Media Falls for NGO’s "Halo Effect"

Many media outlets, including the BBC, Washington Post, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and AFP, have published allegations made by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) that Israeli security services have pressured Palestinians seeking medical treatment outside of Gaza to become informants in violation of international law.

NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg takes up the issue:

Once again, unproven accusations against Israel and stripped of context made by obscure NGOs (the BBC, like other news groups, apparently did not know that PHR-I is an independent organization, and not part of the international PHR framework) were placed at the top of the news ladder. This is the power of the “halo effect”, which protects NGOs that claim lofty goals (particularly if they condemn Israel) from any independent verification by journalists, diplomats and often, and academic researchers.

There are numerous problems with this report that should have given the BBC and other journalists pause, beginning with the questions of credibility and context. Human rights claims are a central part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and have accompanied Palestinian terrorism and Israeli responses for many years….

… the “evidence” is entirely based on unverifiable claims, primarily from 11 interviewees from Gaza who allegedly asked Israel for permission to cross from the territory controlled by Hamas for medical care. Some of these Palestinians may have genuine medical needs, but others may be inventing stories that sell well in an environment that is inherently hostile to Israel.

PHR-I has issued press releases declaring a Palestinian to be dead after Israel refused to allow him to cross the border, but he turned out to be alive. And in NGO reports on Palestinian suffering, Gazans who claimed to have been denied permission to study at universities in the United States were exposed as imposters. Unless the evidence can be checked or independently verified, it should be treated with the same skepticism used by professional journalists regarding other self-serving stories.

In addition, neither the BBC nor most of the other media reports on this story stated that PHR-I is a radical political organization that uses medical and other human rights claims to promote this agenda. As detailed NGO Monitor analyses show, PHR-I, officials, who are funded by misguided European governments, frequently use the rhetoric of demonization, addressing conferences that refer to Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state.


Washington Post –

Daily Telegraph –

The Guardian –

The Independent –


In May 2008, Israel took much of the blame in the media as several Palestinian Fulbright students had their grants withdrawn. In an example of the media’s influence, The New York Times claimed credit in an editorial for an eventual Israeli turnaround in the face of negative media reaction and the resulting US pressure:

After reporting in The Times by Ethan Bronner drew high-level American attention, top State Department officials intervened to restore the students’ Fulbright fellowships that lower-level functionaries had notified them would be withdrawn. Israel has agreed to facilitate special exit permits.

Now, three of the Palestinian students’ Fulbright grants have been withdrawn by the US State Department, which this time states unspecified security concerns. So, while Israel’s own security concerns were previously dismissed by The NY Times and others, the paper now reports:

the American Consulate in Jerusalem sent letters to Mr. Abed and the two other grantees still in Gaza saying “information has come to light that you may be inadmissible to the United States,” and therefore their visas were being revoked. In Washington, Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, declined to get into specifics, but said that the visas were revoked because “we got more information” about the grantees.

Once again, Israel’s image and even policy has been adversely affected by the agenda of the media despite the US evidently reaching the same conclusions as Israel did regarding the backgrounds of some of the Palestinian students. What does this say about the way in which the mainstream media relates to Israel’s security concerns?