The gaps in the Israeli and international narratives since B’Tselem declared Israel an apartheid state in its entirety point towards an undemocratic structure of news dissemination and a failure to engage with the settler-colonial reality. For decades, Israel managed to escape proper scrutiny regarding its colonial violence and human rights violations, including settlement expansion, due to a persistent distinction made by the UN that only stipulates the post-1967 expansion as illegal and against international law.
This international distinction legitimized Israel’s settler-colonial origins, leading to a normalized narrative that absolved Israel of ethnically cleansing Palestinians, their towns, and villages. The prevailing and mainstream-accepted perspective was that Israel’s bloody origins could be acknowledged and justified by silencing the Palestinian narrative in return for the more recent settlement expansion remaining a point of contention, or fodder, for the illusion that the UN is concerned with human rights.
Media portrayal, or the absence of it, omits or highlights aspects which speak volumes about the application of democratic standards.
B’Tselem’s designation of Israel as an apartheid state adopted a comprehensive approach from within the apartheid structure itself: employing the power of media and educational texts to shape widespread narratives. Media portrayal, or the absence of it, omits or highlights aspects which speak volumes about the application of democratic standards, and who, or what, can be held accountable.
Apartheid Silenced in Hebrew Language
The Israeli independent news outlet +972Magazine ran an important report detailing the silence of Hebrew media over B’Tselem’s apartheid designation, pertinently asking, “If a human rights group declares that the state in which it operates is an apartheid regime, and no one reports on it — is that state still a democracy?”
B’Tselem is the most prominent human rights organization in Israel, hence it does have the power to influence the collective thinking process of Israeli society from within. In response to B’Tselem’s statement, the Israeli government implemented a series of self-defeating steps barring B’Tselem’s team from visiting education premises in Israel, or from taking part in educational debates. Hebrew media, on the other hand, decided to silence the designation by refusing to report on the human rights organization’s position paper. In other cases, only the English version of the Hebrew media outlets reported about the apartheid designation.
Why would leading Hebrew outlets choose to censor such news in Hebrew, which is the settler-colonial state’s official language? Haaretz deigned to answer such a question posed to its editorial board with a non-reply that the apartheid label is not considered “news.” Thus raising the question: Does Israeli media, and even one that has published articles supportive of Palestine in its English version, classify news worthy items depending on what it determines its audience will be receptive to, rather than the importance of the news itself?
“If a human rights group declares that the state in which it operates is an apartheid regime, and no one reports on it — is that state still a democracy?”
In the case where news outlets such as Haaretz have both Hebrew and English language versions, the omission points to selective bias which makes one facet acceptable to the international assessment, while the other caters to the settler-colonial narrative. The message disseminated by such selectivity portrays apartheid as an international concern, which Israeli citizens not only need not concern themselves with, but also remain in oblivion of.
International Narratives and the Dilemma of Liberal Zionism
International coverage this time has been more consistent, albeit discriminative in the way mainstream media consistently denied the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s apartheid. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, B’Tselem’s position paper made the news. CNN even admitted that the apartheid designation coming from B’Tselem will be harder to label as “anti-Semitic,” while also bringing up Israel’s 2018 Basic Law and the suspended annexation plans for a much-needed perspective.
The New York Times remained silent on the matter, while a search for articles pertaining to B’Tselem’s position in The Washington Post over the past week led to dead links which take one back to the outlet’s homepage. At the time of writing, another search yielded no results. In terms of the readership both outlets enjoy, leaving out B’Tselem’s position paper is an insult to intelligence and democracy.
Yet, the refusal to publicize Israeli apartheid from the perspective of a respected human rights organization is a given mainstream tactic. Outlets deviating from this norm have shifted the narrative of Israel purportedly being a democratic state, hailed as such even by the UN. Now, the question is whether these outlets – which have gone against the grain – will employ consistency in reporting, thus taking B’Tselem’s report as a first step in adhering to media accuracy.
B’Tselem has left no place to hide in terms of the contradiction embodied by Israel – a settler-colonial, apartheid-practicing democracy.
Liberal Zionism has taken a similarly silent approach. B’Tselem has left no place to hide in terms of the contradiction embodied by Israel – a settler-colonial, apartheid-practicing democracy. Of course, Israel only appropriated the democratic label as a veneer for the proven truths. But with B’Tselem clearly laying Israel’s existence as a violation of this facade, liberal Zionists and their claims to democracy are finding no avenues for reconciliation.
This strand of politics is perhaps the closest to what the international community has sought to achieve since Israel’s inception. It is not the denial of human rights violations committed by Israel that the UN and liberal Zionists seek to conceal, but the political structure that sustains violations. B’Tselem brought the structure to the fore by focusing upon the impact of colonial politics upon the Palestinian population, thus eliminating the dissociation which has so far served Israel well within the international community, while shielding the colonial state from possible questions from within its settler-society.
Dismantling Israel’s State Narrative, Democratically
In light of the quandary which B’Tselem has inflicted upon influential media sources, what place does Israel allocate to democracy within its settler-colonial, apartheid structure? Furthermore, how democratic has the media been in terms of choosing which designations of apartheid to report on?
Emulating the UN’s stance, mainstream media has been hesitant, or unwilling, to allow Palestinians ample space to articulate their apartheid experience. Within the context forced upon Palestinians, therefore, democracy is a political structure which Palestinians – the colonized populations – are expected to abide by, even when living under non-democratic rule.
With the UN and the media offering their implicit support, Palestinian voices have remained subjugated to the elevated, and incorrect, narrative of Israeli democracy.
Such parameters make democracy exclusive and ostracizing. It can be said that the UN uses the pillars of democracy as tools of subjugation, in the same way Israel has appropriated the democratic narrative to gloss over its colonial violence. With the UN and the media offering their implicit support, Palestinian voices have remained subjugated to the elevated, and incorrect, narrative of Israeli democracy, while their attempts at abiding by democratic parameters have been sabotaged by the undemocratic allegiances that turn a blind eye to human rights violations.
If, as CNN reported, B’Tselem leaves no avenue for half-truths regarding Israel’s colonial and apartheid practices, while Israel and its supporters have no defense or justification for its entrenchment against the Palestinian people, there is more than just a flaw in Israel’s state narrative. The deafening silence, whether tactical to deflect its citizens’ attention from apartheid accusations, or because lacking counter-argument, does open up the debate about the systematic discrimination that differentiates Israelis from Palestinians. More telling is that the Israeli state’s fabricated narratives have run into a brick wall, with the potential to unravel and expose the truth, if pressure within Israel first and foremost remains constant.