April 8, 2002
There are a lot of taboos and untouchable stories in the Establishment
Media -- corporate crime, racism, the insanity of the failed drug war,
criticism of the war budget, corporate control of government, Bush gaffes,
But one of the oldest and currently the most powerful taboo is this: One must never speak ill of Israel. No matter how savage or barbaric Israel's actions, the American media, following the example of the American government, offers unquestioning support.
The key word is "unquestioning" -- no criticism, no expressions of doubt. Anyone who dares express the mildest criticism of Israel is likely to be hit with the nuclear bomb of public discourse -- a label of anti-Semitism.
That point was first driven forcibly home to me in the 60s when a senior editor at the Miami News said during a news meeting that he wasn't interested in a story I was pitching about Israeli maltreatment of some Palestinians. "You'd be interested if it were the other way around," I said dryly, and unwisely. I was severely reprimanded for my attitude that, it was hinted, smacked of ...you guessed it ... anti-Semitism.
A few years later, on Feb. 21, 1973, Israeli fighter planes shot down a civilian airliner, killing all on board. The Libyan Arab Airlines 727 had been en route to Cairo when it ran into a blinding sandstorm. Having lost his landmarks, the pilot became confused and drifted over the Sinai Peninsula which was then controlled by Israeli forces. Cairo air control was providing him with the information he needed to fly back to the airport when two Israeli Phantom jet fighters appeared and shot the airliner down. A total of 113 men, women and children died.
I was the wire editor of the Miami News at the time, the guy in charge of the news coming in from wire services such as the Associated Press. When the story broke, I passed it on to the news editor and prepared to handle the updates and the sidebars. Sidebars are the additional stories always accompanying major breaking news. In this case I was expecting details about weather conditions that contributed to the crash, profiles of some of the people who died, interviews with their families, analysis of why Israel would shoot down an airliner, comments from U.S. and Israeli authorities and public figures.
I waited in vain. Updates were sparse, sidebars nearly non-existent. I called the local AP office and asked when we could expect more stories. The low-ranking AP exec I talked to was noncommittal. Little further information became available and the story was essentially a one-edition splash and then disappeared.
It is instructive to compare what happened then to what happened in a similar incident ten years later.
When the Soviet Union shot down a Korean airliner which had strayed over Siberia in September 1983, killing 269 people, American media and politicians became hysterical. They averred that the incident was proof that the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire that President Reagan had always claimed it was. TV newscasts and newspapers were filled with stories about the depravity of the Soviets, features about the passengers lost in the shootdown, and the condemnation by politicians and pundits of all types. The story remained in the news for weeks.
(When the U.S. shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988 killing 290 innocent men, women and children, the media and the politicians dismissed it as an insignificant accident. Ho hum. These things happen.)
The refusal of the U.S. government and the U.S. media to condemn Israel for anything at all was vividly evident when Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats attacked the U.S.S. Liberty on June 8, 1967 with rockets, napalm and machine gun fire. The U.S. and Israel proclaimed that it was all an accident, a case of mistaken identity. Israel, you see, thought the U.S. spy ship was an Egyptian ship. And the media blithely went along with the cover-up.
There are those in the Navy who are still bitter, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, for one. Thirty years after the attack on the Liberty he wrote: "...I believe Moshe Dayan concluded that he could prevent Washington from becoming aware of what Israel was up to (taking control of the Golan Heights) by destroying the primary source of acquiring that information, the USS Liberty. The result was a wanton sneak attack that left 34 American sailors dead and 171 seriously injured. What is so chilling and cold-blooded, of course, is that they could kill as many Americans as they did in confidence that Washington would cooperate in quelling any public outcry."
Nothing has changed.
Today Israel is on a rampage, attacking essentially defenseless Palestinian towns and refugee camps in the Occupied Territories with tanks and American gunships, slaughtering people by the scores, possibly by the hundreds. Palestinian boys and men are being rounded up and marched off in a manner chillingly reminiscent of the Nazi roundup of Jews during World War II. Some Palestinians have apparently been summarily executed, others have died because they simply got in the way -- women, children, the aged, the wounded, priests, nuns, policemen, medical staff, human rights activists and journalists. Israeli troops are preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded and dying. Thousands are deprived of electricity, food and water by deliberate destruction of the infrastructure. Morgues are overflowing.
Bush began by applauding the Israeli 'war on terrorism' before belatedly yielding to world pressure and calling on it to withdraw. Congress wants sanctions against, believe it or not, the Palestinians, and the corporate media portrays the Israelis as a poor beleaguered nation simply engaged in self defense against suicide bombers.
Nearly every story in the print and electronic media is easily and casually slanted to show that everything is the fault of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian people or Palestinian terrorists -- the terms are sometimes used synonymously. If, for example, a couple of hundred desperate people hide out in a church for protection against Israeli tanks and troops, the media reports that the Palestinians are "occupying" the church. Facts that show the Israelis in a bad light are ignored, or buried deeply. And stories hint or state bluntly that Arafat, a helpless prisoner of the Israelis, is somehow in charge of suicide bombers.
Neither the media nor the U.S. government can explain how crushing a powerless and poverty-stricken people is going to stop suicide bombings. Actually, of course, it can't and won't. Children who watch their nation's leader humiliated, their homes razed by tanks, their family gardens and groves destroyed, their helpless parents gunned down by Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships aren't going to become placid and peaceful lovers of Israel. Some of them will become the next wave of suicide bombers.
Israel has become an arrogant, brutal occupying power that will brook no opposition and listen to no advice.
But then, it doesn't have to. The U.S. will continue to ship billions of dollars in aid and will use its veto on the UN Security Council to kill any measure that might inconvenience Israel -- such as requiring it to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, the only solution that can bring lasting peace.
Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic, who he met in an Internet discussion group. Deckert and Hromic subsequently married and are writing a book about their experience with Internet romance, Cyberdance.
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Deck Deckert on Swans
Essays published in 2002 | 2001