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July 31, 2008

Washington Post National Desk Gets Israel's Size Right

The Washington Post foreign desk periodically describes countries as big or bigger than Israel as "tiny." But regardless of its small size (about 8,000 square miles) and population (a little more than seven million people, of them about 5.6 million Jews), the Jewish state rarely if every gets the adjective "tiny," or its synonyms, from The Post's foreign news department, as the CAMERA SNAPSHOT "Tiny Georgia, Big Israel?" (May 29, 2008) pointed out.

Usage by Post national and metro desk reporters is another, apparently more accurate, matter. In covering Sen. Barack Obama's visit to Israel, national reporter Jonathan Weisman and metro reporter Michelle Boorstein informed readers that Israel is "a speck on the globe that is slightly smaller than New Jersey ...." ("Obama Working to Ensure Jewish Vote: Meticulous Planning for Visit to Israel Indicates Importance," July 24, 2008). Yes, the same comparison used by the CIA World Fact Book and virtually shunned by The Post's foreign desk.

Implying that Israel is larger than it is by omitting basic geographic and demographic information could allow readers to assume that Israel is more responsible for Middle Eastern problems or better able to take risks than it is, or that it faces less serious threats than it does.

Weisman and Boorstein, and their national and metro desk editors, served Post readers well by being specific, and doing so in a way many Americans can relate to quickly. Their informative analogy undercuts erroneous double standard comparisons that hold Israel as a regional Goliath to the Palestinian Arabs' David. The foreign desk could learn from this example. AG

Posted by ER at July 31, 2008 02:30 PM


I am not sure "a speck" is accurate either, and the impression left by minimizing Israel's demographic achievement is that it is somehow, even now, not a going concern. In fact, the Jewish population of Israel has grown almost ten-fold since 1948. There are more Jews in Israel than there are Danes in Denmark, Norwegians in Norway, Finns in Finland, and Irish in Ireland. Israel has reached the demographic critical mass of a nation-state on the smaller end of the European scale (and it's much more than that, economically and militarily), and anyone who thinks it can be made to disappear into some sort of "one-state solution" is engaging in a fantasy fifty years out of date. So let's not encourage the media to minimize Israel either, or suggest it is an impermanent feature of the Middle Eastern landscape. Because it isn't.

Posted by: Martin Kramer at July 31, 2008 07:31 PM

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