Spotlight on Israel
February 12, 2008
The International Herald Tribune, published by The New York Times, arrives daily (except for Saturdays) on my doorstep along with the English edition of Ha'aretz (the Trib has similar working relationships with local papers in many different countries). Each edition has a section called "Briefly: International" that contains short articles from around the world. On Monday February 4 one of these was from Colombo, Sri Lanka and was headlined "suicide bomber kills 11 and wounds at least 90." The 3-paragraph piece noted: "A Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up Sunday at the main railroad station in the capital . . . The attack was part of a major increase in violence on this Indian Ocean Island."
It so happened that on Monday February 4 Israel had its own suicide bomber to deal with. The International Herald Tribune reported this news on the front page of its February 5 edition, with a picture of the blood-splattered bomb scene and a caption that told of "a suicide bombing Monday that killed one Israeli and wounded 11 in the southern town of Dimona." Inside the paper, a very large article (21 paragraphs) provided the full story.
The next day's International Herald Tribune again had the Dimona bombing on its from page, in a section with the day's news highlights. Under the heading "Hamas claims attack in southern Israel," readers learned that "Israel appeared to face a heightened threat of suicide bombings." Inside the paper, there was another large article (14 paragraphs), which concluded by giving the name and age of the woman killed in the bombing: Liuvov Razdolaskya, 73. Needless to say, there was no follow-up story to the Colombo bombing.
I have to admit that I usually enjoy the media spotlight on Israel. Indeed, I often turn to the articles in the International Herald Tribune to complete my own knowledge of current events in Israel. It's true that in reading about, say, the various minute intrigues of Israel's political parties, or an Israeli cultural fad, or unusual weather in Israel, I sometimes scratch my head and ask: aren't there bigger things than this going on in much bigger countries? What about China, India, and Australia (Sri Lanka's population, by the way, at 20 million, is about 3 times Israel's). But then again, who am I to complain? If the International Herald Tribune wants to cover the details of Israeli life, I am going to want to read all about it.
Still, I was troubled by the huge difference between the coverage of the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka and in Israel. Who were those 11 people killed by the suicide bomber on February 4 in Colombo? What were their names and ages? Does no one care about them? Do I not care about them? And what about the 18 people killed just the day before in a different suicide bombing in Sri Lanka, on a bus in the town of Dambulla, about 90 miles northeast of Colombo (part of the "major increase in violence" obliquely mentioned by the International Herald Tribune--the Tamil Tigers hoped to spoil government celebrations on Monday February 4 marking the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence from Great Britain!).
I realize that the International Herald Tribune is economically incented to cover Israel closely, since this apparently is what its readers want. Usually, however, readers can blithely ignore the fact that what they are reading comes at the expense of other stories. This was not the case on February 5. As I read about the Dimona bombing, I felt bad for the anonymous Sri Lankan victims whose lives just did not rate my paper's attention.
Copyright 2008, Teddy Weinberger