Ira Straus

Media deceptions as postmodernist war on Israel

How often is it necessary to repeat the fact that the media are deceiving the world about civilian casualties in Gaza?

The answer: dozens of times a day.

The media lie every time they say, “Israel has killed x number of civilians (30,000 at present) in Gaza”. They need to be flagged as deceiving the world each time.

The number is dishonest on not less than five counts:

  1. It is not a number of civilians killed. It lumps in Hamas combatants killed with civilians killed. Hamas estimates that 6000 of its own fighters have been killed; Israel estimates that at more than 12,000 Hamas fighters killed. Any honest news media would report this, and do the simple subtraction.
  2. It lumps in people killed by Israel with people killed by the rockets from Hamas and its ally PIJ — the ones that have misfired and landed in Gaza. That’s an estimated 2000+ rockets! It includes a rocket that landed in a hospital parking lot. This rocket alone killed, according to Hamas, 500 Gazans (with Hamas dishonestly blaming this on Israel, and most of the Western media doing likewise until it became too hard to ignore the evidence that it was actually a Hamas-PIJ missile). Any honest media would make an estimate for the number killed by Hamas’s own rockets and subtract this, too, from Hamas’ total number.
  3. It’s a Hamas number. Israel’s number, according to Netanyahu — when he was allowed a moment to present it on Meet the Press — was 8000 civilians: 20,000 total dead, but 12,000 of them combatants and terrorists. The media never report this.
  4. The media let people know every day that we are all supposed to be shocked at the number supposedly killed in Gaza, and should call it “indiscriminate” and “reckless” (a line the U.S. government itself has come to repeat after). They have often called it, falsely, the biggest civilian death kill in any recent war. Somehow they say this with a straight face, despite the often far larger numbers of civilian deaths in other wars, such as in Sudan, Congo (DRC), Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Iraq…
  5. The media fail also to mention the true measure of indiscriminate killing: a high civilian-to-military death ratio. They fail to give any ratio.

We can estimate the ratio by a simple calculation: first estimate the number of civilians killed by Israel, by making the subtractions in 1 and 2 above; then divide the remainder by the number of military killed.


The actual relevant ratio

If we use the Hamas figures, this ratio comes out as 4:1. This ratio is normal for an urban war fought by a professional Western military. It is far lower – far more careful and discriminating — than the global average of 10:1.

If we use Israel’s figures, the ratio is 0.8:1. This is incredibly low – so low that it would make Israel uniquely moral in its conduct of war. Which it may well be.

The actual ratio is in-between.

But no objective media have seriously investigated the estimates of the two sides or tried to figure out what would be an accurate estimate. Our media have failed us in this, too.

What we can say with reasonable confidence is that the actual ratio is probably between 1:1 and 3:1.

This makes it very low by global standards. It makes it low even by Western professional standards. It makes the Israeli military more moral and discriminating than the rest of us, not less so.


Postmodern war: the root dishonesty

That conclusion is reinforced by the special circumstances of this war. Hamas is deliberately trying to get as many Gazan civilians killed by Israel as it can. Yet Israel heroically keeps the numbers down.

It is a uniquely postmodern form of war. One side tries to get as many civilians killed as it can on both sides. The other side tries to prevent civilian casualties on both sides.

The media respond to this as only a truly postmodernist, morally upside-down media would: they give serious, actionable blame for the deaths, the kind of blame for which they talk of “holding them accountable”, to the party that is trying to prevent the deaths; they pass over the party that is trying to cause them.

This mentality of postmodern war has prevailed in most recent conflicts where there is a Western side (invariably trying to keep down deaths on all sides) and an anti-Western side (usually trying to cause more deaths on all sides). It has grown considerably worse in recent years.


Postmodern anti-Westernism becomes postmodern anti-Semitism

Ten years ago, it was standard in the media to use this miscoverage of war deaths for the sake of fostering anti-Americanism, but it was still taboo in the Western media to carry it to the point of promoting anti-Semitism. Today that taboo is gone.

That is why the daily media story on this — falsifying the numbers, calling them horrendous, failing to make the honest journalistic comparisons – has turned into an real, if unacknowledged, form of anti-Semitism. It clearly meets the criteria of the widely accepted, though unofficial, international working definition of anti-Semitism. That definition recognizes the fact that serious double-standards against Israel are a form of anti-Semitism.

Our daily media meet this definition three times over. First, they de facto demand that the Israel must meet a radically higher standard than everyone else, or else get condemned. Second, they compound this, by vilifying Israel as almost uniquely evil for this – supposed — failure to be radically better than everyone else. Third, they compound this yet again by falsifying the evidence, so as to leave an impression that Israel really is being radically worse than the norm; falsifying the evidence so much that people will accuse Israel in their minds of committing genocide and make this accusation the going slogan on campus and “the street”.


The new anti-Semitism is dangerous, not mild

This is extreme anti-Semitism. It is a form of devil theory about the Jews and their power as the source of evil. It is not the garden variety of anti-Semitism as a social snobbery against Jews. It replicates the old Big Lie about the Jews. It mimics the old Blood Libel.

The media commit this extreme anti-Semitism every day, many times a day. They do so on almost every major mass media outlet the West has; outlets that are also the main global media.

That is why anti-Semitism keeps growing worse. That is why it keeps getting mainstreamed in our major institutions. That is why it keeps getting legitimized there. That is why Jews on campuses feel scared and cornered.

There are billions of dupes of this new Big Lie around the world. People everywhere are dupes of it. How can they help but be? The evil of the Jews is being drummed into them daily, by all the major media “reporting” the same falsehoods as facts. There is no way for them to know better; not unless they are one of the small minority that puts in the huge mental effort needed to constantly fact check the media.

A dangerous tide of anti-Semitism is inevitable in these circumstances. We are seeing it arising before our eyes.

Stopping this tide would be easy, if the media would simply become honest about the numbers.

Getting the media to be honest: that is the hard problem.

Any highly placed journalist could do it with major effect. None of them are doing it.



About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.
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