In a lecture hosted by JMK/Stockholm University, Gideon Meir the Deputy Director of Public Relations at the Israeli Department for Foreign Affairs, tried to provide the listeners with an another version of recent events in Israel. But, the view was a one-handed one, and instead of adding nuance to the conflict, a yet more contrasted picture emerged.

It’s not often that one sees bodyguards in Sweden. Not if you’re a student, mostly diving your time between seminars, secluded libraries and busy pubs with cheap beer. Hey, we’re all friends, right? Wednesday morning was another story: men dressed in black scrutinized me as I entered my oh-so-familiar lecture hall. At the podium was Gideon Meir, and on the first row Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Eviatar Manor, and a few aids. All dressed in powersuites. All looking very out of place among the students and professors present.

The title of the seminar was The Media as a Third Party to the Conflict, and the moderator from JMK introduced the speaker. Mr. Meir started the lecture by explaining that what we were about to hear was a 40-minutes version of a 1 1/2 hour lecture, and fired up PowerPoint. As if to show how pressed for time we were, he skipped a handful of slides.

He started with saying that he thought Sweden was one of the most Palestine-biased countries in the world, when it came to the media. Not without indignation in his voice he added that during his Stockholm visit, it appeared no journalists were even interested in talking to him. He’d only done one interview; for the Swedish public service radio channel SR/P1. This, he thought, was because Swedes have already made up their minds and was not open for the other side.

Mr. Meir admitted that not letting the media into Jenin was indeed a mistake that was not to be repeated, since it was the root of all the “myths and misconceptions” about what actually took place. However, it was in the journalists’ interest to keep out of Jenin, he argued, since it was extremely dangerous to roam around in a war zone. So, it was out of Israeli consideration for the journalists that they were banned. At least, he said, there should have been embedded reporters – something he clearly was positive to since out of experience, he knew that embedding gave more favorable and positive articles. At the same time he admitted that embedded journalists were not good for public discourse and for producing fair news. I was quite interesting, I thought, to hear a senior official admit to this reason for embedding.

The Israeli position on democratic openness is a guarantee for good reporting, Mr. Meir maintained, and said that the practice of censorship is very limited, and applied only to issues of national security etcetera. 99% of Israel is completely transparent for journalists, he said. Why, he asked, do the conflict attract so much interest compared to other wars or international issues? He stressed that Israel is a big country, and that very little is shown from the other, calmer parts of Israel. His PR-department, he say, receive around $8.5 million a year in funding, and such a tight budget does not allow him to focus on such things.

He continued by showing how media portrayed the conflict throughout the world (interestingly enough he skipped most of the Swedish examples one could see when looking at the distributed seminar notes, I wonder why…). From an academic standpoint his methods of picture analysis was hardly great, however in all fairness this could also depend on cultural context; the decoding of signs, signifiers and myths are not an exact science. More disturbingly, I found that few of the (arbitrary) examples he’d included were such that they could not be verified independently and/or systematically. Also his way of presenting “evidence” that Sharon was portrayed like Il Duce by European media for example was less than satisfying – given enough time I bet you I could find a picture of the Dalai Lama looking pissed off, without that really proving a thing per se.

It’s quite obvious from looking at the state of the region, that both sides use the media for its purposes – some with more success than others – but I really had no idea that the versions were so far apart. Personally, I have to say that I’m very much sceptic to a lot of what he said, partly because of the lacking methodology in his research, but also because I obviously do not share the same basic contexts. I can for example, at least on some level, see suicide bombers as victims – murderers yes, criminals yes – but also victims of an increasingly desperate society. This cultural divide between myself and Mr. Meir makes it near impossible for the two of us to agree on issues of cause and consequence.

So, after the quite heated debate, where the occasional professor did a bad job of hiding his contempt against the Israeli policies, I was indeed somewhat disappointed. Sure, it was interesting to hear the official Israeli version of certain events, and I’m sure that some of them are true, but it did not cast any light on the more delicate questions.

I could not help to feel the bodyguards eyeballing me on my way out, and I imagined what information was being fed to them through the not-so-discrete earpiece they were wearing.