “political conditions” of Palestinians misses an opportunity to describe what is truly at stake. By avoiding any discussion about the specific circumstances Palestinians face while surviving daily life under occupation, readers  do not get an accurate picture of what the Israeli regime is inflicting on the Indigenous population. 

     4. The Washington Post, December 18, 2022
Israel deports French Palestinian activist over ‘breach of allegiance’ By Shira Rubin

Readers are repeatedly told that Israel’s decision to deport Salah Hammouri has been met with applause and condemnation. But in both cases, Rubin is vague about what this means. Israel’s official position is referenced multiple times, and false accusations made against Palestinians regarding militancy or terrorism are taken at face value.

Readers are not told whether or not there is any validity to this label, or what Hammouri himself has said about his position. This allows the Israeli regime to take actions that would otherwise be seen as threatening and intolerable if they were performed by any other state. Rubin works hard to obscure the role of Israeli apartheid methods. She ignores what the future implications might be should the policy of deportation be implemented more widely whenever a Palestinian engages in political work that threatens the facade of the Israeli regime. 

By remaining overly focused on Israel’s false claims of militant and terrorist association, the entire act of deportation as a political strategy goes uncontested. The assertion of the French authorities' challenge to Hammouri’s deportation is lukewarm at best, and does little to shift the validity of Israel’s escalating policies to displace and erase Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. Rubin outlines Hammouri’s incarceration and legal battles, but does not once question the occupying regime’s depiction of the Palestinian lawyer and activist. In failing to do so, Rubin twists the way in which Hammouri is represented.

Even the brief mention of Hammouri being targeted and surveilled does little to contextualize the circumstances surrounding the lawyer’s position as a repeat political prisoner. Rubin also mentions the fact that Hammouri is native to the city of Jerusalem… but does not provide any context around why this is extremely significant, with the current Israeli settler agenda of violently expelling Palestinians from the historic city and expropriating their property. 

“Hammouri was also among six human rights activists whose cell phones were infected with malware by the Israeli spyware company NSO.” What remains unreported is who precisely Salah Hammouri is, and why he has been continuously targeted by the Israeli regime, leading up to the: expulsion from his homeland. 

     5. The New York Times, December 21, 2022 
At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals, by Vimal Patel 

The article centers around the dean of UC Berkeley law school, Erwin Chemerinsky. Interestingly, the voices of the law school students who initiated the ban of pro-Israeli speakers are almost entirely omitted from this piece. 

Altogether, at least nine people were quoted or referenced in this article. Only twice were the Palestinian law students mentioned: a statement from the group, and the perspective of a law student in the group is quickly slipped in. 

It’s easy to overlook the bias upon initially reading the article, it isn’t until after going back and listing out who was quoted or referenced, that the utter lack of perspective from the law students becomes apparent. 

By choosing to overemphasize the voice of the dean and diminish the position of the students, it becomes easier to dismiss their stance altogether. In an article that is meant to explore challenges around free speech, it feels especially tendentious to not bring a balanced representation of all of the voices present. 

Over and over again, people are quoted dismissing the usefulness of the bylaw. The students are even described as “... acting foolishly” and having a “silly rule that they won’t listen to people they disagree with…” Chemerinsky – a strong supporter of the apartheid state – also dismisses the popularity of the bylaw by saying that it only represents the views of a small fraction of students. If this bylaw is as silly and ineffective as the article claims, why does it continue to be contested with such fervor? 

The article repeatedly mentions the ways in which this bylaw is an attack on Jewish students on campus – a false claim that deliberately conflates anti-semitism with being opposed to Israel – yet the actual students who are being “doxed and harassed for their connection to the bylaw” are rendered voiceless in the article. Not once does Patel raise the question of how these students are being discriminated against, or what the law school and dean plan to do to protect them. 

The answer to the latter question is nothing. With increased frequency, law schools and universities across North America and Europe continue to work hand-in-hand with major media outlets to wipe out pro-Palestine activism on campus. The Israeli lobby has made a special effort to increase its power in the academic sector, to ruin careers and erase knowledge about the crimes of apartheid. 

About The Author: 

Sarah O'Neal is a poet, organizer, and writer from the Bay Area. Her work is informed by interests in mourning rituals, queer Muslim poetics, and Black liberation. You can find her on twitter @atayqueen or at www.sarahadbiboneal.co

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