Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s death while reporting on an IDF operation in Jenin is a tragedy deserving investigation. Journalistic freedom is vital to any nation that calls itself a democracy. Across our world, there are still many places without free presses and where journalists fear for their lives.
However, Israel is not one of those places. Despite its challenges, Israel’s press remains free. Reporters are free to harshly criticize the government without reservation, take outlets such as Haaretz and +972. Having a broad range of media outlets with different viewpoints is a vital part of a healthy democracy, something the rest of the region lacks. Such is the environment that has enabled Akleh along with many others to thrive for years.
This is why the propaganda surrounding Akleh’s death bothers me so much. Akleh died in the crossfire between the IDF and Palestinian militants. According to experts, both Israeli and Palestinian, it is extraordinarily difficult to tell who fired the fatal shot. Israel proposed a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), to which the PA refused to cooperate. It is irresponsible to draw conclusions absent an investigation.
Of course, you would not learn this listening to Israel’s “critics”. Anti-Zionists immediately blamed Israel- including members of Congress such as Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is irresponsible for public figures to make claims without sufficient evidence.
At Northeastern University, where I attend school, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter hosted an “emergency vigil” in Copley Square, spreading the idea that Akleh’s death was a cold-blooded extra-judicial killing. I am unsurprised by this. Despite their tendency for loud provocative displays, anti-Zionists have a tendency to leave out crucial information.
This is shown through their “apartheid walls” with easily debunkable claims and through their protests. I know this as I attended an SJP protest on March 31. The purpose was to promote the Deadly Exchange conspiracy– falsely blaming Israel for American police brutality. Despite their egregious claims, they misunderstood what the police exchanges they were protesting actually entailed.
Contrary to their claims, there is inconclusive evidence police training in Israel worsens American police conduct, often serving instead to reduce violence and racism in policing. US-Israel police exchanges focus on saving lives and providing better public safety services to citizens- including training on de-escalation, community policing, relationship-building and counterterrorism.
The other purpose of the March 31 protest was to #DroptheADL, following the anti-Zionist precedent of treating the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a cartoon villain. The demonized sensationalized version of the ADL had little connection to reality and revealed far more about them and their vested interest in stalling the fight against antisemitism than the organization itself.
Of course, exposing the logical holes of anti-zionist rhetoric is futile as anti-zionism is dependent upon wholesale denial of Jewish history and inaccurate understandings of the region’s history. Anti-zionists whitewash Jewish life in the Muslim world and Islamic antisemitism including the Mufti’s collaboration with the Nazis. They also ignore Israel’s neighbors open desire to annihilate it in 1948 and 1967 and Israel’s many rejected offers of Palestinian statehood to turn Israel into a pariah.
Anti-zionist outrage is incredibly selective. Few anti-zionists condemn the terror attacks that have taken over a dozen Israeli lives in recent months nor have they noted that the IDF’s presence in Jenin was a direct response to those attacks. While anti-zionists feign concern about Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population, hardly ever are Lebanon and Syria attacked for their far worse treatment. This proves the justice that anti-zionists seek is not universal nor is it evenly applied. Anti-zionists do not care about Palestinian suffering if it cannot be blamed on Israel.
Once again, we return to Akleh’s death. As stated before, there is not enough evidence to draw a conclusion. However, anti-zionists believe Israel did it as it fits their image of Israel. They view Israel as evil and do not question when Israel is accused of something bad. In psychology, this is known as the horns effect and it is irrational.
We also saw this at the funeral. While the police’s use of force was unfortunate, extremists went against the plan carefully thought up by Akleh’s family with the Israeli police. The last thing the Israeli police wanted was an incident at the funeral, to claim that this was the plan is extremely disingenuous. Sadly, this is par for the course for media coverage of Israel. Israel is only reported on when it can be spun negatively and not the many times things go according to plan. In general, Israel’s goal is to prevent the loss of human life and avoid catastrophes.
Regardless of who fired the fatal shot, this was not a case of Israel murdering a journalist. Even if the IDF killed her it was unintentional. The narrative that this was an extrajudicial killing of a journalist serves the idea that Israel persecutes journalists. The evidence is overwhelming that this is not the case but that will not stop anti-zionists suffering from the horns effect to believe it so.