In recent weeks the media reported on two atrocities, one in Memphis and the other in Jerusalem.
The murder of Tyre Nichols by five policemen shocked the nation. The video released by the Memphis police department showed the policemen brutally beating a defenseless victim, whom they had stopped for an alleged traffic violation. We all shared the anguish of the Nichols family, who, despite their grief, called upon their neighbors to demonstrate peacefully.
There was no attempt on the media’s part to explain away the brutality of the police as a reaction to the high crime rate in Memphis, or to say that a disproportionate share of the crime is perpetuated by Blacks. They highlighted this act of deadly violence by the so-called protectors of the peace, as well as the plight of the victim and his grieving family. Memphis appropriately fired the policemen, who now face criminal charges.
Six thousand miles away in Jerusalem, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a lone gunman picked off 10 people emerging from Shabbat services at a synagogue. Seven of them died. Rather than focusing on the heinousness of this crime on that particular day, the New York Times headline blasted: “As Violence Rages, New Israeli Alliance Risks Fueling Even More of It.”
The ensuing paragraphs describe how this new far-right government has heightened the atmosphere, likely leading to more violence. There’s little more about the devastating impact of these murders on their families. It’s almost like blaming the victims.
It’s true that the preceding day the IDF had killed nine Palestinians in that hotbed of terrorism, Jenin. It was to foil an attempted terrorist attack by Islamic jihad, funded by the Iranian government. But too much of the media gave moral equivalence to this justified attempt to forestall terror leading to the death of innocents. And the never-ending mantra of breaking the “cycle of violence” spewed by the media and politicians doesn’t differentiate between the firefighters and the arsonists.
Back home, in a recent class we discussed the recent attempt to blow up a synagogue in Bloomfield, and a JTA article reporting the attack, as well as other antisemitic attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in the United States. I asked why the recent terror in Jerusalem wasn’t mentioned in the article. One of the students responded that wasn’t an antisemitic attack but a political one. So, shamefully, the murder of seven of our fellow Jews was “political,” solely because they were Israelis, not Americans? So their families’ grief should be tempered by this artificial differentiation?
This politicization of attacks against Jews is not unique. In Jersey City, after the murder of Jews, some residents expressed concern that chasidic Jews were too aggressive in purchasing houses in their neighborhoods. Maybe redlining chasidim would solve the problem of poaching into their neighborhood.
In the aftermath of rocket attacks from Gaza and the IDF’s response, Jews were attacked in New York’s and Los Angeles’s diamond districts. This was explained as an emotional response to the daily images of destruction wreaked by the IDF on Hamas, and on their weapons launchers and missile factories, which were hidden in civilian areas.
In response to the attacks on American Jews, the provost at Rutgers condemned them but universalized the message by also condemning “attacks on our own Asian American Pacific Islander citizens, the spaces of indigenous peoples defiled, and targeted oppression against Hindus.” In response to the BDS-backing Students for Justice in Palestine, Rutgers’s chancellor and provost apologized. In hindsight, they wrote, “it is clear…that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.”
Similarly, when Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the loyalty of American Jews and their bribery, freely dispensing “benjamins” to politicians, the resulting House condemnation did not focus solely on her antisemitism but included all the isms of hatred anyone can muster. Fortunately, this BDS-supporting Israel-hating representative was expelled from the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Why is it that when Jews are murdered or attacked, all too often there have to be qualifiers?
This wasn’t the case with the tragic death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, killed when covering an Israeli counter terror raid, again in Jenin. The Palestinian Authority refused to conduct a joint investigation with the Israelis, anticipating a propaganda opportunity. US news outlets complied. The media monitor Honest Reporting found more than 500 articles about this tragic death, with some accusing Jerusalem of murder.
An IDF probe concluded that Abu Akleh was shot by a soldier who mistakenly failed to identify her as a member of the press. But succumbing to some members of Congress, the Biden administration asked the FBI to launch a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the IDF, America’s best ally in the Middle East. Israel’s then-defense minister, Benny Ganz, correctly blasted this decision. “I made it clear to American representatives that we stand behind IDF’s soldiers, that we will not cooperate with any external interference in Israel’s internal affairs,” he said.
When Tareq Ayoub, another Al Jazeera reporter, was killed in Iraq by an American missile attack, was there an FBI investigation? When a family was mistakenly wiped out by a drone attack during the hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan 18 months ago, was there an FBI investigation?
After attacks from Hamas rockets killed and maimed dozens of Israelis and disrupted the daily lives of millions, IDF’s justified response elicited criticism of a “disproportionate response.” The death toll of those killed, included mostly members of Hamas, far exceeded those of Israelis. And the daily drumbeat of destroyed buildings reinforced the perceived message of Israeli brutality.
There were two factors that the media either ignored or downplayed. Firstly, Hamas’s tactic is to hide missiles in civilian areas. Even a successful Israel attack will yield a positive propaganda victory, as mosques and schools hosting these missiles are destroyed. It’s only in the postmortem analysis of the war are the facts revealed, after the propaganda damage already is done. As Benjamin Netanyahu quipped, Israel uses missiles to defend civilians, while Hamas uses civilians to protect missiles.
The second factor is that Israel has a robust civil defense system, with extensive shelters built to protect civilians. The billions that Hamas has received in aid since its takeover of Gaza has been spent largely on building missiles and an extensive system of tunnels to invade Israel. They have virtually no civil defense.
We must be ever vigilant in holding the media, politicians, and Israel’s adversaries accountable for telling the truth, including when Israel makes mistakes. Maiming or taking Jewish lives should be called what it is: antisemitism and murder. It should not be sanitized by universalizing it with other hatreds, or by unjustifiably calling into question the motivations and tactics of those defending Jewish lives.
Jewish lives are too precious to be politicized.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.