Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix I Segment 14/15
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Alexander denounces Newsweek for reporting that Israel's war against the PLO "sorely weakened its more moderate elements," another proof that the media were waging a "propaganda battle against Israel." He does not, however, remind us that respected Israeli scholars argued from the outset that a primary motive for the invasion was precisely to weaken more moderate elements in the PLO. PLO moderation was regarded "as a veritable catastrophe in the eyes of the Israeli government" because it posed the threat of a political settlement; the hope was that the PLO would be driven to terrorism, undercutting the danger of "future political accommodations" (Yehoshua Porath, Israel's leading academic specialist on Palestinian nationalism and a political centrist). "Dealing a major blow to the PLO as a political force was the raison d'etre of the entire operation," Israeli strategic analyst Avner Yaniv concludes (approvingly). It was necessary to apply "the fiercest military pressures [to]...undermine the position of the moderates within [the PLO] ranks," to block "the PLO `peace offensive'" and prevent Arafat from gaining PLO support for qualified acceptance of U.N. Resolution 242, and "to halt [the PLO's] rise to political respectability." The perceived problem was that "a moderate -- political rather than terrorist -- PLO...could become far more dangerous than the violent PLO of the previous years." Military action served "the purpose of weakening PLO moderates and strengthening their radical rivals." Yehoshafat Harkabi (ex-director of Israeli military intelligence, former Begin adviser, professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies at Hebrew University, and one of Israel's most highly-regarded specialists on these issues) writes that "Begin's principal motive in launching the war was his fear of the momentum of the peace process"; the 1982 war should be called "The War to Safeguard the Occupation of the West Bank," an occupation threatened by Palestinian moderation, not Palestinian terrorism, as understood on all sides, and a threat particularly grave with Israel's failure to elicit a violent response to its provocations in Lebanon through mid-1982. Chief of Staff Rafael ("Raful") Eitan states frankly that the action was a success: "we destroyed the PLO as a candidate for negotiations with us about the Land of Israel."56 Anti-Semitism reaches deep into mainstream Israeli circles, by Alexander's intriguing standards.

It is unnecessary to comment on the contributions of Martin Peretz and Norman Podhoretz, reprinted from the journals they edit (New Republic, Commentary).57

The point, again, is that the agenda is set by advocates of U.S. and Israeli violence, who condemn the media for their alleged anti-establishment bias. The most extraordinary charges against the media are voiced with wild abandon, and sometimes refuted. But there is little attempt at serious analysis of the events discussed or of media performance, and the idea of investigating a possible pro-Israel, pro-U.S. bias is off the agenda, apart from Hooglund's careful analysis.

The final chapter, "Reflections on Media Coverage of the Third World," is opened by Ambassador David Newsom, who says that "there is today in the press a strong tendency towards skepticism regarding official U.S. policy and those foreign officials abroad who are identified with it." He asks, "what is the effect in the public mind of the contrast between the ragged and open-shirted revolutionary and the well-dressed oligarch in contrasting scenes transmitted by television from Central America?" He would have us believe, then, that television presents a sympathetic portrait of the guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala. A response by David Lichtenstein of the right-wing media monitoring organization AIM condemns the media for their "instantaneous moral condemnation" of U.S. policy in Vietnam and El Salvador, and of Israel during "the Lebanon incursion." Much of the criticism of the press, he feels, "arises from this sort or pro-Israel bias -- sentiments in favor of Ho Chi Minh or in favor of the Communist guerrillas." He mentions no examples of critics of the press who favor Ho or Communist guerrillas, and does not explain why they are not represented in these seminars if they are so influential and numerous. He concludes that "You have within the media ideological conflicts which run all the way across the political spectrum," a position that can be sustained if we take the political spectrum to be determined by the needs of powerful elites. With regard to El Salvador, he says that "the whole uproar over human rights, for example, is often the shrill cry of the not-very-well-informed journalistic visitor who lacks historical perspective, who is not familiar with Latin American culture, or how an entirely different culture developed out of entirely different social conditions." Putting aside his judgment about the "uproar" in media that regularly suppressed U.S.-backed atrocities in El Salvador while praising the "moderate" Duarte regime that carried them out, he does not indicate whether similar considerations apply to the atrocities carried out by official enemies. The remaining discussion stays within the predicted bounds, without exception.

In summary, of the 155 pages, fewer than four fall beyond the bounds predicted by the propaganda model: the ADC contribution on pro-Israel bias, and a few scattered sentences. Naturally, there are matters of judgment, but I doubt that other standards would lead to a materially different evaluation. The conclusion is that the propaganda model is again very well confirmed in its second-order predictions. I will comment no further on the startling remarks by some of the participants, such as those sampled here, or what they indicate, except to note that justification for massive atrocities is considered quite normal and respectable.

Recall that the basic question raised in the seminar was the problem faced by "a `free-press', democratic society" that allows "open coverage of all the wartime events" (Bolling). There is no allusion to the fact that allowing "open coverage" is relatively cost-free when the media can be trusted to adopt the basic principles (if not, always, the tactical judgments) of state propaganda and keep closely within its bounds in what they transmit and how they interpret it, and to report from the standpoint of approved elements: the client governments of South Vietnam and El Salvador, but not the indigenous guerrillas; the guerrillas in Afghanistan, but not the Soviet client regime; the U.S.-supported opposition and the CIA-run civilian front for the contras in Nicaragua but not the elected government (described by Washington edict as unelected); and so on.

Bolling discusses one major exception to this policy of allowing "open coverage," one that the media generally found offensive: the barring of correspondents during the first days of the invasion of Grenada, the first occasion on which success in our noble endeavors did not "elude us," in his judgment. Bolling evidently regards "the overthrow of the callous and unpopular little Marxist dictatorship and the expulsion of the Cuban advisors, workers and soldiers" as meritorious, though the censorship raises serious questions. We may put aside his characterization of these events and turn to a matter more pertinent here. True, the media were briefly excluded, and condemned this infringement on their prerogatives. But more to the point, they exercised self-censorship so severe as to render the events unintelligible and to protect the U.S. government stance, a fact not mentioned in the volume under discussion, and rarely elsewhere.

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56 Porath, Ha'aretz, June 25, 1982; Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security (Oxford, 1987, 52-3, 67ff., 100-101). Harkabi, Israel's Fateful Hour, 100-1. Eitan, quoted by Rafi Ga'on, Ha'aretz, Dec. 27, 1983. Eitan also dismisses the protests by Yesh Gvul and others, asking where they were when Israel spent 6 years at the Suez canal, where "we destroyed three of their cities (Suez, Ismailia, Port Said), carried out deep-penetration bombing, killed civilians, and even shot down a civilian Libyan plane that wandered off course and all its passengers were killed." On the background of Israeli provocations leading to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, see Fateful Triangle and Schiff and Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War.

57 See Fateful Triangle for some discussion of the former.