The current hostilities between Israel and Hamas have, yet again, brought to the forefront a long-simmering feud between many supporters of Israel and the world of print, broadcast and electronic journalism.
Here in New York, most of the focus is on The New York Times, respected throughout the world as the gold standard in print journalism. Large swaths of the Jewish community regard both its reporting and editorial policies as hopelessly biased against Israel. Social media outlets are filled with calls to cancel subscriptions to the Times, and the paper has received a deluge of letters from subscribers threatening to do just that. Others decry such calls as based on equal and opposite biases, and claim that Jews tend to regard any reporting that does not present the current situation through an Israeli lens as being anti-Israel.
Having worked in the organized Jewish community of New York for thirty-three years, I can certainly attest to the fact that we Jews can be prickly and thin-skinned, sometimes almost unbearably so. Particularly when it comes to Israel, we are quick to pick up on any perceived insult, and not afraid to make our voices heard in protest when we think that the honor, integrity, and security of Israel and the Jewish people are being called into question.
I have no trouble in admitting to this, but neither do I feel any great need to apologize to the broader world for the fact that Jews tend to see enemies around every corner. Frankly, it is the broader world that has made us this way. Our communal neuroses, such as they are, are born of historical experience, particularly the horrors of the last century. Really, after Auschwitz and the sustained indifference of virtually the entire “civilized” world that made it possible, who has the right to say to Jews that they’re being excessively concerned with those who would wish them harm?
But I admit: sometimes we see the barbarians at the gate when they’re not really there, and I’m sure it drives those outside the Jewish community more than a little crazy. Yes, we’re tough to deal with, and we’re not always right.
But as the old joke goes, even paranoids have enemies … and we have enemies. More insidious and to the point, we have friends whose friendship too often leaves us wondering where their sympathies really are. They claim to be fair and balanced (no reference to FOX News there), but we in the Jewish community have the temerity to believe that, when it comes to Israel, being “balanced” is actually being unfair to Israel, precisely because the situation itself is one with clearer rights and wrongs than they would want to admit to.
As regards the New York Times, there are far too many examples for me to allude to in this article, but to take just one from Nicholas Kristof’s article today (Thursday, July 17) …
In a piece titled “Leading Through Great Loss,” he writes “…Look, when militants in Gaza fire rockets at Israel, then Israel has a right to respond, but with some proportionality. More than 200 Gazans have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, according to United Nations officials; one Israeli has been killed.”
First, I imagine we Jews should be grateful for the fact that Mr. Kristof at least acknowledges that Israel has a right to defend itself, even if with the somewhat irritated sounding “Look” to start his sentence. But please explain to me exactly what proportionality means (all you fans of Aaron Sorkin will no doubt recognize a similar sentiment expressed in “The American President.")
One Israeli has been killed because Israel has one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, and the militants of Hamas, thankfully, have very poor aim. Is Israel supposed to respond “proportionately” by firing missiles in retaliation and intentionally missing the targets? Is that what a proportional response would be? You throw a wild punch and we’ll throw a wild punch and no one will get hurt? And what of the terror with which Israelis are living, with less than half-a-minute to get to shelter from the relentless barrage of missiles, and what of the Israelis who have shrapnel from the missiles destroyed by Iron Dome falling on their roofs?
And, last but most certainly not least, why does Mr. Kristof think that the civilian casualties are mounting in Gaza? Surely, he who is so sensitive to human rights violations against innocent women in Africa can understand what it means when a terrorist organization uses its citizens – men, women, and children – as human shields. Does that not bother him just as much? How exactly does one defend one’s citizens in a “proportionate” manner when the enemy celebrates death as a victory?
I completely agree with those who would say that reading only one version of events, or one side of a story, or hearing only one narrative, can lead to a myopic and often distorted version of reality. Truth, whatever that means, often is to be found in the great divide between competing understandings of events. But far too often, almost to the point of invariability, the major news outlets – and The New York Times very much in the forefront – reduce the current conflict between Israel and Hamas to a lowest common denominator of moral equivalence that is simply not accurate, no matter whose narrative one chooses to subscribe to. That is unacceptable to me, and it should be to all of us who love Israel and pray for peace, no matter where on the political spectrum we find ourselves.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.