On April 4th, Syracuse Students for Israel hosted journalist Liz Wahl for an event educating the campus community on the issue of media bias, especially concerning Israel. Wahl rose to prominence following her on-air resignation from the state-owned Russia Today network after becoming aware of RT’s blatant censorship of Russian President Putin’s aggressive military actions in Crimea. Following her resignation, Wahl became the recipient of dozens of hateful messages calling her a ‘Zionist neo-con’ with ‘ulterior motives.’ With conspiracy theories swirling, Wahl made it her mission to look into media bias, specifically focusing on Israel, as many of the messages she received were related to the Jewish state. After traveling to Israel and touring the country and adjacent West Bank, she came to the conclusion that there is, in fact, an unfair media bias against Israel.
The event was meant to inform students, professors, and community members about this highly controversial topic that affects the way we, as engaged global citizens, take in news, and especially how the bias in this news affects popular opinion. It is no secret that Israel is a point of contention for many, and one of the biggest issues at stake when speaking about the conflict is that it is very often difficult to find objective news about it. Headlines often suggest things like “Palestinian shot after car ramming kills two” or “Palestinian apprehended by Israeli forces after Jerusalem attack leaves one dead” and the like – suggesting that cars and ‘attacks’ – instead of the terrorists behind them – are killing people. The word ‘terrorist’ is often left behind, seen as having political undertones, and so the word ‘militant’ often replaces it. But when the bombs went off in Paris and Brussels, the world was quick to denounce terror – and terrorism. Why is Israel so different?
Back in 2014, as Operation Protective Edge took the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians alike, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, spoke out on CNN against the blatant bias against Israel in the media. He slammed CNN for failing to disclose important information that made certain aspects of the war appear as if Israel was the sole aggressor. Specifically, his anger stemmed from the failure of CNN to share with its viewers that the schools in Gaza that Israel had targeted were buildings that Hamas chose to use as storage for rockets and other weapons. In choosing to do this, Hamas leaders knew Israel would take a lot of flack for their reaction, and CNN and many other reporting agencies and newspapers were complicit in this.
While media bias against Israel at SU is certainly not an issue of the same magnitude – if at all – there are still those who aim to delegitimize and demonize Israel through events and publications. A recent showing of “Roadmap to Apartheid,” a film that compares South Africa’s apartheid regime to Israel’s governance, attracted dozens of students. An article in the premier LGBT magazine on campus recently published an article that denounced Israel’s “pinkwashing” and cited anti-Israel activist Judith Butler, who has said that Israel is a colonialist and imperialist state. A semi-frequent publication called the Syracuse Peace Journal is often passed out on campus, with articles that promote BDS, call for an end to American military aid to Israel, and spread vitriol about Israel by labeling it an apartheid state. While talk of Israel and the Palestinians is not a campus-wide debate, it has the potential to become one, and with such bias already evident at SU, the disagreements are likely to be polarizing.
Having Wahl on campus provided an opportunity for students to recognize media bias as a problem that they both have a hand in and can work to reverse. One journalism student spoke about the Newhouse School’s lack of attention to this issue, and his hope to share the film with his professors in an effort to bring the problem of media bias to the forefront of the educational curriculum at one of the top communications schools in the country. Wahl noted that “even journalists are human” and that unintentional, unconscious bias is a part of the problem, but that consumers must be vigilant in what they read, see, and listen to. While this doesn’t eliminate the problem at the source, it does encourage individuals to recognize that not all news and news sources are impartial. Media bias is a problem that is invisible to most – Wahl hopes to challenge this, and hopes to inspire others to do the same.
Contribued by CAMERA Fellow at Syracuse University, Shoshana Kranish.