Within hours of Dafna Meir’s brutal murder this past Sunday evening, news editors around the world were faced with the following dilemma: Is this a human interest or political story, and how do we frame its inclusion among other Mideast news items?
For Israeli news networks, no such dilemma presented itself. Just horror, sadness and a real-time manhunt to catch Dafna’s killer. Dafna Meir, of blessed memory, was 38 years young. A mother, wife, a professional nurse. The outpouring was broad and natural. Four children were orphaned. Two foster children face uncertainty once more. There was no political angle on this story, on this night.
The international press, meanwhile, sat on the sidelines. Palestinian terror again deemed un-newsworthy. Those few who did give Dafna’s death a passing mention couldn’t help reveal their true sentiment by focusing in, predictably, on her place of residence, instead of perhaps leading with her citizenry.
‘Israeli Mother Stabbed to Death in Front of Children’ is not a headline you’ve seen in the international news media of late. But such form would be reasonable in most Western contexts following brutal murders by intruders in a family home.
Dafna didn’t fit the media mold as a mother. She was a settler, first and foremost.
I consider two inconvenient excuses to have shelved an otherwise heart-wrenching human-interest story for much of the media community. Through the eyes of a Western liberal observer, the thinking might have gone something like this:
Dafna lived in Otniel, a fortified Jewish settlement on the wrong side of a political line, where terrorism is to be expected, if not excused. No party can be held faultless when occupation breeds hopelessness and hatred. She understood the risks of her ideological choices.
This excuse offers tacit sympathy to terror and feeds a moral equivalence that denies the true victims of hate crime the opportunity to defend and protect their civil and human rights.
Such a perspective enables the media and its audience to look beyond the incitement of Arab youth to murder.
We can’t expect each and every additional death to register with international media interest.
True, there is too much news and too many deaths on any given day. Editors must actively choose what to bring to the public’s attention. Most news organizations would broadly recognize our own principles of media integrity when relating to Israel in their coverage.
And that’s why excuse number two just doesn’t fly. We see clearly that recent heinous crimes carried out by Jews against Palestinians, in the very same political and security arenas, earn full and fast media attention. What’s more, the media are quick to tune into serial events when the case in hand suits the narrative in mind.
We see further inconsistent application of this thinking when US citizens lose their lives to terror in Israel. Such events elsewhere in the world do earn media attention even when a single life is lost to terror.
Take Ezra Schwartz, for example, whose murder went unacknowledged for too long by the highest levels of the Obama administration. The media coverage of his murder at the time was inexplicably slow and bereft of the tone and concern we’d expect in other circumstances of young Americans cut down by terrorists overseas. US citizens murdered at the hands of Islamic State, notably journalists with whom the media relate naturally, deserve the immediate coverage, outpouring and solidarity that follow.
As news consumers, we need to wake up and alert others to the inconvenient truth: media standards are not consistently applied or embraced when events on the ground clash with the worldview as imagined by the news making community. As famed behavioral psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out:
“We effortlessly and intuitively ‘see that’ something is true, and then we work to find justifications or ‘reasons why’ which we can give to others.”
From the media’s perspective, it is inconvenient, uncomfortable and counter-intuitive that you, Dafna, should earn the affection, sympathy and personalization rightly afforded mothers, wives and caring public service professionals, cut down in the prime of life before the eyes of their own children.
And so I’ll offer my one reason, in place of the media’s two excuses:
You were a Zionist Dafna. You were a Jew.
On the wrong side of an ideological divide the world ignored you. Had you emerged from the doors of Soroka Hospital, your place of work this side of the Green Line, to meet with your death, things might have been different. Or perhaps not. Because as a Jewish Israeli, you were perceived as less helpless, less defenseless than those surrounding us who are afforded some [im]moral privilege to earn their liberty at the price of our own.
Where Jewish victims of terror are overlooked, due perhaps to the post-modern bigotry of higher expectations of Israel versus Palestinians, we’ll continue calling out the media on it. Why bother? Knowing that perceptual biases can be mitigated and their impact reduced simply by pointing them out, we can each do something to improve the international media’s view of our humanity. We need to keep pointing out the duplicity. My team and I are dedicated to doing so each and every day.
And so it is on us Zionists, we Jews, who are burdened with the task of wearing our nationalism with pride. It is on each of us to remind the news community and their attentive political and public audiences that double standards on their part will not erode a moral conviction on ours.
Dafna lived – and died – for people and a nation more important than the fleeting media jury casting its vote by abstention. Our existence testifies to a greater story than they could ever imagine.