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Elliot Leven: Al Jazeera: not even pretending to be objective about Gaza

By Elliot Leven, July 24, 2014

I first wrote about Al Jazeera in these pages about two years ago. I commented that Al Jazeera English (AJE) provided excellent coverage of news from the developing world and good, objective coverage of many world news issues (like American politics). I also pointed out that AJE made an effort to follow good journalistic practices, such as providing both sides of a conflict with opportunities to comment about the issues in dispute.


However, I noted, AJE had a blind spot when it came to Israel. I focused on an AJE documentary about the Nile River which included a bizarre conspiracy theory about Israel allegedly scheming to control the river’s waters.


The blind spot is now worse than ever. In covering the current conflict in Gaza, AJE has abandoned any pretense of objectivity, and has become a crude and clumsy source of anti-Israel propaganda.


I looked at AJE’s website on July 21, 2014. On that date, Israeli ground forces continued to search for Gaza tunnels; Hamas rockets continued to target Israeli cities and towns; Iron Dome continued to intercept most rockets; civilians in Gaza endured various war-related hardships; and an Israeli shell hit a hospital in Gaza, killing and injuring some patients and staff. 


The AJE website included two news articles about Gaza: “Deaths as Israeli tanks shell Gaza hospital” and “Tank shells were falling like hot raindrops”. It also included several opinion pieces: “Diary of an Israeli war” by Haidar Eid; “Gaza 1994-2014: the peace that led to war” by Marwan Bishara; “Gaza: a human tragedy” by Sarah Ali; “Israel used ceasefire plan to escalate war” by Sharif Nashashibi; “Gaza as repetition and spectacle” by Avi Shlaim; “Can Israel be stopped” by Larbi Sadiki; and “Gaza child: Three wars old” by Yasmeen El Khoudary.


A couple of the opinion pieces mentioned in passing that the conflict included rockets fired into Israel. The news articles and the other opinion pieces did not even mention this in passing. It was as if the 2,000 or so rockets simply did not exist.


The opinion pieces used the most extreme and hyperbolic language. There were references to “genocide” and “martyrs”. It was argued that “the underlying cause of the violence is the Israeli colonialism.” There were many personal anecdotes about the suffering of civilians in Gaza, but none at all about Israeli civilians having to run for bomb shelters.


Some apologists for AJE point out that other media outlets are also biased. Some mention Fox NewsFox certainly has its biases, so I looked at its website to see how it covered the Gaza conflict. Fox was clearly different from AJE, but its coverage was hardly pro-Israel propaganda. On July 21, Fox’s website included one current news item about Gaza: “Kerry, UN chief head to Cairo to negotiate Israel cease-fire”. This article focused on diplomatic initiatives to end the shooting, but included information about the Israeli shell that hit the Gaza hospital, killing at least four people and wounding 60.


In short, AJE is not merely a counterweight to Fox. AJE has abandoned all pretense of journalistic objectivity, and has sunken to being a crude, clumsy anti-Israel soapbox. Perhaps that might change in the days to come, but AJE’s record to date would not point in that direction.


Pity. AJE continues to offer excellent coverage of many world events, including events in small countries – coverage which is lacking in most Western media.  But AJE is unwilling or unable to provide quality coverage of the conflict in Gaza.


As I have written many times before, Israel has its flaws and shortcomings, and it is foolish to pretend that those flaws don’t exist. Good media coverage of the conflict in Gaza would mention Israel’s imperfections, along with all other relevant information about the conflict. But I’m afraid that such good coverage is not likely going to come from Al Jazeera.


Editor's note: I am not at all surprised that Al Jazeera isn't functionign as a real media outlet in this current Israel-Hamas war. It's a propaganda arm for Qatar which is one of Hamas's best backers]

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