Israel never suffered from a lack of attention, but in 2002 the Jewish state attracted a surge of public interest surpassing anything in the past decade.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center for the Public and the Press, released at yearís end, Israelís civil war was ìone of the most closely followed international stories in Pewís 16-year history of measuring news attentiveness.î
Additionally, there was a stretch in 2002 when Israel attracted more TV attention that can be expected for any story not directly involving Americans. The final tally on the yearís television stories has yet to be concluded, but a preliminary finding by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) found that between the end of March and the end of June ó corresponding to the mass murder at the Netanya seder and Israelís retaliatory actions ó Israelís war was the subject of more cumulative airtime on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news than the next nine stories combined, including such major stories as the Catholic sex abuse scandal and Americaís own war in Afghanistan. This was before attention shifted to the Washington-area snipers, the debate over Iraq, and Americaís own war against terror.
(The sniper shootings was the No. 1 story of 2002, according to Pewís survey of public interest, followed by Iraq; the Pledge of Allegiance debate; homeland security; U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan; child kidnappings; the Israel-Palestinian war; FBI-CIA knowledge of 9-11; the first anniversary of 9-11; and the September terrorist alert. Israel was the only ìnon-Americanî story in the top 15).
Interest peaked in the spring, said Pew, when more than 44 percent of Americans said they tracked Israelís war ìvery closely,î and another 33 percent ìfairly closely,î but in December the most intense interest slipped to 29 percent, still unusually high. And all this despite the fact that 2002 was, in a sense, just more of the same ó there was no change in government, war was in its second year, and death became all too routine. Nevertheless, 2002 dwarfed all previous events. The historic Oslo peace agreement had only 23 percent of Americans paying very close attention, and interest in the first intifada ranged only between 11-18 percent, according to surveys at the time.
According to Israelís government press office, there are now 800 foreign journalists based in Israel, and 2,500 visiting journalists received Israeli press cards in 2002.
But if heightened interest in Israel was documented by Pew as well as the CMPA, two other year-end summations averted its glance at Israelís key moments. The Associated Press, for example, ran an on-line poll to determine their top 10 stories for 2002.
The bombing in Bali was among the APís top 30 suggested candidates but the bombing of the Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya was not. This, even though the Pew study showed that Americans more closely followed the Kenya attacks than the one in Bali.
And The New York Times (Dec. 29) log of events in 2002 had these highlights: March 28, ìArab world agrees to relations with Israel if land is returnedî (a non-event that could have been true any day for the past 20 years) followed directly by March 29, ìIsrael invades Yasser Arafatís headquarters, 5 Palestinians, 1 Israeli die,î leaving the sequential illusion that the Arab peace offer was met with nothing but Israeli violence. In fact, on March 27 (marked only as the death of Milton Berle, by the Times) more than a dozen Israelis were murdered at the Netanya seder, something the Times mentioned not in the calendar but in a footnote.
For those whose weapon of choice is a boycott, Hizzoner Ed Koch has several among his New Yearís resolutions. In his weekly commentary on Bloomberg Radio (Dec. 7), he said heís staying away from France and Mexico because of their anti-Israeli activity in the UN, and he resolves to ìnot watch ABCís World News Tonight anchored by Peter Jennings. For many years, Jennings has specialized in vicious and unfair portrayals of Israel intended to injure the Jewish state and lionize Palestinians.î Elsewhere in the media, adds Koch, ìI will not support National Public Radio in any way. NPRís reporters and management delight in unfairly attacking Israel. I will no longer lend financial support to New Yorkís Channel Thirteen public television station,î for its programming related to Israel.
PBS most recently infuriated with an apologetic intro to Islam, ìMuhammad: Legacy of a Prophetî (Dec. 18), that The Wall Street Journal found so intellectually infantile it dubbed it ìMister Allahís Neighborhoodî (Dec. 19). The Journalís Collin Levey writes, ìA procession of PBS-approved American Muslims assuring us that nothing in Islam condones Sept. 11 is hardly comforting when millions of Muslims around the world plainly believe otherwise.î Levey rightly cites Jeffrey Goldbergís excellent work in The New Yorker, such as his pieces on Hezbollah, as the type of journalism thatís needed, not the simplicity on PBS. (The New Yorker has run several other first rate pieces on Israel.)
George Neumayr, in The American Prowler (Dec. 12), says PBS made Muhammad out to be the ìAlan Alda of Arabia.î Neumayr wondered at the PBS Web page describing jihad, commonly associated with Islamic crusades, at its most benign ó the ìimprovement of oneís self.î
One PBS expert explained that Muhammedís massacres were misused by Jews ìas a way of saying, well, you see, the Muslims hate the Jews and they kill them.î In National Review (Dec. 19), Robert Spencer writes, we now have PBS telling us that ìanti-Semitism is all a misrepresentation by the Jews.î
Daniel Pipes, in the New York Post (Dec. 17), is bothered that taxpayers paid for this ìairbrushedî travesty that ìignores all critical and scholarly reassessment that PBS manages to find when exploring other religions.î
Pipes, of course, has been just about the most prolific critic of Americaís laxity and persistent naivetÈ regarding the anti-Semitic fascistic impulse that dominates the Islamic world. These past few weeks, Pipes has taken a hammer to what he believes is the subversive sympathy by American college professors to Islamís worst impulses, which goes hand-in-hand with rank Jew hatred. (For the record, Pipes himself was hammered into altering the ìDossierî component of his ìCampus Watchî for its alleged McCarthyist overtones). The PBS show was not just a goof but a trend, as he shows in Commentary (Nov.) where he elaborates on the post 9-11 ìintellectual scandalî of ìscholars at American universities [who] have repeatedly and all but unanimously issued public statements that avoid or whitewash the primary meaning of jihad in Islamic law and Muslim history. It is quite as if historians of medieval Europe were to deny that the word ëcrusadeí ever had martial overtones, instead pointing to such terms as ëcrusade on hungerí or ëcrusade against drugsí to demonstrate that the term signifies an effort to improve society.î Several other writers have pointed out that the irony that at a time in America when so many words are seen to be racial code words, there is nevertheless such an insistence that jihad does not mean death to Jews and Americans, as if in 1938 the German word kampf had no ominous implications.
Pipes Commentary piece, ìJihad and the Professors,î and a collection of his other writings are available at www.danielpipes.org.