News coverage of the current unrest in Gaza shows how profoundly anti-Semitism has infected the mainstream media, as reporters have mobilized the blood libel myth to disparage Israel and promote the revisionist Palestinian narrative. Though media bias against Israel has been well-documented in recent years, the use of classical anti-Jewish tropes to suggest Israeli bloodlust against Arab civilians marks an ethical low-point for journalism as a profession. One does not have to scratch too far below the surface to see that depicting Israelis as callous predators while lending credence to fictitious claims of Israeli atrocities conjures images of the blood libel, which traditionally accused Jews of ritual murder and precipitated crusades, pogroms, and massacres.
The blood libel was employed by Christians starting in medieval times (and increasingly by Muslims from at least the 19th century onward) to justify the persecution and murder of Jews throughout Europe and the Levant. Blood libel symbolism was popularized across diverse religious, ethnic and political lines – by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians; by Russians, Ukrainians and Poles; by Islamic leaders and Arab nationalists; by despotic European monarchs and the enlightened progressives who opposed them; by communists and socialists; and by right-wing zealots, fascists and Nazis. For more than a thousand years, various religious, ethnic and national leaders around the globe accused Jews of rapacious parasitism and thus facilitated wholesale degradation and suffering.
Today one might expect to find such hateful themes in extremist literature and on radical websites. The mainstream press, however, has done far more damage by its banalization of anti-Jewish imagery through the mindless repetition of false claims of Israeli abuses. Western journalists have reinforced the myth with ill-conceived stories from unvetted sources accusing Israelis of indiscriminately attacking schools and hospitals, firing on unarmed civilians, and even killing Arabs to harvest their organs. And they have maintained an unrelenting editorial campaign to undermine Israel’s right to protect herself, to inflate civilian casualty reports by misidentifying armed terrorists as innocent noncombatants, and to deny the genocidal anti-Semitism that pervades Palestinian society.
Over the years, mainstream media outlets have carried many stories containing dubious claims about Israel. Major news organizations helped promote the Mohammed al-Dura hoax, for example, which alleged that Israeli soldiers killed a young Arab boy in a crossfire battle in 2000, although analysis of video from the incident showed the “killing” had been staged. During the Gaza wars, most news services carried stories of Israeli attacks on schools and hospitals, though Hamas bombed many of those locations or used them to hide missiles, weapons, and fighters while exploiting women and children as human shields. Reporters have also been quick to rely on terrorist disinformation to buttress allegations of mass killings, like the 2002 “Jenin massacre” that proved to be a baseless fabrication.
The media’s bias is also clear from the standard of proportionality it imposes on Israel, which draws moral equivalence between terror attacks against Jewish civilians and Israel’s defensive responses. This standard is applied to no other country or conflict; and whenever Israeli military responses to terrorism are labelled “disproportionate,” the implication is that not enough Jews were killed. And even without such subtext, reporting often descends into hyperbole.
A glaring instance of journalistic excess appeared in the May 15th edition of the New York Daily News, which ran a frontpage picture of Ivanka Trump next to the photo of an injured Arab child and the superimposed caption, “DADDY’S LITTLE GHOUL.” Beneath the caption was a blurb stating, “55 slaughtered in Gaza, but Ivanka all smiles at Jerusalem embassy unveil.” The word “slaughtered” could certainly be read to imply that Israel was targeting defenseless victims (although most casualties turned out to be terrorists), while the juxtaposition of the pictures, caption, and declarative statement suggested that Ivanka was happy as people were dying.
Critics of this display claimed the paper violated a journalistic tradition of not attacking the families of politicians (though President Trump’s family has been treated as fair game by most news organizations since before his inauguration). While breaking that taboo may be worthy of criticism, most commentators missed the darker symbolism inherent in the use of the word “ghoul” to describe a Jew in conjunction with the false implication of a slaughter perpetrated by Israelis. Indeed, though many journalists have depicted the dead and wounded in Gaza as peaceful protestors, reliable witness reports from multiple sources – and statements from Hamas itself – have identified most as armed terrorists who were killed as they attacked Israelis or attempted to breach the border.
The offending graphic layout appears all the more outrageous considering the common dictionary definition of the word “ghoul,” to wit: “an evil demon, originally of Muslim legend, supposed to feed on human beings, and especially to rob graves, prey on corpses …” (see www.dictonary.com). Perhaps the choice of wording was coincidental, but it is difficult to believe that no writers or editors were aware of this etymology or its allegorical symmetry to ancient lies accusing Jews of practicing ritual murder, consuming human blood, and defiling graves.
Classic blood libel stories are routinely reported as fact in Arab media throughout the Muslim Mideast, including news outlets in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Reprehensible though these may be, they are merely blunt repetitions of the same crude tales that have been used to provoke anti-Jewish hatred for centuries. The western media, however, has updated the myth to besmirch Israel in a manner consistent with more modern sensibilities. Whereas educated westerners may have trouble believing human blood is used to bake matzah, for example, they might be more willing to accept the false premise that Jews mandate predation and murder when it is presented within the context of some facially-intelligible contemporary purpose (e.g., as a means of harvesting human organs).
The undeniable irony is that progressive commentators who advocate unconstitutional speech restrictions to safeguard those they deem worthy of protection – e.g., certain racial minorities, gay people, and Muslims – seem to have no problem harnessing deadly anti-Semitic stereotypes to delegitimize the Jewish State.
Their selective outrage against the integrity of the Jewish State is matched only by their stunning lack of concern for atrocities and human rights abuses that routinely occur throughout the Arab-Muslim Mideast, including religious repression, female genital mutilation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
Liberal journalists need not agree with all policies of the Israeli government – or of any other nation for that matter; but if they genuinely disagree with specific policies, they should identify what those policies are and report on them accurately. The failure of most journalists to adhere to this minimal basic standard is evidenced by their facile characterization of Israeli reprisals as abusive and disproportionate – despite incontrovertible evidence of Israel’s unprecedented efforts to minimize civilian casualties and provide care to the enemy wounded. Their selective outrage against the integrity of the Jewish State is matched only by their stunning lack of concern for atrocities and human rights abuses that routinely occur throughout the Arab-Muslim Mideast, including religious repression, female genital mutilation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
There is absolutely no doubt that Hamas organized the Gaza demonstrations utilizing armed violence, firebombs and human shields, secure in the knowledge that progressive apologists and media flunkies would shield it from critical scrutiny and provide it with public relations support. This became clear when a baby girl was alleged to have died of asphyxiation in the melee and reporters rushed to blame Israeli tear gas, not parents who (if the story were true) brought an infant into a war zone created by Hamas – a terror organization that intentionally puts women and children at risk. Blaming Israeli soldiers for the girl’s death (which was subsequently reported to have been caused by a blood disease and falsely attributed to Israel, while it was discovered that Hamas had paid the parents to bring her there and claim her death was due to Israel) was simply a restatement of the old calumny that Jews kill children for nefarious purposes.
Press reports of the alleged incident had all the contrivance of Thomas Monmouth’s “The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich,” a medieval anti-Semitic screed about the supposed ritual murder of young William of Norwich in 1144, which began a series of libels against the Jews of England that culminated in the Edict of Expulsion in 1290. Apparently, some slanders never grow stale.
With few exceptions, coverage of the violence in Gaza has been slanted by useful idiots in the media to defend Hamas, portray violent demonstrations as peaceful, and advance a revisionist Palestinian narrative that repudiates Israel’s legitimacy and historical antecedents. They have also been complicit in attempts by UNESCO, the Palestinian Authority, and others to erase Jewish history by inter alia validating claims that the Temple never stood in Jerusalem and characterizing landmarks like the Western Wall, the Cave of Patriarchs, and Rachel’s Tomb as “endangered Palestinian heritage sites.”
Despite hollow protestations of journalistic objectivity, media efforts to demonize Israel utilize the same imagery that inspired the Crusaders as they chanted “hep, hep” while assaulting the Jews of medieval Europe.
Misreporting out of ignorance is merely careless; but doing so knowingly betrays malicious intent. Pundits and commentators can say what they want, no matter how odious their words might be; but reporters have an obligation to get the facts right or at least to try. Selective reporting that employs ancient falsehoods and slanders to delegitimize Israel is dishonest and dishonorable.
It’s also anti-Semitic. Moreover, the use of repugnant stereotypes to defame the Jewish State demonstrates how firmly anti-Semitism is ingrained in progressive western society and why it is rightfully known as “the world’s oldest hatred.”