My Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff has written a smart analysis for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz showing how two competing origin stories — one frequently told, one largely ignored — have helped tilt public sentiment toward the Palestinian side in the war between Israel and Hamas. You should be able to read her piece with free registration.
Leff looked at “more than 500 news articles and opinion pieces appearing in the U.S.’s top 50 newspapers in the six weeks after the [Oct. 7] attack that contained various combinations of terms related to the 1948 conflict.” What she found was that though the press frequently cited the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — that sent some 700,000 Palestinians into exile in 1948, references to the Holocaust are lacking, even though Israel was created for the express purpose of providing a Jewish homeland following the devastating genocide that took place at the hands of Nazi Germany.
The purpose of Leff’s analysis is not to argue that the Palestinians don’t have legitimate grievances; rather, she writes that too many people are making moral judgments as to who’s right and who’s wrong without considering the full context. Among the news organizations she cites as falling short are The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press. She writes:
Several reasons account for the Nakba’s eclipsing the Holocaust in post-October 7 American media coverage. The press likely assumes the Holocaust’s role is so baked into public understanding that it doesn’t need to be spelled out. In addition, the 1948 displacement explains events in Gaza in a way Holocaust survivors settling in Israel proper does not. Palestinian activists also seem more determined to propel their 1948 narrative into public consciousness.
Whatever the reasons, the result is a void. A powerful state controlled by Jews emerges out of nowhere and immediately persecutes and displaces Arabs living in its midst. Who the Jews are, why they are there, what they hope to create is never explicated. Into the void flows more noxious accounts, of colonial settlers who migrated to the region only to pillage and exploit, of white supremacists whose sole interest is in subjugating an indigenous population.
I hope you’ll read Laurel’s entire piece. This is a moment that calls for radical understanding. Just as we can’t overlook the reality of the Nakba and the ongoing repression of Palestinians, so, too, we must take into account the reality that 6 million Jews had just been murdered in the Holocaust, and that the world came together to create a Jewish homeland in a place to which they had ancient ties — and where hundreds of thousands of Jews were already living.
These days, the competing claims between Israelis and Palestinians appear to be beyond resolution, and perhaps they are. But we can begin by taking into account the full history, not just part of it.