Antisemitism and the Western Media

It’s always exciting when someone you know is in the news. During the pandemic, our local pharmacist, was on TV, being one of a very small number of pharmacies initially licensed to vaccinate against COVID. Even the then Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, visited him.

The pharmacist was in the news again the other day. Unfortunately, this time we’re not glowing with reflected pride. The Daily Mail ran this story, which confirmed a local rumor that he had retweeted posts on X calling Israel and the IDF “filthy animals” and calling for Iran and Hezbollah to enter the conflict.

This is, of course, the highest tip of a very, very big iceberg; elsewhere on The Times of Israel you can read about an antisemitic lynch mob at an airport in Dagestan (because one pogrom in a month isn’t enough, apparently) and threats of murder and rape against Jewish students at Cornell University, the same university where a professor described the 7 October pogrom as “exhilarating.” Antisemitic incidents in Germany have risen 250%. In the UK, they are up tenfold compared with this time last year. Jewish schools across Europe have shut from fear of antisemitism.

UN Secretary General Guterres has sententiously told us that that events don’t occur in a vacuum. Perhaps the Western news media should consider if their coverage of the war between Israel and Gaza is the context for these events. While declaring themselves to be impartial, numerous respected news agencies (the BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and many other Western news agencies) have spent the last three weeks perpetuating ancient antisemitic tropes about vengeful Jews and child-murdering Jews, denying viewers and readers the context needed to understand the situation and taking no responsibility when the result is antisemitic violence far away from Israel.

More than 8,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since 7 October, all directed at civilian targets (a Hamas war crime, in addition to the war crime of the 7 October Pogrom). The mainstream Western media does not mention this. Yes, many (by no means all) of these rockets are intercepted by the Iron Dome missile interception system, but many are not, and Israelis have to rush to the air raid shelters for all of them. The result is both emotional trauma as well practical problems; in parts of the country schooling has more or less stopped because the children are in the shelters too often and/or the school shelter is not big enough for all the children. There are Zoom classes, but these can also be interrupted beyond usefulness by air raids. None of this is reported.

Israel has fewer casualties than Gazans because it has invested in air raid precautions (including Irom Dome) and evacuated the most vulnerable areas, NOT because Hamas is not trying to kill Israelis. Hamas has built NO air raid shelters for its citizens, who it has prevented from evacuating the combat area, in order to use them as human shields, storing and firing rockets in residential areas, hospitals, schools, playgrounds and mosques (another war crime). It has used concrete it might have used for air raid shelters to build a vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers for its senior staff, to imprison its hostages (taking hostages is another war crime) and as a trap for the Israeli army. While Hamas aims rockets at civilians and sends no warning, Israel aims at terrorist installations and sends warnings, but Hamas uses civilians as human shields and so some tragically get killed. At which point The Guardian, BBC, New York Times and other journalists vultures swoop in and talk about Israeli brutality and “war crimes” without context.

Then there is the question of Gazan casualty figures as quoted in the Western media. The Gaza Ministry of Health is currently claiming over 8,500 fatalities, most of them civilians. This is unlikely in the extreme. Firstly, the Gaza Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, a fact rarely acknowledged by Western news sources, who present it as if an unbiased arm of a civilian government and not a wing of an antisemitic terrorist organization. It seems likely that, as in previous conflicts, the UN is using these figures uncritically too. Moreover, based on past experience, Hamas/Gaza Ministry of Health is counting most of the terrorists killed as civilians, as well as the terrorists killed in Israel in the aftermath of 7 October, and also those Palestinians killed by misfires from Hamas rockets (an estimated 10% of Hamas rockets misfire).

Israel has not yet made its estimates of Gazan civilian and terrorist fatalities public yet. If previous conflicts are a guide, it is still researching. Israel painstakingly matches the names of those killed as released by Hamas with the names and if possible photos of known terrorists to provide more accurate figures of combatant and civilian deaths. That they are accurate is indicated by the 2008-09 Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead) where Israel claimed that the vast majority of fatalities, around 700, were terrorists. Hamas let slip months later that 600 – 700 of their fighters died, as the IDF stated at the time, and not the 49 or so that Hamas originally claimed. This was widely reported in the Jewish press, but not reported at all in the mainstream Western press.

That Hamas have been claiming that the violence of 7 October was directed only at the IDF and not at civilians gives further proof of how unprofessional the Western media is for trusting them. Frankly, either the IDF has totally abandoned its historic care for avoiding civilian casualties, or Hamas are lying through their teeth, yet the Western media provides none of this context.

Instead of doing their job and asking difficult questions to authority figures in Gaza and investigating Hamas’ stories instead of accepting them at face value, Western media outlets have been spreading disinformation for Hamas, then putting the antisemitism elsewhere in the world down to anger at Israel’s actions, not a result the way the conflict has been presented.

There are many reasons for this. Antisemitism is one, and doubtless a significant one; it would certainly explain the assumptions made by Western journalists of Israeli brutality and their unwillingness to apologize or even admit when they are wrong, as with the Al-Ahli Hospital explosion. Other factors are short deadlines, laziness and the ease of relying on established tropes of “good Palestinians, bad Israelis”, intimidation by Hamas and the reliance of Western news agencies on Palestinian stringers (freelance journalists, photographers or cameramen) with their own prejudices. Doubtless many journalists, particularly younger ones, have been educated in a university system where subjects like world history and international relations are increasingly taught in a framework of post colonialism, whereby students are taught as a matter of “fact” that Israel is a settler-colonial state and that nuance is unnecessary and counter-productive as objective truth does not exist. Many consider themselves left-wing activists as much as journalists, even though the two were traditionally seen as very different, even opposed, roles.

As global antisemitism spirals out of control, it is time for the Western media to admit to its role in the unfolding horrors and to stop acting as Hamas’ unpaid PR department. At the very least, they should present the Palestinian narrative with greater skepticism and the Israeli one with less scorn. Honesty, integrity, honor all demand it. But what sort of fool thinks that those virtues are in high supply these days?

About the Author
Daniel Saunders is an office administrator, proofreader and copy editor living in London with his wife. He has a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford and an MA in Library and Information Management. He blogs about Judaism, Israel and antisemitism at Living Jewishly
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