Eye on a big lie

There is a reason why Jewish law insists even true statements can be lashon hara, evil speech. Last Sunday’s presentation of “The Lessons of War” on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” could just as well be called “The Lessons of Evil Speech.”

An estimated 10 million viewers saw the report. Little of what was said in it was untrue, yet in the aggregate the report was a lie of monumental proportions.

Ostensibly, the report focused on the horrific impact last summer’s Gaza war had on the children, with Palestinian children the primary focus and Israeli children receiving slightly more than passing notice. From the beginning, however, it was clear that the true focus was to demonize Israel as an indiscriminate murderer of children and a destroyer of homes and families.

A few examples suffice to demonstrate how the CBS program twisted truth.

According to Scott Pelley, the on-air talent who anchored the report (on “60 Minutes,” most of the reporting actually is done by the producers), “The war began with the murders of three [Israeli] teenage boys.” He went on to say that on the day after one of those youths, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, was buried, “Israeli terrorists kidnapped a Palestinian boy. Same age. Mohammad Abu Khdeir was burned alive. Within days, it was war.”

The teenagers — Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19 — were abducted on June 12, 2014. Fraenkel was buried on July 1. Mohammad Abu Khdeir was murdered on July 2. The Gaza War began on July 8.

It would seem that Pelley was expressing a truth, except that he was telling truths in a way that distorted the truth. The war did not begin “with the murders of three teenage boys.” Saying that suggests that Israel launched a 50-day air and ground campaign against Gazan civilians — during which, according to Pelley, “Israel lost one child, [and] Gaza lost more than 500” — to avenge the deaths of three Israeli teenagers.

Revenge had nothing to do with it, and the kidnappings were not the catalyst.

Between January 1, and July 7, 2014, 353 rockets were launched at Israeli settlements from Gaza, forcing Israeli children to spend many of their days that first half of the year in fallout shelters.

That should have been provocation enough to launch an invasion into Gaza. There was an even greater threat that had to be addressed, however.

On July 7, Hamas terrorists were carrying explosives through a terrorist tunnel in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. Something set off the explosives, and seven of them died.

The existence of an extensive tunnel system beneath Gaza was well known by then. As was also well known but rarely reported, Hamas constructed the system using money meant to rebuild Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

Supposedly, the tunnels were meant to circumvent Israel’s blockade of Gaza, meaning that they were meant to improve the quality of life there. In truth, the tunnels were being used as storage facilities for weapons and as launching sites for missiles.

The tunnels had another purpose, as well. Some extended inside Israel itself and were designed to launch attacks against Israeli settlements.

One such tunnel was discovered near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha in October 2013. According to a Washington Post report, the tunnel “was 1.5 miles long and 66 feet underground.” It “was equipped with electricity and contained enough cookies, yogurt, and other provisions to last its occupants several months. Israeli forces estimated that Hamas had dumped $10 million and 800 tons of concrete into the two-year project.”

The July 7 tunnel explosion beneath Khan Yunis signaled to Israel that the extensive system posed an even greater threat than originally believed. On that same day, Hamas unleashed 80 rockets on Israeli targets.

The next day, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, with the announced purpose of seeking out and destroying the terror tunnels, and putting the launching sites out of commission.

The war had nothing to do with the deaths of the three teenagers. Israel, in fact, had launched Operation Brother’s Keeper on the West Bank, not Gaza, to seek out the terrorists responsible for that outrage.

Here is another example. Pelley said, “This summer, Hamas attacked Israel to lift the blockade and Israel invaded Gaza to destroy the tunnels.”

He then asked a United Nations aid worker, Scott Anderson, “What are the needs here [in Gaza] right now?”

Anderson answered: “The number one need is to find a way to lift the blockade and restore economic opportunity here in Gaza.”

Hamas, however, did not attack Israel “this summer.” As noted, since January 2014 alone, 353 missiles were fired into Israel before Operation Protective Shield was launched. Perhaps Hamas was trying to pressure Israel into ending the blockade, but the “60 Minutes” report made it sound like the blockade was an illegal act meant to force Gazans to live like animals. Pelley even quoted an elderly Gazan, Ahmed Karim Audha, as saying “even the animals have better lives.”

There is nothing either illegal or evil about the blockade. Several years ago, following the Marvi Marmara incident, in which Israeli forces in 2010 boarded a blockade-running Turkish vessel bound for Gaza, killing nine people, a United Nations investigation came to this conclusion:

“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza….The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

The United Nations is no friend of Israel’s, yet it had no choice but to confirm that the blockade of Gaza is justified under international law. The facts speak for themselves. On March 5, 2014, just four months before Protective Edge was launched, Palestinians sought to smuggle dozens of long-range missiles into Gaza by sea. The Israeli navy interdicted the shipment.

Israel, by the way, is not the only country blockading Gaza. Egypt has participated in the blockade from its very beginning. The United States supports both blockades.

The virtually simultaneous blockades were initiated after the so-called Battle of Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, seized Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in a week-long battle that ended in the deaths of 118 Gazans and the wounding of over 500. Egypt imposed its blockade almost immediately after that happened. Israel did the same.

By leaving out the reasons for the blockade, “60 Minutes” made it seem as though Israel does not care for the suffering of anyone but its own people.

The “60 Minutes” report showed devastating footage of whole Gazan neighborhoods in ruins because of the Israeli bombing campaign. “Israel struck Gaza with digital domination, blasting neighborhoods into seismic collapse,” Pelley said.

He said nothing, however, about why Israel bombed these particular sites. Hamas deliberately used these neighborhoods as launching sites for missiles. He also did not mention the advanced warnings Israel gave its bombing targets, something unheard of anywhere else in the world.

CBS and “60 Minutes” did not lie on Sunday night. They just told the truth in a way that made it into a lie.

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades. He hosts adult Jewish education classes twice each week on Zoom, and his weekly “Keep the Faith” podcast may be heard on Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher, among other sites. Information on his classes and podcast is available at www.shammai.org.