> Israel > Media Objectivity

Media Straddling the Fence

May 9, 2009 | by

Coverage of the UN court's condemnation of the security fence omitted some key information.

The July 9 ruling of the UN's International Court of Justice, condemning the Israeli security fence, came as no surprise to any of the parties involved. Israel was once again censured for taking self-defensive measures against a Palestinian terrorist campaign that continues to enjoy silent acceptance from the United Nations and its court.

Somewhat more surprising was the poor quality of media coverage of the ICJ ruling. For example, see the alarmist front pages from Malaysia, France, and China, and this front page from the Florida Ledger: 

Many news outlets granted undue stature to the ICJ's non-binding opinion by omitting a number of essential points:


The dissenting opinion of the American judge at the ICJ, Thomas Buergenthal, ruled that the court should have declined to hear the case at all, since it lacked sufficient information and evidence. As reported by the New York Times:

the judge said the court should not have ruled until it had considered "all relevant facts bearing directly on issues of Israel's legitimate right of self-defense." He said the impact of "repeated deadly terror attacks" was something "never really seriously examined by the court."

Yet Judge Buergenthal's pointed critique of the court's own failure to take Palestinian terror into account was not published by most major news outlets. Typical of most coverage were Washington Post and Reuters, which noted Buergenthal's dissent without describing its essential content.


Also absent from most news reports were rejections of the court's authority by senior American officials:

Secretary of State Powell said, "We didn't think it should have gone to the court in the first place," adding further that it is up to Israel to decide "what reaction they wish to have to it." White House spokesman Scott McClellan added, "we do not believe that that's the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue."

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry issued a statement expressing "deep disappointment" in the ICJ and affirming that "Israel's fence is a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.... It is not a matter for the ICJ." And Senator Hillary Clinton said: "It makes no sense for the United Nations to vehemently oppose a fence which is a non-violent response to terrorism rather than opposing terrorism itself."

By omitting these statements, news outlets implied that the ICJ ruling was broadly accepted, which it certainly was not. Alan Dershowitz, in an important response to the ruling, adds that

virtually every democracy voted against that court's taking jurisdiction over the fence case, while nearly every country that voted to take jurisdiction was a tyranny.

Yet most readers were left with the false impression that the ICJ condemnation of Israel represented broad-based 'international opinion.'

[For a backgrounder on the ICJ's ruling, see the report from BICOM; for a review of the major legal factors involved, see the article by Laurence E. Rothenberg and Abraham Bell.]


Most news outlets acknowledged that the ICJ's ruling on the security fence has no binding significance, but that didn't stop the Washington Post from slipping into a South Africa comparison:

Although the ruling, which was requested by the U.N. General Assembly, is nonbinding, the court's opinions carry moral and political weight. Past decisions have been used to pressure governments in the court of public opinion, such as a ruling in 1971 against South Africa's occupation of Namibia, which led to Namibia's independence and fueled an economic boycott against South Africa's white-minority government.

It's curious that among all 24 advisory opinions delivered by the ICJ since 1947, the Washington Post chose this example as context for the anti-Israel ruling. No mention is made of the numerous cases in which ICJ rulings were simply ignored, such as the case brought against US involvement in Nicaragua in 1984, or Argentina's rejection of a 1977 ICJ ruling that granted Chile dominion over disputed islands.

Comments to Washington Post:

*  *  *

The security fence has already proven itself as an essential deterrent against Palestinian terrorism, but even it doesn't provide 100% protection. This morning's deadly bombing in Tel Aviv (pictured at right), perpetrated by Yassir Arafat's Fatah Al Aqsa Brigades, was immediately labeled by Prime Minister Sharon as "the first murder under the auspices of the International Court of Justice's ruling."

When reporting on the ICJ ruling, did your local paper include 1) Judge Buergenthal's statement condemning his own court, 2) the lack of support for the decision among democratic nations, and 3) the history of ICJ opinions, which have been regularly rejected by UN members?

This is a critical time to type out a letter to your local editor, giving the other side of the story over a thousand Israelis killed by Palestinian terror in the past four years, and the proven effectiveness of the security fence as a deterrent. For those who are capable, write an op-ed, using the talking points above, and these more general points (courtesy The Israel Project):

~ What would America do if time and again we had been attacked by terrorists who infiltrated our stores, pizza parlors, buses and holiday celebrations to deliberately kill women and children? Wouldn't we want a fence?

~ Supporters of Israel, and even Israeli officials themselves, deeply regret that the security fence is needed. We all know that the fence can cause inconveniences. But isn't saving just one life worth it? Shouldn't we stop other mothers from losing their children in terrorist attacks?

~ The security fence is a temporary and nonviolent way to reduce terrorism. It is already saving lives. When the terrorism stops, the fence can be taken down.

~ The route of the fence has been determined by how to stop terrorists from killing innocent people. However, in order to reduce inconveniences to Palestinians, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the fence must in some places be moved to make things easier for the Palestinians. Israel is a democracy committed to rule of law and will indeed follow this court decision.

[See also this fine page on the security fence and its supporters from the Council of Presidents.]

Letter-writing guidelines: When writing a letter, be sure to include full name, full address, day and evening phone numbers. Letters should be succinct (up to 250 words), while op-ed's can be approximately 600-800 words. 

Related Posts

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram