January/February 2001
Western Wall

The Media's Stockholm Syndrome

By Michael Freund
January, 10 2001

(January 10) - Under normal circumstances, a nation under threat has an almost instinctive tendency to put aside its internal squabbles and band together to confront the dangers that may lie ahead. This truism was valid even in ancient times, as the Greek philosopher Aristotle noted in his work Politics: "A common danger unites even the bitterest of enemies."

But it seems as if some of Israel's leading journalists and columnists are neither familiar with the writings of Aristotle nor proponents of national unity. For despite ongoing Palestinian violence, terrorism and incitement, they continue to play the "Blame it on Israel" game as if nothing had happened over the past three months.

On Sunday, a few days after bombs exploded in Netanya and Tel Aviv, injuring dozens of innocent Israelis, Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz bemoaned Israel's "cruelty" and "brutality" and defended the Palestinians' "justified feelings of hatred and desire for revenge."

Yediot Aharonot columnist B. Michael, in a column two days earlier, was even more blunt when he wrote: "Did we think that if we start to behave like a terrorist organization, they [the Palestinians] would start to behave like a country of law?"

Whatever one's views are about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the preferred manner in which it should be addressed, it is difficult to understand how anyone could suggest that a moral equivalence exists between Palestinian violence and terror, and Israel's defensive measures. The difference between an Israeli soldier who fires at an assailant and a Palestinian who places a bomb on a bus is the difference between right and wrong.

That the foreign media engage in duplicitous comparisons between the IDF and the Palestinians is not surprising, given the average journalist's ignorance of Israel's history and complexity. But no such excuse is applicable when it comes to Israelis.

Take, for example, Ma'ariv columnist Gal Okhovsky who, in a column on December 29, decided to enlighten his readers regarding the "good things" that have resulted from the intifada, chief among them that it has reminded everyone "of the fact that Israeli rule in the territories includes cruel repression."

Questioning whether Israelis truly view Palestinians as human beings, Okhovsky ominously suggests, "It is possible that Israelis have to learn another lesson before they can psychologically come to terms with true peace."

Indeed, the manner in which some Israeli journalists seem to identify so completely with the Palestinians leads one to believe that perhaps there exists an Israeli version of the Stockholm Syndrome, a term coined by psychologists to describe a situation in which a victim emotionally bonds with his abuser. The term arose in 1973 after several Swedes held captive in a bank vault for six days during a robbery became psychologically attached to their captors; it seems equally applicable here.

How else can one explain the chorus of neurosis in the Israeli media? Ehud Barak crossed traditional red lines on the most sensitive of issues and offered Yasser Arafat far more than he could possibly have hoped for. Arafat responded by launching an intifada, whose "highlights" have included the Ramallah lynchings, the Kfar Darom schoolbus bombing, the arson at Joseph's Tomb and the recent blasts in Hadera, Netanya and Tel Aviv. Despite this, the voices of enmity and division continue to lash out, laying the blame not on Arafat for killing Jews, but on Israel for defending them.

In a January 1 column, Gideon Samet of Ha'aretz warned readers about the "lurking danger" of "right-wing and ultra-Orthodox reactionary forces" and said that a movement must arise with the goal of "stopping Israel from sliding into the Third World."

Though Israel may have left the Diaspora behind, it seems not to have shaken the Diaspora mentality, in which Jews would typically tear themselves apart with self-criticism, and even self-hatred, in the hope that our enemies would hate us less.

Sadly, some of our journalists carry on this dubious tradition.

(The writer served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.)

©Jerusalem Post

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