National Public Radio correspondent Guy Raz argued that the media’s preoccupation with the Palestine-Israel conflict contributes to anti-Semitism in a talk on Thursday.
Raz, who has worked as a reporter for CNN in Jerusalem and as a correspondent in several other countries, spoke on “Covering Anti-Semitism: From Nazi Germany to the Modern Middle East, A Reporter’s Notebook” at the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies. The central topics Raz discussed were how and why the media has discounted anti-Semitism in its coverage, and how this problem can be ameliorated.
Raz began by giving examples of how, in the 1930s, the BBC was greatly influenced by Nazi Germany in its coverage. Raz said the BBC not only distorted its portrayal of the treatment of Jews in the Holocaust but also barely covered the genocide. The stories were limited to “20-second descriptions,” he said, and from 1933 to 1938 only about half of the 40 stories printed about Jews actually dealt with the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany.
“There was a major discrepancy between what [reporters] knew and what they reported,” Raz said.
Raz connected his argument to the modern world by explaining that things such as “time constraints and editorial disinterest” often make it hard, even for Jewish journalists like himself, to portray the depth of anti-Semitism that they have found, especially in the Middle East.
He also said that very few journalists who covered the Palestine-Israel conflict are well-informed, which contributes to the spread of misleading information. Many editors or reporters have also been biased because of previous professional experience, he said.
Raz said there are close to 600 or 700 correspondents in Israel, more than anywhere else in the world. The best thing that could be done to abate anti-Semitism in the media is to bring more coverage to other areas around the world like Darfur, which also has a vast number of casualties and is close to ignored by the media, he said.
“As long as anti-Semitism is dismissed, the conflict will continue,” he said. “Anti-Jewish sentiment is an impediment towards democratization.”
Robert Fishman, the executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, said he agreed with 90 percent of what Raz said, but that it was important to assess Raz’s arguments from a journalistic, rather than academic, standpoint.
“I would have liked to have heard more anecdotes [Raz had heard] from other journalists,” Fishman said.
Allon Canaan, an associate research scientist in genetics, said that journalists are occasionally biased because, as Canaan said, “behind the journalist, there is a person.” But he added that this realization of fallibility was not a sufficient solution to the problem.
Ursula Duba, a writer and teacher from Stony Creek, Conn., said she believed Raz’s argument that the overemphasis of the Palestine-Israel conflict instigates anti-Semitism.
“The criticism of Israel should be in proportion to that of [other nations],” Duba said. “To judge Jewish people with a different yardstick is Jew-hatred.”
Raz’s talk was part of the year-long “Anti-Semitism in Comparative Perspective” seminar series, which is co-sponsored by ISPS and the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy.