Spewing poison in both directions

Al Jazeera and Channel 14
"Narratives of hatred" are propagated by TV stations Al-Jazeera, funded by Qatar, and Israel's Channel 14, contributing to further radicalisation on both sides (image: Markus Gilliar/GES/picture alliance)

In addition to the actual warfare in Gaza, another, lesser known burden is weighing on the prospects for a better future in the Middle East. Influential media channels are lending support to the most radical forces on both sides of the conflict

Essay by Stefan Buchen

At some point, exhaustion would surely set in. The Israeli government would recognise that a "total victory", as promised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is not achievable. Hamas would realise that it must vacate its position of power in the Gaza Strip. Israelis and Palestinians would finally be ready to talk earnestly about the two-state solution proposed by the entire international community, especially Germany. 

Then the war currently raging in the Middle East with all its horrors, atrocities and victims would at least have brought about something good. It would have demonstrated the impossibility of a military solution and paved the way for a political settlement of the conflict.

This or something similar is the optimistic, business-like sentiment being voiced by governments around the world on the subject of the war in the Middle East. But anyone speaking or thinking this way has only succeeded in hypnotising themselves. Despite the long months of excessive violence, neither war fatigue nor physical and mental exhaustion will shape the policies espoused by the warring parties. 

Fayez: Al Jazeera screenshot
The attack on Israel was praised on Al-Jazeera as a heroic deed, a military masterstroke that would serve as "teaching material in future war manuals", according to the retired Jordanian General Fayiz ad-Duweiri, a frequent guest in the Al-Jazeera studio. The Arabic television channel has been dedicated to Hamas since 7 October (image: screenshot)

Both sides are instead only too aware that the battle for the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is sure to intensify. Among Israelis and Palestinians alike, ambitious and powerful forces feel almost exhilarated by the conviction that they are well on the way to dealing their foe a deathblow.

In the Middle East conflict, this means forcing the enemy out of the country. According to this logic, 7 October 2023 created previously undreamt-of possibilities and opened up new horizons for victory.

The background behind all of this is not easy to convey. The aim here is mainly to give an idea of the role played by Arab and Israeli media in establishing this radical logic amongst the public. By spreading hate narratives, these channels hammer home to their respective target audiences the inevitability of the battles to come. 

These media see as the rightful political leaders in their own camp those forces that seem best suited to waging war against the enemy with the utmost relentlessness. 

Itamar Fleischmann on Channel 14
Hardliner Itamar Fleischmann after attacks on a hostage in Gaza on Channel 14: "All the neighbours who saw this happening and didn't intervene deserve to die. The army must raze the entire neighbourhood to the ground." The channel has been the dominant propaganda organ of the Jewish nationalist government under Benjamin Netanyahu since its inauguration on 29 December 2022 (source: screenshot)

7 October massacre: a heroic deed

The Arabic television station Al Jazeera has since 7 October come down squarely on the side of Hamas. The attack on Israel was praised as a heroic deed, a military masterstroke that would serve as "teaching material in future war manuals", according to the retired Jordanian General Fayiz al-Duweiri, a frequent guest in the Al Jazeera studio. 

Videos recorded by Hamas fighters showing attacks on Israeli soldiers are regularly broadcast by Al Jazeera, as are speeches by political leaders from the religious nationalist Palestinian group. The fact that Hamas did not ask the inhabitants of Gaza for their consent to this war but instead left them at the mercy of the anticipated Israeli retaliation, is not addressed at all in Al Jazeera's programming. 

The question of how many Palestinians in Gaza do not actually agree with Hamas' actions is thus swept under the rug. The broadcaster simply assumes collective support by the Palestinian populace for the Islamist nationalist organisation. 

Palästinenser trauern um zwei Journalisten, die im November im Gazastreifen mutmaßlich bei einem israelischen Luftangriff getötet wurden.
Reporting a matter of life and death: Palestinians mourn two journalists who were presumed killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip in November (image: Reuters)

“More than 2 million terrorists in Gaza”


The Israeli counterpart to Al Jazeera is, if not in every respect but at least in essence, the television station Channel 14 (in Hebrew: 'aruts arba' 'esre). The station has been the dominant propaganda organ of the Jewish nationalist government under Benjamin Netanyahu since its inauguration on 29 December 2022 (before which the channel eagerly endorsed the formation of that government). 

Since the onset of the war, the channel's presenters and panellists have persistently advocated for the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the re-establishment of Israeli settlements there. On 25 February 2024, studio guest Eliahu Yosian emphasised that 100 terrorists killed per day – the number reported by the army spokesman that day – was not enough. "There are more than 2 million terrorists in Gaza," Yosian said.

Every day, Channel 14 pleads for the continuation of the campaign in Gaza and against new elections. The broadcaster is outspokenly committed to Benjamin Netanyahu remaining in power. One of its key pundits, businessman turned political analyst Jaʿkov Bardugo, is a confidant of Netanyahu's wife. 

Channel 14 is an engine of nationalist self-reinforcement. The studio audience (something that Al Jazeera does not have) always applauds the most radical statements. Critics of the Israeli government have summarised the character of Netanyahu's prime media channel in one word: "poison machine". 

Power centre narratives

Al Jazeera and Channel 14 stand out on their respective media landscapes. They are literally media unlike all the others. And they have attained special status during the war. They are closely linked to the political power centres of the two warring parties, Al Jazeera to Hamas and Channel 14 to the Netanyahu government. Both channels serve their respective political reference points as a populist source of legitimation. Their pronouncements wield huge political impact. 

The fact that the two stations are similar in terms of their significance can even be discerned in some elements of their external style. The presenters for both channels have for example adopted a uniform appearance. A joker might even suggest that they all go to the same plastic surgeon. Perhaps there is an Abrahamic clinic of peace in Dubai or Abu Dhabi that nobody knows about. 

Be that as it may, in terms of content both channels celebrate war as the ideal way to engage the enemy. And this brings us to the most important feature they have in common. In their discourse on war, both Channel 14 and Al Jazeera waver nervously between the stance of victim and hero. 

Israel’s heroic campaign of revenge

On 7 October, Israel was the defenceless victim. Thereafter it launched a heroic campaign of revenge. Blowing up civilian infrastructure, such as the university in Gaza, and stopping trucks carrying aid at the border crossings into the sealed-off coastal strip are celebrated on Channel 14 as heroic acts demonstrating strength. Muslims should not hope for any special consideration during Ramadan, explained studio guest Yotam Zimri. 

The Muslims had after all hurt the religious feelings of the Jews by choosing a Jewish holiday, Simhat Torah, as the date to launch their terrorist attack. According to the analysis, Jews are being prevented from practising their religion in their own country, in particular on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 

In mid-February, a video emerged showing the Israeli Bibas family, which had been abducted to Gaza. We see the mother with her small child in her arms being bullied and shoved around by gunmen in a front yard. Channel 14 broadcast this scene over and over again. Analyst Itamar Fleischmann commented: "All the neighbours who saw this happening and didn't intervene deserve to die. The army must raze the entire neighbourhood to the ground."

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Murderous attackers as brave heroes

Al Jazeera in contrast styled the murderous Hamas attackers of 7th October as brave heroes. On day three of the war, the heroic "storming of Al Aqsa" became the unjust "war on Gaza", in which one could only wonder what had happened to humanity. Images of victims of the bombing alternate in fast cuts with reports of killed or injured Israeli soldiers, presented in a vibrato of enthusiasm. Of course, these losses do not come about by themselves but through heroic acts by the Qassam Brigades. 

The sudden, abrupt switching between the roles of victim and victor is a characteristic of fascist language. That simply must be said here. In the Middle East war, the television stations Channel 14 and Al Jazeera are acting as mouthpieces for fascism. What is particularly worrying is that the two channels are not marginal phenomena in their respective political public spheres. On the contrary, they are at the fulcrum of political events.

This subject has many relevant aspects and details for which there is not enough space here. But in view of the momentous implications, systematic studies should be undertaken. Is anyone doing this in Germany or Europe? Do Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz have any idea what a huge obstacle these two propaganda organs represent to a "two-state solution"? 

The poison they are spreading in the opinion-forming processes of the Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking public will be just as hard to dispose of as the mines, ammunition and rubble in Gaza. 

Stefan Buchen

© Qantara.de 2024

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

The author is a television journalist for Germany's ARD political magazine "Panorama".