Commentary Magazine


Topic: media bias against Israel

No Moral Equivalence for Synagogue Terror

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

While much is made in both the Israeli and international media about “price tag” attacks from Israelis, especially West Bank settlers, against Arabs, an Internet listing of all such attacks in the last seven years yields approximately 20 such vandalism incidents against mosques. While each one deserves condemnation and punishment for the perpetrators, an average of two or three a year hardly counts as an epidemic. That is especially true when the same vilified West Bank settlers suffer daily attacks on their persons and property including deadly instances of terrorism as well as mere graffiti or arson. These attacks are so common that they rarely merit news coverage even in Israel, let alone the foreign press.

Among the attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank was the burning of a historic Jewish synagogue in Jericho and the sack of the synagogue at the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000 at the start of the second intifada. During that assault a Muslim mob assisted by Palestinian Authority policemen desecrated sacred Jewish objects and then burned the building to the ground. Rudoren felt no need to mention these incidents in her attempt to provide historical context for this week’s terror attack.

Yet she did cite the 1994 murder of 29 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Jews have also committed terror. But that example actually tells us more about the lack of moral equivalence than anything else.

It should be remembered that Goldstein’s insane murder spree was condemned not only by the Israeli government but was widely condemned by a consensus of Israeli society. Goldstein’s act was considered a blot on the honor of the Jewish people by all but a few mad extremists on the far right. Just as important, it resulted in the banning by the Israeli government of Kach, the group of radical followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

By contrast, Palestinian society embraced the two synagogue murderers as heroes this week. Their act of barbarism was celebrated in the streets of Palestinian cities and endorsed by members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party (though, forced by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas issued a condemnation) as well as their Hamas rivals. This is hardly surprising since Abbas had praised recent terror attacks on Jews by Palestinians and even said one who attempted to murder a Jewish activist was a “martyr” who went straight to heaven. Moreover, Goldstein’s murders still stand as one of the few examples of anti-Arab terrorism while attacks on Jews in the 20 years since his crime are almost too numerous to count.

The point here is not to excuse or rationalize any violence against Muslims, acts that are committed by only tiny minority and which almost all Israelis rightly condemn. It is to note that violence against Jews is considered praiseworthy by mainstream Palestinian culture. Seeking to treat such acts as if they are merely the other side of the coin from Jewish crimes isn’t merely a distortion of the facts, it is a willful attempt to obfuscate the truth about a conflict in which only one side is committed to the destruction of the other.

As I wrote yesterday, the cycle of violence in the Middle East is fed by a political culture that treats the war on Jews and Zionism as inextricably linked to Palestinian national identity. No amount of false moral equivalence by Rudoren or any other Western reporter can alter the fact that until that changes, we will continue to see more such attacks on Jews. Until the West and its media stops treating the Palestinian commitment to violence as somehow the fault of Israeli misbehavior or no different than isolated acts committed by Israelis, the Palestinians won’t get the message that this has to end if peace is to ever be achieved.

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Murdoch, “Jewish-Owned Press” and Israel

It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

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It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

I imagine Beinart was not incorrect to assume that the primary “Jewish owned press” outlet that Murdoch was thinking of was the New York Times that yesterday led with a front-page op-ed masquerading as a news analysis that mischaracterized the reasons for Israel’s “toughness.” He might also have been thinking about the Jewish ties of the family that has long owned the Washington Post that published this front page the other day. In that context, it wasn’t unreasonable for the non-Jewish Murdoch to wonder why these papers as well as much of the liberal media are often so reflexively hostile to Israel’s cause even when it is clearly the aggrieved party, as it is this week after Hamas rocket attacks set off the current conflict.

In response, Beinart only sees a foolish observer assuming that Jewish publishers should sacrifice their journalistic integrity when covering Israel and assume the pose of Zionist cheerleaders.

But that is not what Murdoch or many other media critics are talking about. Quite the contrary; in the last 30 years we have often seen mainstream publications ditching their integrity to unfairly bash Israel.

Part of Beinart’s own pose as a Jewish critic of Israel is the claim that taking the position that the Jewish state must be saved from itself is so unpopular that it takes courage to stray from the AIPAC playbook. But anyone who has observed the way the media works knows that the opposite is true. The easiest way for any self-identified Jewish writer to get published on the op-ed page of the Times or to get prominent notice in most other mainstream publications is to attack Israel. Indeed, at times it seems the only papers that do regularly publish defenses of Israel against these unfair attacks are the ones Murdoch owns.

Let’s assume that all those who treat Israel unfairly or show bias against it are doing so with motives that are pure as the driven snow. Let us further assume, as we probably should, that all those Jews who do so are not self-hating Jews but just ignorant, blinded by ideology or just as misguided as Beinart.

But let’s not pretend that any journalist who takes such a stance, or a publisher who puts out a newspaper or magazine where Israel is harshly treated, is being brave. Far from it, running with the pack baying for Israel’s blood is the path of least resistance in mainstream media culture.

Under these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that many Jews as well as some non-Jews like Murdoch are given to wondering aloud about why so many Jews in the business are so little moved by Israel’s predicament and so inclined to rationalize the actions of the Jewish state’s foes.

As usual, Beinart has it backwards. Far from wanting Jews in journalism to jettison their professional obligations, what media critics want is for them to return to a position of integrity and to tell the story of the Middle East conflict more accurately. If they did, media bias against Israel wouldn’t be as much of a factor as it is today.

Though Murdoch expressed this sentiment poorly, he was a lot closer to the truth of the situation than the bile that Beinart directed at him.

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