Ethnic Media Coverage Widens News Lens on Israel-Palestine War

Asked how the largest Vietnamese newspaper in the U.S is covering the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Nguoi Viet Editor Dzung Do recalled a visit to Vietnam in 1966 by Israeli General Moshe Dyan, just as US involvement in Vietnam was beginning to escalate. Dyan, who would go on to lead Israel to victory in the Six Day War the following year, nevertheless warned of a looming quagmire in Vietnam.  

It’s a warning Israeli officials may now want to heed, says Do.

“Today, some former Vietnamese military officers believe Israel is about to enter its own quagmire in Gaza,” said Do, pointing to reports that Israeli forces are preparing for a potential ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The comment reflects the often highly personal prism through which many in the ethnic media sector view the conflict.

Still, the Vietnamese American community remains somewhat detached from events in Israel and Gaza, Do noted. “Vietnamese, especially the immigrant generation, follow the Russia-Ukraine war very closely because of current tensions with China, a close ally with Russia,” he said. “That’s not the case with the Middle East conflict, which they see as ongoing with no solution in sight.”

Nguoi Viet’s coverage has included stories about Vietnamese nationals caught in this conflict. “Some have started families and made Israel their home for years; some are Vietnamese college students who came to Israel to study agriculture; and there are some Vietnamese residents living in Gaza,” said Do.

Latino, Black media reflect wider divisions

Latino media coverage has similarly tried to connect the fighting directly to diaspora communities here in the US, says journalist Pilar Marrero, with stories of a Mexican rhythmic gymnastics team in Israel evacuated via an air force jet dispatched from Mexico, as well as a group of Salvadorans flown out of the country during a tour of the Holy Land.

Other stories have sought to shed light on the roots on the conflict, tackling thorny questions such as the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism as well as an explanatory article on the history of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Both Telemundo and Univision, says Marrero, have been hewing to a “balance between what Israel says and what is happening in Gaza,” though denunciations of Israel by Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, did generate headlines, as did statements condemning Hamas by El Salvador’s leader, Nayib Bukele, who is of Palestinian descent.

Those same divisions can be seen across African American media, according to an October 9 analysis by Stacey Brown of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group of more than 200 Black-owned outlets across the country.

Noting the outpouring of support for Palestinians, Brown writes many on social media are drawing parallels between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the Palestinian struggle against what many deem to be apartheid conditions imposed by Israel. Others cite a perceived lack of support from the Jewish community for African American social movements.

Still, NNPA leadership released a joint statement on October 7 condemning Hamas’ attack. “Terrorism against innocent civilians in Israel and in any other place in the world can never be justified, tolerated, or sanctioned. We stand firmly in solidarity with Israel,” the statement read.

Pastor Christopher Johnson, co-host of a Saturday morning call in radio show on Houston’s KTSU 90.9 FM, noted, “Black media is not a monolith…some have paid attention, and some have missed it – not out of neglect but simply from ignorance, or it may not have been the news they are focused on.

“To change that we need to do a better job of building journalistic bridges with reporters on the ground to humanize the story,” Johnson urged.  “Hamas’ surprise attack is like someone walking into a grocery store in America and starts shooting. It’s the same robbing of life, just in a different context.” 

At the same time, he added, “Whenever you put a concentration of people in a square area and then restrict their movements, what do you call that? The United Nations has called Gaza ‘the biggest open-air prison in the world.’ Let that sink in.”

Concerns mount over tensions with China, North Korea

Rong Xiaoqing is a veteran reporter with the Chinese language Sing Tao Daily in New York. She says much of the coverage in Chinese media in the US has “focused on the human casualties on both sides” and on “calling for a peaceful resolution.”

She also notes that unlike with the war in Ukraine, where Beijing continues to censor social media comments in support of Russia’s beleaguered neighbor, with the fighting between Israel and Hamas “you can see comments on both sides.”

But there is a deeper lesson here, says Rong.

“Many people once saw the US as a place where those with opposing political views could co-exist peacefully,” she says. Pointing to last year’s shooting at a Taiwanese church in Irvine, California, Rong fears a potential US-China clash over Taiwan could rend the Chinese American community apart. “When your home countries are at war, things can be very different.”

Headlines in South Korean media were quick to draw comparisons between Hamas’ attack on Israel and the threat posed by North Korea. The Korea Daily noted that some of the weapons used during Hamas’ incursion into Israel bore Korean writing, suggesting they had come from North Korea. “The JSC (Joint Securities Command) believes North Korea is not only supplying weapons to the Palestinian militant group but also offering other services, including operational strategy and training,” the article stated.

An opinion piece in the left leaning Hankyoreh, meanwhile, notes that Israel has stood as a model of security for Korea since the 1967 Six Day War, but that Hamas’ incursion demonstrates the risks of Seoul relying solely on intelligence and a policy of extreme pressure.

“Pyongyang can always find a way to strike us through the cracks,” writes Yonsei University Professor Emeritus Moon Chung-In. “A strategy of unilateral pressure that relies on the possibility of North Korea imploding from the inside leads to angry pushback and could ultimately have disastrous consequences.”

Fighting hits home for one Arab American paper

For Fatmeh Bakhit, editor of the Arabic language Al Enteshar in Los Angeles, the fighting hits home. “I was born in Jordan. Half of my family lives in Jerusalem, the other in Jordan,” she says, noting her paper’s coverage of the violence comes directly from those experiencing it firsthand.

“We’re not depending on just what we hear from CNN, but from the hospital, those who actually see the missiles, the carnage,” says Bakhit, referring to the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza that was destroyed by a missile strike Tuesday, killing upwards of 500. Israel claims the missile came from inside Gaza, a position the US has endorsed. Others, including Hamas, dispute this, laying the blame on Israeli forces.

Bakhit says President Biden’s full-throated support of Israel and the US media’s one-sided coverage of the conflict have helped ratchet up hostilities against the Muslim and Arab American community and have stifled voices in support of Palestinians.

“Even here, in Glendale, in Chicago, and across campuses, people in our community are afraid to go out, speak out and protest,” she said, adding, “What’s happened today to us can happen to any other community in the future if we don’t stand with each other, support each other.”

As for her own role and the role of her paper, Bakhit says combating misinformation is key. “The thing we can work on here is educate our media, educate our people… because you are harming people when you spread false information.”

She adds, “At heart our focus should be to stop all this killing.”

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