Commentary Magazine


Topic: blood libel

Bias, Blood Libels, and the Media’s Race to the Bottom

If you are looking for a single headline that best sums up the state of American reporting on Israel, the Algemeiner has provided a good candidate: “TIME Magazine Retracts IDF Organ Theft Claim Following Criticism.” Do Jews kill gentile children to harvest their organs? It’s a question that has echoed throughout the ages, and was asked–and initially answered in the affirmative–by a major institution of American journalism in 2014. That question raises another one: Have the editors at Time magazine completely lost their minds?

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If you are looking for a single headline that best sums up the state of American reporting on Israel, the Algemeiner has provided a good candidate: “TIME Magazine Retracts IDF Organ Theft Claim Following Criticism.” Do Jews kill gentile children to harvest their organs? It’s a question that has echoed throughout the ages, and was asked–and initially answered in the affirmative–by a major institution of American journalism in 2014. That question raises another one: Have the editors at Time magazine completely lost their minds?

The headline is great in part because it shows that Time removed the sick fabrication only “following criticism.” Was the criticism unexpected? But read past the headline, and it only gets worse for Time. Here’s the lede: “Time Magazine retracted a report on Sunday which claimed the Israeli army harvested dead Palestinians’ internal organs after a watchdog group accused the publication of propagating a ‘blood libel.’”

That’s putting it kindly. The watchdog group–HonestReporting–did not so much “accuse” Time of propagating a blood libel as point out that Time was obviously propagating a blood libel. Is there another term for Time’s medieval delusions?

What happened was the following: Time produced a video about the Israel Defense Forces. At one point in the video, the narrator says that the “IDF is not without controversy.” That’s because, according to the video, “in 2009 a Swedish report came out exposing some Israeli troops of selling organs of Palestinians who died in their custody.”

Of course, it did nothing of the sort. A Swedish report had not only not “exposed” such activity but the author of its blood libel said: “whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.” Time has flirted with turning Jewish stereotypes into “reporting” before–remember Karl Vick’s contention that the Jews were too rich and concerned with their money to care about peace with the Palestinians?–but never quite like this. Why Time magazine sees its role as the sewage treatment plant for the rotting refuse of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories is another question worth asking.

But also key here is the role of rumor–whether of the blood libel variety or simple unsubstantiated terrorist propaganda–in the West’s reporting on Israel’s conflict with Hamas. There is, in fact, real reporting being done. Just not by reporters.

For example, over at the popular Israel blog Israellycool, one of its primary contributors, Dan Smith, looked into the UN’s recently released report on damage to Gaza during the first month of Operation Protective Edge. Smith has used this “crisis atlas” to create interactive Google maps of the damage to compare with population maps and maps of terrorist targets in Gaza to create a picture of where the IDF is attacking and why. (He also repeats the crucial reminder that since so many Hamas rockets and mortars misfire, some of the damage is due not to Israeli strikes but to Hamas.)

I recommend reading Smith’s whole post, especially but not solely for the various maps. But Smith makes the following point about what the UN’s numbers–almost certainly exaggerating Israel’s culpability, it should be noted–reveal (emphasis in the original):

It now becomes very clear that most of the damage was caused to 5 locations right on the border with Israel. The rest of the Gaza Strip was, for the most part, undamaged. The main population areas of Gaza city, Jabaliya, Khan Yunes, Rafah and Deir el-Balah were disproportionately undamaged.

If we do a rough estimate of the damage area, it is once again clear the vast majority of the Gaza Strip was unscathed. With a fairly generous estimation that a damage point has a 25 meter radius – the footprint of a house, or the blast radius of a bomb – the total damage area of the 12,433 impacts was in the order of 15 KM2. The land area of the Gaza strip is 360 Km2. In other words, less than 5% of the land was affected.

It may not seem earth shattering, especially because it is unlikely to change many minds; the critics of Israel’s right to self-defense have never been particularly susceptible to facts. But it’s a glaring example of what the “official” media, the mainstream press, isn’t doing much of.

There isn’t nearly enough thoughtful analysis in the media or reporters willing to examine and question the assumptions and propaganda they’re fed by Hamas and its NGO allies, instead using reporters on the ground who worship Yasser Arafat. This is often the case when Israel is at war; in 2006, the Reuters practice of using photoshoppers masquerading as photographers led to the application of the term “fauxtography” to Reuters’ work in the Middle East.

But this lack of reporting appears to have spread to Time, and in a particularly offensive way. As hard as it is to believe, media coverage of Israel is actually deteriorating. The race to the bottom hasn’t stopped; it’s just gotten more crowded.

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Hamas Asks You to Buy a Dam in the Negev

One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

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One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

It should first be noted that the original sources for the claim that Israel opens dams to flood Gaza come from Iran’s Press TV. That font of journalistic integrity floated stories in 2010 and 2012 that spoke of Israeli authorities flooding Gaza by opening dams that supposedly exist to the east of the Gaza strip. But these stories provide no maps showing the site of the dams or documentation about them. Neither that shortcoming nor even a basic knowledge of the geography of the area has stopped Israel-bashers from continuing to blog or tweet links to these fallacious reports.

It should also be noted that Israel, which had its hands full dealing with the impact of the freak storm on its own territory, responded to the distress in Gaza by sending the area–which is, it should be remembered, governed by a group that doesn’t recognize the existence of the Jewish state–pumps to deal with the flash floods in coastal areas caused by unusually heavy rains that pelted the area. But that truth is no match for the willingness of so many to believe the worst about Israel.

In the case of the Palestinians, this is more than just rumor mongering. Hamas blames Israel for suffering in Gaza because that is the only way it can deflect responsibility from itself for the incompetent manner with which it rules the strip. More to the point, these recycled Iranian lies feed into the prejudices of Palestinian political culture that not only rejects Israel but views the Jews as the font of all evil and the source of all Palestinian suffering. Iran’s propaganda machines like its Press TV feed this paranoia in order to fuel hatred of Israel. Palestinians buy it because it allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own fate and for making peace.

Thus, rather than dismiss this story or laugh it off, serious observers of the Middle East ought to be paying more attention to it. Until Palestinian factions stop blaming Israel for the weather, purveyors of Jew hatred will continue to dominate their politics and keep alive false hope about Israel’s eventual destruction. Rather than worry about enticing Abbas back to the negotiating table where he will continue to prevaricate and try to avoid making a decision about ending the conflict or Fatah-Hamas unity, Kerry should realize that an Arab and Muslim world that is willing to believe such hateful nonsense is not likely to accept a Jewish state in their midst no matter where its borders are drawn.

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