Italian-Palestinian journalist and former MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal caused an uproar this week with comments about American media’s “disgusting” pro-Israel bias.
Ronan Farrow invited Jebreal and the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake to discuss to conflict in Israel. Farrow mentioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s hot-mic comment, in which Kerry sarcastically called Israel’s military policy “a hell of a pinpoint operation.” He asked his guests what they thought of this gap between “American officials’ public versus private thoughts when it comes to Israel.”
“We’re ridiculous,” she said. “We’re disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue.” She referenced the bias of “Andrea Mitchell and others,” and claimed, “I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues.”
“One-tenth is given to the Palestinian voice, and 99 percent to the Israeli voice,” she continued, not pausing to calculate the 109 percent total. “That’s why the public opinion is pro-Israeli, which is the opposite of the rest of the world.”
After the segment, Jebreal took to Twitter with a daring claim:
My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?what about you @EliLake ?— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) July 21, 2014
But this claim quickly proved untrue, as she was back on MSNBC the next night for an interview with Chris Hayes.
Hayes first addressed Jebreal’s tweet regarding the cancellation of her TV appearances.
“If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name on any issue . . . the folks of the network will not take kindly to it,” he explained. “Not some grand conspiracy at work — a fairly predictable case of cause and effect.”
He then turned to Jebreal to discuss MSNBC’s alleged pro-Israel bias.
Jebreal immediately returned to her spiel about the imbalance of air time granted to Palestinian officials and Israeli officials.
Hayes responded that he always strives to speak with officials on both sides. “It is, as it turns out, extremely difficult to get a Hamas official on your TV show,” he told Jebreal.
“Palestinians are not only Hamas,” Jebreal shot back.
Hayes pointed out that Hamas and Israel are the two entities fighting, and so it follows that Hamas officials would logically be the people to talk to about the conflict.
Jebreal then said public opinion on the conflict translates into policy. And currently, the U.S. is “actually supporting the Israeli policies that have been destructive, and will not guarantee securities, and undermining American interests in the world and in the region,” Jebreal said. “This is simple fact.”
In her Farrow interview, Jebreal expressed outrage at the temporary removal of Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC’s Arab-American correspondent, from his post in Gaza. He was returned to his post a few days later. NBC declined to give any explanation for the removal and subsequent return of Mohyeldin, and many viewers assumed he was originally removed because of the pro-Palestinian bias in his reporting.
Mohyeldin himself publicly implied the same reason:
After his return, Mohyeldin continued to provide a notably pro-Palestinian viewpoint, including mentioning Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force this past Monday.
He noted that the reality of Kerry’s hot-mic comment about Israel’s “hell of a pinpoint operation” can be seen on the ground in Gaza.
“Israel’s been saying time and time again it is using surgical strikes,” he said, but Palestinian officials “are describing what is happening here: nothing short of a massacre.”
Gaza today, Mohyeldin continued, has seen an “unrelenting day of Israeli bombardment.” He referenced a strike targeting a member of Hamas, which killed him along with 27 members of his family. “It is precisely that type of casualty toll that Palestinian officials and medical sources say is disproportionate,” he said. Human-rights groups, too, have joined in explaining that “it is disproportionate the type of force that Israel is using to try and stop Palestinian rocket fire,” he said.
When reporting on the conflict, it is nearly impossible to satisfy both sides. But as we see news networks playing image after image of Palestinian suffering at Israeli hands, while providing little to no context on Hamas’s determination to destroy Israel and refusal to agree to a ceasefire, Jebreal’s claim of the media’s pro-Israel bias looks downright absurd. Hamas is clearly winning the media war in this conflict as the Palestinian death toll rises, even though Hamas makes no secret of its desire to kill large numbers of Israeli civilians and would presumably do so if it had the military ability.
“The Palestinians seem to be winning new sympathy as they bear the brunt of the losses,” Megyn Kelly said Tuesday night, “despite many many attempts on their part to kill Israelis.”
She provided a montage from the previous 48 hours of coverage of Palestinians explaining their suffering because of Israeli aggression.
Included was an young boy saying how Israel is trying to destroy Gaza, and also a statement from Mustafa Barghouti, the general secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, a small Palestinian party.
“The numbers and the facts are very clear,” Barghouti said on the clip. “They do undermine the whole Israeli propaganda that is trying to dehumanize Palestinians as if their lives are not as precious as Israeli lives.”
Examples of news stations citing death tolls and showing images of suffering in Gaza without providing any context has been pervasive in recent weeks.
In a segment last week on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart cracked jokes about the conflict’s “asymmetrical nature.” He opened his segment with a news report on Israeli troops set to invade Gaza, to which he says, “Tastes great. More killing.”
Times of Israel editor David Horovitz tore apart the segment in an article. Unfortunately, many more Americans get their news from The Daily Show than from Horovitz’s news site.
As Jebreal had correctly pointed out, public opinion does lead to policy. She was wrong, however, about which side has been winning this media war.
Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and CNN Middle East analyst Michael Oren explained on Monday the consequences of the media’s biased portrayal, which is serving to aid Hamas’s media campaign:
Audiences around the world have seen “hundreds of hours of airtime devoted to Palestinian casualties,” he explained, and “the focus on the Palestinian casualties without context serves a Hamas media strategy.”
This strategy that Hamas has used again and again, Oren said, is “to depict Israel as the indiscriminate killer, as callous, and ultimately to arouse public opinion throughout the world, put pressure on governments to go to the U.N. and get Israel condemned for war crimes so that Israel can’t defend itself while Hamas fires rockets at Israel.”
Oren said U.S. media have downplayed Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. “Without that context, those reports are serving the Hamas media strategy designed to delegitimize Israel,” he said.
“Hamas knows it can’t destroy Israel with its rockets or tunnels,” he explained, “but it can create a legal and international situation where Israel can no longer legitimately defend itself. It does that by arousing public opinion using an international media.” Hamas has, as a result, received millions of dollars in international aid.
Though her statistics are absurd and her claims unfounded, Jebreal sparked an important conversation about the media’s bias in this conflict. She is also correct that media play a crucial role in shaping public opinion, and ultimately public policy. But she’s wrong that the U.S. media, at least as of 2014, are excessively pro-Israel in their coverage. Her own newfound celebrity shows that.
— Molly Wharton is an intern at National Review.