In this age of mounting international tension along cultural, religious, political, and ideological lines, it is more important than ever to pursue objectivity and to avoid subliminal implications in our journalistic endeavors. Unfortunately, many news sources are increasingly providing fanciful opinion pieces instead of straightforward reporting of reality.
On September 23rd, The New York Times published an article by Thom Shanker entitled, “U.S. Quietly Supplies Israel With Bunker-Busting Bombs”. As the title suggests, the article details the recent transfer of specialized weaponry from the United States to Israel. While the article itself is rather innocuous in its presentation and overall character, a few isolated points took me by surprise and left me with a bitter aftertaste.
I realized that certain phrases, specific wordings, and the underlying tone of the article could contribute to a proliferation of unwarranted anti-Israel sentiments. Before even arriving at the body of text, the title of the article implies that the established relationship of military cooperation between the two countries has morphed into some kind of shady, under-the-table deal. In reality, there is nothing secretive or mysterious about this alliance – the article could have easily been titled “U.S. Routinely Continues Its Military Aid to Israel.”
The article claims that “Israel had sought this class of weaponry for many years.” According to Shanker, several attempts had previously been made to deliver the bombs in question, but never obtained final approval because “Pentagon officials were frustrated that Israel had transferred military technology to China.” The mention of the U.S. government’s hesitation to transfer these weapons at an earlier date because “there were deep concerns that if the United States supplied bunker-busting bombs to Israel, it might be viewed as having tacitly endorsed an attack on Iran” makes it seem as if Israel had been rocking on its heels, waiting impatiently for the go-ahead from the United States for years. Without any contextual background on Israel’s dire need for self-defense against its neighbors (who continue to reject Israel’s very legitimacy and have expressed ambitions to wipe it off the map, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously declared in 2005), the article inadmissibly portrays Israel as belligerent and weapon-hungry.
The concluding paragraph, however, strikes the most dissonant chord by adding that “the arms transfers could help President Obama’s political standing among Jewish voters.”
“Israeli-American relations have been bruised by a variety of political and geopolitical matters, and efforts by the administration to strengthen the Israeli military may convince some voters that the president is sufficiently supportive of Israel.”
Jewish voters in the United States fall into every category within the socioeconomic and political spectrum, and make their decisions based on the same factors as any other Americans. While it is true that a majority of Jews look for active support of Israel in a potential presidential candidate, it is far from the only issue at stake in determining their support for a current or future president. It is important to note that the United States is not doing Israel a favor out of pure generosity, since the political interests of the United States include a militarily dominant Israel as a bastion of democracy in an extremely volatile and often hostile Middle East. Furthermore, the two countries have been military allies since Israel’s independence in 1948 and continue to trade military technology on a regular basis.
There are numerous policies and actions based on which Jewish voters judge the merits and shortfalls of President Obama, and the notion that a single, arguably “routine” act of military support will sway them one way or the other is absurd, to say the least.
The final sentence proposes that the military aid will serve as a testament to the administration’s commitment to Israeli affairs and persuade voters that President Obama is “sufficiently supportive of Israel,” suggesting that Jewish Americans can be instantly won over by a transfer of bombs. While a strong military alliance is paramount to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, a particular arms deal hardly constitutes “sufficient” support; there are many components to international aid and the military is by no means the only one. Even this seemingly accidental depiction of Jews and the state of Israel as warmongering and trigger-happy is devastating: it sends an utterly inappropriate message and, by propagating generalities, potentially invites anti-Semitism.
If the thousands of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas and other terrorist organizations are taken into account, Israel does indeed have justification for saber-rattling, and yet never resorts to military action unless absolutely necessary. The tiny country of 7.5 million people has been attacked numerous times in its short existence and faced almost insurmountable odds against countries desperately striving for its destruction. If one of the countries neighboring the United States (or any country in the world) continuously fired long-range rockets into the mainland, killing innocent civilians and injuring hundreds more, the U.S. would unquestionably retaliate immediately. And yet, every time Israel commits an act of self-defense, there is an international uproar of unbelievable proportions. It’s difficult to understand why Israel is the only country subjected to such a puzzling double standard, but it is not hard to see why the United States is a vital part of Israel’s defense.
While the imprudent approach of this article has evident implications for Jews, everybody suffers from such journalistic misconduct because it completely undermines the implicit duty of the media to objectively report the news. The problems caused by this article should remind us that even the shortest, most innocent-looking reports can shed an alarmingly derogatory light on virtually anyone if the proper context is missing, and we must try to spot these inconsistencies to prevent the media from securing a permanently negative niche in our culture.
- U.S. Quietly Supplies Israel With Bunker-Busting Bombs (nytimes.com)