By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Israel Page 2 of 3

Friedman’s dark vision

Thomas Friedman has been indispensable in the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel and the war that is now under way in Gaza. Here’s a free link to his latest, which is very dark indeed.

He calls Benjamin Netanyahu “the worst leader in its [Israel’s] history — maybe in all of Jewish history,” someone who is incapable or unwilling to make any of the diplomatic concessions needed to bring about even the slightest glimmer of a more hopeful future. Friedman also argues that, unlike in previous conflicts, Israel really does face an existential threat, with Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic militias in Iraq, Houthis in Yemen, Iran and even Vladimir Putin’s Russia “threatening Israel with a 360-degree war all at once.”

“It is crystal clear to me, Friedman writes, “that Israel is in real danger — more danger than at any other time since its War of Independence in 1948.”

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Two Globe journalists are among more than 750 decrying Gaza war coverage

Two Boston Globe journalists have signed an open letter that criticizes the Western media for their coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas. According to The Washington Post (free link), more than 750 journalists from dozens of media outlets have signed the letter, which begins:

Israel’s devastating bombing campaign and media blockade in Gaza threatens newsgathering in an unprecedented fashion. We are running out of time.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s four-week siege. Included in the mounting death toll are at least 35 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in what the group calls the deadliest conflict for journalists since it began tracking deaths in 1992. Scores more have been injured, detained, gone missing or seen their family members killed.

As reporters, editors, photographers, producers, and other workers in newsrooms around the world, we are appalled at the slaughter of our colleagues and their families by the Israeli military and government.

We are writing to urge an end to violence against journalists in Gaza and to call on Western newsroom leaders to be clear-eyed in coverage of Israel’s repeated atrocities against Palestinians.

The Globe journalists who signed the letter are Peter Bailey-Wells, a multi-platform editor on the Express Desk, and Sahar Fatima, a digital editor for metro coverage. Another signer, Abdallah Fayyad, recently left the Globe’s opinion section to take a position at Vox. “My hope for this letter is to push back on the culture of fear around this issue, and to make decision-makers and reporters and editors think twice about the language that they use,” Fayyad told the Post.

Although the letter makes reference to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in which more than 1,400 people were killed and 200 were taken hostage, the emphasis is on the way that Israel has conducted its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. As the Post notes, “Most strikingly, the letter argues that journalists should use words like ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’ to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

The letter may also raise issues at news organizations that ban their journalists from taking sides on controversial matters, although this may prove to be less of an issue than it might have at one time. Several years ago news organizations like NPR and the Globe loosened some of their restrictions on political activities, especially those that advocated racial justice.

Frankly, if I worked at the Globe I would not have signed the open letter because I don’t think it sufficiently acknowledges the suffering of Israelis or their right to self-defense. But it doesn’t strike me that Bailey-Wells’ or Fatima’s journalistic fairness will be compromised because they chose to sign.

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A smart though dispiriting conversation on how Israel should deal with Hamas

Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast is always worth listening to, and now he’s back at the mic following a break so that he could finish a book project. I recommend this conversation with Zack Beauchamp of Vox, who recently wrote a deeply reported article headlined “What Israel should do now.” I should go back and read it, though I doubt I’m going to learn anything I didn’t already learn from the wide-ranging, hour-long podcast.

I couldn’t possibly summarize everything that Beauchamp and Klein have to say, but the top-line takeaway is that Israel should stop its all-out war in Gaza and instead switch to a counterterrorism campaign aimed at rooting out the Hamas leadership — and that should include targeted assassinations. The reason (other than basic decency), Beauchamp explains, is that Hamas wants as many Palestinian civilians to die as possible in order to advance its propaganda efforts.

Even if Israel is successful at ending the terrorist threat, it’s not at all clear what should happen next. It’s a horrible dilemma with no good solutions.

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The Christian Science Monitor finds hope amid the horror of the Israel-Hamas war

Christian Science Center in Boston. Photo (cc) 2014 by Bill Damon.

In my undergraduate media ethics class the other day, my students and I talked about whether coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas is contributing to a sense of hopelessness. There is, in fact, so much legitimately terrible news that it’s hard to be optimistic about the prospects for peace and justice. Yet it’s important that we try.

One often-overlooked resource for times like this is located right here in Boston: The Christian Science Monitor, a 115-year-old publication that at one time was a highly influential news organization and that still does good work through its newsletters and website. As its homepage puts it, “the Monitor offers a story of our common challenges, and how we can begin to find solutions and credible hope.”

We listened to a 15-minute interview with Monitor journalist Ned Temko on why he thinks the current war, horrific as it is, might lead to a decent outcome. Temko certainly isn’t blind to the realities. This, for instance, is pretty bleak:

There is nothing, in my 40-plus years of covering both sides, that has been so wantonly violent against civilians, intentionally, as the October 7th attacks. It helps explain the ferocity of the intended Israeli response. I think psychologically and emotionally, it’s deeply changed how Israelis feel about their own army, their government, about the Palestinians, certainly about Hamas. And on the Palestinian side, as you point out, it’s kind of revived this sense of displacement because something like a million Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to the south of the Gaza Strip in anticipation of a major Israeli ground thrust into the north of Gaza.

But Temko adds that he is “hopeful” that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has reached such a terrible impasse that it may actually lead to a resolution — not soon, but in the years ahead. He explains:

I’ve had the good fortune not only to have covered this for a very, very long time, but to have covered both sides. I got to know both sides of this conflict on a human level. And if I can make the case for hope, unlikely though it seems now, I think it’s the following, that all the other options to this decades long conflict have been tried. Some resolution has sometimes been close, and I’ve covered that as well, but always ultimately failed. I think what’s different this time around is the immediacy, the visceral sense in which people on both sides have felt that this conflict is inescapably part of their lives, and not in a good way. That there is, for each of them, a dawning realization that their own interests in a stable, secure existence, in which they have a future, depends on some sort of resolution of this core dispute.

After we listened to the interview with Temko, we divided the class into five teams. Each was asked to find a story about the conflict that emphasized solutions, hope and optimism. Here is what they came up with:

“‘I Love You. I Am Sorry’: One Jew, One Muslim and a Friendship Tested by War,” by Kurt Streeter, The New York Times, Oct. 22. An account of a friendship between two women in Los Angeles, one Muslim, one Jewish. “Their close friendship,” Streeter wrote, “signals that the ties that bind adherents of Judaism and Islam can remain strong, even as the war pitting people of their faiths against each other rages.”

“Peace activists in Israel speak about their hopes for the end of war,” interview by Scott Simon, NPR, Oct. 21. Simon spoke with Sally Abed, an Israeli Palestinian, and Alon-Lee Green of the organization Standing Together. Green told Simon that “we see a lot of anger and a lot of feelings of revenge. And we do understand these feelings, but we do say in the clearest way possible, more killing of innocent people, more bloodshed, more feeding of this vicious circle of death and blood will not bring back anyone to life.”

“‘Let Gaza Live’: Calls for Cease-Fire Fill Grand Central Station,” by Claire Fahy, Julian Roberts-Grmela and Sean Piccoli, The New York Times, Oct. 31. On the surface, this story doesn’t inspire much in the way of optimism. The protest that is described was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, an explicitly anti-Zionist organization, and it led to more than 300 arrests on charges of trespass and disorderly conduct. But it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment expressed in a sign that some of the protesters unveiled: “Never Again for Anyone.”

“‘I hope it can endure’: examples of Jewish-Arab solidarity offer hope in Israel,” by Bethan McKernan, The Guardian, Oct. 15. Abed and Green of Standing Together make another appearance in this story, was reported from Jerusalem. Wrote McKernan: “Thousands of volunteers of different ethnicities are working to help victims of the violence and clean up neglected bomb shelters, amid many other efforts at calming the heightened tensions around the country.”

“Opinion: We are a Palestinian and an Israeli in Los Angeles. We find comfort and hope in mourning together,” by Rana Shalhoub and Hila Keren, The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17. These are not the same two Los Angeles women profiled by The New York Times. “Of course, our close connection does not mean we agree on all aspects of this catastrophic situation,” Shalhoub and Keren wrote. “But we feel grateful that our true care for each other has at least allowed us to unite around two things. One relates to the present: the value of mourning together all loss of innocent human life. The other relates to the future: the belief that humanity on both sides is key to breaking the vicious circle created by hate.”

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NYT journalists who pushed back on that botched hospital headline were overruled

A disturbing new development has emerged in The New York Times’ botched initial headline about the Gaza hospital explosion. Charlotte Klein of Vanity Fair obtained internal Slack messages that show there was internal pushback in the Times newsroom, but that those raising concerns were overruled by senior editors. I don’t have a log-in for Vanity Fair, but Tom Jones of Poynter Online has summarized her story:

Klein wrote, “… senior editors appear to have dismissed suggestions from an international editor, along with a junior reporter stationed in Israel who has been contributing to the paper’s coverage of the war, that the paper hedge in its framing of events.”…

[T]he international editor wrote, “I think we can’t just hang the attribution of something so big on one source without having tried to verify it. And then slap it across the top of the [homepage]. Putting the attribution at the end doesn’t give us cover, if we’ve been burned and we’re wrong.”

No kidding. Please read Jones’ item in full; trust me when I tell you that it gets worse.

As we know, the Times and a number of other media outlets claimed Oct. 17 that an Israeli missile had struck Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City and killed an estimated 500 people, attributing the news to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. It took the Times at least an hour and a half to add that Israeli officials were claiming that the explosion was the result of a failed missile launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally. The Times published an Editor’s Note on Monday acknowledging that it fell short of its own standards.

Based on the best available evidence, it now appears likely that Israeli officials were correct; that the Islamic Jihad missile did not actually strike the hospital but exploded nearby; and that the death toll, though still uncertain, is considerably lower than 500. This BBC News assessment, which points in that direction, is now six days old, but The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence now believes with “high confidence” that Israel was not responsible.

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Obama weighs in

Former President Barack Obama has posted an important message at Medium. Echoing President Biden’s approach, Obama calls on us to support Israel’s right to self-defense while at the same time calling on Israel to protect the lives of civilians and work toward a decent resolution of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He writes:

[W]hile the prospects of future peace may seem more distant than ever, we should call on all of the key actors in the region to engage with those Palestinian leaders and organizations that recognize Israel’s right to exist to begin articulating a viable pathway for Palestinians to achieve their legitimate aspirations for self-determination — because that is the best and perhaps only way to achieve the lasting peace and security most Israeli and Palestinian families yearn for.

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A New York Times ‘Editor’s Note’ says it fell short on the Gazan hospital story

Photo (cc) 2011 by Tomas Roggero

The New York Times has published an “Editor’s Note” acknowledging that it shouldn’t have based its initial reports on an explosion at a Gazan hospital solely on the word of the terrorist group Hamas.

As I wrote last week, the Times’ initial coverage on its website and on the social network Threads took Hamas’ claims at face value in reporting that the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City had been struck by an Israeli rocket last Tuesday and that as many as 500 civilians had been killed. Nor was the Times alone in reporting those unverified claims. It later emerged that the evidence suggested the explosion was caused by a botched missile launch by Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally; that the death toll may have been much lower than 500; and that the hospital was not extensively damaged, as the explosion took place in a parking lot next to the hospital. Here’s the heart of the Times’ Editor’s Note:

Given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.

The incident set off anti-Israeli protests across the Middle East, in Europe and in the U.S. Of course, we can’t know what the effect would have been had the media shown more initial caution. But surely the early coverage helped establish the narrative that Israel had committed a war crime, helping to turn the tide of public sympathy against Israel just a little more than week after the country had suffered from a horrendous terrorist attack at the hands of Hamas, with some 1,400 people killed and more than 200 taken hostage.

The Times also has a follow-up story today on what we know about the hospital explosion. It begins:

Six days after Hamas accused Israel of bombing a hospital in Gaza City and killing hundreds of people, the armed Palestinian group has yet to produce or describe any evidence linking Israel to the strike, says it cannot find the munition that hit the site and has declined to provide detail to support its count of the casualties.

That’s the sort of journalistic skepticism that should have been present right from the start. I thought Ben Smith’s comment in Semafor’s Sunday night media newsletter was right on point. He wrote:

I’ve never been more relieved to be late on a story than on the explosion at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, where our small breaking news team took a long pause before publishing even a carefully-hedged attempt to describe what happened and what Hamas and the Israeli government had said about it.

[F]ew … analysts are claiming to be absolutely sure what happened in Gaza five days ago. Most seem to have reached the consensus that it wasn’t the result of a direct Israeli strike, and many think it could have been a stray rocket fired from Gaza, but few are sure.

What’s left is a demand for patience. While reporters and analysts compare photographic evidence, heads of state make decisions and protesters protest.

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Friedman to Israel: Take a deep breath and don’t do this

When Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes about Israel and the broader Middle East, he generally comes up with something worth paying attention to. So I recommend this excellent piece in today’s edition headlined “Israel Is About to Make a Terrible Mistake” (free link). He manages to encapsulate the immensely complicated dilemma over how Israel should avenge Hamas’ terrorist attacks without causing so much chaos that the world will be dealing with it for many years to come. Here’s the heart of it:

I believe that if Israel rushes headlong into Gaza now to destroy Hamas — and does so without expressing a clear commitment to seek a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority and end Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank — it will be making a grave mistake that will be devastating for Israeli interests and American interests.

It’s not a matter of going soft on Hamas; rather, it’s a matter of what’s in Israel’s best interests. Friedman is convinced that the Netanyahu government is ignoring the advice that President Joe Biden gave them and is on the verge of making a historic, tragic blunder.

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Mainstream media, elected officials feed misinformation in Israel-Hamas war

The war between Israel and Hamas has given rise to a cornucopia of misinformation and disinformation on social media — especially with Elon Musk’s mean, shrunken version of X/Twitter doing little to screen out the worst stuff. But we should keep in mind that several dangerously wrong stories have been reported or amplified by mainstream news sources and political figures.

The most significant is the explosion at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday, a disaster that has reportedly claimed hundreds of  lives. Palestinian officials immediately blamed the blast on an Israeli rocket attack and, in the absence of any independent verification, news outlets were quick to report that claim as though it were fact. I’ll use The New York Times as an example, but it was hardly alone. According to the Internet Archive, the Times homepage published a headline on Tuesday at 2:25 p.m. that said, “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.” Over the next hour or so, a subhead appeared saying that Israel was urging “caution.” Then, finally, at 3:46 p.m., came a subhead that stated, “Israelis Say Misfired Palestinian Rocket Was Cause of Explosion.” (I’m using the time stamps from the Times’ live blog rather than the Internet Archive’s.)

The Times’ evolution played out on Threads as well. Threads posts are not time-stamped, and at the moment this says only “one day ago,” though it was clearly posted sometime in the afternoon on Tuesday: “Breaking News: An Israeli airstrike hit a Gaza hospital on Tuesday, killing at least 200 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, which said the number of casualties was expected to rise.” A short time later: “Update: At least 500 people were killed by an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza hospital, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.” Then, finally: “Update: The Israeli military said its intelligence indicated that a rocket that malfunctioned after it was launched by a Palestinian armed group was responsible for the explosion that killed hundreds of people at a Gaza City hospital.”

Screen image from Threads

Now, we still don’t know exactly what happened. But the weight of the evidence suggests that Israeli officials are correct in asserting that the missile was actually fired by Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, and that it accidentally damaged the hospital. BBC News reported Wednesday that the evidence is “inconclusive” but added: “Three experts we spoke to say it is not consistent with what you would expect from a typical Israeli air strike with a large munition.” The independent investigative project Bellingcat cited a tweet by Marc Garlasco, a war-crimes investigator, who said, “Whatever hit the hospital in #Gaza it wasn’t an airstrike.”

The problem is that the initial incautious reports by the Times and other mainstream media, quoting Palestinian statements as though they were fact, clearly created a public narrative that Israel had committed a horrific war crime by bombing a hospital and killing hundreds of people. Indeed, two Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilan Omar, tweeted out the original unverified report.

Two other examples:

• The claim that Hamas terrorists beheaded Israeli babies has become so widespread that President Biden repeated it several days ago, and even appeared to say that he had seen photographic evidence. The White House had to walk that back. But though Hamas acted brutally in slaughtering civilians and taking hostages, no evidence has emerged for that particular incendiary assertion. The fact-checking website Snopes reports: “As we looked into the claim, we found contradictory reports from journalists, Israeli army officials, and almost no independent corroborations of the alleged war crime, leading to concerns among fact-checkers that such a claim may be premature or unsubstantiated.”

• There remains no evidence beyond an initial report by The Wall Street Journal that Iran was directly involved in planning and approving Hamas’ attack on Israel. This was an especially dangerous assertion since it could have led to a wider war — and still could if the Journal’s story ends up being true. At the moment, though, it appears that the Journal’s reliance on Hamas and Hezbollah sources were spreading misinformation, perhaps deliberately. Indeed, Max Tani of Semafor reported earlier this week that the Journal’s own Washington bureau had raised “concerns about the story” before it was published.

Correction: This post originally said that the hospital had been “obliterated,” but the evidence suggests that the damage fell well short of that.

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Wall of tears

At North Station, posters of people kidnapped in Israel during Hamas’ terrorist attack.

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