Par­tic­u­lar kind of bad news

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Mar­cus Dysch

ARE­CENT story in the West Sus­sex County Times was head­lined: Woman de­scribes her Is­rael trip from hell. It sounded a fas­ci­nat­ing tale, fea­tur­ing a West Chilt­ing­ton woman ex­plain­ing her “or­deal in an Is­raeli prison”. Read­ers were told that, “Au­drey Gray, 77, was in­vited to Beth­le­hem to a refugee camp to help plant olive trees.” Av­er­age West Chilt­ing­ton read­ers must have been gripped by this ter­ri­fy­ing ac­count of one of their own be­ing banged up abroad. I was, mo­men­tar­ily, fas­ci­nated by the pen­sioner’s plight. But then, with the next line, the penny dropped.

“How­ever, when she reached Tel Aviv Ben Gu­rion in­ter­na­tional air­port, she, along with 12 oth­ers, was ar­rested.” Ar­rested with 12 oth­ers? Hmm. Ms Gray said she was “just vis­it­ing friends” and “didn’t think there would be a prob­lem”. Her treat­ment in the prison was “in­hu­mane” — there was “just no hu­man­ity”. She “lost all con­cept of time” and “couldn’t re­ally re­mem­ber a life be­fore or af­ter”. Ac­cord­ing to the County Times’s re­porter, Char­lotte Pearson, Ms Gray and her friends were “never told why they had been ar­rested” even when board­ing their plane home.

The story, as JC read­ers will re­alise, is a dis­tor­tion; Ms Gray ap­pears rather adept at me­dia spin. She was, of course, one of the 12 anti-Is­rael ac­tivists held af­ter fly­ing to the coun­try as part of last month’s fly­tilla cam­paign.

Not that you would know it from the County Times’s story. It fails to men­tion the wellpub­li­cised ini­tia­tive. To an un­know­ing reader, the re­port presents an open-and-shut case. Is this merely an ex­am­ple of poor stan­dards from a re­porter who has been fed a line and fallen for it, or some­thing in­dica­tive of a wider prob­lem?

I would sug­gest a bit of both. Can Ms Pearson re­ally be ex­pected to un­der­stand the in­tri­ca­cies of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict when re­port­ing on vil­lage fêtes in West Chilt­ing­ton? Per­haps not. But did it not cross her mind to con­tact the Is­raeli Em­bassy to ask for its ver­sion of events? Did she not think it wise to in­form read­ers of the wider con­text of Ms Gray’s visit? Ms Gray —with her own agenda — could not be ex­pected to give the Is­raeli side of the story, but surely it was the re­porter’s duty to fill in the gaps?

Ms Pearson’s fail­ure to in­clude a sin­gle word about the true na­ture of pro-Pales­tinian ac­tivist Ms Gray’s visit is greatly dis­ap­point­ing.

How­ever, it is also clear that the wider is­sue — the ef­fec­tive­ness with which an­tiIs­rael cam­paign­ers are find­ing an un­chal­lenged voice in lo­cal and na­tional me­dia — is a prob­lem for Is­rael and its sup­port­ers. The “un­der­dog” tag is one that ap­peals greatly in this coun­try. It is an ob­sta­cle that ad­vo­cates of Is­rael must find a way around.

How many West Chilt­ing­to­ni­ans took the story at face value, con­vinced that Is­rael ran­domly stops Bri­tish pen­sion­ers who have been “in­vited” to refugee camps, locks them up for a few days and then sends them pack­ing?

Out of its true con­text, the story presents a wholly neg­a­tive view of Is­rael to read­ers who may rarely study any in-depth news about the coun­try or the con­flict.

As we re­ported last week, pro-Is­rael cam­paign­ers around Bri­tain — many of them Chris­tians like Ms Gray — are now rais­ing their ef­forts to com­bat the over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive por­trayal in the me­dia. But with sto­ries such as this slip­ping into lo­cal pa­pers ev­ery week – of­ten missed and un­chal­lenged – Is­rael’s friends clearly have their work cut out.

Mar­cus Dysch is a JC re­porter

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