The Media

In the way they have related to the war in the Balkans, Israeli media, both printed and electronic, show remarkable uniformity. During the conflict in Slovenia and Croatia and at an early stage of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israeli media took a pro-Serbian position. This was clear not only in attempts to explain and interpret what was happening, but also in the way the events were being reported. But in the summer of 1992, when the reports about the camps the Serbs were operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina were in the headlines throughout the world, Israeli newspapers ran some of the stories, and state television screened some of the footage from the camps that was being shown worldwide. That marked the beginning of a change in the way the developments were being reported. Slowly but surely, the reports became more detailed and professional; the Israeli public was in a position to learn more and more about the facts of the Serbs' war on the non-Serbian civilian population, the camps, `ethnic cleansing' and the rest.

On the other hand, when it came to commenting on the events, explaining them to a public that knows next to nothing about Balkan geography or history, and setting out their wider implications, a pro-Serbian stand has reigned supreme to this day both in the press and in radio and television programmes. To be sure, some of the daily papers have gone to greater lengths in putting across the Serbian case than others. In terms of both frequency and space, the pride of place belongs to Ma'ariv and the now defunct Davar, the two dailies whose columnists included members of the Serbian lobby. On the other hand, Israel' English language daily, The Jerusalem Post, has been the main vehicle for opinion pieces and letters to the editor supporting the Serbs, sent both from Israel and from abroad.

An informal, but well organized and aggressive Serbian lobby in Israel has been active from the very beginning of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It includes a number of media personalities, in concert with the Association of Immigrants from Yugoslavia and the Embassy of `Yugoslavia' (Serbia and Montenegro) in Israel. This lobby has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on analysing, explaining, and interpreting events in ex-Yugoslavia. Editors of all the major newspapers and of radio and television news and analysis programmes have provided its activists with as much space and time as they wish, while only rarely allowing the voicing of dissenting views.

The Serbian lobby cuts across the divisions of Israeli politics: among its members one finds both pronounced leftists, such as Raul Tajtelbaum, senior journalist with the daily Yediot Ahronot, and people with right-wing views that occasionally border on fascism, such as Yosef Lapid, a columnist with the daily Ma'ariv and one of the most popular and influential media personalities in Israel. The Israeli promoters of what the Serbs call `the Serbian truth' have put across all the main tenets and made use of all the standard methods of Belgrade propaganda. Western media have called Slobodan Milosevic `the Belgrade Butcher' and `the Belgrade Hitler'; his Israeli supporters have presented him to the local public as the Yugoslav Abraham Lincoln.7 They have steadfastly maintained that the atrocities that have being reported actually never happened.8 It was all in, in Lapid's words, a mere `war of the cameras' (Ma'ariv, 29 June 1992). At the Yediot Ahront columnist Uri Elizur explained in more detail, `the terrible stories of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and rape of tens of thousands of women are mostly war propaganda of the Bosnians, which the free press has volunteered to trumpet', partly because that was the fashionable thing to do, and partly because of the influence of `Christian morality, which says that the weak is the one in the right' (Yediot Ahronot, 23 Feb. 1994). Alternatively, they have assured the Israeli public that what the media were reporting as Serbian war crimes had in truth been committed by the Serb's victims. After every major atrocity, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic divulged that what had really happened was that Bosnian Muslims and Croats were slaughtering their own civilians in order to blacken the image of Serb fighters. His Israeli supporters, such as Pazit Ravina of the Davar or Yohanan Ramati, a frequent contributor to The Yerusalem Post, have duly transmitted the explanation to the local public, backing it up with claims of confirmation by unnamed Israeli military experts.9

Many commentators on the war in ex-Yugoslavia have been struck by the Serbs' tendency to explain and justify the genocide and mass expulsion they are carrying out today by presenting it as revenge for what their people had suffered at the hands of Croat collaborators with the Nazis half a century ago, or at the hands of the Turks six centuries ago. The promoters of `the Serbian truth' in Israel have adopted the same historical approach, have given it a distinctively Jewish twist, and have deployed it to great effect. They have told us time and again that the current war must be seen as a continuation of the Second World War. In that war, they say, the Serbs fought against the Nazis and helped and protected the Jews, while the Croats and Muslims fought on the side of the Nazis and helped them persecute and exterminate the Jews. Therefore we Jews must side with the Serbs today; it is an `historical debt' that must now be paid. As Yosed Lapid memorably put it, we must give the Serbs all the sympathy and support we can,`no matter what they might do'.10

Of course, this is a crude revision of Second World War history. It conveniently leaves out both Serb collaborators with the Nazis, and Croat and Bosnian partisans who fought the Nazis and their Serb, Croat and other allies.11 But that is not the main point. The crux of the matter is the notion of collective biological responsibility on which the argument is based. What is remarkable is that this pre-modern view of humanity and human responsibility, espoused earlier in the century by the Nazis (and later by the proponents of `Greater' and `ethnically homogeneous' Serbia), should have been adopted today by Jews, of all people, in the Jewish state, of all places. It is even more remarkable that the argument is by no means put forward only by activists of the Serbian lobby in Israel. It has been voiced by Israeli Jews both religious and secular, from various walks of life and educational and ethnical backgrounds, including members of Israel's intellectual elite, and Holocaust survivors too.

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