Israeli Press Mum on Murdoch

On July 10, Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for Israel’s reputedly most liberal news site,  Haaretz, wrote a straightforward, if scathing, news article about the accusations being levied against media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Pfeffer’s acerbic piece, aptly headlined “Shameful Journalism Puts Murdoch’s U.K. Empire at Risk,” like others making the front pages of newspapers and websites around the world, criticized the shady news gathering techniques engaged in by News of the World, a British division of Murdoch’s News International:

No one is coming out of this story looking good. Not the reporters and the editors of the News of the World newspaper, who hired a private detective to “hack” into the mobile phone messages of the subjects of their investigations – actors, celebrities, footballers, but also families who lost soldiers in wars and victims of murder. Certainly not the top brass of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, who pushed the Sunday tabloid into the murky depths of the journalism swamp, chasing down sensationalist headlines and higher sales.

The power of the News International empire – which in Britain controls not just the tabloid with the biggest circulation, The Sun, but also “institutional” papers The Times and Sunday Times, as well as the BSkyB satellite television channels – was so extensive that, when the police caught a glimpse of the phone hacking affair more than five years ago, a decision was made that there were more important issues to investigate.

Pfeffer’s piece was yanked off the Haaretz English website after less than 24 hours, where many older pieces often linger for days, even weeks. Equally noteworthy is that  the article is now very difficult  to locate in the Haaretz archives. Querying the Haaretz website search box for “Murdoch” or “Pfeffer,” the default “sort by relevance” results bury Pfeffer’s article about Murdoch, which can be located easily only if searching by date.

Haaretz‘s generally slipshod archiving of its published articles is irritating to researchers and writers, and is particularly unfortunate for a newspaper whose English language edition is published in coordination with the International Herald Tribune. The most interesting and provocative articles seem to be most difficult to find and to have the shortest shelf life, sometimes vanishing in a matter of hours. (This author learned long ago to print out any item  of interest appearing on the Haaretz site before it disappeared.)

Israel’s other English language news sites thus far have been offering no original commentary about Murdoch, and providing only reports or brief excerpts from wire service coverage. Curiously, neither Pfeffer nor the wire service reports point out that Murdoch is considered staunchly “pro-Israel.” In the past two years, Murdoch has been an honoree of at least two prominent  pro-Israel groups in the U.S..

On March 4, 2009, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) presented Murdoch with its “National Human Relations Award.” (This author posted this detail in a reader comment to Pfeffer’s piece that Haaretz chose not to publish just prior to the article’s disappearance,  and also pointed it out in an e-mail to Pfeffer himself, to which he has not replied.) Speaking at the AJC awards dinner, Murdoch refuted the widely-believed myth that he himself  is Jewish, but took the opportunity to reiterate and endorse some other myths prevalent in the Jewish community:

In Europe, men and woman who bear the tattoos of concentration camps today look out on a continent where Jewish lives and Jewish property are under attack – and public debate is poisoned by an anti-Semitism we thought had been dispatched to history’s dustbin.

In Iran, we see a regime that backs Hezbollah and Hamas now on course to acquire a nuclear weapon.

In India, we see Islamic terrorists single out the Mumbai Jewish Center in a well-planned and well-coordinated attack that looks like it could be a test run for similar attacks in similar cities around the world.

On the first point, Murdoch ignored the inconvenient truth that the resurgence of European anti-Semitism has proceeded in tandem with European Islamophobia. Less than six months before Murdoch received his AJC award, the 2008 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes had revealed that Islamophia and anti-Semitism were both on the rise in Europe. As Ian Traynor of the Guardian noted at the time, “The survey found that suspicion of Muslims in Europe was considerably higher than hostility to Jews, but that the increase in antisemitism had taken place much more rapidly.” The rise in European anti-Semitism is a byproduct of Islamophobia at least as much as (and perhaps more than) it is a consequence of it.

Debate over whether or not Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon receives ample coverage on this blog and elsewhere, and elaboration of this issue would be a digression from the topic at hand. Suffice it to say that Murdoch (or any other speaker) could not, and would not dare to, address a Jewish group, particularly one that devotes so much of its abundant resources to anti-Iran rhetoric as AJC, without invoking “the Iranian threat.”

Murdoch’s mention of the attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India strongly implied  that the Jewish house of workshop had been singled out for an Islamist terrorist attack. At least 150 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks Nov. 26-28, 2008, on a crowded train station, two luxury hotels popular with foreign tourists, a hospital and several other crowded Mumbai sites, with the Chabad House an apparent afterthought. The initial Fox News report did not even refer to the Chabad House as having been a target. Murdoch’s AJC speech also didn’t mention that Mumbai has nine synagogues attended almost exclusively by locals, which were not attacked; the only one targeted by the terrorists was the Chabad center, which was both run and frequented by foreigner visitors from Israel and Western countries.

Not to be outdone, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) chose Murdoch as the recipient of its “International Leadership Award” on Oct. 13, 2010, which was presented to him by ADL Director Abraham Foxman:

“I have come to know the man, not his image,” Mr. Foxman said in presenting the award to Mr. Murdoch.  “I learned that he cared deeply about the safety and security of Israel.  I learned that he was as distressed as I was about efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, to hold it to a double standard, and to seek its demise by some.”

In his acceptance speech (reproduced in full by the arch-neoconservative Weekly Standard, which Murdoch’s NewsCorp had helped to get off the ground and had run at a loss for 14 years before selling it in 2009 to Philip Anschutz), Murdoch blamed anti-Semitism on Muslims, and leftists for the “soft war” being waged against Israel, conflating criticism with armed assault:

Now the war has entered a new phase.  This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimizing it. The battleground is everywhere:  the media … multinational organizations … NGOs.

In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.

The result is the curious situation we have today:  Israel becomes increasingly ostracized, while Iran – a nation that has made no secret of wishing Israel’s destruction – pursues nuclear weapons loudly, proudly, and without apparent fear of rebuke.

Israel “ostracized” by the media? Criticism of Israel as the latest manifestation of  terrorism? Iran pursuing nuclear weapons without fear of rebuke? Murdoch ought to have spent a bit more time reading his competitors. Israeli policies and perspectives receive largely deferential treatment by western international wire services that are still dominant in global news flows — and, of course, the US new media.

Murdoch also used the occasion to take a swipe at US President Barack Obama:

I was pleased to hear the State Department’s spokesman clarify America’s position yesterday. He said that the United States recognizes “the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people.”

This is an important message to send to the Middle East. When people see, for example, a Jewish prime minister treated badly by an American president, they see a more isolated Jewish state. That only encourages those who favor the gun over those who favor negotiation.

Obama’s alleged mistreatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was another myth purveyed by Murdoch-owned news media. Fox News fueled the hysteria about Obama “insulting” Netanyahu by conversing with him on the telephone on June 9, 2009 while his  legs were stretched out on his White House desk, revealing the soles of his shoes, at which an Arab might take umbrage. (Since neither Obama nor Netanyahu is Arab, it was unclear why this was considered to be of any relevance.) Accompanying the article was a photo released by the White House, showing Obama at ease while communicating with the Israeli Prime Minister.

All this has apparently earned Murdoch and his empire the unswerving loyalty of Israelis and the major institutions of the “Israel Lobby” here in the U.S. Last February, a group of 400 American rabbis objected to the Holocaust terminology used and misused by then-Fox News Channel commentator Glenn Beck. In an open letter published in the Wall Street Journal and the Forward, the rabbis appealed to Murdoch to sanction Beck and Fox News Chair Roger Ailes. The Jerusalem Post depicted  American Jews as critical of the rabbis, rather than of Beck, Ailes or Murdoch. JP quoted the  ADL’s  Foxman as saying that he found the rabbis’ public stance  against Beck and Ailes to be bizarre: “They’re not our enemy, and they are certainly not Holocaust deniers.”

A new accusation by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown asserts the Murdoch media empire may have used known criminals to conduct  illicit surveillance activities such as hacking and wiretapping in order to obtain personal information. Heartlessly shoddy and amazingly under-handed (and illegal; not to say, immoral) journalistic practices at his news sites? Who cares, as long as he’s “good for Israel”? And if Murdoch is “good for Israel,” they’d all best shut up about him.

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



  1. Fascinating, isn’t it? Does Jon Stewart get on Israeli TV?

  2. Murdock’s mother was Jewish. He has always been a supporter of the right in Israel. He is never fair or balanced. Fox and Murdock are a the lowest of the low in journalism.

  3. israel has been given all the rope it needs to hang itself and it will do just that. When a state counts its success on the numbers of dead it creates to justify its existence, it is already doomed.

  4. Remember the Kind David Hotel
    Remember the Levon Affair
    Remember the USS Liberty
    Remember the WTC

    There is an International satanical sickness that moves from one Nation to the next.

  5. Information will soon come out that the technology used to hack the phones in the UK and the US were developed by Israeli intelligence. This may be an additional reason why the Israeli press is so muted on the topic. More muted than even FOX news and the NY Post.

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