The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a “religious, spiritual and moral conflict,” said David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesman for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), on Tuesday. “If you ignore that, then you ignore the heart of the problem.”
Parsons, who was addressing a group of Christian journalists during a panel discussion about media bias on Tuesday as part of the government’s Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, said he believes faith still motivates and drives people in the region far more than the mainstream media understands.
“Most reporters completely ignore it,” Parsons said.
In the last decade, several media outlets have come under fire for their anti-religious attitudes and for hiring correspondents with little understanding of religious issues. Brexit and the victory of President Donald Trump highlighted the liberal, elite media’s struggle to understand “ordinary people.”
Author and former Associated Press (AP) correspondent Matti Friedman agreed the situation in Israel is even more complex than in the rest of the world, but emphasized the moral aspect over the religious one.
“The Israel story is not a political story, not a violence story, not a Middle East story – it’s a story about morality,” said Friedman. “Stories about Jews are always stories about morality – Jews are the moral actors that fail.”
Friedman, also speaking to Christian media on Tuesday, said Jews have forever claimed to have a moral mission from God. He said the claim that God has given the Jews a special job is “annoying” to some members of the liberal, Western world, and has led to anti-Semitism.
Jews, he explained, have been characterized as acting with unforgiving hostility toward Christians, as greedy, tribal, or too cosmopolitan.
“It’s a deep-thought virus and I think that is what is going here,” said Friedman about the unbalanced focus the media puts on Israel.
Friedman backed up his claim with numbers. While he was working for AP in 2006, the bureau had 40 full-time news staff covering Israel, which, Friedman pointed out, makes up one-one-hundredth of the surface of the world, 0.2 percent of the Arab world, and has only around 8 million citizens.
In contrast, there were far fewer reporters in China (1.4 billion people) or India (1.3 billion people), and more reporters in Israel than in all the sub-Sahara African states and in Africa combined. There was only one AP reporter in Syria in 2006.
Friedman emphasized that interest in Israel goes beyond the perceived high rate of violence and conflict in the region. The entire city of Jerusalem, with its 830,000 residents, had only 18 violent fatalities in the last year, including all people killed in stabbing attacks, assailants nabbed by security forces, Israelis and Palestinians. In contrast, the city of Jacksonville, Indiana had 119 homicides.
“But you won’t see those numbers spelled out because it would undermine the idea that this is a very important story,” Friedman said.
As an example of where anti-Semitism has been leveraged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Caroline Glick at the summit recalled when in 2016 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed rabbis had called to poison Palestinian water in a speech to the Parliament of the European Union. The incident, which was condemned as promoting blood libels and anti-Semitic tropes, was underreported by the mainstream press.
Chris Mitchell, Christian Broadcasting Network News bureau chief in Jerusalem, said one reason for the under-reporting might have been media fatigue.
“We so often hear these blood libels by the PA that the media might just say, ‘Well, here we go again,’” he told the Summit.
Parsons, however, was not willing to let the media off so easy. He said that these types of blood libels are a “Christian import” to the Middle East. As such, reporting on such statements “is important for us as Christian journalists.”
“I am motivated to tell the Muslim world, ‘We got it wrong about the Jewish world before. We are here to tell you what’s wrong,’” Parsons said.
Parsons and Mitchell both said Christian reporters have a Biblical mandate to report the truth from Israel, based on verse 12:33 in 1 Chronicles.
Men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to determine how Yisrael should act. 1 Chronicles 12:33
Mitchell added that in order for Christians to pray for Israel, they need to know the truth. “Our role is to make a complex, complicated region understandable,” he said. “Our audience wants to pray and they want to know how to pray.”
Speaking to Breaking Israel News, Mitchell said Christian media looks at the conflict from a different worldview than its secular counterparts, and he feels that puts those reporters at a disadvantage.
“You cannot understand the situation unless you understand the Bible and the Koran,” said Mitchell. “The Bible informs the situation and the Bible should inform your coverage.”