As Ariel Sharon faces potentially the most difficult battle of his long political and military career, much of the mainstream media has been remarkably generous in their praise of the Israeli prime minister.
Indeed, Tom Gross, writing in the Jerusalem Post, notes that “overall, the international coverage of Sharon since his stroke has been relatively kind…. I use the term “relatively kind” because it is important to recall what the coverage of Sharon was like until just a few weeks ago. He was not only reviled in the international media but frequently portrayed in viciously anti-Semitic terms.”
A HISTORY OF DEMONIZATION
Throughout the years, and particularly since his 2001 election as prime minister, the international media has treated Ariel Sharon with more vitriol and abuse than any other democratically elected leader in the civilized world.
Sharon has been depicted in less than flattering terms by many media outlets who have labeled him as a “war criminal” and a “butcherer”, a trend that still continues to this day:
A cursory examination reveals Sharon to be more an unindicted war criminal than a peacemaker. His bloody record has been extensively documented by British journalist David Hirst, Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, and several others. However, rather than being placed in the dock at the International Criminal Court, Sharon is now receiving effusive praise from Western elites for his commitment to peace. (Scott Burchill, The Australian, 11 Jan 2006)
THE MYTH OF “SPARKING THE SECOND INTIFADA”
One of the most pervasive myths appearing in the international media is the accusation that Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount was responsible for the outbreak of Palestinian violence against Israel. Some news outlets have swallowed this distortion:
In September 2000, he made a provocative visit to al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, regarded by Jews as the site of their ancient temple. Having thus ignited the Palestinian uprising, he was propelled to power five months later on a promise to crush the revolt. (Daily Telegraph, 6 Jan 2006)
His provocative visit to the Temple Mount in October 2000 undid the work of Rabin and Ehud Barak and triggered the second, and deadlier, Palestinian intifada. (South Africa Sunday Times, 8 Jan 2006)
This particular peace strategy ceased to exist on the day in 2000 when Mr Sharon ventured onto the precincts of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (known to Jews as the Temple Mount) and sparked off a new intifada. (John Simpson, BBC News Online, 9 Jan 2006)
This, despite the evidence to the contrary as stated by members of the Palestinian leadership themselves:
Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong.. . . This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. (Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji, Al-Safir, 3 March 2001. Translated by MEMRI)
In addition, the Mitchell Report submitted by the investigatory committee set up to look into the causes of the outbreak of violence concluded:
The Sharon visit did not cause the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
SABRA AND SHATILA
A charge also leveled at Sharon is the claim that he is responsible for the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the 1982 Lebanon War, an inaccuracy echoed by a number of media outlets:
Sharon’s political nadir was the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla by allied Christian Lebanese militias, whom the Israelis had brought up to do the killing. (H.D.S. Greenway, The Boston Globe, 10 Jan 2006)
…This, after all, was the man who, until very recently, was regarded as an international pariah, the ‘Butcher of Beirut,’ the man ultimately responsible for the appalling atrocities that took place at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. (Con Coughlin, The Daily Telegraph, 6 Jan 2006)
In fact, as detailed by Mitchell Bard’s Myths & Facts, the killings were carried out by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia (whose members have still not been held accountable). Israel’s own Kahane Commission found that Israel and Ariel Sharon were indirectly responsible for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence. Sharon thus resigned his position as Defense Minister.
A MEDIA U-TURN OR GROSS HYPOCRISY?
While the late conversion of some media outlets to a more balanced and fairer treatment of Sharon is welcome, HonestReporting notes how the media’s attitude t
hroughout Sharon’s career has been infected with opinion and prejudice that has significantly contributed to the campaign of demonization against Israel. As illustrated by some of the examples in this communique, this trend still exists in many quarters.
The sudden u-turn of many of Sharon’s detractors demonstrates the fickleness of a media that has promoted its own opinion of the truth with utter disregard for the consequences. This power to shape perceptions and mould public opinion reinforces the need to hold the media accountable for its work.
The thoughts of HonestReporting are with Ariel Sharon and his family and we urge readers to remain vigilant and to respond to further media distortions of his history. (See the Jewish Virtual Library for a detailed biography.)
Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.