For several weeks we have been bombarded with international coverage of the Israeli election campaign. A common thread emerged: a surge to the right accompanied by the death of the peace process and even Israeli democracy itself.
The media simply took the figures from the polls and fit them to their own framework.
So the story became one based solely around the fight for votes taking place within the right-wing camp while ignoring developments in the center and left. The media took a particular glee in trying to prove that Israelis were, by and large, political fanatics hellbent on burying any possible prospects for Middle East peace.
Too many commentators in the international press viewed the Israeli elections purely through the prism of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. Too many commentators treated the perceived preferences of the Israeli voters with scorn or outright contempt.
Some examples of recent coverage:
In light of the results, it looks like Oborne got this one wrong as well.
But not content with Oborne’s contribution, the Daily Telegraph published this the next day. Just what is the definition of a “hardline Zionist?”
And “hardline” also made an appearance on the Salon website:
For Sky News it was the “extremist right”:
Granted, not even the Israeli pollsters predicted the surprise results that saw the centrist Yesh Atid party led by former TV personality Yair Lapid emerge as the second largest party behind a weakened Likud Beiteinu of Benjamin Netanyahu. And this when the story was supposed to be about the rise of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), a party to the right of Likud.
This obsession with the right prevented the media from taking a balanced view of political developments that would have called into question the presumption that the electorate had made a dramatic rightward shift. On January 8, Foreign Policy’s Michael Singh saw the same polls as the media but drew very different conclusions that came very close to the reality:
What is noted less often, however, is that left-wing parties have also gained. The same poll shows gains not just for the Labor party, but for the far-left Meretz party as well as social-justice-focused Yesh Atid (which did not previously exist), as well as for Tzipi Livni’s “Movement” party. The losers are the Likud-Israel Beitenu coalition, projected to lose nine seats, and the centrist parties — Kadima, which had twenty-one seats but will cease to exist, and Ehud Barak’s “Independence” party, which will not field candidates with his retirement from the Knesset.
Despite this shifting within both the left and the right, the polls indicate an absence of movement between the two poles. The result, rather startlingly, is that despite the churn, the right-left balance is forecast to remain precisely as it currently stands. The data projects not a more right-wing Knesset, but a more polarized one. It also projects a weaker position for Prime Minister Netanyahu in coalition politics, which could well mean a more right-wing government than that he currently heads, though — depending on what deals he is able to cut — this is hardly a foregone conclusion.
In fact, Israelis did not make a dramatic surge to the right at all, instead leaving the left-right blocs virtually matched. Where the international media saw only extremism, Israeli voters chose moderation. In the cold light of day, the Canadian Globe & Mail‘s headline demonstrated the inability to break free from this fixation, coming as it did after the exit polls had been announced So according to this, every party classified as “right” is “hardline”:
And if you are looking for an even more dire prediction, how about this from MSNBC:
Some of the accompanying commentary from MSNBC’s Rula Jebreal sounds more like it comes from a radical Palestinian figure than a credible foreign policy expert with claims such as: “And if anyone dares to criticize the [Israeli] government, they are invariably accused of being anti-Semitic.”
This is the usual charge aimed at silencing legitimate criticism of Israel’s detractors. Of course, not all criticism of Israel is illegitimate and the anti-Semitism card is more often than not played by critics of Israel attempting to dismiss Israel’s defenders.
But if proof were needed as to the lack of understanding of these elections from some in the international media, look no further than The Independent:
Seemingly unnoticed by the journalist, this Israeli election was fought on domestic and social issues which relegated diplomatic issues to the background. That this was the case certainly did not illustrate a lack of desire for peace on the part of an electorate that has simply grown fed up of taking risks for peace and receiving rockets on their cities in return. In fact, in addition to Netanyahu, who has publicly endorsed a two-state solution, the other two parties in the top three also support this.
Ultimately, there was a marked failure to appreciate that, while other countries in the Middle East are holding elections, there is still only one true and vibrant democracy in the region.