Matti Friedman was an Associated Press reporter and editor in Jerusalem from 2006 to 2011. He has lived in Israel since 1995 and been reporting on it since 1997, so his indictment of mainstream press coverage of Israel carries some weight.
In the wryly titled “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” Friedman notes that during his time with the AP the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories—far more than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined.
He notes that before civil war came to Syria, the AP in that country had only one part-time reporter: “The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel.” Friedman notes that all the coverage produces a distorted view of the human toll: In 2013 the Israeli-Palestinian conflict produced 42 homicides, which is what the city of Chicago has in a month, and fewer than safe cities like Portland, Ore, have all year.
Friedman writes that news organizations have decided that the Israeli-Palestinian battle is more important than “the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand.”
He notes that the AP and others produce “no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. … The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters,” Israel. No coverage of Palestinian corruption, huge coverage of Israeli society’s flaws: The AP in seven weeks during 2011 published more stories about Israeli moral failings than it had critical stories about Palestinian government and society in the previous three years.
Friedman describes Hamas intimidation of reporters: “But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. … Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians.” They frame the story as “a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority,” rather than a conflict between 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries, or the 1 billion Muslims worldwide.
He adds, “The ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. … The region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano.”