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US media finally acknowledges Gazans' plight

Israel may fear results as for first time, jolted by social media, mainstream channels reveal true conditions in Gaza.
Last modified: 31 Jul 2014 03:41

I sometimes wonder about how many businesses have been impacted by the invention of the Internet. Think about it, when we first started typing www, do you think any travel agents said well this is seriously going to kill my business? Did anyone envision the impact of what a store like Amazon would do to traditional business?

Who really thought well one day there will be a virtual store where I can buy costumes for my cat, laundry detergent and a blanket with sleeves. It's changing something else that I truly never expected, the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the US. 

For the first time, I've seen the mainstream media actually devote a considerable amount of time describing not just the current fighting but the conditions that the people of Gaza live under.

I'm not saying the coverage has been fair or even remotely balanced. In fact, in almost every case the network news stories have begun by showing rockets fired from Gaza or the losses suffered by Israel. Whether the reporters are doing it intentionally or not, they are very much trying to stick to the talking points from Israel.

Israeli officials are very rarely asked tough questions. So what is different? Everything. These reports may begin talking about the impact on Israel, but then the coverage switches, and shows Gaza.

They talk about Palestinians having no way out, nowhere to hide. They talk about their daily lives and the discrimination they face. Some even now talk about a "siege" or a "blockade."

Almost every day the major newspapers have front page pictures vividly showing the horror that is now life in Gaza. I am convinced the sole reason for the shift is because of the web and social media.

The US media can no longer pretend like there is one side to the story, because people can find out for themselves and they will then call them out on social media for obvious bias. After a correspondent who was doing remarkable stories from Gaza was recently pulled out, temporarily, the firestorm on social media meant the network had to send him back. There has been a definite shift.

I'm not alone in this realization. Conservative columnist Ron Fournier recently wrote a column titled "Why Benjamin Netanyahu should be very very worried."

Fournier writes about the Israeli prime minister's recent interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace:

"Every nation has a story. Israel's is that Arabs have long been unwilling to negotiate with the Jewish state, and that terrorists among the Palestinians want to destroy it.

"For decades, three significant factors helped make this the dominant Middle East narrative. First, it's correct, at least when applied to the dangerous minority of Palestinians.

"Second, elite opinion-makers, including journalists and politicians in the West, embraced and amplified the Israeli case. Finally, public opinion in the West, and particularly in the United States, firmly supported Israel.

"The first factor still holds. The United States would not hesitate to respond fiercely to attacks like those of Hamas. No country would. Israel has the absolute right to defend itself, and Netanyahu stood on firm ground as he described to Wallace the motives and tactics of Hamas.

"The danger lies with the last two factors, starting with the near-monopoly Israel once enjoyed over the mind share of public-opinion elites. Israel must learn to act in a world of democratized media, where tweets and posts and pictures about Gazan casualties reach the global community instantaneously and without filter."

In short, social media has removed the filter.

Fournier also points out that polls show US public opinion is shifting. You see growing support and empathy for the Palestinians among young people and liberals. That is why we are now seeing strong warnings from some of Netanyahu's strongest supporters in the US media. They are sending him the message, that winning this battle could ultimately cost him the war if he needs the US to win it.

Some of the Israeli governments strongest supporters are so worried about it they've taken unusual steps.

One former Bush Administration official recently claimed on Twitter that the images from Gaza were faked. He was quickly called out on the micro-blogginh platform and had to apologise. He did so by explaining how images are often faked by enemies of Israel.

The US is a celebrity culture and for the first time celebrities have started to tweet their support for the people of Gaza. Many have quickly tried to delete them, but others have not. This in and of itself is new, before Twitter would a celebrity have taken the time to try and get an interview to make their position clear? Would the newspapers and networks have run it? Those questions no longer need to be asked, because celebrities can now show support in a moment with a hash tag.

I'm not saying any of this is going to change the calculation in Tel Aviv. I'm fairly certain that right now Netanyahu's not all that concerned about what Madonna or the kid from One Direction thinks of his campaign.

The Israeli population is overwhelmingly supportive of this campaign according to polls, and politicians always look to domestic politics first. That applies to US politicians as well.

The vast, vast majority of members of Congress wouldn't publicly say even one wrong word against Israel for a lot of reasons. They are under no pressure from the voting public to do otherwise, for now that is.

We've seen the horrors of attacks on Gaza in the past, but not like this. The Israeli government might be betting this won't change anything; the people of the US will forget and focus on the next celebrity that gets drunk, disorderly and divorced.

That was easy to do when the mainstream media was driving the narrative. It's not any more. The American people might still forget what they've seen, but there is a very real chance that this time - they won't.