Media Microscope: Terror of the word “Terrorism”

Allon Lee

 

The shocking and deadly attack against a busload of Israeli civilians preparing to holiday in the Bulgarian sea resort of Burgas was still insufficient for some media outlets to use the dreaded “T” word – “terrorism”.

Radio host Tony Eastley strangely asked European correspondent Philip Williams “What were the Israelis doing there?” even after Williams had made it clear they were on holiday. Eastley also asked Williams whether the US has “bought into this attack and had any comments about it?” which suggests governments condemning a major terrorist attack against civilians would be unusual and perhaps opportunistic, involving a deliberate effort to “buy into” the issue, ABC Radio “AM” (July 19).

Washington Institute terrorism expert Dr. Matthew Levitt told Ashley Hall that the likely culprit was Hezbollah, which had been responsible for a thwarted plot “in Bulgaria in January… but then last week a Hezbollah operative was arrested in Cyprus for plotting what appears to be a very similar operation targeting Israeli tour buses,” ABC Radio “World Today” (July 19).

Tony Jones asked Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, “After the bombing of the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, fingers pointed immediately at Iran. Iran has denied this. Is there any chance at all this is linked in some way to what is going on in Syria?” – a reference to the bomb which killed several high-level Syrian Government officials, including the Defence Minister, at a national security headquarters in Damascus.

Indyk noted that the link is in the “broader strategic context” and “part of a shadow of war that’s been going on between Israel and Iran with nuclear scientists in Iran being assassinated and Hezbollah and the al-Quds force in Iran targeting Israeli tourists around the world or Israeli diplomat… We’ve seen it in India, in Thailand. And so the larger connection is that Iran is of course Syria’s ally, it’s the mainstay of support for the Assad regime and it uses the Assad regime as the conduit for its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hezbollah has presumably been responsible for this terrorist attack against Israel,” ABC TV “Lateline” (July 19).

Ruth Pollard wrote that the attack comes amid concerted lobbying “from Washington to quell Israel’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (July 20).

The only Australian newspaper to take a principled stand and describe the attack as “terrorism” was the Australian.

Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote how “After an eight-year lull since the last Israeli bus was bombed in Beersheba in 2004, that terrifying token reappeared on Thursday at Burgas in Bulgaria, a terrorist incident that, despite the fact that it took place abroad, conjured those dark days of the Second Intifada many Israeli had hoped, against their better judgment, would never return,” Australian (July 21).

Australian Middle East correspondent John Lyons offered a personal perspective on the significance of the Bulgarian terrorist attack, noting how “when you live in Israel you see the human effect of terrorism up close. One of the most difficult stories I’ve had to cover was the funeral of the four Toulouse victims.”

Lyons wrote that “It is difficult for those who do not live in Israel to understand the impact that terrorism, particularly the second intifada, has had on this society” and insisted that someone “every foreign journalist coming to Israel should meet is Arnold Roth, originally from Melbourne.”
“On August 9, 2001, Roth’s daughter Malki, 15, walked into the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem. A man with a guitar case also walked in and exploded himself, killing Malki and 14 others… It is excruciating but important to hear Roth recall the night his daughter was killed. He turned up to one hospital looking for his daughter and a frantic doctor told him: ‘There’s a dead girl over there, go and have a look, and there’s another girl over there who’s about to be operated on.’ He and his wife Frimet now run a foundation in Malki’s name that raises money for disabled children… both Jewish and Arab,” Australian (July 21).

The Australian editorialised that Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in the attack “is a timely reminder of how crucial it is to ensure that, as a state committed to terrorism, Iran is never allowed to get nuclear weapons… Beefed up international sanctions against Iran are being given time to work and hopefully may yet bring the malevolent regime to its senses. But we should not count on it. The international community must leave Iran in no doubt that every option remains on the table… Allowing the perpetrators of acts like that in Bulgaria to get their fingers on the triggers of nuclear weapons would be disastrous,” Australian (July 21).