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9 Jun, 2010 03:14

Israeli media manipulates public opinion in flotilla conflict

The anger and frustration of Israeli citizens protesting their government’s blockade on Gaza were largely ignored by the country’s media.

One TV editor has given up trying to get news outlets to cover this other side of the story.

“Israeli media does not give the Israeli public a true picture of what is happening,” said Ehud Shem Tov, editor of Israeli Social TV. “All Israeli military correspondents worked in the army and there is a deep connection between them because they rely on the army and for contacts and access to information. The Israel Defense Forces controlled the way the flotilla videos were presented in the media. They chose to release them one by one so they could make their message clearer. They also seized all the footage from the flotilla so they could control it. Definitely there are videos that the army is not releasing.”

But the images it did release, the world knows well – an Israeli naval boat by the protestor’s ship, with passengers apparently beating up Israeli troops. In the raid's aftermath, the images were seen by millions when they became the most watched videos on You Tube.

Lieutenant Aliza Landes heads up the Israeli Defense Forces new media department. She is in charge of the IDF’s cyber presence. But she has come in for heavy criticism like the posting of this image of equipment on board the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara.

“A blogger called up the information for the picture and as you can see it says 1998. We looked into it and as it turns out, one of the photographer’s camera had a technical problem and the internal date wasn’t set properly. But you can see in our videos the same equipment being taken right next to the Marmara, so the question whether or not these pictures are authentic, I think the answer is clear,” she said.

For Israelis it is always clear – their army can do no wrong, it is the heart and soul of this nation – the most trusted of all institutions and no one here would dare to question it.

But Professor Tamar Liebes, from the Department of Communication at Hebrew University, says there’s no way of properly understanding what happened on board the ship by simply looking at the released videos.

“Pre-perception very much dictates what you see,” Liebes maintained. “It’s very difficult to understand the mess of the very unclear pictures of this boat. There isn’t a very clear picture that can change your whole view of what you say. It’s a terrible trap, this whole business of media.”

When it seized the flotilla, the army confiscated all recording devices from activists and journalists onboard. It has released only its own edited footage of parts of the raid.

Protest organizers say it also doctored the audio on that footage.

“Israel is in the business of manipulating public opinion, it has been in this business for 40 or 50 years,” claimed Danny Schechter, blogger, filmmaker and media critic. “They are very smart about how to create a media narrative, how to present themselves as the victims in almost every instance and how to portray anyone else as the aggressor or even anti-Semitic.”

The footage that has been chosen to be shown in Israel is a video of the demonstrations of citizens in solidarity with their army. Even when this particular media war by Israel is over, Tel Aviv will continue to use both television and the internet to get its message across in this long-running dispute.