by Andrew E. Harrod

"I didn't leave journalism. Journalism left me," said Israeli-American journalist Mark Lavie[1] last week at Washington, D.C.'s The Israel Project,[2] while reviewing his years of reporting from the Middle East. Lavie's presentation, "How Reporters Get Played by Israel's Enemies: A Veteran Journalist Explains," insightfully examined the media factors contributing to Israel's often poor global image.

David Hazony, the editor of TIP's Tower Magazine,[3] opened his moderation of the standing-room-only event by questioning how news could go unreported in the modern world, a thesis of Lavie's recent TM article[4] on coverage of fighting in Gaza. Hazony said that, with advanced information technology, "everyone is reporting everything," and he questioned how Lavie could say that certain stories are going unreported.

"I almost don't know where to start," Lavie said, explaining that modern technology, for example, places an accuracy-endangering premium on scoops and means that in today's world, "you have to be first; you don't have to be right." Various criticisms caused him to decry a journalism that has become "distorted and unprofessional."

Speaking about Israel in the media, Lavie described the human tendency to favor weaker causes, which disadvantages an Israel seen as stronger than its Palestinian opponents. "It's just natural, for whatever reason, to cheer the underdog," he said, explaining that this mindset influences news judgment today. In Israel's case, during the First Intifada of 1987, stone-throwing Palestinian adolescents were seen as "heroes" confronting the "horrible monsters" - Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition.

Yet Lavie warned that, "when you root for the underdog, you are taking sides." As an example of journalistic distortion, he pointed to news editors' terming a Jerusalem neighborhood with 60,000 inhabitants a "settlement," because Palestinians claimed that this area was won by Israel in the 1967 war. He explained that this fallacious description evokes images of fanatical Israelis' staking out rudimentary dwellings on land whose disputed status could be explained in the story. "My job as a journalist is not to help anyone," he said, pointing out that the underdog could actually be the wrong side whose weakness is derived from its mistakes.

Lavie said that sheer intimidation, not ideology, is the main factor skewing reporting on Israel. In the Middle East, "reporters are not free to work the way we think they are" outside Israel. He described a Middle Eastern coercion of journalists that has "been going on for years and years." A local Gaza Palestinian attempted to report from Gaza according to Western standards, but then made the "grave error" of marrying and having children. Threats to his family made him demand that his name and Gaza location no longer appear with his stories. He later transferred to a job in Asia.

Lavie confirmed that his previous Associated Press employer had suppressed film taken by an AP cameraman in Nablus of Palestinians celebrating the Sept. 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks. The cameraman had pleaded against releasing the footage after gunmen entered his home and pointed weapons at his children. Because no picture is worth a life, Lavie said that "the right decision was made in this tremendously difficult moral dilemma."


The journalist spoke about the reporting of Israel's 2014 Protective Edge[5] military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 4,000 Israeli airstrikes responded to 4,000 Hamas rocket attacks, yet the latter never appeared on film. Hamas often threatened journalists[6] who were going to report about the Hamas rocket attacks, but this coercion itself was rarely reported. Only reporters in Israel near the Gaza Strip's boundary could show the rockets launched from a nearby Gaza neighborhood.

When journalists filmed the civilian casualties brought to Gaza's main Al-Shifa[7] hospital, Hamas fighters ordered the cameras turned off when Hamas combatant casualties arrived. "This reinforced the narrative that Israel was wantonly killing civilians," Lavie said. Hazony said that Hamas was using rockets to propel a "media war."

Middle Eastern harassment of journalists occurs beyond the Palestinian territories. Although Lavie referenced events in Iran, he could not give specifics, for fear of endangering journalists working in that country. He said that regime restrictions had resulted in the withdrawal of a journalist from Saudi Arabia. "You don't get proper news from Saudi Arabia, for heaven's sake," he lamented.

Lavie said that he saw no parallel between Middle East journalism hazards and "what they call military censorship" in Israel. Israeli authorities prohibit the publishing of militarily sensitive matters, such as the impact points of missile attacks, a censorship duly noted to the public by reporters, but non-Israeli "intimidation is whole lot more effective than this tiny bit of censorship in a free society."

The journalist pointed out that he had not used the term "anti-Semitic" during his presentation, despite common allegations of anti-Semitism influencing Israel's media image. He said that he has met only one anti-Semitic reporter during his career. "I don't think it's the media that's targeting Israel," he said, pointing a finger at Western society's influencing journalists who are largely "opinion followers, not opinion leaders.

Lavie's remarks provided depth to the news out of Israel and Palestine. Viewers who are inclined to see Palestinians on the losing side of Israeli repression should consider how the two parties came to their respective positions. A Jew in attendance pointed out that past Israeli proposals offered serious possibilities for a Palestinian state. The public must consider that this conflict allows journalists to report all the news that is fit to print - without getting killed. The complete story out of Israel cannot be understood without both perspectives, past and present.









Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He writes on political and religious topics at the American Thinker, Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, Faith Freedom International, Gatestone Institute, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Mercatornet, Philos Project, Religious Freedom Coalition, Washington Times, and World, among others. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter @AEHarrod. This article was published February 24, 2015 at Family Security Matters (FSM) and is archived at

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