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How Did an Israeli Lobby Shape the Editorial Policy for Western Media?

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
22nd November 2023
How Did an Israeli Lobby Shape the Editorial Policy for Western Media?
The U.S. Is home to 51 different pro-israeli lobbying organizations, like CAMERA

On November 6, Jack Silverstein, an editor at the New York Times, declared in an email to the employees the resignation of Jasmine Hues due to signing a petition of “Writers against the war in Gaza” to support Palestine and to denounce the siege imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip.

Silverstein said, “While I respect that she has strong principles, this is a clear violation of the policies of the New York Times in regard to public protest,” he added, “This policy, which I completely follow, is an integral part of our commitment to independence.”

This comes considering a series of harassments faced by journalists of Western media in general, and U.S. media in particular, especially those who support the Palestinian cause or condemn Israel at least, providing vague justifications similar to those of the New York Times. However, David Velasco, the Chief Editor of “Art Form” magazine, provided an explanation of what happens behind the scenes.

At the end of October, Velasco was terminated from his position as Chief editor of the magazine that he spent 18 years working for. This decision came a week after he published an open letter on the internet about the situation in Gaza demanding to provide humanitarian aid, accountability for war crimes, and a ceasefire, along with condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In a letter to the New York Times, Velasco commented on the firing incident, “I have no regrets. I am disappointed because the magazine that I always defended freedom of expression and artists’ voices at has been under external pressure.” What did he mean by that?

For many years, pro-Israel lobbyists and organizations have publicly or privately pressured the Western media to polish Israel’s image in order to protect its policies from criticism.

This has included many times, describing neutral news as being antisemitic, which is a career-threatening accusation to anyone. One of these goals is to control the narrative by delegitimizing and discrediting journalists, news agencies, and anyone who would challenge the official Israeli discourse.

Pressures on Western media in covering events in Palestine - The New Arab
Pressures on Western media in covering events in Palestine - The New Arab

As a result, other journalists would abstain from providing just, contextual, and comprehensive reports about Palestine. This has led to the professional failure that we witnessed by most of the Western media, which have completely adopted the Israeli narrative during their coverage of events in Palestine after October 7.

CAMERA: Israeli Lobby Targeting Western Media

The United States of America is home to 51 different pro-Israeli lobbying organizations, some can have around 100,000 members, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and others are on a smaller scale of tens of members. Among these organizations exists the “Committee for Accuracy in Preparing Reports on the Middle East in America” known as “CAMERA,” which is responsible for pressuring U.S. media and controlling its editorial lines during coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“CAMERA,” says it is dedicated to “promote accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East.” It was established in 1982 to respond to the Washington Post coverage of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, in which it condemned the brutality and cruelty of the invasion and did not justify it, and to respond to what “CAMERA” considered as “a general anti-Israeli bias” of media.

One of CAMERA's founding messages - CAMERA Organization website
One of CAMERA's founding messages - CAMERA Organization website

“CAMERA” produces reports to counter what it calls “inaccurate and distorted descriptions of Israel and events in the Middle East,” which it believes “they feed bias against Israel and Jews.” The organization mobilizes protests against what it calls unjust media coverage, by monopolizing advertisements in major newspapers. It also organizes demonstrations against media organizations, encourages investors to withhold their funds, and organizes collective protest letters for editors and channel managers.

“CAMERA” reports that it has more than 65,000 paid members, and that 46 news outlets have published corrections based on the organization’s work. In the context of the Israeli ongoing war on Gaza, the organization published a blog criticizing a report made by the information verification unit at Associated Press about the massacre of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on October 17.

CAMERA strongly criticized the Associated Press because it did not completely adopt the Israeli narrative - CAMERA Organization website
CAMERA strongly criticized the Associated Press because it did not completely adopt the Israeli narrative - CAMERA Organization website

The blog launched a sharp attack on the agency because its report had contradicted accusations around the tragic bombing which could not be verified, describing the conclusion as “promoting a false narrative,” which was declared by Hamas accusing the Israeli army of committing a massacre. The blog also stated that the Israeli army denied its responsibility for the massacre by publishing videos, voice notes, and other information that stated that the explosion resulted from a missile fired by mistake by the Islamic Jihad movement, a set of claims that Misbar refuted in an independent investigation at the time.

“CAMERA” demanded the agency to adhere to its published investigation had the same conclusions as the Israeli narrative, that a failed Palestinian missile led to the atrocity of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, which Misbar has also refuted and pointed out its misleading aspects, bias, and selectivity of resources.

In addition to that, “CAMERA” revealed that it was responsible for BBC referring 6 of its journalists for investigation based on posts “celebrating” Hamas attacks on the settlements of Gaza cover. the BBC decision came as a response to a report by the organization, which says on its website the network journalists “made statements on social media to justify Hamas’s killing of Israeli civilians,” accusing BBC of “whitewashing the civilian Jews in Israel before the last escalation.”

“Camera” and Its Diverse Pressure Techniques

CAMERA adopts several strategies of pressure on the media that condemns Israel and does not follow the official narrative. Andrea Levine, director of the organization, explained in an interview with The Israeli Jerusalem Public Relations Council in 2005, how “CAMERA” confronted what it described as “false information and attempts to distort Israel, the Arab Israeli Conflict, Peace negotiations, Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and Arab attitude towards Israel.”

Levin revealed that the organization has tens of thousands of paid members, and thousands of active writers. And when a media agency is spotted to publish anything that does not adopt the desired narrative, coordination between these members takes place to flood the mailboxes of editors and writers with accusations, criticism, and sometimes threats. Director of the CNN, Eason Jordan, stated in the New York Times in 2002 that he received 6000 protest messages in his email upon anti-Israel statements made by the network’s correspondent in Jerusalem at the time.

CAMERA sends thousands of messages to journalists to pressure them to change their story - The New York Times
CAMERA sends thousands of messages to journalists to pressure them to change their story - The New York Times

In June 2021, 500 U.S. journalists called upon their colleagues and editors to change their coverage of the Palestinian issue which “failed the public and ignored the fact of the existence of the military Israeli occupation that operates under an apartheid system," according to what stated in an open letter that was signed by journalists.

Accordingly, members of “CAMERA” organized a campaign to pressure Los Angeles Times and sent letters to express their “deep concern” towards the fact that 9 journalists signed the “Anti-Israel” letter and tried to undermine the ethical motifs of the journalists while delegitimizing them professionally.

Earlier in November, something similar happened, where around 1000 workers of the Los Angeles Times signed an open letter to condemn the Israeli bombing and attacks on Gaza, saying that the military operations put journalists in danger and threatened newsgathering. The letter also called upon newsrooms to use the terms “Apartheid,” “Ethnic cleansing,” and “Genocide” when describing the Israeli bombing of Gaza.

And to avoid any pressure campaigns on the newspaper, similar to what happened in 2021, two familiar people with the newspaper have informed Semaphore that the employees who signed this letter were informed by the management that they will not be allowed to cover the current conflict in Palestine by any way shape or form for at least three months.

Los Angeles Times bans its journalists who support Palestine from covering events in Gaza - Semaphore
Los Angeles Times bans its journalists who support Palestine from covering events in Gaza - Semaphore

In addition to the collective pressure letters, “CAMERA” members write opening articles and public opinion letters to advocate for Israel in the major newspapers, “which puts things into place,” according to Andrea Levin, director of the organization. The organization also publishes its periodical report about the performance of media, a report to be sent to journalists, members of “CAMERA,” libraries, Jewish worship places, and the U.S. Congress.

Levine added that “CAMERA” holds media conferences in big U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington. These conferences address the problems faced by the European and American media where “Bias is a key element to provoke antisemitism,” according to Levin.

In addition to the articles and conferences, “CAMERA” also reserves entire advertising pages in the major U.S. newspapers to promote the Israeli narrative, such as an advertisement in the New York Times entitled “Corruption of the United Nations Include Anti-Israeli Bias: It is time for the media to set the record straight.” This advertisement criticized the U.S. Security Council No. 242 which requires Israel’s withdrawal from the lands it occupied after the 1967 war.

Another ad addressed the role of the Palestinian incitement of [Jews] in terrorism, along with another advertisement published as an open letter in the New York Times about “Failure to cover the Palestinian Authority to promote hatred against Jews,” according to the organization’s director.

The advertisement published by the CAMERA Organization in one of the issues of The New York Times - the CAMERA Organization website
The advertisement published by the CAMERA Organization in one of the issues of The New York Times - the CAMERA Organization website

Levin says, “We presented several ads that focused on NPR’s bias. One of them was entitled: NPR lies again about Israel.” She added that these advertisements usually run in the New York Times and other newspapers, along with Washington and the Westcoast, and Midwestern newspapers, “We tend to run these ads in Jewish newspapers to reach millions of readers.”

Levin does not hide the organization’s agenda or its reliance on financial inducement to promote its advertisements. When she was asked about media monitoring groups that do not focus on Israel, she said, “Most of them focus on left and right-wing issues. This is a research issue process that cannot be compared to “CAMERA” with its active membership and high salaries.”

The director of the CAMERA Organization talks about the amount of spending that the organization makes to its members
The director of the CAMERA Organization talks about the amount of spending that the organization makes to its members

She adds, “There is no doubt that their work is important, but groups with no connections to Israel do not have the same impact. They produce studies and polls. That is why I think monitoring the pro-Israel media is important beyond the issue of Israel.. the efforts that encourage commitment to the ethics of journalism in one cause are generally positive and contribute to promoting American democracy, especially, again, where there are no applicable rules of professionalism in media.”

“Camera” Draws the Editorial Lines of the New York Times

Levin talked in one of her old interviews about CAMERA’s success scale, she said that the organization works hard to “correct” the information about Israel in media, and then it follows up progress of accuracy and context instead of repetition. Levin considers the organization’s dealing with the New York Times one of the greatest examples of the success of its mission.

Levine said, “In the summer of 2000, the newspaper mentioned three times that the UN Security Council Resolution No.242 requires Israel to go back to the borders of 1967, which is not true. On July 11, 2000, the newspaper wrote that the Palestinians won compensation based on U.N. Resolution No.242, which calls for the end of the occupation of all the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which were occupied in the war of 1867. We called their office, and they corrected the mistake.”

She added, “Again, the New York Times wrote on August 19, 2000, something similar, it said that Israel must accept the U.N. decision issued after the Arab Israeli war in 1967, and handover the entire East Jerusalem including the Jewish neighborhood.” And after an intervention by “CAMERA,” the New York Times published an additional correction on August 24, 2000.

Levin said that the newspaper “hasn’t understood it yet," on September 6, 2000, the New York Times wrote, “The U.N. resolution that demands Israel withdrawal from all the territories it occupied in 1967 including East Jerusalem”, we called them again and they corrected it saying, “A Wednesday article about peace negotiations of the Middle East falsely referred to UN resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Security Council Resolution No. 242 was issued after the Middle East War in 1967, which called on the Israeli armed forces to withdraw from the lands they occupied in the recent conflict, there is no resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal from all the lands, including East Jerusalem, that they occupied in the war.”

Levin points out that the amount of needed work by the organization to monitor newspapers and networks closely to identify these “mistakes,” in this case, had an important outcome. The Chief editor back then Joseph Lelyveld with his employees and said, ”We had to make corrections three times to cover the actual provisions of the U.N. Resolution No.242, which provides a great cover for those who are convinced that we biased towards our personal opinions and are not fully aware of the Middle East issues. The important thing is that the New York Times never repeated those mistakes.”

Levin also points out that this has double impact, as many U.S. newspapers follow the New York Times initiatives, “and make less mistakes about the U.N. Resolution No.242.”

She also believes that this requires a lot of hard work that may seem as few corrections in a newspaper, the internal impact is great and affects future reports. She says, ”This is way more important that the printed correction itself.”

“Camera” Forces Reuters To Correct Its Concepts

The New York Times was not the only affected media by CAMERA’s pressure when it came to the Palestinian Cause, Levin mentioned that criticism of CAMERA to Reuters is another example to for its success to impact media. She says, ”This UK significant news agency reaches millions of people around the world. It has always underestimated the threat that Israel is exposed to in many articles that decorate the actual targets for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.”

The agency said that these groups are fighting for independence, or to achieve the dream of a Palestinian State in the West bank and the Gaza Strip. The agency never mentioned that these terrorist groups (Hamas and the Islamic Jihad) aim to destroy Israel.

CAMERA criticizes Reuters' coverage of events in Palestine in 2001 - CAMERA Organization website
CAMERA criticizes Reuters' coverage of events in Palestine in 2001 - C Organization website

Levin said that the agency overlooked the fact that “A Palestinian State was offered in 2000 and they rejected it," (she was implying the Camp David Agreement). This claim is repeated by Israeli propaganda and refuted tens of times, ignoring Israel’s insistence that Yasser Arafat would declare “End of Conflict,” which means that the Palestinians would not be entitled to any claims after that. The Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Shlomo Ben-Aami, and one of the main negotiators of Camp David admitted later that “Camp David was not the lost opportunity for Palestinians, and If I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected it too.”

Levin points out that dealing with a major media organization about core issues means that you need to exert all efforts and resources to make change. “It took us a year to see the results. We first researched deeply Reuters coverage to this conflict, which meant reviewing more than a thousand stories to document repetition of these false descriptions. We immediately expressed our concerns to the executive directors and sent notifications to writers urging them to move and complain publicly about bias, we also published opening articles in many different networks to expose this bias.”

“In the end, this has led to a significance change. In 2004, Reuters started describing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad more accurately. For example, the description became ‘Hamas’ which took an oath to destroy the Jewish state, has led the Palestinian Intifada three years ago …,” or “Hamas and the Islamic Jihad swore to destroy Israel and they both rejected the temporary peace agreement in 1993 in the Middle East, they both led the Palestinian Intifada since September 2000.” This language conveys to millions of readers a much clearer image about the threat that Israel faces and provides a better context to understand any measures taken by Israel,” Levin said.

“CAMERA” pressure affected tens of major media networks, like CNN, PBs, NPR, the International Herald Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and the Boston Globe, in addition to the French Second Channel, which was forced by the organization in 2000 to retract its report which stated that Mohammed Al-Durra was killed by Israel shooting, and even some Israeli leftist networks like Haaretz was also criticized by CAMERA tens of times.

“Camera” Pressures Libraries and Universities, Not Only Media

CAMERA portrays the Middle East issues in black and white, no gray areas for speculations or complexities. According to “CAMERA,” Muslims are evil because of their religion, they hate Jews because they are Jews. Under the title “Publishing houses and media networks promote a fake Middle East History,” “CAMERA” presents the ideas of historian Bernard Loise, father of AIPAC former director Michael Loise at that time, who wrote in 1986, “Rewriting the past is usually done to serve certain political goals. By portraying the great Arab-Islamic expansion of the seventh century as a war of liberation rather than a war of conquest, the Arabs can free themselves from the charge of imperialism, even in the distant past."

“CAMERA” encourages its members to visit libraries and notice the books and journals about the Middle East, and if they find books for Noam Chomsky or Edward Said “who claim to be experts of the Middle East,” according to the organizations, then they need to speak to officials about that.

According to the "Washington Report On Middle East Affairs," the “CAMERA” newsletter in the mid-1990s recommended 309 books to read including Fouad Ajami, John Peters, and Edward Alexander who was deeply impacted by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who believed in the superiority of Jewish race and founder of Kahana movement which carried out several massacres against the Palestinians.

In an interview with the magazine, Levin quoted John Peters “A long time ago” which was widely criticized due to its historical mistakes, when it mentioned that many Palestinian Arabs today are decedents of immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries.” In this context, Levin accuses the National Geographic, Middle East Encyclopedia, Webster, and British Encyclopedia of distorting facts with no evidence to support their claims.

CAMERA project on campus - CAMERA Organization website
CAMERA project on campus - CAMERA Organization website

“CAMERA” also implements more aggressive strategies and tactics against university libraries, where it annually conducts events on campuses of US and European universities and demands them to inspect look in their libraries for any “offensive” books to Israel and Jews, and pressure universities to remove them to ensure a context that adopts the Israeli narrative in all public places, including university campuses, libraries and visual and audio media.

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