Progressive Zionists rightly insist on the right to declare one’s love for Israel and still point out when Israel is in the wrong and the other side has a legitimate case. The trouble is that one neglects to take note from time to time (to time to time to time, actually) when Israel is in the right and the other side is ridiculously, outrageously in the wrong.
Case in point: the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border earlier this week, when Lebanese Army soldiers shot and killed an Israel lieutenant colonel who was overseeing maintenance work on the border fence that Israel maintains on the Israeli side of of the border. Barry Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, trained a sharp eye on Western media coverage of the incident. Two points stand out in relief: first, the inherent vulnerability of the standard he-said/she-said style of objective reporting in the face of systematic mendacity; and second, the tendency in Middle East moments of doubt (which is most moments) to assume that Israel is the bad guy because–well, just because.
Here’s Barry (the embedded links are his):
Today’s Example of Ridiculous Media Bias Against Israel Along Israel’s border with Lebanon, east of Metulla, some bushes were pushing in on the border fence. The fence is set in slightly from the border precisely so that Israeli soldiers can work on it. The IDF called UNIFIL and informed the UN that this work was going to be done today so that they could tell the Lebanese army that there was no aggression going on but just routine maintenance. Soldiers from UNIFIL came to observe and can be seen standing next to Israeli soldiers in the photos. Photographers were also standing by to film the operation. But Lebanese soldiers opened fire on the Israelis who were working and in no way acting aggressively. The fact that journalists were standing next to the Lebanese soldiers shows that they knew Israel was going to do this maintenance and were observing. After the Israeli soldiers were ambushed, they returned fire. One Israeli officer was killed, another seriously wounded; three Lebanese soldiers, and a Lebanese (?) journalist were killed. So how did Reuters and Yahoo report this? By saying that Israeli soldiers had crossed into Lebanon and been fired on, thus implying the Lebanese army was acting in self-defense! Other news agencies merely reported: Israel says the soldiers were inside Israel; Lebanon says they were on Lebanese territory.
The biggest thing that’s missing in most coverage is the background to the incident.
Most serious observers seem to think it’s a sign of the growing tension in Lebanon as the U.N. prepares to release its report on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. The report is expected to finger operatives in Hezbollah, acting on behalf of Syria. Hezbollah is currently the strongest faction in Lebanon, and is hardly likely to turn over any indicted officials for trial; more likely, they will go to war. Nobody wants another Lebanese civil war.
The backgronud to the background is the explosive demographic growth of Lebanon’s Shia community, which has largely eroded the country’s traditional three-way power sharing among Christians, Sunnis and Shias. The factions still control the institutions assigned to them: Sunni premier, Christian president, Shia speaker of parliament–but all of the incumbents now defer to Hezbollah. Syria, which was booted out of the country in 2005, is now the patron and overlord to whom all sides look to keep the peace. And the Lebanese Army, which used to be carefully balanced among the various groups, which had their own units under civil and largely Christian command, is now largely Shia and fast becoming an extension of Hezbollah.
Bottom line: Israel thought it had secured a victory in the 2006 Lebanon war when the Lebanese Army moved south to take over the border region from Hezbollah. Now it seems they’re working hand in glove. So when Hezbollah is nervous over an impending U.N. report, Lebanese Army units get trigger happy.
The Hebrew press has covered all this extensively. The best piece I’ve seen was Nahum Barnea’s column in the August 6 Friday supplement of Yediot. But it’s only in print and only in Hebrew.
The next best piece I’ve found is this excellent news analysis from Asia Times, which draws the lines between the U.N. report, the Shia ascendancy and the border incident. When you’re done, read this analysis by military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz, which deals with the increasing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanese political calculus and the politics of the U.N. Hariri probe.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).