In Jerusalem on Sunday, Old City streets and alleyways were awash in blue and white, as thousands of Israel youth took part in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March to mark the reunification of the city in 1967. Some engaged in violent clashes with local Palestinians. Some chanted hateful slurs, which included incitement to violence.
Just over two weeks earlier, nearby streets in eastern Jerusalem were studded in red, green, black and white as thousands of Palestinians turned out for the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Many waved flags. Some engaged in violent clashes with Israeli police. Some chanted hateful slurs, which included incitement to violence.
There were many parallels between the two displays of nationalist sentiment, but the international media didn’t see it that way. Or rather, they didn’t report it that way.
In the media, the Israeli procession was “nationalistic.” In contrast, the same news outlets were hard-pressed to find anything “nationalistic” about the Palestinian procession, even though it contained many of the exact same elements as the Israeli event.
The media’s inconsistent application of the term “nationalist,” which is often perceived as a pejorative, is on colorful display in an abundance of articles, headlines and photo captions.
“Israeli nationalists march through Jerusalem’s Old City” is the Agence France Presse headline to a report that emphasized the Israeli nationalists. It began, “Thousands of flag-waving Israelis on Sunday marched through Jerusalem’s Old City during a nationalist procession that regularly stokes Palestinian anger, a year after Jerusalem tensions exploded into war.”
In contrast, AFP avoided a description of Palestinian nationalistic behavior as such. “Many Palestinians flew flags” and “a Palestinian flag was flown from a drone,” AFP reported without the pejorative “nationalist.” Further on, it stated: “Earlier, Jewish nationalists chanting pro-Israel slogans had visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa compound, located on Old City land that Jews revere as the Temple Mount. Police reported that Palestinians had thrown rocks towards them from inside the mosque.”
The disparity is blatant. “Jewish nationalists” chant slogans. In contrast, “police claim” that “Palestinians”—not “Palestinian nationalists”—threw rocks. This was, moreover, not just a “police claim.” Video footage documents that Palestinian nationalists threw rocks from inside the mosque, and thus there was no reason to qualify the information by an attribution to the Israeli police.
In similar fashion, despite “the crowds who were hoisting Palestinian flags” and chanting nationalistic slogans at Abu Akleh’s funeral, AFP did not identify these Palestinians as “nationalists.” Unlike the headline that emphasized “Israeli nationalists,” AFP’s headline about the funeral procession skips any such reference. It said only, “Thousands mourn at Jerusalem funeral for Al Jazeera journalist.”
Moreover, AFP referred to Palestinian nationalistic behavior only as an unconfirmed Israeli police claim: “Police said they had warned the crowd to stop ‘nationalistic’ songs and were forced to act as ‘violent rioters (were) trying to disrupt the proper course of the funeral.’” As reported by the Times of Israel, among the nationalistic Palestinian chants heard at Abu Akleh’s funeral was “Let the olive branch fall and raise the rifle.” AFP’s coverage ignored this, as well as similar chants.
AFP’s double standard on Palestinian versus Israeli nationalists was packaged in the news agency’s photo captions. Members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror organization brandished weapons and traipsed over an Israeli flag as the Palestinian flag fluttered in the background. This was described in one caption as a mere denunciation of Israel’s “nationalist ‘flag march.’” But the DFLP’s militaristic display, which literally trampled on another nation’s symbol of sovereignty? AFP editors, oblivious to the irony, detected no nationalism in it.
Associated Press captions that referenced the Flag March were likewise very revealing. Palestinians surrounded by a sea of Palestinian flags participated in “a march,” with no descriptive label. But Israelis who marched with their national flag took part in a “nationalist parade.” Even when screaming members of Palestinian terror organizations brandished weapons, and their juvenile admirers waved toy guns, AP captions found nationalism only in the Israeli parade.
AP’s articles followed the same pattern. “Israeli nationalists chant racist slogans in Jerusalem march” was headline that again gave top billing to Israeli nationalists and their racist chants. AP stated:
Thousands of Israeli nationalists, some of them chanting “Death to Arabs,” paraded through the heart of the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, in a show of force that risked setting off a new wave of violence in the tense city. …
As the march got underway, groups of Orthodox Jewish youths gathered outside Damascus Gate, waving flags, singing religious and nationalistic songs, and shouting “the Jewish nation lives” before entering the Muslim Quarter. One large group chanted “Death to Arabs,” and “Let your village burn down” before descending into the Old City. …
Thousands of people normally take part in the march through the Muslim Quarter, including some who shout out nationalistic or racist slogans toward the Palestinians, before making their way to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter on the other side of the Old City. …
Ahead the march, there were small scuffles between Israeli nationalists and Palestinians, who threw chairs and bottles and shouted “God is great” at the marchers. …
Among the visitors was Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party and a follower of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, who entered with dozens of supporters under heavy police guard.
In the headline and the accompanying text, the AP’s article identified Israelis or their actions as “nationalist” or some derivative thereof half-a-dozen times. Palestinians who appeared in the story were no less fervent about their nationalism, but AP did not identify them as such. Indeed, AP’s formulation said it all: a scuffle takes place between “Israeli nationalists and Palestinians.” Not “Israelis and Palestinians” and not “Israeli nationalists and Palestinian nationalists.”
In contrast, AP’s treatment of Palestinian nationalism was toned down in its coverage of Abu Akleh’s nationalistic funeral procession. Thus, while the first paragraph reported “a procession that turned into perhaps the largest display of Palestinian nationalism in Jerusalem in a generation,” the Palestinian nationalists—unlike Sunday’s Israeli nationalists—did not appear in the headline: “Israeli police beat pallbearers at journalist’s funeral.”
The article described “thousands of people, many waving Palestinian flags and chanting: ‘Palestine! Palestine!’” Note “people,” as opposed to “Palestinian nationalists.” And while AP’s coverage of the Israeli parade twice referred to chants of “Death to Arabs,” the news agency’s coverage ignored the Palestinians’ threats to “Let the olive branch fall and raise the rifle.” It reported the less belligerent “Palestine! Palestine!” along with the more aggressive, “We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Shireen.”
Unlike its coverage of Israeli “nationalist or racist slogans,” AP refrained from the use of such language to describe the Palestinian chants. Instead, it cited Israeli police accusations (“police said”) about Palestinian “nationalist incitement” and used scare quotes to distance the reporter from the language:
Police said the crowd at the hospital was chanting “nationalist incitement,” ignored calls to stop and threw stones at them. “The policemen were forced to act,” police said. They issued a video in which a commander outside the hospital warns the crowd that police will come in if they don’t stop their incitement and “nationalist songs.”
It is clear that equivalent behavior from Palestinians and Israelis elicits grossly disparate coverage. The blatant inconsistencies that signal journalistic bias are about as subtle as calls to “Let the olive branch fall and raise the rifle.” Only the willfully blind could ignore them.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate