The history of Europe is usually filled with anti- Semitism and Islamophobia. Sometimes, one of them is on the rise, and sometimes the other. Today, it seems to be Islamophobia's turn, and the world media's approach on what is happening in Palestine is not exempt from it
While cruising through news published by media organizations such as The Times, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and CNN, I was reminded of Gil Anidjar. Anidjar was a professor at Colombia University when I first met him. He set himself apart with his unique viewpoints on articles about the Palestine problem. His book "Our Place in al-Andalus: Kabbalah, Philosophy, Literature in Arab Jewish Letters" became quite the talk in academic circles when it was first published in 2002 by Stanford University. The same thing happened when his next book "The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy" was published by Stanford University in 2003. In the latter publication, Anidjar investigated the baseline texts that are accepted by many to have formed the European history of thought and literature. While doing so he also pursued the origins of Jewish and Muslim hatred and whether they aligned or not.
Two years ago I met with Anidjar in Istanbul. We talked for nearly three hours in the lobby of the Marmara Hotel located in Taksim. I remember he said, "In European thinking, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism went hand in hand throughout history. Victims of alienation from Europe, both Muslims and Jews shared the same faith. During this process, sometimes hatred toward Muslims was on the rise and sometimes toward Jews. The reason Jewish people are now considered to be part of Western civilization is the result of the tax paid in lives during the Nazi genocide." When I told him that I didn't understand completely, he gave me several examples taken from Shakespeare, Goethe and Walter Scott. "I gave examples from Shakespeare's Othello and The Merchant of Venice. You tell me, is the Moorish Arab Othello a better character or a Jewish moneylender Shylock?
In Goethe's West-Eastern Diwan we can also see that he sees Islam as a great civilization and defines it so but Jews are never mentioned in a good light. Therefore for Europe sometimes one is considered better and sometimes the other." It went on like this. While watching the massacre in Gaza, I remembered the words on Anidjar with a bitter smile on my face. Not just because of what Israel is doing, but because of how global media institutions covering this tearful tragedy. In the hands of a biased journalism words are becoming bullets.
It is actually very simple and obvious. Words and definitions bear significance, because that is how the perception of hegemony is built. Readers or viewers are steered toward a certain way of thinking. To give several examples: Some media organizations define these events as a Jewish-Arab war. However what is happening in Gaza can in no way be defined as an allout war between the members of two different religions. There are Palestinian Arabs not living in Gaza and there are Jews that are not in agreement with Israel's actions.
In addition to this, what is happening in Gaza now is not a war. It is a massacre. Invasive Israeli forces are attacking people after years of imprisonment, in the form of a blockade with no regard for international law. Up to now nearly 1,000 people have been killed and there are reports of nearly 7,000 injured. Nearly all of the dead and injured are civilians. Schools belonging to the U.N., a hospital that treated the wounded and a mosque that people prayed in have been hit. Nearly 1,000 children have been mercilessly killed. Therefore, presenting this as a conflict between a legal Israeli state and Islamist terrorists is misleading, both to readers and the public.
World Media: Blind or Sly?
Jon Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show," spoke about the difficulty of saying something about Israel in a form of parody. For Piers Morgan it was not a parody. He was accused of being anti-Semitic and targeted by a lynch campaign for tweeting these sentences: "Israel's making a massive mistake with this monstrous child-slaughtering military strategy. Someone needs to rein Netanyahu in." "You deliberately shell a UN facility full of women & children. You lose any moral high ground. Enough, Mr. Netanyahu… ENOUGH."
Our reader İnsel Bakırcı also said that this was more than a parody. "CNN reporter Ben Wedeman formed a connection between the high number of children that were dead and the high number of people in Gaza aged 14 and less. When a reporter says that, it is not liked by Israel and they lose their standing in their careers. NBC changed the places of Ayman Mohyeldin and CNN did the same with Diana Magney, but Bill Maher who said that "Hamas is like a women that doesn't wise up without a slap in her face" faced no reprimand from HBO. Is this the so-called objectivity? Where is the freedom of press? Where are the journalism organizations that pride themselves on knowing no borders and preparing freedom indexes?"
Our reader is correct. There is no need for us to take people like Maher seriously but I am afraid when the subject is Israel these journalism outlets are no different from human rights organizations that cared about the problems of white people during the founding of South Africa's racist "apartheid" regime. We can see this in the number of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestine people invited to TV shows or the questions addressed to them. Reader's Editor of The Guardian Chris McGreal said in his article called "American Media's New Pro-Israel Bias: The Same Party Line at the Wrong Time" the pro-Palestine views are rarely uttered in media and when a guest is pro-Palestine he or she is placed in a defensive state against pro-Israeli arguments. From the viewpoint of universal journalism principles the problem here is a clear error in perspective. Most of the English speaking media are standing in the pro-Israeli corner. They report and write their news with only accepting the statements of Israeli officials and viewpoints as a source. They ignore the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and close their ears on their wails of pity. Forget about the statements of Hamas, they even hide the words of regular people living in Gaza from their readers and viewers. They are forming a media prison far from objectivity and transparency.
While these are happening in Palestine Joe Klein wrote "Hamas provoked this round, and Israel had no choice but to respond" in his article from Times. But he can't see the problem that all journalists should be able to see now. Israel's excuse of "self-defense" cannot be accepted as a legit argument. This concept cannot be defended either from a legal or ethical point of view. Reason is simple: Israeli officials failed to produce credible evidence that implicated Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. There wasn't any meaningful investigation or a court ruling. They failed to announce the culprits to the world. With the guise of collapsing the tunnels, Israeli militants killed children that had nothing to do with the terrorism.
Daily Sabah's August 1 dated headline was "Israel is Committing Genocide in Gaza, the Whole World is Just Watching". Is it okay to use the word "genocide" in this context? As Ombudsman my view is this: Since Israel is hitting civilian targets whether they are children, women, elderly and acting like its aiming to destroy an entire population we can argue the usage of word "genocide". Newspapers are the first drafts of the history. This headline of Daily Sabah will be more significant in the future.
Anti-Semitism is one of the biggest crimes in human history. That is true. Jewish people and the entire Jewish community cannot be held accountable for the crimes of Israeli government and their massacres. That is also true. But the phobia of anti-Semitism cannot be used to fuel another phobia, Islamophobia. All Muslims in general and people living in Gaza cannot be identified with terrorism. Defining all injustices toward them as a security concern is against human rights as well as Islamophobic. Western civilization came to terms with their errors concerning anti-Semitism and they should also come into terms with their Islamophobic approach by using self-criticism. They should abandon promoting Islamophobic views in the media just as they did with anti-Semitism. The world's media must abandon the journalism war and start arguing for peace journalism. Journalism today has become more of a political activity rather than a humanitarian one. If this continues, it will be difficult to maintain.
However there is a bigger problem in Palestine than freedom and that is the safety of lives. The journalists in the region are under the threat of Israel. Here are the names of some of the journalists who died: "Muhammed Zahir, Rami Reyan, Samih el-Aryan, Ahid Zekut, Halid Hamad, Necla Mahmud El-Hacc, Abdurrahman Ziyad Ebu Hin, İzzet Dahir, Bahaddin Garib, Hamid Abdullah Şihab.
There are many wounded journalists as well. Let us not forget, with every journalists dying or getting wounded, journalism also dies and gets wounded as well. I urge all international and national press organizations, journalism safety committees, freedom houses to take action on this issue. Before it is too late.
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