International media review

As Gaza deaths mount, UK media leads world trend to criticize Israel

German TV host introduced report on Operation Protective Edge with facial expressions ‘outright hateful to Israel,’ analyst says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of Palestinians walking past the ruins of a mosque after that was hit by an Israeli missile strike, in the central Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Illustrative photo of Palestinians walking past the ruins of a mosque after that was hit by an Israeli missile strike, in the central Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

International media focused heavily on the rising Palestinian death toll and the prospect of further Israeli air raids on Gaza over the weekend, with reporters demoting coverage of indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilians to the end of their stories — when it was mentioned at all.

Coverage of Operation Protective Edge is still somewhat balanced, with most news outlets mentioning victims on both sides. But the general tone has steadily grown more critical of Israel, as stories on Palestinian casualties get more play than items about Israelis running to shelters, Israeli officials said Sunday.

British media is particularly critical of Israel. “Israel ‘bombs civilian targets with links to Hamas,’” screamed a headline on the website of the British itv news television channel on Sunday morning. “Israel has ignored international appeals for a ceasefire and widened its range of Gaza bomb targets to include civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties,” opened the short article, which makes no mention of rockets fired on Israel. “It announced it would hit Gaza with ‘great force’ after already carrying out more than 1,200 airstrikes this week. So far neither Israel nor Gaza’s Hamas rulers have signaled any willingness to stop.”

The Guardian, a London-based paper traditionally critical of Israel, had three items on Operation Protective Edge on its homepage: “Israeli troops in Gaza clash as residents told to evacuate,” “Disabled Gazans unable to escape” and a video on “Israel vows to continue bombarding Gaza.”

Reporting from Beit Lahiya, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Peter Beaumont, described in great detail the fate of Palestinian victims of Israeli airstrikes. “A scorched bed stood to one side, damaged by the blast, which blew out the walls and left palm trees in the garden as truncated stumps standing among the rubble. ‘The bomb came straight through the roof,’ said Mohammad Bahri, 22, who lives next door. ‘About 4.30 a.m. two drones fired warning shots and then the jet came in and bombed.” He filed no similar story from Israel.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand, led its piece on the conflict with Olga Neiman of southern Israel, a mother of a two-year-old, who was woken up by an incoming rocket that hit her neighbor’s house. “‘I am worried for my daughter but I am still staying here,’ said Neiman, 39, who lives in the southern Israeli city of Beesheba, a repeat target for the missiles fired from Gaza. Sirens sounded again yesterday as fearful homeowners retrieved possessions from their ruins.”

The article, by Ian Birrell, also gave much room to the Palestinian victims of the current crisis, saying that “around 130 Palestinians have been killed so far — most of them civilians, according to the United Nations. This number could increase rapidly as tensions rise.”

In Germany, most papers focused on the soccer World Cup final against Argentina, which takes places Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro. But on Saturday night, Spiegel Online, the country’s largest news site, ran a prominently placed piece that reported extensively on international criticism of Protective Edge. Rockets launched in Israel’s direction were briefly mentioned in the fifth paragraph.

The first paragraph of the story read as follows: “The Israeli army has been bombing the Gaza Strip for five days now. According to Palestinian rescue officials, at least 135 people were killed and 930 injured since the start of the Israeli campaign. On Saturday the armed forces again expanded the airstrikes — and besides a charity organization for disabled people also hit a mosque. An additional strike annihilated, according to Hamas information, a large part of the family of Gaza’s police chief.”

Focus, another prominent German news outlet, ran commentary by German-Jewish historian Michael Wolffsohn that criticized the country’s media and public reaction to Israel as “one-sided” and “almost poisonous.” Can the current German coverage of the Gaza conflict still be considered legitimate criticism or must it be seen as anti-Semitism, he wondered.

Many “serious surveys since the 1980s” have proven that Israel is extremely unpopular in German society, Wolffsohn wrote. “Already on the first day of the war I noticed a famous TV news presenter. Even this always well-heeled man, who likes to cultivate his distinguished reputation, introduced a correspondent’s report with facial expressions outright hateful to Israel. I literally cringed, because this gesture, this body language, said more about his attitude than any of his critical words.”

In France, Le Figaro’s website ran only one story on the operation on its homepage, focusing on the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire in Gaza. “Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed 45 Palestinians Saturday,” the article started. The piece then continues for several paragraphs to describe the Palestinian casualties, which included the Gaza police chief and “two severely handicapped women.”

Only later on did the article mention that rockets were fired at Israel. “There were no injuries,” the paper reports. Stationed in Modiin, the paper’s correspondent also mentions that a siren was heard there for the “first time ever.”

Le Monde on Sunday led its website with a piece about a gunfight between Hamas “combatants” and IDF naval commandos that broke out Saturday overnight. “At the same time, Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip and Hamas rocket fire on Israel continued,” the paper wrote.

‘There is a bias within the American press. It’s more a bias that requires Israel to hold itself to a higher standard because Israel claims to’

The New York Times’s Steven Erlanger filed a piece from Beit Lahiya, focusing mostly on the Palestinian victims of the Israeli airstrikes that leveled a mosque and a center for the disabled. “In response, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, garnering much attention despite causing no deaths or injuries, as three of them were intercepted.”

Former NYT reporter Judith Miller said Israelis were angry at how the Times reports on the current conflict. “The coverage doesn’t really reflect Israel’s extraordinary patience, until recently, with the firing of rockets from Gaza into its own territory,” she said Friday on Fox News. “Now Israel has been forced to respond and Israelis are upset with the coverage. I think this: There is a bias within the American press. There is a bias against Israel. It’s more a bias that requires Israel to hold itself to a higher standard because Israel claims to.”

Finding a positive story amid the suffering, The Washington Post reported Saturday on the “unlikely friendship” between a Gazan woman and her Israeli friend who lives on a small farming community just north of the strip.

“When the rockets start falling and fighter jets buzz the skies, Roni Keidar and Maha Mehanna know they can lean on one another for comfort,” the paper wrote. “They are neighbors and close friends, and they call and text throughout the day and late into the night, checking to be sure the other has survived the latest round of fire between Israel and Hamas.”

Keidar and Mehanna’s bond is “a rare, almost impossible, friendship,” Griff Witte and William Booth reported from Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel. “Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are more isolated from each other than ever before, and that has made the wartime bond between Keidar and Mehanna a subject of curiosity, scorn, suspicion and no small measure of amazement.”

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