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Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Good News is Also What DOESN’T Happen

News is invariably considered to be something that “happened” – usually negative (other than an outstanding scientific breakthrough or invention). After all, when was the last time you came across this headline in the newspaper: “Yesterday, 10 million Israelis had a non-eventful, relaxing day.” I’d guess: never!

But things that do not happen can actually be worthy of news headlines (as I wrote about here over a year ago: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/good-news-is-no-news/). The problem is that there is no specific time to report that. “News” is what occurred yesterday (in newspapers), this morning (on the nightly TV news program), or an hour ago (on internet news sites). But non-news news tends to be ongoing, without a specific time frame, and thus doesn’t register as “real news.”

But it certainly can be. Here are four important examples from Israel’s situation in light of the post-Oct. 7 Gaza War.
First, despite some pundits claiming a lack of signs that Israel’s military campaign is not achieving much, anyone living in the central part of Israel (that’s most Israelis) knows otherwise. There’s been an almost total cessation of rocket fire over and into Israel’s major (and even minor) cities – a product of the IDF eliminating almost all of Hamas’s long-range missile firepower. Has anyone mentioned this in the press? Not to my knowledge (perhaps out of superstition: “talk about the Devil and he might appear” – but still…).

Second, even more warnings were forthcoming regarding what might happen within Israel’s own Arab sector. Israelis haven’t forgotten the violent internal riots of 2021 during the Shomer Ha’khomot (“Guardians of the Gate”) military campaign against Hamas. Thousands of Israeli Arabs were involved in violent rioting, lynch attempts, vandalism and setting property on fire – mostly in mixed Jewish-Arab cities such as Lod, Ramleh, and Acre (Akko), but also in exclusively Arab towns and numerous roads in the Negev and the Galilee. One could just imagine what would occur along those lines in a far more intense war, post-Oct. 7, 2024.

What did happen? Nothing. No rioting, no vandalism, no attacks. Period. After a few initial protest demonstrations – nada. There are probably several reasons for this, chief among them Israeli Arab horror at the barbarism of their Gazan compatriots – and fear of what the Israeli security authorities would do this time around if internal violence reared its head. But whatever the cause, such non-action should be considered big-time news indeed. Not only for the present period of war, but especially for what it indicates about the growing political maturity and willingness of Israeli Arabs to accept the demands of Israeli citizenship and Israel’s democratic rules of the game.

Third, Israel’s military fatality rate. Numerous war correspondents and pundits, including academics, have warned immediately after the Oct. 7 massacre that if and when the IDF entered Gaza it would be a bloodbath for both sides. The reason? Urban warfare is advantageous to the defensive side, and the numerous opportunities for surprise attacks in closely built quarters – especially with the added surprise of Hamas militants suddenly emerging from tunnels – will exact a huge price in dead Israeli soldiers. That has not happened. True, this past week has been especially deadly; altogether, though, a bit over 200 IDF soldiers have died in combat (not counting Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack inside Israel). That still leaves the fatality numbers way beneath what was feared before the war broke out.

Paradoxically, those “predictions,” along with their underlying rationale, are the reason for the relatively very low IDF fatality rate: Israel’s Army leadership was well aware of the dangers inherent in such urban fighting and changed tactics accordingly. Instead of massive, frontal attacks, the IDF devised a slow and steady, pinpoint strategy calling in air power where the fighting had become too intense and dangerous. Thus, in around 110 days of fighting, the daily rate has been on average two soldiers dying per day – far lower than any other serious war that Israel has been involved in! Have you read that anywhere? I doubt it.

Fourth and finally, given the ferocity of Israel’s Gazan response to the Oct. 7 massacre, and the pro-Palestinian protest demonstrations around the world – impressive in numbers and frequency – one would expect Israel’s standing among its “allies” in the Middle East to be seriously compromised. Yet Egypt, Jordan, and the Abraham Accords countries have not even threatened to cut off relations with Israel. In fact, while further diplomatic negotiations with Saudi Arabia are on hold for the time being, the Saudis announced last week that they are still willing to sign a full peace treaty with Israel, fully recognizing the Jewish State (!), if and when a two-state solution is finalized and a Palestinian state is established. Obviously, that’s a long way off – but the very mention of this during the Gazan War is itself a statement that nothing is going to derail the overall peace process with the moderate Arab world. Here too, the lack of bad news is good news indeed.

No one expects the media to focus exclusively, or even mostly, on positive non-news. Their audiences would find that hard to swallow. But it wouldn’t hurt for the media to occasionally note this phenomenon when it actually happens to not happen. Given that almost all news is “bad news,” one can conclude that good non-news is actually quite newsy.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published four books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com
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