Analysis: The media turns anti-Israel art into big news

The opening of what the artist has dubbed “The Scar of Bethlehem” has garnered vast coverage.

By Tamar Sternthal, JNS

A major media event has hit the biblical town of Bethlehem, Jesus’s birthplace, just days before Christmas: The secretive artist Banksy has produced a new exhibit depicting the nativity scene with Israel’s concrete security barrier in the background, topped by a bullet hole as the Star of Bethlehem.

The opening of what the artists has dubbed “The Scar of Bethlehem” has garnered vast coverage.

Articles include those by the Associated Press (“Banksy takes politically charged Nativity Scene to Bethlehem“), Agence France Presse (“Mysterious artist Bansky unveils dark nativity in Bethlehem“), Reuters (“Banksy’s ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ nativity unveiled in West Bank hotel“), Sky News (“Banksy ‘nativity’ appears at his Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem“); The Mirror (“Banksy paints baby Jesus nativity scene. . . “), The Independent (“Banksy unveils ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ nativity mural“), BBC (“Banksy ‘nativity scene’ appears in Bethlehem hotel“), CNN (“Banksy unveils ‘modified nativity’ scene in Bethlehem“) and The Irish Independent (“Banksy highlights conflict with his ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ nativity“).

Video pieces on the exhibit were produced by, among others, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America (the three-minute promotional piece does not include even one word about why the security barrier was built), and numerous photographs from the major wire services.

Based on the media frenzy, one would assume that the work was a towering mural, a dominant feature in the city, outside the boutique Walled Off hotel, perhaps appearing on the security barrier itself, which sits right next to the high-end lodging based around Banksy’s work.

"Scar of Bethlehem

The artwork occupies a corner of a hotel in Bethlehem. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

It’s actually a small affair that sits atop a little end table inside the hotel. The diminutive size of the art installation, however, was apparently not a factor in the determination of news organizations to dedicate astounding amounts of high-profile coverage to it.

Editors considered the unveiling of “Scar of Bethlehem” so newsworthy that photographers used it as a hook for images of the hotel’s facade and the nearby security barrier; in other words, pictures which don’t even show the actual installation.

Has the opening of any other art exhibit — never mind a single small installation — ever garnered so must interest before in Israel or Judea and Samaria, warranting headlines in numerous leading news organizations?

None of the aforementioned media outlets which covered the opening of “Scar of Bethlehem” gave any coverage to the graffiti murals painted on Israeli bomb shelters by visiting international artists. According to Artists 4 Israel:

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“Artists 4 Israel’s team of international artists (over 1,000 participating artists representing 21 different countries) have painted over 800 murals across the world on everything from bomb shelters and orphanages to the middle of the most populous cities. These murals transform the grim reminders of war and terrorism into outdoor art galleries, beautify areas in need of renewal, add color to communities darkened by poverty and show that people in need are supported by Israel, artists and the creative communities of the world.”

Notably, Artists 4 Israel murals don’t trade in cheap anti-Israel propaganda in which Jesus and his family are depicted as Palestinians oppressed by the Israeli military, like the Banksy installation which places Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the foot of the towering, bullet-scarred separation barrier.

Falsely casting Jesus and his parents as Palestinian is standard Palestinian propaganda. As noted by CAMERA’s Tricia Miller, according to this formulation, “just as 1st century Jews persecuted Jesus, the Jewish state now persecutes Palestinians, the purported descendants of Jesus.” By giving the small installation such disproportionate coverage, journalists have provided a platform to propagate this falsehood.

Moreover, the suggestion that the Israeli military is firing on Jesus evokes ancient anti-Semitic charges of deicide. The widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism includes the following: “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”

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Instead of exploring and exposing the anti-Semitic canard behind the installation, or choosing not to give the vitriolic message a platform, media outlets uniformly provided warm, approving coverage. As one tourist interviewed in a Reuters video put it: “I think it’s totally true that the connection is really, really important and Banksy found exactly how to tell without words the reality.”

According to the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic line of reasoning so warmly adopted in the approving media reports, the “connection” is that just as Jews oppressed and killed Jesus long ago, today they oppress and kill his descendants, the Palestinians.

Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).