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Israeli Media’s Dual Role Amidst Conflict: An Analyzer and Propagator of National Messaging

by Ethan Kim
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Israeli media and national narratives

The recent release of 85-year-old Israeli captive Yocheved Lifshitz by Hamas has brought the role of Israeli media into sharp relief. Lifshitz, upon her release, shared her ordeal but also acknowledged the humane treatment she received from her captors. The Israeli media, quick to interpret this as a setback for the Israeli narrative that characterizes Hamas as barbaric, embarked on a rapid flurry of op-eds and debates, advising officials on how to manage the narrative around future releases effectively.

This incident underscores the complex position Israeli journalists occupy, particularly in the aftermath of Hamas’ catastrophic attack on southern Israeli communities on October 7. The media, in addition to their customary journalistic responsibilities, appear to serve as de facto advocates for Israel’s military endeavors. This development demonstrates how profoundly the trauma from the attack has permeated the Israeli society.

Media platforms, including mainstream outlets, have adopted unequivocal stances, with banners declaring “we will win” and newscasters likening Hamas’ actions to those of “Nazis.” Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, notes the media’s perceived obligation to contribute to Israel’s defense narrative.

The toll of the attack—1,400 dead and over 200 captives—has personal resonance in Israel, affecting citizens and journalists alike. Journalists, some of whom have suffered direct impacts such as loss of family members, appear increasingly involved in advocacy. In some instances, reporters even acted as emergency rescuers during the crisis.

Despite the advocacy, Nurit Canetti, chair of the Union of Journalists in Israel, insists that media coverage has remained “responsible and reliable,” arguing that journalists are reporting on a reality that directly affects them. Israel’s media landscape is known for its diversity and independence, often being critical of the government.

In times of conflict, however, the media align with military leadership, setting aside criticisms. While some outlets have questioned the government’s failure to preempt the attack, many continue to advance the broader Israeli message of a war of moral imperatives.

Lifshitz’s public statements presented a challenge to this narrative. Media reactions highlighted the role journalists are assuming in shaping public discourse, a role questioned by some critics like Yasmine Levi of Haaretz, who argues that journalists are veering too far into advocacy.

Canetti sees the media’s response as part of a wider critique of what many view as the government’s inadequate handling of the crisis. Israeli media, with a history of close military ties, have often been criticized for their partiality, a trend that seems to be continuing in the current conflict.

The focus of Israeli media remains largely on Israeli victims, with international coverage gradually shifting towards the devastation in Gaza. Meital Balmas-Cohen, a communications professor, suggests that in times of war, objectivity may be secondary to empathy and attention for local victims—a phenomenon observed in media around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Israeli media and national narratives

What is the main focus of the article?

The main focus of the article is to explore the dual role Israeli media is playing in the recent conflict with Hamas. It examines how the media, in addition to their journalistic responsibilities, are increasingly acting as advocates for Israel’s military and national narrative.

How does the article portray the Israeli media’s handling of Yocheved Lifshitz’s release?

The article describes how Israeli media interpreted Yocheved Lifshitz’s nuanced account of her captivity as a challenge to Israel’s established narrative about Hamas. It led to a series of op-eds and discussions advising Israeli officials on how to effectively manage the narrative surrounding future releases.

Who are the experts cited in the article and what do they contribute?

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, discusses the media’s perceived obligation to contribute to Israel’s defense narrative. Nurit Canetti, chair of the Union of Journalists in Israel, argues that the media coverage has been “responsible and reliable.” Meital Balmas-Cohen, a communications professor, suggests that objectivity may be secondary to empathy in times of war.

Does the article claim that Israeli media are unbiased?

The article acknowledges that Israeli media are known for their diversity and independence, often critically examining the government. However, it also notes that in times of conflict, they tend to align with the military leadership and play an advocacy role.

What criticisms are levied against the Israeli media?

The article cites critics like Yasmine Levi, who argue that journalists are veering too far into advocacy, potentially compromising their role in a democratic society. It highlights how some media outlets have been criticized for their partiality and close ties with the military.

What is the broader context in which the Israeli media are operating?

The article situates the role of Israeli media within the broader context of a catastrophic Hamas attack that has resulted in significant loss of life and captives, thereby deeply affecting the Israeli society and media alike.

How does international media coverage compare to Israeli media?

The article notes that while international media are gradually shifting their focus towards the devastation in Gaza, Israeli media remain concentrated on the experiences of Israeli victims, reflecting a trend observed in local media worldwide during conflicts.

More about Israeli media and national narratives

  • Israeli Democracy Institute: Role of Media in Conflicts
  • Union of Journalists in Israel: Ethical Journalism During War
  • Haaretz Opinion Columns: Media Advocacy in Israel
  • Academic Research on Media Objectivity in Warzones
  • Comparative Study: Global Media Behavior During Conflicts

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