Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

The Botched Gaza Hospital Explosion Story: Fog of War – or Epic Blood Libel?

The “fog of war” has often been used as a convenient excuse for journalistic laziness. But what happened with the Gaza hospital explosion is turning out to be a case of outright malpractice, one that may have cost some lives and could have cost many more, had it not been headed off by Israeli investigators (who are mostly not believed) and President Biden (who mostly is). But as we look at the damage that was done by this rush to judgment, this Mother of All Overreactions committed by some of the world’s most reputable journalists, publications and networks, which to this moment still has not been fully corrected by the Times, the fog of war is developing a definitive stench.

What is irrefutable is that something horrible happened and innocent people died. That is beyond tragic and should have sufficed as news, until the cause could be discovered. That’s not what happened. The initial claims of Israel’s responsibility were dutifully reported, and in a manner that suggested veracity.

I am a journalist myself, as well as a rabbi, and I am humble enough to know that even now, the facts could reveal a different truth. But I am not responsible for producing the front page of the New York Times, so the damage I can do is relatively minimal. I was not capable of single-handedly causing the cancellation of a crucial summit between President Biden and several Arab leaders in Amman. I’m not responsible for the 300,000 Israeli soldiers waiting for an order to invade, or for the 200+ hostages who might have been on course to be released when the hospital lie took hold.

So let’s take a quick look around at some reactions, shall we? First, from the President of Israel.

Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law
Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law
Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law

And below, see the Boston Globe’s classic example of “both-sidesism” at its best. The headline literally says “both sides.” They used a N.Y. Times report but capped it with the most hilariously tragic headline imaginable. Here’s a good rule of thumb. When the story is not verified by your own reporters on the ground, and the accusation comes from a source that is affiliated with a group that committed an act of genocidal terrorism in plain view a week before, in whose interest it is to create chaos and drum up resentment, maybe it’s time for a little skepticism. For a day at least? A few hours?

People – stick to the known! Not the finger pointing, but the hospital, the human element. What’s known is sensational enough. The next example will show you how to do it.

Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law
Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law

Here’s an interesting tidbit. When news of the D-Day invasion was first reported in 1944, the source was, of all things, Radio Berlin. You can hear it on the NBC broadcast. That in itself is amazing, but what’s even more amazing is that western news services believed Radio Berlin. They’re the ones who practically invented modern propaganda and the Big Lie. It’s equally remarkable that Radio Berlin, at least in this case, told the truth. It just shows us how the concept of truth has been degraded over the last 80 years. Now people are skeptical when a democracy like Israel speaks of decapitated babies, while they are more than willing to believe genocidal terrorists at the drop of a hat.

Aside from the degrading of truth, the unfair degree of skepticism toward Israel is traceable to several possible causes:

1) Israeli military has an imperfect track record in transparency, with the most recent cases cited being recent deaths of journalists in the West Bank and Lebanon.

2) Just before the holidays, Israel’s Prime Minister completed a blitz of the American media where his lies were so prolific that they were almost Trumpian. I believe that’s why Netanyahu has barely been heard from on US television since Oct.7. That and the fact that his credibility is shot at home too, along with his reputation for protecting Israelis and probably his political career.

3) Because Israel is a Jewish state, and the old antisemitic trope of Jews as slithery, conniving, bloodthirsty, child-killing monsters is rearing its ugly head once again, which is leading to another antisemitic classic: the blood libel.

Do I really believe that antisemitism is the reason that Israel is held to a higher standard of truth by the media, many of whom are themselves Jewish? No, I don’t think Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer are antisemites. For one thing, they are proud Jews. But I don’t doubt that the leaders of Hamas are, and they’ve taught their children to be, and there is just so much more antisemitism in the air right now, everywhere, so I can’t discount it. The idea that Israel would deliberately murder children, in a hospital or anywhere, is pure psychological projection from a group that has just done precisely that.

What happened to Israel last night feels like what President Herzog says it was – yes, a blood libel.

And if this is an example of blood libel, it might be one of the worst examples, worse than 12th century Norwich19th century DamascusMendel Beilis in 1913 Ukraine, or Leo Frank in Atlanta. Or Pizzagate, for that matter. Hopefully President Biden cut off its oxygen supply before it could get ugly and the conspiracists could really go to town.

From this point, whether or not this really gets ugly is not up to the “Arab Street” or white supremacists, but to those who, yesterday at least, demonstrated that they can’t tell the difference between the search for truth and casual, lazy acceptance of the sensational, convenient lie.

The professional media should be ashamed of itself.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307
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