We will never know what motivated the New York Times to distort the terrible events of that night.
When I was growing up in New York in the 1960s, everyone knew who Kitty Genovese was and what happened to her.
On the night of March 13, 1964, upon returning home from work, Genovese was viciously and fatally stabbed by an assailant. As reported two weeks later on the front page of the New York Times, “….For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks….”
The Times reported that no one called the police during the lengthy assault. According to the Times, as Genovese screamed, no one came to her aid.
The Kitty Genovese story became urban lore. Even sociologists chimed in by creating new academic lingo—-Genovese Syndrome—-to describe public apathy in the face of violence.
What none of us knew at the time is that this narrative was mostly false. Today we would call it fake news.
What Really Happened?
The Witness, a 2015 documentary film about this incident, revealed the truth: At least several neighbors called the police. One neighbor came to Genovese’s assistance and then held the victim in her arms as she died.
The false narrative about Genovese was based on an internationally circulated story in the New York Times. As noted by veteran reporter Mike Wallace, “not a single reporter followed up on the claims about the Genovese witnesses because they were made by the New York Times.” (LA Times, “Infamous Kitty Genovese murder case,” October 7, 2015.)
We will never know what motivated the New York Times to distort the terrible events of that night. We do know that an entire neighborhood was stigmatized and that, to this day, based on the Genovese story, many believe that New Yorkers are heartless and indifferent.
What Does This Have To Do With Israel?
As I learned about this latest revelation, I couldn’t help but think that something similar has happened to Israel.
For years, reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been distorted by Western news outlets that adhere to a simplistic “good guy-bad guy” narrative in which history is ignored and Israelis play the bad guys. As a result, many people believe in myths that do injustice to the truth. Here are a few of those myths:
Myth: Arabs have lived in the Middle East for millennia while Jews arrived only after the Holocaust.
Fact: When the first Arabs arrived from the Arabian Peninsula, in what is today Israel, the Jews had already lived there for over two millennia. The Jewish states of Judah and Israel had already existed as independent entities for a period of about 1,000 years, with independent rulers, language, religion and cultural identity.
Myth: Jews came to Israel in the twentieth century as European colonizers.
Fact: About half of Israel’s current Jewish population has no European ancestors; their families are from ancient Jewish communities in surrounding Arab countries. These Jews were largely forced to leave after the modern state of Israel was founded in 1948. It is hard to understand why anyone would think Jews are European colonizers in the Middle East. There has never been a Jewish state in Europe; Jews were subjugated in Europe for most of their history; and in the twentieth century, Europeans murdered two-thirds of European Jewry. If Jews are foreign colonialists, where is their European home country?
Myth: Jews fled to Israel after the Holocaust. If Israel is needed in order to protect Jews from European anti-Semites, this has nothing to do with Arabs. Why should Arabs have to pay for the crimes of European anti-Semites?
Fact: It is true that Zionism sought to protect Jews from European antisemitism. But it was also needed to protect Jews from anti-Semitic violence in Arab countries. Arab history is punctuated by many anti-Jewish massacres against ancient Jewish communities in Arab lands.
Consider the years just before Israel’s establishment. The infamous 1941 farhud in Iraq was planned and led by the Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, with the help of the pro-fascist government of Iraq. Hundreds of Jews were killed and thousands of Jewish homes were ransacked. A wave of violence claimed many Jewish victims in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
After Israel came into being, 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries due to organized, government-supported policies and violence. Out of a 1948 population of nearly one million Jews in Arab countries, today only a few thousand Jews remain (almost entirely in Morocco and Tunisia). The Arabs have accomplished what the Germans and their allies had hoped to: They have rendered Arab countries essentially judenrein (Jew free). The current Palestinian Authority continues this policy with its forceful announcements that no Jew will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. By comparison, 1.5 million Arabs live in Israel as full citizens.
-Myth: The Jews started the 1947-1949 war in order to grab territory.
Fact: In 1947 the United Nation partitioned Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews greeted this decision with celebration and drafted a Declaration of Independence that guaranteed full rights to Arabs in the new Jewish state. But leaders from one end to the other of the Arab world loudly proclaimed that Arab armies would “drive the Jews into the sea.” Thousands of Arab irregulars arrived in Palestine and bivouacked in Arab villages across Palestine in sight of Jewish communities. These irregulars were volunteer soldiers, just like those who fight for ISIS today.
Arab attacks began within days of the partition announcement. For the first three months, the Jewish army, the Haganah, engaged only in defensive actions. When the British army left Palestine on May 15, 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan invaded Israel. The Arabs ambushed Jewish traffic throughout the country. Many thousands of Jews in Jerusalem’s Old City were cut off and threatened with starvation. Jewish communities were overrun and suffered atrocities, just like those committed today by ISIS, including massacres of women and children, genital mutilation and other torture.
-Myth: In that war, the Israeli army deliberately forced Arabs from their homes.
Fact: The Israeli army had plenty of reason to overrun the many Arab villages that housed and supplied the attackers. In some instances they did.
Many Arabs fled the country upon hearing false news reports broadcast on order of the Palestinian Higher Committee (PHC) about an Israeli massacre of Arab villagers in Deir-Yasin.
The PHC broadcast the false report in the hope of spurring an invasion of Israel by Arab countries; the plan backfired when the local Arab population panicked and fled.
Some Arabs were forced out by the Haganah as part of military operations to secure the country. But there was no centrally planned or coordinated effort to force Arab populations to leave.
-Myth: The Israeli Occupation of the West Bank Violates International Law.
Fact: Whatever one believes about whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, the Jews have a stronger legal claim to this land than do the Arabs. In 1920, the League of Nations, at the San Remo conference, set aside this land for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland. Later, the British granted the greater part of this land to the Arabs. That land is today the state of Jordan.
In 1967, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, that is widely cited as requiring Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. It does not. It requires Israel to withdraw to “secure and recognized boundaries.” The so-called “Green Line” that separates Israel proper from the West Bank is a series of armistice lines agreed upon by Israel and its Arab neighbors, and subject to final negotiation.
Sooner or later the truth emerges. I am glad that the true story of Kitty Genovese has finally been told. I wish the same for Israel.