Recently National Journal’s Ron Fournier published this story, “Why Benjamin Netanyahu Should Be Very, Very Worried.” Fournier’s strange line is that the Israelis until recently enjoyed a “near-monopoly” over “the mind share of public-opinion elites.” Partly because those elites “embraced and amplified the Israeli case,” “public opinion in the West, and particularly in the United States, firmly supported Israel.” But now, gee whiz, we have the Internet and “democratized media.” And so, Fournier strangely concludes, although Israel “has the absolute right to defend itself” and although no nation would fail “to respond fiercely to attacks like those of Hamas,” the inevitability of negative media coverage means that the Israelis had better “reset their strategic position with moderate Palestinians.”
Fournier has a point. After all, we now have the estimable Richard Cohen saying in the pages of no less an establishment paper than the Washington Post that Israel “has adopted the morality of its hostile neighbors. Now it bombs cities, killing combatants and non-combatants alike—men as well as women, women as well as children.”
Sorry. My mistake. Cohen said that in 1982, during the Lebanon conflict. Norman Podhoretz cited Cohen in a piece documenting the “explosion of invective against Israel” that year, the year that John Chancellor of NBC commented that “we are now dealing with an imperialist Israel” and that “Israel can't go on much longer horrifying the world by its brutal siege of West Beirut.” As Jonathan Tobin observes in a post at Commentary, if Fournier thinks that Israel has until recently enjoyed a monopoly on elite opinion, he “hasn’t been paying much attention to the coverage of Israel over the last 40 years.” Yes, when CNN correspondent Diane Magnay described some of the Israelis she was covering as “scum” on Twitter, she used saltier language than correspondents once used. But she was doing nothing new.
If you were to add a more triumphalist tone to Fournier’s piece, its assertion that Israel once seamlessly dominated the Western media narrative, but that such dominance is now, for the first time, being challenged, would be perfectly at home in a propaganda outlet like the Electronic Intifada. Of course, Fournier’s piece is written more in sorrow than in anger. But that should not stop us from pointing out, more in sorrow than in anger, that Fournier, who purports to describe recent changes in media coverage, rehearses claims about Israel that long predate the Internet.
Fournier is right to point out that in “the United States, younger Americans are far less likely to say Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip are justified.” Only 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, Gallup recently found, consider Israel’s actions against Hamas justified. That is troubling for Israel’s supporters. But Fournier is wrong to suggest that we are looking at something new, a “generation of global citizens . . . rising to power without the Israeli narrative embedded so firmly in its consciousness.” Sure, Gallup found “only 34% of this age group said they sympathize more with Israel, compared to 22% who sympathize more with the Palestinians,” which must be close to a low. But, come to think of it, Gallup made that particular finding in 2002, during the “Second Intifada.” Did this finding herald a new era? In 2013, 55 percent of Americans aged 18-34 sympathized more with Israel, compared to 12 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians.