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Herzliya Media Conference

 

The Media as Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society

Day I: Media as a Theater of War: Lessons of Lebanon

Day II: Strategies for the 21st Century: Public Diplomacy as Self-Defense for Israel and Civil Society in the West and the World.


The conference addressed a dual phenomenon that became especially clear in the Lebanon War (Summer 2006). On the one hand, the ways in which the Arab/Muslim media systematically use “the news” as a weapon of war, and on the other, the way that, unaware or unconcerned, our own Mainstream Media (MSM) have cooperated in this phenomenon, making the media a major, successful theater of war for Jihad.

Israel has only slowly awakened to this potentially disastrous, dysfunctional relationship between the MSM and global Jihad. Israelis are only partially aware of how systematically and deliberately Palestinians prepare “lethal narratives” against them, to defame them before the court of public opinion. And they suspect even less how extensively the Western media casts a blind eye on the manipulations.

Israel’s dealings with the MSM have been marked above all by a desire to cultivate friendly relations at the expense of holding them to any basic standards. As a result Israel is a land of predilection for journalists who live there, but then continuously assault it with globally marketed images of a devastation these same journalists blame on Israel, especially when civilians are involved (Gaza Beach, Qana, Beirut, Beit Hanoun).

Not surprisingly, Israel has lost almost all of these “media attacks”

  • generally and sincerely offering regrets that read as admissions of guilt or insulting contempt,
  • forced to restrict its military strategies to minimize such catastrophes,
  • cornered into backing down lest any explosion of violence from Palestinians lead to yet another nightmarish “lethal narrative” of wanton Israeli aggression.
The overall attrition on Israel’s image in the eyes of the world community has been disastrous and now threatens both to undermine the very legitimacy of the state. It becomes increasingly difficult to defend that state – both verbally and practically – because the verbal assault has placed heavy restrictions on its means of self-defense. And instead of arguing that the media have made fundamental methodological and conceptual errors, Israel advocates tend to argue each case on terms so badly stacked against them, that they lose the battle even when (they think) they win the skirmish.

This drubbing that Israel receives in an arena where, according to the basic tenets of modern journalism, propaganda and deceptions should be filtered out, hurts far more than Israelis. Aside from the obvious victim – the Palestinians who are steeped in this war propaganda of hatred – the forces of civil society everywhere suffer from a profound misapprehension of the Arab-Israeli struggle and its relevance to the similar conflicts between civil society and the waxing forces of Islamism and global Jihad now spreading to the West.

The long-term loser in the kind of “news” our MSM now deliver is above all the public the world over, radically misinformed by their trusted news agencies. If the media are the eyes and ears of civil society, then the West is flying blind and so is the rest of the world. This includes the Muslim world which, lemming like, is being driven to self-destruction by a cult of mega-death.

Thus, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of civil society the world over, Israel must address at a fundamental level the causes and effects of the media’s irresponsible behavior towards her and all other societies committed to civic principles, and its astounding manipulation by forces dedicated to destroying a free press. In the same way that the media need to be more critical of their Arab and Muslim sources, so does Israel need to become considerably more critical of and effective in dealing with the MSM.

Not everyone agrees that this is the proper approach. And even those who agree, differ on the proper way to carry out this critique of the MSM. This conference wants to focus on the debate within the latter group: not whether, but how to criticize the MSM effectively, how to challenge the MSM’s very paradigms (Palestinian David/Israeli Goliath) and methodology (access journalism that self-censors and advocacy journalism that manipulates to an ideological goal). This means a variety of approaches, nice cops, tough cops, alarmists, calm reasoners, polemicists, scholars – but it is better we are coordinated than that we work at cross purposes.

And above all, this discussion involves taking into account the two new conditions of the 21st century that offer possibilities not available earlier.
  • First we have the sudden and powerful surge of global Jihad that, for the first half of this decade, has operated largely unacknowledged or systematically minimized by the Western MSM. In the coming years, increasing numbers of people in the non-Muslim (and Muslim) world will awaken to the danger this represents to everyone not willing to side with the zealots. In that rising awareness lies a chance to get people to change their minds on matters that now appear immovable opinion.
  • Second, the recent appearance of a segment of the blogosphere as a source of increasingly powerful critique of the MSM and as a new venue for civic Arab-Israeli dialogue. This new and largely untamed source of independent information, relatively anonymous participation, with its greater critical distance from the advocacy/access-ridden MSM and its credulity for Islamic propaganda, offers a major venue of constructive activity and coordinated response.
The task is immense; the opportunities substantial; our abilities only limited by our failure to take advantage of the latter to carry out the former.
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