Israel’s parliament has passed a law against encouraging boycotts on Israel. Naturally, the parliamentary debate and the text of the bill itself were in Hebrew. Thus, the American news media get to explain what’s in the bill, why it was passed, and what it means. That’s where the problem arises. It also leads to an Internet age trick that tells volumes about how the American media operates nowadays. First, the background, then the rather shocking trick.
Fairly typical of coverage is the New York Times article by Isabel Kershner, headlined “Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State.” It casts the central conflict around the bill in these terms:
Critics and civil rights groups denounced the new law as antidemocratic and a flagrant assault on the freedom of expression and protest. The law’s defenders said it was a necessary tool in Israel’s fight against what they called its global delegitimization.
The article’s text makes it clear who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are supposed to be and portrayed the law as “antidemocratic” and a sign of creeping totalitarianism in the Middle East’s only democratic state.
In fact, as even Kershner reported, there is a debate within the Israeli government about the law, with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein backing the bill and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon arguing that elements of it border on unconstitutional restrictions on speech. There will almost certainly be a legal challenge and the law might well be modified or overturned completely. That is normal democratic procedure.
If the reporting wasn’t bad enough, the newspaper also published an editorial, “Not Befitting a Democracy,” that begins dishonestly:
Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished by a new law intended to stifle outspoken critics of its occupation of the West Bank.
After all, the law is not focused on justifying the country’s policy on the West Bank — an argument used since the Times expects its readers to agree that the law is terrible if posed in those terms — but primarily against boycotts organized by those who want to wipe the country as a whole off the map.