One of the most important elements for determining how accurately the media covers Israel is how Palestinian terrorist groups are identified. It is one of the four key tests that can demonstrate anti-Israel media bias.
Hamas (as well as a few other Palestinian organizations) is a terrorist organization. Saying this is not a political statement, it is factual. The United States, the European Union, and many others identify Hamas as terrorists. Click for a complete list of terrorist groups.
While there are several slightly different definitions of terrorism, all of them specify that terrorists attacks are attacks against innocent people launched by individuals or organizations to further political aims. With Hamas’ long and bloody track record, there is ample evidence that such attacks are at the core of Hamas’ operations.
For a long time, most of the mainstream media was reluctant to use the word “terrorism.” Much of that reluctance stemmed from the idea that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” (This idea is often attributed to former Reuters Global News Chief Steven Jukes, but actually has a much longer history.)
However, that reluctance started to drop with the attacks in Europe and the rise of ISIS in the last few years. After the Paris attacks, it has become commonplace to see the word “terrorism” on the pages of the New York Times and other papers that once did everything possible to avoid the use of the term.
Brutal, murderous attacks by those claiming to act in the name of Islam which left scores dead in various locations around the world were so obviously acts or terror, that the media simply could not make a case against it.
Except when it comes to Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. The vast majority of news organizations still cling to identifying the Palestinian perpetrators of terror as “militants.” In fact, it has become so common place that even many pro-Israel activists let such references pass considering it a minor detail and a battle lost.
This is a serious mistake. Unlike some other accusations of anti-Israel media bias, the identification of Hamas (or other groups like Islamic Jihad) as “militant” and not “terrorists” is a clear case of inaccuracy. When the objective actions of Hamas are the same as those from ISIS, there is no rational case for treating them differently.
This journalistic error has profound implications. For the global public, there is a huge difference between military operations against terrorists and those against any other type of group. Americans, Europeans, Russians, and many others are willing to accept military operations once the target has been identified as “terrorist.”
When Israel is seen as attacking a group that is vaguely identified as “militant,” people will naturally ask questions. They will wonder if Israel is using disproportionate force when Israeli operations yield a large number of casualties.
For example, in this story by the Associated Press published in the Washington Post we read about an Israeli attack on Hamas this way:
“While most of the attacks targeted Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, one struck a military camp used by the smaller Islamic Jihad group.”
The attack was a response to the launch by Hamas and Islamic Jihad members of a rocket into civilian areas of Israel, an attack against innocent people in pursuit of those groups’ political agenda.
Yet the article will create a slightly different impression into the minds of readers who may not be as familiar with the conflict than those of us who live and breathe it every day. It would be reasonable for readers to assume that both these attacks are part of some unending “cycle of violence” and that somehow both sides are to blame.
If instead, the article had made clear that Israel was responding to terrorists, the same way that the United States and other Western countries have done, most readers would be more understanding of Israeli attacks. These days people around the world are frightened by the prospect of terrorist attacks and identify with others in the same predicament.
There is always a question of responsibility when a wire service like the AP has an article published in a newspaper like the Washington Post. I took the liberty of writing to both to ask each one why they refrained from using the word “terrorist” to describe Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
You can too at the following email addresses:
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org (Make clear in your letter to the Post that you know the article was written by the AP, but that the Washington Post has a responsibility for all articles they republish.)
Israel is not fighting with “militants.” They are fighting the same war against terrorism as many other Western nations.
If the media would refer to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terrorist groups in the most accurate terms, it would greatly reduce anti-Israel media bias.