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How to Write About Israel

Written by Daniel Greenfield

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Writing about Israel is a booming field. No news agency, be it ever so humble, can avoid embedding a few correspondents and a dog's tail of stringers into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to sit in cafes clicking away on their laptops, meeting up with leftist NGO's and the oppressed Muslim of the week.

Reportersnotebook-largeAt a time when international desks are being cut to the bone, this is the one bone that the newshounds won't give up. Wars can be covered from thousands of miles away, genocide can go to the back page, but, when a rock flies in the West Bank, there had better be a correspondent with a fake continental accent and a khaki shirt to cover it.

Writing about Israel isn't hard. Anyone who has consumed a steady diet of media over the years already knows all the bullet points. The trick is arranging them artistically, like so many wilted flowers, in the story of this week's outrage.

Israel is hot, even in the winter, with the suggestion of violence brimming under the surface. It should be described as a "troubled land." Throw in occasional ironic biblical references and end every article or broadcast by emphasizing that peace is still far away. 

It has two types of people; the Israelis who live in posh houses stocked with all the latest appliances and the Arabs who live in crumbling shacks that are always in danger of being bulldozed. The Israelis are fanatical, the Arabs are passionate. The Israelis are hate-filled, while the Arabs are embittered. The Israelis have everything while the Arabs have nothing.

Avoid mentioning all the mansions that you pass on the way to interviewing some Palestinian Authority or Hamas bigwig. When visiting a terrorist prisoner in an Israeli jail, be sure to call him a militant, somewhere in the fifth paragraph, but do not mention the sheer amount of food in the prison, especially if he is on a hunger strike. If you happen to notice that the prisoners live better than most Israelis, that is something you will not refer to. Instead describe them as passionate and embittered. Never ask them how many children they killed or how much they make a month. Ask them what they think the prospects for peace are. Nod knowingly when they say that it's up to Israel.

Weigh every story one way. Depersonalize Israelis, personalize Muslims. One is a statistic, the other a precious snowflake. A Muslim terrorist attack is always in retaliation for something, but an Israeli attack is rarely a retaliation for anything. When Israeli planes bomb a terrorist hideout, suggest that this latest action only feeds the "Cycle of Violence" and quote some official who urges Israel to return to peace negotiations-- whether or not there actually are any negotiations to return to.

Center everything around peace negotiations. If Israel has any domestic politics that don't involve checkpoints and air strikes, do your best to avoid learning about them. Frame all Israeli politics by asking whether a politician is finally willing to make the compromises that you think are necessary for peace. Always sigh regretfully and find them wanting. Assume that all Israelis think the same way. Every vote is a referendum on the peace process. A vote for a conservative party means that Israelis hate peace.

The Israelis can also be divided into two categories. There are the good Israelis, who wear glasses, own iPads and live in trendy neighborhoods. They are very concerned that the country is losing its soul by oppressing another people. They strum out-of-date American peace songs on guitars that they play badly, but which you will describe them as playing "soulfully", and they show up at rallies demanding that the government make peace with the Palestinians.

Your good Israelis invariably volunteer or work for some NGO, a fact that you may or may not mention in your article, but you are not to discuss who funds their NGO, particularly if it's a foreign government. Write about them as if they are the hope of an otherwise brutish and unreasonable Israel too obsessed with killing and destroying to listen to the hopeful voices of its children. 

When writing about them, act as if they are representative of the country's youth and its best and brightest, which for all you know they might be, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like them, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like you. When you do it's either a taxi driver, repairman or some working-class fellow whom you have nothing in common with, and who turns out to be a raving militant when it comes to the terrorism question.

These are the other Israelis. The big swarthy men who have no interest in alternative art exhibits. If you have to deal with them at all, get a quote from them about their hopes for peace and how much they dislike the government. Pretend that the two things are connected, and that everything that your friends, who are aspiring artists and playwrights, as well as volunteer humanitarians, told you about the country being ready to rise up against right-wingers like Barak and Netanyahu, to demand peace, is absolutely true. Don't ask yourself why the country keeps electing right-wingers; if you do, turn it into an essay that touches on Holocaust trauma and biblical hatred.

At some point, you will have to write about the thin bearded men in black hats rushing through the streets on their inscrutable errands. Describe them as "Ultra-Orthodox", even if the word does not seem to mean anything, and pretend that they're all the same. If anyone tries to explain the distinctions to you, ignore them. When writing about them, be sure to imply that they are ignorant and fanatical. Mention their growing numbers as a danger to the survival of the state, associate them wrongly with the right wing and throw in some of the complaints from your friends about the "Schorim", the blacks,  moving in and destroying secular neighborhoods.

Israeli soldiers should be depicted looming menacingly over children. Your stringers are already experienced at urging a child into camera range, then getting down on one knee and tilting the camera up just as an Israeli soldier walks into the frame. If there isn't time to set up the shot, get what you can. The photo can be cropped afterward to show just the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian child, even if the two are not actually interacting in any way.

In print, contrast the bored detachment of the soldiers with the prolonged miserable suffering of the Arab Muslims. Checkpoint lines should consist entirely of old and pregnant women waiting to visit their families. If you are Jewish then mention that the soldiers have given you special treatment on account of your race, even if the actual reason is because you are a journalist and your kind doesn't set off bombs, your kind acts as the propaganda corps for those who set off bombs.

When visiting "settlers," a term that currently covers a sizable portion of the country, describe them as "dogged" and "fanatical." Dwell on their beards and on their assault rifles. Find some American ones and disarm them with hometown mentions of Brooklyn or Baltimore and then dig for a hateful comment. If you can't get a properly damning quote from one of them, get it from one of their children. If you have no luck there, hit up one of your NGO friends, preferably with a degree, to give you a quote on the danger that they pose to peace. 

Convey to the reader that there is something disturbing about the tenacity with which they cling to the land, while making it clear that they will have to be ethnically cleansed from the land for there to be peace. Do not use the word "ethnic cleansing," use "evacuation," it sounds cleaner. Be sure to mention that they believe G-d gave them the land. Mention something about the Caananites and the Amalekites. Talk to the girls and contrast their fresh youthful faces with their unwillingness to make peace with their neighbors.

Pay a visit to Jerusalem. Mention a place or two that you like to eat, make sure that it is owned by Arabs, accept their tale of being here for thousands of years with complete credulity. If they mention that they are worried about East Jerusalem being taken over by the Palestinian Authority, don't report that. Do report any complaints that they have about the Judaization of Jerusalem. Draw a picture of the neighborhood as a wonderfully multicultural place dating back to when the Jordanians expelled all the Jews—that is now under assault by the returning Jews. Mourn all the tourists and the Jewish families who are getting in the way of your orientalism. Be sure to remind readers that the Muslim name of the city, or as you will write, the Arab name, is Al-Quds, and that it is holy to three great religions.

Visit with politicians. Israeli Prime Ministers will invariably be unpleasant obstructionist types, if they make jokes, describe it as a transparent effort to curry favor with you. Generals are even worse. Press them about the separation wall, checkpoints, misery and deprivation in the territories. Then get your NGO friends to introduce you to friendly left-wing pols who will commiserate with you about the state of the peace process and the leap of faith that needs to be taken to make peace. Get a quote from them about the next generation and describe them as saddened by their government's unwilling to make peace.

Palestinian politicians are always willing to make peace, even when they aren't. Work at it and you will get a hypothetical quote about their willingness to one day live in peace with the Jews. Turn that quote into the centerpiece of your article. Contrast it with Israeli leaders who still refuse to come to the table. Never ask them any tough questions about the budget, their support for terrorists or why they refuse to negotiate. Instead feed them softball questions, take their talking points and plug them into the template for the same article that your predecessors have been writing since the seventies.

If an Israeli tells you that there is no such thing as Palestinians, that they're gangs of Muslim militias who have no interest in running their own country, or that Jordan is the actual Palestinian State, ignore him. Details like that don't matter and you're not here to litigate history, you're here to tell a story. The same story that has been told for generations about villainous Israelis and the heroic resistance fighters battling against them.

Don't dig into the relationships between Arab clans, the depth of nepotism within the Palestinian Authority or the lack of elections. Don't discuss Israeli poverty except when your NGO friends ask you to write about their work. Don't mention the epidemic of car thefts or land seizures. Don't try to understand what all the different religious subgroups are really all about. You were sent here to tell a simple story and your job is to tell that story.

Write about the hills and the blood-red sunsets, mention all the armies that probably passed over them in a history you never bothered to learn. Talk about your mixed feelings as a Jew or part-Jew or someone who has Jewish friends, at the sight of Jews oppressing another people. Describe the black soulful eyes of a Palestinian leader or terrorist or terrorist leader. Write up the settler children who are taught to hate. Write about how all the guns make you uncomfortable. Close with an old man who expresses hope that one day peace will come to this troubled land.

Then go home

From NY to Jerusalem,  

Daniel Greenfield  

Covers the Stories  Behind the News

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