In a hearing this week in Congress, the presidents of three of the top universities in the US refused to answer “yes” to the repeated question of whether calls for genocide of Jewish people violate campus rules on harassment. “It depends on the context,” was one of the answers. Israelis woke up to the news in disbelief.
A British Sky News journalist recently had the nerve to ask Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy in a TV interview if the fact that Israel released three prisoners for one hostage showed that Israel values Palestinian lives less. The question left the usually quick-witted Levy dumbstruck for few seconds, in a raised-eyebrow moment of true astonishment that became a widespread social media meme.
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. They included Hamas chief Yayha Sinwar, who is considered the mastermind of the October 7th terror attack. The high price Israel paid back in the day was and remains highly controversial. Hamas knows exactly how much Israel is willing to give for the return of its citizens. How could it be that a journalist at a leading news station turns this unbearable, extortionary situation on its head, even claiming it might prove the very opposite of what it actually does – which is that Hamas has little value for human life? The idea is almost surreal.
In the past weeks, Jews, Israelis or just clear-headed outside observers have frequently been left feeling completely incredulous when reading or hearing about October 7th and the war on Hamas. Many of us are experiencing a distortion of reality to the point of almost disbelieving their own eyes and ears: Is this truly what I am hearing or seeing?, we ask ourselves. The sheer magnitude of so many influential leaders’, organizations’ and much of the media’s refusal to acknowledge facts and take a moral stance that represents the bare consensus of shared human values is very hard to believe indeed.
Even the atrocities of October 7th perpetrated by Hamas and so well documented by the terrorists themselves are, inconceivably, being questioned by so many. Sometimes in the form of unabashed denial. Often, in the demand to deliver more solid proof or in the treatment of facts as unverifiable rumours. It is, in fact, outright gaslighting by media, public figures and political institutions that we are experiencing every day and from so many sides. In Israel, it has left people across the political spectrum bewildered – from commentators on TV to leading feminists and peace activists.
The examples are countless. When Palestinian woman prisoners in jail for stabbing and injuring innocent people were among those released in exchange for hostages who included Israeli toddlers taken from their homes after their families were killed, Western media reported about the exchange as if it was an equal one. Frequently, even the word “prisoner” was omitted and reports talked about women and children on both sides returning home. Feminist organizations like UN Women remained shamefully tight-lipped about the unspeakable sexual crimes committed by terrorists against Israeli women and children for weeks, some hesitatingly and weakly mentioning them when the criticism of their silence became overwhelming. The Irish prime minister tweeted about the 9-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand who was released that a “lost” little girl had finally been “found.” A large German TV station analyzed the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” after the government banned it and concluded that in some cases, it is meant as a peaceful message – although a quick glance at a map leaves no doubt about its refusal to acknowledge the existence of Israel. It was an example for articles or reports that sow doubt and confusion even where things are unequivocally clear, giving ammunition to those who whitewash their hate speech by referring to them.
Whoever calls these cases out and demands a clear acknowledgement of the facts is then assigned to the group representing a certain narrative by the guardians of objectivity who always insist that everything and anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue has two sides to the story. In fact, the untiringly persistent dual-narrative fallacy that is constantly applied to the Israeli-Palestinian issue often dismally fails at getting closer to any kind of truth. It is too intellectually lazy to describe a complex reality that goes beyond the oppressor-oppressed paradigm. And sadly, in some cases, the refusal to name things for what they are and the eagerness to turn facts on their head seems to have no other explanation that plain and simple antisemitism.
A German version of this article was published in the newspaper TAZ on November 30, 2023.