Friday, April 8, 2016

What Israel Does When the World's Not Watching

Updated August 2017

A study by Ruben Durante and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya examines the timing relationship between significant attacks by Israeli forces on Palestine and Syria and important non-Israeli news coverage in the United States to see whether there is a link between the two that could be used to distract both the media and the public.  This is particularly pertinent given the spate of stabbings across Israel in recent months that have received relatively little coverage by the Western mainstream media and the comments by Israeli Intelligence Minister  following the killing of an American citizen:

"We are in the midst of a war against ISIS-style Muslim extremist terror.  We are in an emergency situation. There are murderers here who are motivated by hatred and we cannot allow Jews to continue to get harmed. There is an intifada of incitement. We must restore deterrence, so I must ask all the higher than thou who scold us to understand our current reality."

This posting is also pertinent given the March 2016 street execution of an obviously unthreatening Palestinian by a member of the IDF as shown here (1 minute 54 second mark):

Given that it could be classified as a war crime, the incident has received relatively little coverage by the mainstream media.

The authors of the study begin by noting that governments are accountable for their actions "to the extent that the public is informed about their actions" and that the mainstream media is the main tool by which governments are held accountable to their citizens.  In this 24 hour a day 7 day a week news world that we now live in, news organizations have a multitude of story lines to cover.  Yet, as is clearly apparent, when a major unpredictable news event occurs (i.e. an airplane crash, a major earthquake in Japan etcetera), news networks and online versions of mainstream newspapers devote most of their attention to that single event, pretty much paying lip service to anything else that happens in the world.  While no one can predict the timing of human-made or natural disasters, there are some predictable news events including key sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Super Bowl as well as political events including elections, speeches by important figures and the State of the Union Address which draws the attention of most media consumers.  These events lead to what are termed high news pressure days.  With that reality in mind, the authors look at how the presence of newsworthy items crowds out new coverage of unpopular actions taken by governments, focussing specifically on the seemingly endless Israel-Palestine conflict and whether the timing of military actions by both sides coincide with other newsworthy events.  In both nations, there is a great deal of concern about international public opinion, particularly the opinion of Americans as it relates to civilian casualties.  This is exemplified in these comments from Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview with Wolf Blitzer in July 2014:

"They're not only targeting our cities.  They're deliberately firing thousands of rockets.  They have already fired 2,000 rockets in the last few days on our cities.  You can imagine this.  It's not only that.  And they wanted to kill as many of our six million Israelis who are targeted as they could....Terrorists pop up there, try to murder civilians, kidnap Israelis, as they did with Gilad Shalit.  So we're taking action right now to neutralize those tunnels.  And we will continue the action as long as is necessary."

"We're sad for every civilian casualty.  They're not intended.  This is the difference between us.  The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians.  They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their - their other weaponry from where - which they fire - which they use to fire on us in civilian areas.  What choice do we have?  We have to protect ourselves.  So we try to target the rocketeers.  We do.  And all civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas.  They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can, because somebody said they use - it's gruesome.  They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.  They want the more dead the better."

The authors hypothesize that Israeli authorities wish to avoid media coverage of their military operations if those operations are expected to result in civilian casualties since this can and has resulted in criticism from human rights organizations and increases the risk of alienation from the United States.  In the case of Palestine, their incentives for timing their attacks is less clear cut since attacks by Palestine that result in Israeli civilian casualties can have a two-pronged impact:

1.) they can sway international opinion against Palestine.

2.) they can result in increased popular support for terrorist organizations within Palestine.

As a database, the authors use a daily time series on the occurrence and severity of Israeli military attacks on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and attacks by Palestinian militant groups on Israeli territory between September 29, 2000 and November 24, 2011.  Over this time frame, there were 7690 fatalities on both sides of which 6401 were Palestinian.  This included Operation Cast Lead which took place in December 2008 and January 2009 which accounted for nearly 18 percent of all fatalities as shown on this figure:

The data includes information on the number of attacks and resulting casualties carried out by each side on each day.  The authors then compare this data to the presence of other newsworthy events on international media which is measured as the time devoted to the top three news storied that are not related to either Israel or Palestine as covered on the evening news for three American television networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC and CNN's around the clock news coverage.  The authors observed that when attacks between the two nations reach a level of severity, the public's attention to the conflict is increased and the daily volume of Google searches for the search topic "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" increases by 35 percent if all three networks feature a story about a particular attack on prime time news.  This tells us that media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the attention of the public to the conflict.

The authors' main hypothesis that Israel times its attacks to other newsworthy events that may crowd out coverage of the attacks involves a concept termed "news pressure".  Since the three main networks have only 30 minutes to communicate the days news, higher interest news items can crowd out stories that are either repetitive (i.e. a drawn out conflict like the War on Terror) or mundane. 

The timing of news coverage of attacks is very important and the authors note that there is a timing difference to news releases by each side in the conflict.   It is apparent that the Israelis behave strategically when it comes to releasing news about Palestinian attacks on Israelis.  Israelis bring international journalists to the site of an attack right after the attack takes place (i.e. same day coverage), allowing them to film the site and interview witnesses because they realize the importance of such coverage on international opinion.  In the case of Israeli attacks on Palestine, there are generally very few if any international journalists on the ground immediately after the attack because of the dangers involved (i.e. next day coverage).  In the case of Palestinian deaths, funerals occur on the day following death and the crowds of onlookers and mourners provides ample protection for journalists against Israeli attacks meaning that most news coverage of Palestinian casualties occurs the day after the attack.  The authors observe that, in general, next day coverage is less favourable to Israel, largely because it is more personal and more emotionally charged and they note that, on average, twice as many stories about the conflict appear on the news on the day of an Israeli attack than on the next day.  The analysis shows that Israeli attacks are more likely to occur prior to days with very high news pressure driven by clearly predictable events. 

Here is the author's conclusion:

"Taken together, our findings suggest that Israeli authorities behave strategically in timing their attacks to predictable international newsworthy events in order to minimize negative publicity abroad, and that such strategy is sophisticated in that it takes into account both the technology of news reporting in war areas and the cognitive psychology of information transmission and retention."

Back in 2001, this is what Benjamin Netanyahu had to say about America during an informal discussion with Israeli citizens:

"Netanyahu:...The Arabs are currently focusing on a war of terror and they think it will break us. The main thing, first of all, is to hit them. Not just one blow, but blows that are so painful that the price will be too heavy to be borne. The price is not too heavy to be borne, now. A broad attack on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to the point of being afraid that everything is collapsing...

Woman: Wait a moment, but then the world will say "how come you're conquering again?"

Netanyahu: the world won't say a thing. The world will say we're defending.

Woman: Aren't you afraid of the world, Bibi?

Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.

Apparently so.

1 comment:

  1. Sites that daily report the truth of what is happening on both sides are needed. The truth is what we want to know. We understand from reading above that Israeli laws control much of what happens on the ground with respect to journalism, so the regularity of reporting varies from one side to the other. Please name a site that reports the truth on both sides as it becomes available. The mainstream sites you name above remain unused by us for many years now.