One of the best ideas I've heard in a long time. About time we got someone with teeth working on the side of Israel!
Analyst responds to negative media coverage of Israel by painting European country in bad light
Published: 10.01.07, 20:48 / Israel News
When the foreign media presents a skewered image of Israel in its coverage of the Middle East, the traditional responses from Israel's defenders - writing letters, or initiating an ongoing dialogue with journalists - are a complete waste of time, according to Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld, a Jewish public affairs expert.
Gerstenfeld, a senior member of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), is the creator of the "Bad News About the Netherlands" project, an initiative he said was aimed at showing Israel's media warriors that attack is the best form defense.
Gerstenfeld's approach is simple. He said that just as foreign media coverage of Israel lacks context, and blackens Israel's image through a focus on mainly negative news, the same biased spotlight can be directed at any country in the world.
Gerstenfeld, who moved to Israel from Holland in the 1960s, chose to place his attention on his former homeland whose media, he noted, has carried its fair share of "horrible" anti-Israel bias.
Over the past few months, he has delivered lectures on negative news developments in Holland, and placed a number of media items on an internet blog which paint an unflattering picture of the Netherlands. His efforts have received increasing amounts of media coverage in Holland, Israel, and elsewhere.
"In mid-May, accusations of torture surfaced against Dutch soldiers serving in Iraq," a news item from Gerstenfeld's blog said. The soldiers were said to use an electric cable and other torture methods while interrogating Iraqis. At the same time, reports surfaced that the Dutch ministry of defense knew "almost in real-time that a Dutch soldier deliberately shot dead an Iraqi thief, in violation of engagement guidelines. In its cover up of the affair, the Dutch defense ministry lied by saying that the thief was accidentally shot," the news item continued.
Other headlines highlighted by Gerstenfeld include a court ruling against the leader of the Dutch Liberal VVD Party, Mark Rutte, who was found guilty of racist incitement while serving as deputy welfare minister.
During his tenure, Rutte singled out Somali immigrants in a letter to local authorities, warning them that the immigrants were likely to cheat in their welfare requests. Some 84 Somali immigrants were interrogated as a result of Rutte's letter.
"I've just received three negative news items about Holland today, and of course there's no end to it," Gerstenfeld said during an interview with Ynetnews. "Attack is better. This is true in media and true in business," added the veteran business consultant and environmental specialist.
"The media war is part of total war. While Israel gets into extreme difficulties in order to defend itself on the ground, it does not invest a fraction of the same money in the media battle," he said, describing the Israeli government as a "verbal vegetarian."
"The Israeli government is the only one in the world to understate the misdeeds of its enemies. We never tell people who the Palestinians truly are," Gerstenfeld insisted.
Asked whether he planned to expand his experiment to other countries, Gerstenfeld said, "the Bad News project can be extended in variety of directions. I want to initiate this in order to have others copy it for other countries. We've started to have inquiries from the UK, and France.
"It's so simple to do, and so effective, that I think it will develop in the years to come without me putting too much time into it."
Gerstenfeld added that "two Dutch papers, which have published horrible things about Israel, are now open to me as a result," noting that he has published opinion articles and commentaries in the papers. Despite these positive results, however, Gerstenfeld said the Dutch media on the whole have "missed the point" of his exercise.
'Shooting the messenger'
One of Gerstenfeld's most outspoken critics is Conny Mus, chief correspondent of RTL News in Israel and a former chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel.
"Manfred Gerstenfeld (is) a self-made media analyst," Mus told Ynetnews, adding that the project "is in my opinion not serious... you cannot compare the media coverage in Holland with the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"If you do not like the message, shoot the messenger, (this) is a well-known saying in our profession, and the ground for his motivation," Mus added.
"Mr Gerstenfeld is a right-wing Dutch immigrant, with very close (ties) to the settlers' ideology (and) opinions. (It is) very easy to accuse foreign Dutch journalists of being biased, anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ugly conflict, where Palestinians are being killed every day, and where the Israeli population is living in fear of terror… This conflict is covered by us foreign journalist in an honest and balanced manner, and therefore I am proud to be part of the foreign journalist community," Mus maintained.
"The stories we broadcast are difficult, sensitive, and always (provide) grounds for emotional reactions, like the ones from Mr Gerstenfeld. But... amateur investigations with emotions as a citizen of this country, which Mr Gerstenfeld is, do not contribute to a solution or understanding," the veteran Dutch journalist added.
"Shooting below the belt is not justified, we as foreign journalist are not anti-Israel, anti-Semites and or anti-Palestinians, we are involved in honest reporting, without... taking into account which story is good or bad for anyone," he added.