Framing the Paris Shootings in Israel and Abroad

When television shapes our view of the world, it’s not surprising that politicians will vie for the chance to be seen front and center.

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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A feminist newspaper photoshopped out all the males from the frame, leaving three lone women on an empty street.
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

The shape of TV newscasts and of photo-journalism in general is defined by the thin line that is drawn around the rectangle we gaze at, and separates between two applications of one little word "frame" as a noun and as a verb. In other words, it all boils down to our ability to discern who (or what) is "in the frame," and where she, he or it are in it, and who (and why) is "framing it," and for whom, and why.

The "frame" concept, in the sense of "the field of view captured by a camera; the area visible in an image" (first noted in an U.S. newspaper in 1914) shapes our view of the world through the TV lenses and screens: in the days of the Paris terror attacks there even were frames within frames (with split screens everywhere) and a remarkable difference between what was in the foreign TV newscasts and the Israeli broadcasters' frames.

CNN, BBC, Sky News and France 24 presented us with the unfolding story while it lasted with the Charlie Hebdo carnage being the "main event" and the lethal Hyper Kasher hostage attack being a most significant footnote, or sequel, with the anchors and reporters trying to piece out a puzzle out of conflicting bits of information, within the framework of Muslim insurgence in Europe, clash of religions and civilizations, and an assault on the concept of free speech. The Israeli channels, understandably, saw the events through the undoubtedly and regrettably existent anti-Semitic angle, with the anchors and reporters rather patronizingly criticizing the French security forces' handling of the crisis.

That discrepancy had highlighted to subtle difference between "framing it" in the sense of "to form or construct (a thought, a concept, an idea, etc.) in the mind" (first attested in 1529) and in the sense of "to concoct a false charge or accusation against (a person); to devise a scheme or plot with regard to (someone); to make the victim of a frame-up" (first attested in 1912).

On Sunday, the cameras and photographer lenses turned their view-finders onto the streets of Paris, to cover the huge march of international solidarity, led by world leaders marching together "as-one-man-(and woman) to defy terror. That had resulted in one famous frame of the front row of world leaders, and the background stories of how some of them (Netanyahu) got there.

I'm skipping here the whole story of who had or hadn't invited whom to fly to Paris, to march and be counted. Let's start with the fact that Netanyahu wanted to be there in order to keep the Jewish misfortune "in the frame," and disregarding the fact that it inevitably drags the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a world picture that is hopelessly muddled on its own. But he went to Paris to be seen by all, and therefore his efforts to be in the first row – elbowing his way as we Israelis know how - has to be understood, if not actually commended, and not criticized (as they were, here and abroad). His problem was – in a nutshell – how to be situated center-frame without being seen (and documented in consecutive film frames) pushing and shoving to get there.

That was how the story had looked like when the frame was full with leaders galore. So far, so bad. But wait, it can get further and worse.

When it had widened, it turned out that the frame we had been dissecting was not the whole story. As seen from further out and up, the line-up of the front phalanx filling up the whole frame was not happening in real time, marching on Paris streets. It was a photo-op taken for publicity purposes on an empty side street, exactly that kind of photo where the only thing that counts is where you are in the frame.

So, in fact, Netanyahu was the one who had got the point of the photo-op and was working according to its rules. What's the point in going somewhere to be seen there if you are not seen? And as it soon turned out, even former French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to pull "a Netanyahu" and jostle his way up to the front, but was much less adept in pushing when it had come to shove. The French press had a field day with that bit in the same way the Israeli press had enjoyed skewering Netanyahu about him being unnecessarily and inelegantly (without any Parisian chic) pushy.

It could have ended there, but frames tend to be very flexible when perused closely. The ultra-Orthodox newspaper HaMevaser reported on the march, with the (in?)famous frame of leaders framing themselves, but in consideration for its very observant readers it had photoshopped German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo out of the frame. That, in turn, caused a feminist newspaper to photoshop out all the males from the frame, leaving three lone women on an empty street. Which just shows us again that when you analyze and dissect a composition of a frame – be it a TV screen in a particular moment or a "still" photo - you'd be much better off if you bear in mind that there is no frame without a "framer," and that each frame is intended by someone to frame, or frame up, someone or something. That someone may even be you.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In my case, make it two thousand. However, in the case of this column, it means that one small word "frame" is worth more than the remaining rest. And the rest is in the frame.