What was the most ignored story of 2010?
Only a handful of mainstream newspapers covered the Palestinian claims to the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb; or that Palestinian rockets were still landing in Israel; or the 1930s level of anti-Semitism in the official Palestinian media; or the Palestinian claims that Haifa and Sderot are occupied territory; let alone not covering the transcendent beauty of daily religious life and Jewish culture in Israel.
Yes, the general media covered the settlements incessantly, almost always with the settlements depicted as the singular obstacle to peace, as well as covering the claims of Orthodox coercion in Israel.
But despite the conventional wisdom that the media is obsessed with Israel, the latest data, primarily from the Pew Research Center, shows that Israel was not even one of the five biggest stories in 49 of the 52 weeks in 2010.
The most covered Israel story of 2010 was the flotilla crisis that began May 31, in which Israel intercepted a Turkish ship attempting to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of nine people (none from Israel). And yet, even that story received less than half the coverage given that week to the month-old spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Friction between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? It was the fourth most covered story March 15-21, when Israel announced the construction of new apartments in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, and the third most covered story the following week, but let’s put it in perspective: The media gave more coverage that week to a recall by Toyota.
In every major poll since 1967, American popular support for Israel has dwarfed support for the Palestinians. That didn’t translate, however, to American interest in the media’s coverage of Israel, perhaps because that coverage seems, well, so repetitive, so settlement-centric, so focused on a Sisyphean peace process that is now more than 30 years old. At no point in 2010, reports Pew, was anything about Israel either the most, or second most, followed story by the public; Israel was not one of the 15 most followed news stories in 2010.
It’s not that Americans are not interested in Israel. They’re just not interested in the mainstream media’s version of it. Americans are very interested in the alternative media’s version, not only Arab or Jewish newspapers and websites, but also the blogs and e-mailed videos.
Non-Jewish Americans are even looking to Jewish sites. JewishWorldReview.com, to name one pro-Israel, pro-religious site independent of any organization, peaked at 393,000 visitors this past year with a readership estimated to be 14 percent Hispanic and 21 percent non-white, with 58 percent under the age of 50, according to Quantcast, an Internet tracker.
The flotilla story, a one-week wonder in the mainstream media with 13 percent of the news hole, dominated the Internet sites for twice that time, with 32 percent of news bloggers dealing with the flotilla, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Although bloggers’ first reaction was a volcanic rejection of Israel’s response to the flotilla, that was quickly followed by a remarkable surge in support for Israel, when not just some but “most” bloggers, according to Pew, rallied around Netanyahu.
According to Pew, the blogging “conversation changed markedly [as] supporters of its military actions weighed in … Most bloggers who discussed the subject [that] week agreed with a June 4 opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer who defended Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its response to the Turkish ship. Many also criticized President Obama, claiming he has not stood with Israel against its enemies.”
Almost exactly as the flotilla story was breaking, many Jews accepted Peter Beinart’s thesis in The New York Review of Books (“The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” published June 12) that younger, liberal, non-Orthodox Jews were profoundly alienated by the policies of the Israeli government, with a “a near-total absence of positive feelings,” which begs the question: Who, then, was producing the news blogs in defense of Israel?
The consensus in journalism is that younger people, more than their elders, are drawn to getting and sharing news online. And yet, despite Beinart’s Jeremiad, it was precisely the “new media” online where the staunchest defense of Israel was being waged, and was even dominating. Was this energetic counter-attack simply the work of old and Orthodox bloggers? If it wasn’t, and younger non-Orthodox bloggers were energized, too, it somewhat deflates Beinart’s absolutes.
In fact, Jewish supporters of Netanyahu were joined by numerous non-Jewish bloggers who took Israel’s side, as well.
Are young people really alienated from Israel? In 2010, it became well known, within the Jewish news world at least, that there was an attempt (ultimately unsuccessful) by liberal students — precisely the political and social demographic cited by Beinart — to get Brandeis University to rescind an invitation to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to deliver a commencement address. No equivalent attention was given to the news, first reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that at 51 other American universities — 51! — student presidents were inviting Oren to speak, with no protests to speak of.
Why young non-Orthodox liberal Jews were alienated from Israel but young Americans, generally believed to be a liberal demographic, were not alienated from Israel, was a phenomenon left unexplored.
If Israel’s “delegitimization” became a buzzword last year, the true magnitude and possible repercussions were a lost story of 2010, even though murdering Jews always begins with delegitimization.
In December, over in the Netherlands, there were headlines in Dutch News and De Pers: “Joden, Emigreer,” Jews, it’s time for you to leave. Citing high levels of anti-Semitism among young Muslim men, Frits Bolkestein, a Dutch political leader and a former commissioner for the European Union, said, “I see no future for recognizable Jews” in the Netherlands. Particularly, he added, Jews who wear yarmulkes, or payot (side curls), or distinctive dress.
Speaking out of concern that the Dutch were not properly addressing the threat, he added that several Arab TV stations in the Netherlands were contributing to the dangerous climate for Jews. A Dutch Islamic group said Bolkestein was “fear mongering.”
The early Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann once said, the world is divided into places where Jews can’t live or Jews can’t enter. In 2011, it is an international consensus that Jews should not be allowed to live in a Palestinian state, and now good men advise them to leave the Netherlands as well.
The story has yet to run in The New York Times’ New York edition, though it did in the Times’ International Herald Tribune this past week. It appeared in a Forbes blog and in Israeli papers, but that something so chilling can be so unreported in the United States, even in much of the Jewish media, is chilling in and of itself, so normative is the threat to Jewish life at the winter’s dawn of the new year.
If the mainstream media wants to ignore all this, or deal with it superficially, so be it. To quote a prophet, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”