Our work is cut out for us. American Jews are losing the street fight for Israel, a fact we all realized quite abruptly this past week. This affects any Jew anywhere—on social media, in a pizza store, on a walk on Shabbat in Teaneck or Brooklyn, even sitting in a car in traffic. If we have any Jewish identifier, a kippah maybe, or a skirt or Magen David necklace, or even if we are not Jewish but sitting in a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles: We are all fair game for any pro-Palestinian antisemite to attack us.
The challenge is, granted, much larger than us. When a narrative is decided by international media companies like the Associated Press and The New York Times and enforced by journalists on the ground in Gaza—who have submitted to guidelines for news coverage from Hamas, for example—the news itself becomes a dangerous weapon. Any reporter who is “given their facts” by Hamas, the “Gaza Health Ministry” or nongovernment organizations that are funded by pro-Palestinian sources, just simply slots those “facts” into the narrative that works for the story.
Hamas does not need to tell journalists a nuanced story about what creates its number of casualties in Gaza, or that its rockets are launched from civilian areas to maximize casualties when Israel returns fire. Hamas runs “10-second videos that punch you in the stomach. When you watch them, you know exactly who the bad guy is,” said Matti Friedman, a former AP reporter who, beginning in 2014, began to report on the pattern of suspect media coverage in Gaza. Friedman gave these comments during a presentation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist/commentator Bret Stephens, about his article in SAPIR (https://bit.ly/3voPgPj), the new journal that Stephens edits.
Hamas’ tactic (and the tactics of other terrorist organizations like Hezbollah) is to make its military landscape indistinct from the civilian landscape. That means that planned civilian casualties work against Israel and engender sympathy for Hamas. Social media plays on this power and amplifies these 10-second clip versions of news. “The Israel story has now entered the world of media and politics and entered the world of popular culture,” said Friedman, and pop icons now assign malevolence to Israel as if it’s just another issue on which to opine, like climate change.
“[This is] elite narrative that has been crafted by the press, by NGOs,” said Friedman. “The story now is one of Jewish malevolence. Jews are misbehaving, treating people cruelly. The story starts out small and gets bigger and bigger. It’s a scary moment not just for Israel and not just for Jews, but for anyone who has a hope for a rational understanding of the world.” he said.
Stephens agrees. “One of the most defining aspects of our age is the ‘shallowing’ of everything,” he said. “Everything is instantly accessible. Follow the first link, that leads you to the next and the next. Fewer opportunities to get in deep. It’s a simplistic narrative. Oppressive Israel versus hard-done-by Palestine. Social media has accelerated that process of simplification.”
“The Israel story is basically incomprehensible at this point,” said Friedman “The story is so removed from reality it is basically a political fantasy for Westerners.”
The issue returns to us. What can we do? What must we do?
The answer is we must show up, like many of us did last week in Tenafly, in Livingston, in Manhattan and in Highland Park. We must work together and fight for truth, and tell the story of Medinat Israel’s founding in the ashes of the Holocaust, the most effective and devastating genocidal attempt the world has ever seen. We understand that this is an uphill battle and will take many forms, but in the coming weeks we hope to see clear and unifying advocacy plans so that we all can be deputized to argue Israel’s case in public.
We pray that the truth about Israel as a light unto the nations can once again be primary in the news media, in social media, on the streets of New York, Teaneck and everywhere.