Janine Zacharia writes: When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in 2008 to stop Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israeli journalists were hungry to cover the military operational details. They wanted to know how many Hamas militants had been killed or captured, what of the terrorist group’s infrastructure had been hit, what remained on the Israel Defense Forces’ target list, and so on. What didn’t interest most newspapers or newscasts was the wider impact on the other side, especially the civilian death toll. If there was any questioning, it wasn’t why so many Palestinians were being killed, but why the campaign hadn’t started sooner. By the time Israel launched Pillar of Defense, its next Gaza military offensive in 2012, the Israeli media watchdog group Keshev concluded that the war had “blurred the distinction between the IDF spokesperson and Israeli media outlets more than ever.”
The same can be said today.
Israeli journalists, many of whom I have known and admired during nearly two decades of reporting on this conflict, are skilled. They can be relentless questioners, brutal in their analysis, and still maintain their access to key figures. Give them a good old-fashioned financial or sex scandal and they’ll make that politician wish he’d never run for office. Just ask former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or former President Moshe Katsav how the coverage of their trials went.
But in times of war, many, if not most, Israeli journalists — with some admirable exceptions — hunker down with the rest of the country and are afraid to ask tough questions, especially in the early days of a military campaign. Instead, they tend to parrot the country’s political and military leaders. (The Hebrew phrase critics have for journalists in these times is — meguyasim — the drafted, or recruited.) Israelis are barred from entering Gaza. And with that access cut off, few Israeli journalists have cultivated Palestinian sources because there is amazingly little interest among the Israeli public in understanding Palestinian affairs. [Continue reading…]