On Tuesday, November 18, I arrived in Israel at 9:30 a.m.
When I landed, I didn’t know that one hour before, two Palestinian terrorists had hacked and shot to death four rabbis and a policeman and had injured more than a dozen worshippers at the morning services inside their synagogue.
Later in the day I started to receive some emails from colleagues back in the States who had woken to the news on TV and told me that I should “be careful.”
Of course, they were warning me about my personal safety. While I appreciated their concern, I knew that my personal safety in Israel was not the issue. The issue to me was and is the safety of the Jewish people in the climate of growing anti-Semitism, disguised as criticism of Israel’s conduct of negotiations with the Palestinians or criticism of its conduct of the military operation in Gaza. The murder of four people at prayer in their house of worship and a policeman who came to their rescue is a horrific event. It is a violation of the rules of decent human conduct, even among those who disagree about the vexing issues that face Israelis and Palestinians. However, the thought that the Jewish people could return to circumstances of pre-Holocaust Germany in my lifetime is startling, frightening, and wholly unacceptable – but it is not impossible. The reporting of the murders in Jerusalem by two of the world’s most important news outlets provides insight into how the trend toward blatant anti-Semitism is facilitated by their coverage.
We live in an age of instant, uncensored, raw information, courtesy of breaking news on TV, the internet, and social media. Although it is true that the print media do not strive for enough accuracy in reporting on the Middle East, journalistic professionalism and editorial review would sift out the bad from accurate reporting. Despite the different delivery methods, when it comes to the treatment of Israel and by extension the Jewish people, news reporting often is quick to characterize Jewish conduct, civilian and military, in ways that facilitate anti-Semitism and make lethal action against Jews more likely.
Much was made of the “asymmetry” of the conflict during the Israeli military operations in Gaza. Israel, with its highly regarded military, caused civilian losses that were not “proportional” to the losses suffered by Israelis, we were told. Coverage of the conflict was filled with sad images of Palestinian children lying dead after explosions attributed to Israeli strikes. That Israel’s actions were in response to thousands of rockets fired at its civilian population, that its actions included previously unheard of efforts to warn the civilian population of Gaza to get out of harm’s way, and that Israel has offered the world proof that Hamas used its civilian population as pawns are truths that cannot be challenged reasonably. But day after day the world was fed a steady stream of sad images of dead Gazan children. Those images provided anti-Semites reason to attack the Jewish state and the Jewish people with hateful words, and in some countries to attack them physically.
I travel the world for business regularly; I have visited more than 20 countries so far this year. There are two news channels that provide 24-hour reporting to the English-speaking world; CNN and BBC. On the day of the murders in Jerusalem, Israel’s Naftali Bennett was interviewed on BBC, after a Palestinian spokesman who claimed that Jews were murdering Palestinians in Jerusalem. Mr. Bennett held up a photograph of a murdered Jew, wearing a tallit, lying on the floor of the synagogue. The BBC interviewer directed him to lower the photograph. “We don’t actually want to see that picture,” he said.
As everyone knows, CNN betrayed its tendency to show Palestinians as victims by reporting “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem” on its news tickers. It did not mention that the “2 Palestinians” were the murderers. In a small text, the words “terror attack” were in quotation marks. Then it attributed the Israeli deaths to Israeli police action! In another incident, CNN superimposed a ticker reading “Deadly attack on Jerusalem mosque,” over an interview with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
When global news services cannot report the truth accurately and fairly, why is it surprising that anti-Semites who “report” gross lies and distortions on social media are able to do so with impunity?
How did this happen? Bad judgment? Bad reporting? I think not. I think that the pervasive anti-Israeli feeling in the media that caused writers and reporters to assume that the Jews were the perpetrators and the Palestinians the victims. It is a narrative that the media finds appealing. However, in finding every opportunity to cast Jews as the victimizers of Palestinians, the media ignores the facts and instead dehumanizes Jews.
To those BBC and CNN reporters, of course if people were killed in a house of worship in Jerusalem it had to be in a mosque, not a synagogue. To those reporters, of course if people were killed in Jerusalem it had to be at the hands of the Israeli police, not Palestinian terrorists. And of course if there was a tragedy that demanded sympathy, it only would be appropriate if the sympathy went to Palestinians.
To report this terrible crime accurately would require that the reporter, readers, and viewers see the Jews as human victims of a vicious crime, not its perpetrators. Such accurate and fair reporting would not fit into the story line that the media want to tell.
The results of such reporting do far more harm to the Jewish world than a media correction and apology can possibly repair.
It is time for the media to recognize the impact of its words and images upon the growth of anti-Semitism, and to change this course before it is too late.