Coffee House

Israel’s public relations problem

15 November 2012

The front page of today’s Washington Post shows a picture of the BBC’s Jihad Masharawi holding his dead 11-month-old son, an innocent victim of Israeli action against Hamas’ paramilitary targets following months of indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in southern Israel*. The Post’s front page reinforces the fact that Israel has a public relations problem when it retaliates in Gaza; a fact that friends of Israel ought to accept.

My colleague Douglas Murray is right to assert that the western media often applies a double standard when reporting Israeli and Palestinian casualties: the suffering of Israeli citizens is not given the coverage it deserves. This bias skews the tragic human story of Israel and Palestine to benefit Hamas, an organisation whose bloodcurdling charter makes clear that it has no interest in a peaceful solution to the problem. Other terrorist groups based in the Gaza Strip also benefit, which provides further complication.


Israeli diplomats complain of this when you meet them in private, adding that it impedes their task of presenting Israel as a liberal state occasionally driven to justifiable extremes by enemies who seek its annihilation. There was a public glimpse of that private frustration earlier today when Daniel Taub, the British-born Israeli Ambassador to London, gave an interview to Sky News. Taub answered Eamonn Holmes’ cynical question that the operation may have been launched as a political gambit ahead of Israel’s legislative elections in the New Year with gentle, reasoned argument. He insisted that Israel has a right to self-defence; indeed, it has no choice but to defend its citizens when they are subjected to indiscriminate attack over a long period of time. And he argued convincingly that Israel was bombing paramilitary targets in Gaza rather than the civilian population.

Israel’s retaliation may be justified and proportionate; but that does not necessarily mean it is politically astute. Despite modern technology, collateral damage is often a consequence of conventional military operations. The Post’s front page may well exaggerate the situation on the ground in Gaza today; but it is nonetheless an individual tragedy that undermines the moral case made so carefully by Taub.

Israel is one of America’s closest if most recalcitrant allies; President Obama’s weary hope that Israel exercises restraint is well-intentioned. Beyond that, Israeli casualties must be reported in the press more readily, especially by organisations with a public service remit.

*Since this article was published, a United Nations investigation has found that the incident described by the Washington Post was caused by the shortfall of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants at targets in Israel.

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  • Hired Mind

    The U.N. says that the Palestinians killed this baby, not Israel:

    (Direct link to U.N. Report is in the article)

  • Julia

    Israel is the most criminal and terrorist community in the world even babies are targeted. It’s a real shame …

  • Rahul Kamath

    Israel with its American educated PM, its American billionaire supporters, its huge lobby groups in America (AIPAC), the large Jewish diaspora across the western world, its vast PR budgets, its sophisticated spokespeople, its cultural affinity with the west, its trappings of nationhood … all undone by that great media/ PR conspiracy in the sky. Geez, talk about living in a reality-free bubble.

  • jeczaja

    The western media’s fawning support for Israel is disgusting. It is in no way balanced-the Israelis are God’s chosen fighting sub-human forces of darkness. But then you have to dehumanize people before you commit genocide-a long standing imperialist tradition.

    • Daniel Maris

      So we can take it you approve of Hamas’s Charter – with its gross, disgusting Jew hatred?

      Perhaps you can give some examples from BBC, ITN, Sky, CNN, CBS etc where they states “Israeils are God’s chosen fighting sub-human forces of darkness”. If you could, which you can’t, then you might have some credibility, which you don’t.

  • Suz

    I am Jewish, American, support Israel, support a Palestinian State, support peace in the Middle East. That picture is heartbreaking. The Post is my paper and I have been distraught since seeing that picture this morning. Innocent babies and children on both sides of this conflict have needlessly been killed. In their collective name there should be a concerted effort towards peace. The alternative, which is sadly where both sides are headed now, is retaliation, with the likely result of more innocent dead babies and children. In their name, let all concerned say: Enough! Peace now.

    • Dimoto

      Well said.
      Reading the “ardent” clap-trap on here is pretty revealing.
      The Israel/Palestine tragedy is a running sore, but the over the top, belicose ranting on here, for an issue in which the UK has a peripheral involvement, is a very strange psychosis indeed.
      To discuss this as an “Israeli PR problem” says it all.

      • Daniel Maris

        Dimoto –

        BUt it is factually true that Palestinians have manufactured atrocity pictures. I am not denying children have been killed on the Palestinian side, but equally they have manufactured such deaths as part of their propaganda war. Whereas it is a fact that Palestinian terrorists lauded as heroes by Palestinians and awarded pensions etc have committed such atrocities as smashing the skulls of infants to kill them. That is all properly documented.

        I don’t support everything the Israelis have done. But we have here one organisation – the Israeli state – that generally sticks to civilised norms and one – Hamas – that does not, whether you are a Jew, a Christian, a woman, or a gay.

      • Rahul Kamath

        You are spot on. The psychosis is anti-muslim bigotry, plain and simple. Israel does not need ‘friends’ like the anti-muslim bigots on this forum. Nor does it need the crazy christians in America as friends.

        This brings to mind Ehud Olmert’s visit to NYC where he spoke to a group of Republicans and cautioned against bombing Iran. He was booed and his only response was that unlike the armchair generals in the audience, he had to live with the consequences of the bombing the following day.

  • Shimon

    You know Israel’s biggest PR problem by far? Lousy, lazy journalists who display neither the talent, wit or drive to lift themselves out of the rut in which everything that happens in the region languishes.

  • Daniel Maris

    Why does the BBC need a “picture editor” in Gaza? Does anyone suppose this guy “Jihad” will provide pictures not approved by Hamas?

    I hope an MP or two asks questions about this in the House.

    • Noa

      Yes, well observed.

    • anotherjoeblogs

      maybe his real name is Jihad mustafa photoshop

  • Cassandra1963

    The BBC employs a hamas activist called Jihad, does it seem likely that Jihad faked the death of his infant in order to gain sympathetic airtime, its not as if hamas are not experts in manipulating the Western media is it? The BBC have just been caught airing faked footage of a victim of the IDF coming back to life and walking away when he thought the video wasnt looking. Fake victims and faked footage and staged fakery galore and all unquestioningly presented as fact by the BBC. The BBC should be facing criminal charges just for employing terrorist supporters like Jihad.

    Heres how it works, hamas have infiltrated the BBC and have activists faking video which is then aired by the BBC without any checks at all. Its become quite the little industry with cameras ready and waiting to show fake victims of the IDF, supposed victims carried in on stretchers with no injuries, little kids with deliberate razor cuts to the scalp sent round the cameras posing as victims, infants arms twisted off camera to make they cry in front of the camera, kids being told to run about in faked panic just for the BBC which then gives this fake footage a world premier for free. How has it come to this that the BBC is reduced to helping and assisting a terrorist gang like hamas?

    • Gerry Boy

      Well done Cassandra 1963. What a hilarious Craig Brown stereotype of right-wing paranoia.

      Combining two right wing hate figures in one: Hamas and the Beeb. Priceless! But while Hamas infiltrating the BBC guarantees laughs, what about BBC journos working with hard earned tax payers monies working for Hamas? Missed that obvious one; get on to it ….

      I am going to laugh and laugh for ages at the above; you must be an out of work comedy writer.

      • Daniel Maris

        What – do you really think Hamas haven’t been proven to fake footage?

        Someone once said “War is deception.” Can’t think who it was now – can anyone help me on that?

      • Cassandra1963

        After you have stopped laughing why not google ‘faked hamas videos’? When you have finished giggling you could find out that hamas has indeed infiltrated every media outfit in Gaza and does indeed supply them with transport and minders and keeps a very tight rein on what they can do and where they can go. Go on and have a good laugh while the rest of us weep at what the BBC has become. Do you actually believe that hamas and its supporters do not stage and fake footage?

        Little infants being carried into hospital with single tiny 1-2cm cuts on their scalps, let me tell you why, a razor cut to the scalp bleeds heavily but is harmless, it looks dramatic as blood flows and covers the head. Have a look at the numbers of kids with one tiny clean cut to the scalp, real shrapnel wounds are jagged and messy and often explode the soft skull of a child. So many supposed victims with a single cut in the same place and you dont think that its not suspicious?

        Keep laughing, and when you have finished open your eyes to what is going on around you.

  • Gerry Boy

    So another one-sided blinkered perspective adds their view:

    ‘the suffering of Israeli citizens is not given the coverage it
    deserves. This bias skews the tragic human story of Israel and Palestine
    to benefit Hamas …’

    How on earth and what criterion do you use to come to such a laughable, prejudiced view?

    I am pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian and think one sided bigotry/caricature and hate from any side isnt helpful. The Specy does not get good marks for some ridiculous coverage.

    In what was are Israeli deaths not ‘given coverage’ they deserve? If anything UK media focuses on the individual stories and tragedies of Israeli deaths and treats Palestinian deaths as statistics or footnotes.

    I think every death is a tragedy and it would be good to hear Israeli and Palestinian voices and stories equally.

    And shame on you The Spectator for just publishing bigotry and myopic views filled with your ideological fueled view of the world.

    • MacBoyUK

      You can’t be ‘pro-Israeli and pro Palestinian’ It’s an illogical position, since the latter seeks the annihilation of the former. Get off the fence.

  • victor67

    Not true during the Intifada. The Western media would give far more coverage to Israeli’s killed compared to Palestinians.
    Israel PR problem is how you spin one of the longest most brutal occupations in modern history and ongoing land theft.

  • Augustus

    Israel has been under attack since it declared its sovereignty in 1948. It has fought several wars initiated by its ‘neighbours’, but the longest war has been one of terror declared by Yassir Arafat when he established the Palestinian Liberation Organization which, like all Arab groups, split into two factions, the most antagonistic of which is Hamas, a surrogate of the Iranians, that has been rocketing Israel from Gaza ever since Israel withdrew in 2005 ceding it to the Palestinians. Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a Palestinian state could have been established many decades ago. Instead, Arafat transformed the territories placed under his control in the 1990’s into an effective terror state from where he launched an all-out war (the “al-Aqsa intifada”) shortly after being offered an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In the process, he subjected the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to a repressive and corrupt regime in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships and plunged their standard of living to unprecedented depths. Hamas, which runs Gaza and where about half of Palestinian Arabs reside, is opposed to any gesture which acknowledges Israel’s existence, regardless of any lawfare opportunities that might be opened up by some upgrade in the Palestinian Authority’s status at the U.N. So we now have Israel, Hamas-run Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority with its more limited authority in the West Bank. There is no single Palestinian state that the U.N. could create even if Israel foolishly gave up all of the West Bank, since the Palestinian Authority does not have any authority over Gaza.
    Every suggestion from the peace camp brigade for what Obama should do, or what
    Bibi must concede, ignores the fact that Hamas, a surrogate of the Iranians, is alive and well and blasting Israel with rockets. Israel will defend itself come what may, because the only thing Arabs respect is strength and the willingness to use it.

  • HooksLaw

    Israel’s problem is its surrounded by countries that want to obliterate it.

  • In2minds

    Michelle Moshelian, good point

  • Michelle Moshelian

    Here is the father again wearing a different jumper holding his dead child.
    Was this yet another of the Palestinians staged photos?

    • rodger the dodger

      Staged, staged, staged. I am completely unmoved by photos of dead “palestinian” kids. If Hamas are firing rockets from handicapped kiddies orphanages, those handicapped kiddies orphanges need to be razed to the ground. Same goes for schools and hospitals. I’m sick to death of these “palestinian” f**ks.

  • eeore

    It’s odd how dead children are used in the media.

    Go to the comments section on your typical story about benefit scroungers and there will be a number of people avocating infanticide. The BMJ ran the report from Giubilini and Minerva, which advocated post birth abortion, and then claimed that they were not advocating the policy of killing toddlers but having an academic discussion.

    Yet do the media show the pictures of children being drowned in a bucket to enforce the Chinese one child policy?

    No. But they happy to show dead babies to get the money flowing in to charity appeals.

    Indeed as a short hand for a reporter who either doesn’t understand, doesn’t know, or is forbidden to report the real politics of a situation, a dead baby makes a handy prop.

  • Tariq Khwaja

    Israel’s image problem?

    Much of the Western world unashamedly tilts for Israel. This one example is not enough to prove otherwise.

    In any case, Hamas has itself to blame … or maybe they even intentionally do this so they could have a political reason to stay in power. Or maybe Netanyahu does the same. Both sides are ruthless … similar … like the left sandal and the right sandal.

    • Noa

      There is no false equality in this matter. Israel is a democratic state. Hamas is a murderous jihadist movement that wants to murder every Jewish man, woman and child living in Israel. Take both your sandals and store them in your sunless repository.

      • victor67

        So what about democracy for everyone in the Occupied West Bank not just jews.

        • Noa

          Let them earn the right to democratic treatment by renouncing violence and unilaterally disarming.

          • Daniel Maris

            They certainly have to renounce their genocidal scheme of wiping Israel off the map. No one expects Palestinians to fall in love with Israelis. But they need to unreservedly accept Israel’s right to exist, as Sadat did.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Do you mean the BBC’s Jihad or is that the guys suspicious first name and he works for the BBC as in the BBC’s reporter Jihad? Can’t distinguish between the two.

    • anotherjoeblogs

      Mr inner struggle, PLEASE.

  • Noa

    Israel-the 21st century equivalent of the Ypres salient in the war of Western civilisation against the jihadist forces of darkness.

    That a dignified Israel does not display dead babies for the world’s press is to it’s credit-and to the eternal shame of quislings of the the Western press,

    • Patriccia Shaw

      There are no Israeli dead babies
      The Palestinians do not target the innocent

      • Hexhamgeezer

        Islamist tit

      • Dan Grover

        They don’t “target” anyone, their rockets are the equivalent of firing a shotgun in the air and hoping the expellant lands on someone’s head 100 yards away.

        • Gilad Talmon

          actually it is closer to firing the shotgun at a crowd 30 feet away not really caring who it will hit as long as long as it does the most damage. Thank God for Palestinian incompetence and the Iron Dome system.

      • Cassandra1963

        Three dead Israelis one of them a pregnant woman and an infant seriously wounded, hundreds of rockets aimed at civilians from Gaza, you are either living in denial or you are a terrorist supporter.

      • eeore

        Clever use of weasel wording.

      • IRISHBOY

        So a pregnant Israeli woman killed in her own apartment by a Palestinian rocket doesn’t count.

      • anotherjoeblogs

        oh it is ‘ patriccia ‘ c.i.a. ‘ shaw again ! selam alleghum patsie ! the word play on ‘ innocent ‘ is even more ingenious than your name.

  • Judy

    Yes, indeed. What pictures would we be seeing in the UK and US press if 60 rockets had been fired from Ireland by the IRA into Bristol and Stroud killing 3 citizens of Stroud, forcing everyone in those cities into makeshift shelters and the baby son of an IRA attacker had been killed when rocket fire from the RAF took him out just as he was about to fire off another missile ?

    What pictures are the Washington Post, the BBC and the Spec showing of the babies who are dying almost every day in Afghanistan as the unintended collateral damage of drone strikes aimed at Taliban Jihadis who wish to destroy the West?

    Jihad Masharawi is described by you as “the BBC’s”. Is the Spectator not aware that since the kidnap of Alan Johnston, the only people who can get employed as reporters for the BBC are Hamas-approved, ie members and active of this EU and UN designated terrorist organisation? Just where was Mr Masharawi’s baby when the strike that tragically killed him hit?

    Why does this post fail to point out that Hamas are breaking the laws of armed conflict by using their own population, including babies like Mr Masharawi’s, as human shields and by siting their rocket launchers in the heart of Gaza civilian residential areas, as is only to obvious from the BBC’s own image coverage?

    Israel’s PR problem? Or the dishonest reporting of media from countries with deep interests in oil and arms trading who also wish to avoid hostile confrontations with “spontaneously enraged” Islamists?

    • John

      Spoken like a true bigot. I would remind you that through out the 1970s and early 1980s we lived through just such a threat, both in England and Northern Ireland, and I don’t recall the indiscriminate bombing of schools, hospitals and police stations by the RAF.

      • John Eagle

        Sneaking in “indiscriminate” as if that makes it true.
        The opposite is true. As you know, Israel has a highly developed weapons industry, as a derivative of the long conflict. Israeli Air Force uses the most sophisticated guided weapons, as can clearly be seen from the footage of it taking out the Jihadi Minister, to mark beginning of Pillar Cloud.

        IDF is the only army in the world that drops leaflets!!! before doing a strike on paramilitary facilities, to make sure no civilians are present.

  • Daniel Maris

    Israel’s image problem has a number of aspects.

    First and foremost I think is that people intuit that is not sincere in engaging in negotiations, the outcome of which would be a two state solution.

    Second, the West Bank settlements are a horrendous own goal.

    Third, the nature of Israel is changing. Israel is becoming less and less secular and the irrational Orthodox character is coming to the fore. I’ve no wish to see Israel become a religious state. What a disaster that would be. But demographics seem to suggest that is what it will become.

    Finally, Israel isn’t really America’s ally, it is the other way round, really.

    Israel (like Melanie Phillips) finds it difficult to confront Islamist movements. Initially they encouraged them as a counterweight to the PLO. And Israel signs up to the “official myth” that Islam is a peaceful personal religion. It might be a necessary myth given the number of Israeli Muslims, but it means that they can’t really analyse and combat Islamic movements in a public way.

    Israelis also know there are limits to public image management. Muslims in the Middle East are generally taught to hate and distrust Jews. Anti-semitism is alive and well around the globe even in places like China and Japan with few Jews. Israelis can be forgiven for thinking “What’s the point? – they’re gonna hate us whatever we do” to a certain degree.

    I think Israel should stop the West Bank settlement programme, make it clear the West Bank and part of Jersualem will form part of the Palestinian state. They should then put some money into explaining their plight re the missiles from the Palestinian side.

    • Judy

      You clearly haven’t read either the Hamas charter, the 2006 Hamas election manifesto programme or the subsequent continuing deluge of Hamas statements aimed at their own population and those of the Islamic world day after day after day. Hamas has made it absolutely clear that its unalterable commitment is the total eradication of the Israeli state in its entirety, and that its commitment is to the retaking for Islam (not the Palestinian Authority) of “Islamic lands”, that it regards negotiations with Israel as a distraction and a waste of time, that the Jews are the enemy to be eradicated etc etc

      • Daniel Maris

        Don’t tell me what I have and haven’t read. I make quite clear that Islam is thoroughly anti-semitic and yes I have read the Hamas charter.

        I am not asking Israel to negotiate with anyone who seeks their violent destruction. I am asking Israel to commit sincerely to a two state solution. My fear is that if a truly peaceful and democratic Palestinian movement sprang into being Israel, increasingly dominated by religious nuts, wouldn’t want to do a deal with them.

        • rodger the dodger

          ” a truly peaceful and democratic Palestinian movement” is never, EVER going to happen.

          • Daniel Maris

            Well it certainly won’t happen if Israel continues with its claims to the West Bank and the whole of Jersualem.

        • Augustus

          But things have changed politically rather than from a religious perspective. The Arab Spring has turned into a dark Islamic winter. One by one, “democratic” revolutions have been taken control of by Islamic extremists – in the Gaza Strip, Tunisia and Egypt. The earth is shaking in Syria and even in Jordan. Abbas will not be around forever and a Palestinian state could eventually take a similar path of Islamic extremism. Israel cannot afford the creation of a second Hamastan. And
          there is also the real threat that Israel will be flooded with returning Palestinian refugees that a new
          Palestinian state would not be able to absorb. There is also the concern that
          the Palestinian “moderates” would not be able to overcome the pressure cooker of
          Islamic extremism and terrorism in their backyard. The Land of Israel does, after all, belong to the Jewish people, who returned after a 2,000 year exile. The parts of the Land of Israel that the Palestinians are claiming for themselves comprise the cradle of the nation’s existence. The 1967 lines are not up for discussion and they are not even borders. Oh, and the Bible is still relevant, even today.

          • Daniel Maris

            So you’re saying all exiled peoples have a natural right to return to their previous homelands after 2000 years?

            I don’t think you’re seriously proposing that. The Welsh might have something to say about that.

            Let’s forget the Bible and all that mumbo jumbo. The facts are that by various means a state of Israel was established in line with UN resolutions and recognised as a UN state. That should be enough.

            • Augustus

              Yes, it should be enough, but ever since the Arabs rejected the Partition Plan in 1947, and went to war against the newborn State of Israel it hasn’t been. And if you read the last Hamas election Manifesto you will understand that in their view the State of Israel, all of it, is one
              large settlement: “The land must be cleaned of the filth and evil of the tyrannical conquerors.” And: ” It is a personal, religious commandment for every Muslim to engage in the jihad
              until the land is redeemed.” What we have here, and have had ever since Israel’s early days, is ‘dirty warfare’ aimed specifically at civilians, in which civilians are forced to become soldiers and the homefront becomes the
              front line.

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