David I. Roytenberg

IDF Kills the Enemy, World Loses its Mind

A Case Study in Hamas Media Manipulation

On Wednesday, the story was everywhere. Israel bombs school in Gaza. Thirty three dead according to Hamas, mostly women and children. According to this CNN story, which was accessed for this article on June 7 in the afternoon, the death toll was 40 “and could rise”. While the CNN report includes Israel’s statement that they targeted “20 or 30 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants”, it also includes the following quotation:

“We were asleep here, (and) we suddenly saw rockets falling. I went down holding my child, we were both injured, my relative was martyred in that room,” journalist Jaber Abu Daher told CNN on Thursday.

He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is killing the civilians, he is not killing militants, it’s innocent people asleep in a UNRWA facility… what did children and elderly do? What did they do to him? He is looking for Hamas people? Go look for them, why are you killing us in schools?”

This BBC report, Israeli strike on UN school in Gaza reportedly kills at least 35on the incident also contains the figure of 40 dead including 14 children and 9 women. Although the number of dead women and children was later reported to be much lower, these numbers had not been corrected when this article was published.

This CBC report by Nick Logan, ‘Everyone is in pieces’: Witnesses to Israeli strike on Gaza shelter say there’s nowhere safe to goalso contains the report of nine women and fourteen children killed. It reports on Israel’s statements that they were targeting Hamas fighters, but is otherwise devoted to telling the heartbreaking stories of Palestinians affected by the war. There seems to have been no effort to verify the truth of Israel’s reports that Hamas fighters were among the dead.

Image: Screen capture from video on CBC web site which accompanies their article. The video interviews people repeating the Hamas version of events about the air strike on the school, without any questions by the reporter

The story of the horrific Israeli attack appeared in all of my news feeds, on my phone, on the home page of my web browser and in all the news media I subscribe to. In response, Spain joined the genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Many of the reports indicated that UNRWA head Lazzarini said it was “shocking” that Hamas fighters might have been operating from the school. He has spent the past eight months being “shocked”, but also blaming Israel every time an UNRWA facility is attacked.

The IDF offers its own information service which goes largely ignored by the global media. Their spokesperson provides updates on combat operations, reports the identities of Israeli soldiers who have died in combat, and reports what Israel knows when stories from the war make the international news. What they generally don’t do is comment on the reporting of the global media on the war.

They leave it up to others to do that, whether the Israeli government, the Israeli media or interested people like ourselves. Yesterday was an exception. The IDF spokesperson sharply criticized the media coverage of the IDF operation which struck an UNRWA school where Hamas leadership was gathered to conduct combat operations against the IDF.

This article ‘Falling for Hamas tactics’: IDF names 9 terrorists killed in school strike, slams media in the Times of Israel, contains the IDF report on the attack.

“Sadly, we saw some media outlets fall for Hamas’s tactics yet again before checking the facts,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during a press conference in which he revealed the identities of nine terror operatives killed in the attack.

The Times of Israel article reports that the early reports in the global media relied on information from the Al Aqsa Martyrs hospital which claimed that 33 had been killed including nine women and fourteen children. The hospital morgue later modified these to say that 21 of the dead were men, 3 were women and nine were children. Reporters were unable to confirm the gender or age of any of the dead when they visited the hospital.

Image: IDF identifies nine of those killed in the attack on UNRWA School being used as Hamas headquarters (Times of Israel)

The IDF, for its part said that it had intelligence on the presence of 30 terrorists in three rooms in the school, and that these rooms had been struck with precision munitions. They said further that they had called off the strike twice when civilians were observed to be in the area that was to be attacked.

For those without a deep background in the contemporary history of Israel, this story reinforces what they have been reading since the beginning of the war. Israel is targeting civilians in Gaza. Israel is at war with the Palestinian people. Israel is committing genocide.

When we want to know what is happening in the far corners of the world, we rely on our news media to bring us the story. While we understand that journalists are fallible like everyone, we have a basic trust that they will try to get the facts right. We rely on them not to mislead us. But when it comes to events in Israel, as we have seen in some of the earlier articles written here, that trust may be badly misplaced.

It was like a breath of fresh air to see the story reported in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen/National Post in a way that relied on verifiable information and did not seem to be trying to manipulate the emotions of its readers. In fact the Citizen printed a story by Times of Israel reporter Emanuel FabianIDF strikes UN school in central Gaza where it says dozens of terrorists were gatheredTry reading this story and then going back to the other stories linked above.

For the CNN reporters, the allegation that Israel was targeting civilians is taken as fact and the focus of the story is that a US manufactured munition was used in the strike. Israel’s claims that they targeted 20 to 30 of the enemy are mentioned in passing and placed in quotes. The claim is allowed to stand against everything else in the article to make it seem like the Israeli version is unlikely to be true. The BBC article is more neutral in tone, but still treats information sourced from the hospital as reliable. The CBC article barely acknowledges the Israeli point of view and shows no interest in the possibility that the dead might be mostly Hamas fighters.

In the Post article, the intent of Israel to target enemy combatants is at the centre of the story. The possibility that civilians had been harmed is acknowledged but remains to be established as true. The article does not seem to be trying to get its readers worked up, but just to deliver the facts as well as they can be known at the time of writing.

Which version of the story seems more accurate? Which one represents responsible journalism and which one appears to be trying to play on the emotions of the readers? How is it that we have come to accept that the North American media can report on Israel in such an inflammatory and unprofessional way?

When we compare the coverage of this story in the Citizen with the coverage everywhere else, it raises for us, the question of what role the media are playing in stoking the rising tide of anger and violence that has been directed at Canadian and American Jews. What role has biased reporting played in preventing College administrations from enforcing their own rules against trespassing and hate speech? How and when will the management of our mass media be held accountable for the destabilizing consequences of their dishonest reporting?

We have plenty of experience of what happens when a population is inundated for months or years with propaganda calculated to direct their anger against a minority population living among them. We’ve seen it in Rwanda. We’ve seen it in Cambodia. We’ve seen it recently in Ukraine. And we have seen it on October 7th in Israel. There is no excuse for allowing it to happen here.

We must begin to demand a change to the irresponsible and unprofessional way the news coming out of Israel is reported. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it may be a matter of life and death for Canadian Jews.

This article was originally published in Canadian Zionist Forum.

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About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.