At seven o’clock on the morning of November 18th, 2014, the doors of Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Har Nof were opened and two Arab men entered. They interrupted the morning prayer service, Shacharit, during the major silent prayer and proceeded to attack the worshippers with meat cleavers, axes, and a gun while shouting الله أكبر; meaning “Allah is [the] Greatest”. The story made international news for several reasons. There was the obvious shock of such a brutal terrorist attack but the location was also significant. Har Nof is a neighborhood in Jerusalem with significant population native English speakers who had moved to Israel. Among those attacked, three American and a British Rabbi were killed. While the media coverage was certainly flawed, the errors that were made were not so much malicious in nature as they were derived from preexisting biases.
In the reporting of the massacre, Ruth Eglash and William Booth of the Washington Post found it relevant to include information about an attack that took place in 1948. That attack, which allegedly took place in the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin supposedly occurred during the Israeli fight for independence and included the Palmach killing more than a hundred Palestinians. While that attack would have certainly been tragic if it were even confirmed, it is hardly relevant when reporting breaking news about the synagogue attack. False relativism is a copout that people use when they don’t fully understand a situation or don’t want to deal with the implications of a situation. People, namely westerners, often feel like they must be the mediator in a situation and thus not take a side, however, we need to be able to know when one side is wrong and when one is right. Often, both sides of the story hold equal weight, but not always, and the public must be able to recognize the difference between the two situations. Without dismissing the irrelevant connection to Deir Yassin, there is something to be said for the inclusion of this information. While the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA stated that the article, “was more circumspect in presenting the debated Palestinian claims as fact”, the point must be made that journalists who are not extremely knowledgeable about the region and related disputes cannot be crucified for a seeming parallel between historic events.
Fox News is known as a traditionally conservative news source, and their position influenced their coverage of the attack on the synagogue. Fox News anchor, Conor Powell reported on site in Jerusalem. During the broadcast of the event on Fox News, Powell said, “we’ve seen tit-for-tat violence on both sides here, and really what we’re seeing is that neither side is calling for calm”. Powell was over generalizing the situation by suggesting that neither Israelis nor Palestinians would prefer peace to the ongoing terror they face every day proves how disconnected Powell is from the situation. As with any dispute, there are individuals on both sides that refuse to acknowledge the other’s perspective and would rather continue to fight than try to resolve their differences, but to say that those individuals make up the majority of both populations is simply incorrect. Most Israelis, at least, and likely many more Palestinians than reported (saying they oppose Hamas puts them in danger) would rather a two-state solution than the continuation of violence. CAMERA stated that this report was simply reporters like Powell trying to “fit the story into the same, inaccurate mold of bilateral violence and incitement”. However, his statement indicating equivalent retaliation is substantial given how, in the past year, there have been plenty of situations which could be viewed as an offense followed by a retaliation including the killing of a Palestinian teen following the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens and Operation Protective Edge.
BBC is often criticized for their evident right wing bias which was continued in their reporting of Har Nof. Naftali Bennett, the leader of HaBayit HaYehudi, an Israeli political party, was being interviewed on BBC when he said the cause of the attack was incitement from the Palestinian leader, Mahmud Abbas. He displayed a picture that has since become a famous icon of the attack for its powerful imagery of a brutally killed man wrapped in his prayer shawl. The interviewer, Razia Iqbal, interrupted him to point out that no one wants to “actually see” the picture and had Bennet take it down. The argument can be made that Iqbal didn’t want the horrifically tragic image to alter the views of her audience. While the facts of the day showed the inhumanity of a terrorist group, the bias she had come to represent required Israelis to be presented as the aggressors; Bennett’s picture brought about cognitive dissonance between what Iqbal had presented as fact and the apparent situation. However there is also much to be said for the idea that her viewers truly did not want to see the image. The picture included large quantities of blood and a deceased man. The image is certainly difficult to look at and could be upsetting to many viewers. Both interpretations of the interaction between Bennett and Iqbal are justified.
CNN is typically associated with a liberal bias which was considered to be the cause of their first report on the attack in Har Nof stating that a mosque that was invaded rather than a synagogue. While it is understandable for mistakes to be made in the initial reporting of a breaking news event, such a massive error indicates that the story shouldn’t have been run. If the very location of the event is in question, the story is clearly too premature to run. To make matters worse, the nature of the attack had to do with religious differences and the victimization of the Arab population that the story initially described escalated the tensions. Beyond the mere title of the story, the actual text neglected to report that the attack was terroristic in nature and described the scene where the dead included “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians”. As the US ambassador to Israel said, this is akin to reporting 9/11 by stating that 19 Arabs were killed (the perpetrators) as well as 2,996 Americans. A CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman surpassed all expectations of flawed coverage by reporting the attack of two Palestinians by Israeli police officers. While these mistakes angered many, and for good reason, the intent behind the reports were based in the public’s best interest. The quick release of the story was not to meant to spark anger or even undermine the suffering of the victims as the publication “United with Israel” suggested by using the subtitle, “Mainstream media did a horrible job of covering the deadly attack in Jerusalem Tuesday morning, ranging from twisting the facts to spreading blatant lies”. Rather, the premature story was disseminated in order for the general public to have access to the unfolding events as soon as possible.
It is understandable for interest groups to hold reporting of controversial issues under heavy scrutiny, but context must be remembered. International disputes such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not simply black and white with certain news sources seeking to demonize one side or the other. The massacre of Har Nof exemplifies the manner in which news is deconstructed based on the audiences’ need to view networks as villains or saints.