Monday, March 15, 2010

Pawns in a Propaganda Game

After your meeja hack has been Rambammed, he/she usually reports back to an audience convened by the lobby organisation responsible for sponsoring him/her. Those who participated in the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Journalists Mission late last year (and whose names appear on my continuously updated 30/3/09 list of the rambammed, I've Been to Israel Too) were no exception.

The following gleanings of their rambamming experience, recorded at the JBD plenum of 16 February, come courtesy of Reporters on a mission, The Australian Jewish News of 19/2/10:

"Senior Sydney Morning Herald political correspondent Peter Hartcher said he was unfazed by the reader backlash* over his... sponsored tour of Israel, maintaining that the recent trip highlighted for him the country's growing fears of the 'apartheid tag'. After meeting with leading Israelis on the mission last November, the politics and international editor said he gained a better sense of the perceived threat to tag Israel as a new 'apartheid state' by its rivals. 'It was an interesting and alarming re-conceptualisation for me'... "

Leading Israelis, tears staining cheeks: This apartheid tag - it's just sooo unfair! We're sooo hurt by this, this... hatespeech. Anyone'd think we were giving the Palestinians a hard time or something.

Peter Hartcher, pulling crumpled tissues from pocket and handing them to distraught Leading Israelis: Strewth! And here's us thinking you guys didn't give a damn what the rest of the world thought.

"He added that he hadn't expected such a hostile response from readers when he reported his findings in a newspaper column shortly after, in which he signed off acknowledging that he had travelled to the region as a guest of the JBD. Calling it a 'frenzy', Hartcher received 156, mostly irate, online comments from readers. The readers lambasted him for taking a trip sponsored by the 'Zionist lobby' and accused him of having a 'hidden agenda'. 'Publicly entering into a debate on the Israel/Palestine question is entering the lion's den. I knew that my only protection was standard journalistic practices, credibility and being open about what you're doing. Asked if the response rattled him, the veteran journalist joked: 'It was like being flogged with a warm lettuce leaf'."

Standard journalistic practice? What? Junkets to Israel? Seems Hartcher's unaware of The Fairfax Code of Conduct: "We will not accept gifts or inducements which could impair our judgement or be perceived to be a conflict of interest, bribe or inappropriate gift." Not to mention The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance Code of Ethics: "4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence."

"Overall, he continued, the trip provided him with the chance to also meet Palestinian representatives and get an 'interesting view' from the other side, which spoke to the 'confidence and strength of the story that Israel and the organisers of our visit had to tell'. He did, however, criticise briefings from the not-for-profit group The Israel Project, which he accused of 'stretching the facts' and hurting Israel's cause. 'It left the unfortunate sense that we were being seen as pawns in a propaganda game', he said."

So the Palestinian "side" was singing from the same songsheet as your Leading Israelis and the JBD? What a coincidence!

"Hartcher's colleague, foreign editor Connie Levett, who also participated in the mission, spoke favourably of the trip, but acknowledged that she would have liked to have heard a few more dissenting voices. 'Maybe we could have met a few non-governmental organisations that weren't necessarily on the conservative side. There is opportunity to reshape the program* a little', she said."

Hello, Ms Foreign Editor? You mean it still hasn't dawned on you that the sole aim of your 'Journalists Mission' to Israel is to sell you the Party Line? Should the news be entrusted to anyone this dumb? Do you even read your own newspaper? If you had, you might have read this invaluable advice from a dissenting Israeli voice:

"'We shouldn't believe anything that is said. We should just monitor what happens on the ground', said Dror Etkes, an expert on settlement construction who works for the Israeli pressure group Peace Now. There is no connection between what is said by the Government and what happens on the ground'." (Israel ploughs on with huge settlement construction, Ed O'Loughlin, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/8/04) BTW, look at that 2004 heading. Some things never change.

[* And speaking of hearing dissenting voices and reshaping the program, Ms Foreign Editor, you'll be pleased to know that those lovely Leading Israelis you met have already thought of that: "Any non-governmental organisation (NGO) that receives funding from a 'foreign political entity' would have to register with the Political Party Registrar and declare in all public appearances that they represent an organisation that receives funding from such an entity, according to a [bipartisan] Bill that received government backing from the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday... The Bill defines 'political activity' as 'activity aimed at influencing public opinion in Israel or one of the branches of government in Israel regarding any element of Israel's domestic or foreign policy'. The legislation is part of a campaign against Israeli human rights not-for-profit organisations that receive funding from foreign states and the EU for their activities... According to the Bill, no organisation in Israel would be allowed to receive money from a foreign political entity unless it registers with the Political Party Registrar... All the senior members of the NGO who meet the criteria of the Bill and do not register would be liable to one year in jail." (Bill targets NGO funding,, 19/2/10)]

"Channel 7 senior producer Michelle Ainsworth admitted her earlier impressions of Israel were mostly shaped by the media and said the trip awakened her to the complexities of the conflict. 'I also learnt that there are a lot more stories than peace and conflict', she said, citing Israel's advancements with solar technology. 'It's something Australia would do well to copy'."

[*For a taste of this beautiful thing see my 18/11/09 post No Hidden Agenda.]

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