On May 7, 2020, amid nationwide lockdowns and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Times ran a story detailing the Israeli Defense Ministry’s work in fighting the coronavirus. The headline read, “Israeli Army’s Idea Lab Aims at a New Target: Saving Lives.” The opening sentences of the article do even less to hide the journalist’s feelings towards Israel:
“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up, with stealth tanks and sniper drones among its more lethal recent projects. But its latest mission is lifesaving.”1
While the rest of the article details the Defense Ministry’s ongoing innovative projects in diagnosing, tracking, and treating COVID-19 cases with greater efficiency, the article’s disparaging headline and leading sentences gained attention.
HonestReporting, an organization that “monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy, or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict,”2 argues the lead sentence of the piece “reinforces the false notion of the IDF as akin to the Star Wars Death Star, bringing vast technological might to bear against [a] ragtag bunch of Palestinians.”3 HonestReporting correctly, albeit pithily, points out the issue with the leading sentence of the article: the journalist makes Israel out to be the bad guy, when in reality, “Israel’s ‘cutting-edge ways to kill people’ were actually developed to lower the risk of collateral damage to Palestinian civilians.”4
Unfortunately, the bias employed in this Times piece is not uncommon across the mainstream media, which often portrays the Israel Defense Forces as the aggressors of the conflict. By describing the IDF in this way, the mainstream media perpetuates false narratives about the conflict, about Israel as a country, and about Israelis themselves. As such, we must read the news with a discerning eye and the truth in mind.
The Israel Defense Forces: Aggressors or Peacekeepers?
In May 2019, terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired more than seven hundred rockets from Gaza into Israel throughout a single weekend. In response to the rocket fire, which caused the deaths of four Israeli citizens, Israel conducted airstrikes against Hamas observation posts, warehouses, and weapons facilities in Gaza. According to reports from Gaza, the airstrikes killed twenty-three Gazans.
The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the incident, ran a story with the headline, “Israel, Gaza Trade Blows in Deadly Exchanges.”5 As Sean Durns from the Committee for Accuracy for Middle East Reporting in America noted, the WSJ’s headline and subsequent story provided readers with a “false equivalency” between the actions of terrorist groups and the actions of Israel.6 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired rockets into Israel to kill Israelis, while Israel conducted airstrikes to eliminate terror cells responsible for the missiles.
Israel employs various tactics to minimize the civilian casualty count when conducting targeted airstrikes against terrorist groups. The Israel Defense Forces website state the IDF will drop leaflets, make phone calls, send text messages, and drop “loud but non-lethal” bombs on targeted buildings’ roofs—a practice that is known as roof-knocking. The IDF uses all of these methods to warn Palestinian civilians of impending strikes against Hamas’ infrastructure. The IDF even abandons targeted attacks when it becomes clear that civilians are present and have either not left or will not leave the targeted area.7 Inherent in Israel’s actions to minimize casualties are their “universal moral values based on the value and dignity of human life.”8
Inaccurate reports from the mainstream media on incidents occurring between the IDF and terrorist groups make Israel out to be an aggressor. Accurate, fact-based reported would reveal Israel as the defender of her citizens, and the Palestinians caught in the middle.
Media Bias and Antisemitism
The inaccurate and biased portrayal of the Israeli Defense Forces inevitably has adverse effects. Natan Sharansky, the former Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, came up with the “3D” test for determining antisemitism. The 3D’s, which are demonization, de-legitimization, and double standards, are discussed at length in our article here. When the media portrays the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inaccurately, they are in danger of demonizing Israel and employing double standards against her.
On June 23, 2020, a Palestinian man named Ahmad Erekat drove his car into an Israeli checkpoint, injuring a female border police officer. Erekat was shot and killed by other officers upon exiting his vehicle. Immediately after the incident, two competing narratives emerged in the media. Sources like the Times of Israel called the event an attack.9 Other outlets reported that Erekat had lost control of his car at the checkpoint in a rush to pick up his sister and mother for his sister’s wedding.10
The Jerusalem Post, taking the view that the incident was indeed an accident, published an article from Media Line with the headline, “Palestinian Mistakes at Israeli Checkpoints Cost Lives.” The report claims that Erekat was left to bleed to death for at least thirty minutes after losing control of the car without being medically treated. Additionally, the story stated that the Israelis prevented Palestinian medics from getting to the scene.11
If the above were, in fact, true, Israel would undoubtedly be at fault for this man’s death. However, video footage released of the incident does not necessarily lend itself to that narrative. First, the video refutes the claim that Erekat was left untreated for thirty minutes. In reality, a paramedic arrived on the scene within five minutes, and no Israeli prevented the Palestinian medics from helping.12 Furthermore, in an interview with a local Israeli news station, the border police officer injured in the attack said, “I signaled to him to halt, the car started to slow down, and I moved in his direction…He saw that I took a step, he looked me in the eye, turned the steering wheel, and rammed into me.” The video footage of the incident seems to confirm the officer’s version of events. While this particular situation remains in dispute, the media did not report on this incident with integrity, which has real-time consequences.
Social media was abuzz with horror that Israeli police would kill a Palestinian man who was, according to the media and the social media posts of Erekat’s family members,13 completely innocent of wrongdoing. This false reporting is an example of demonization: accusing Israel of killing an innocent person without waiting for or presenting evidence that supports the accusation. Furthermore, when the media calls into question Israel’s right to defend herself and her citizens against terror, they are employing double standards. Every country has the right to protect its people from harm. Dishonest and biased reporting from the media breeds antisemitism, adding fuel to an ever-growing flame.
Discernment is critical when it comes to news about Israel. It is important to read stories from reliable sources (find our list here), check the facts, and research topics on your own. The truth matters—especially when it comes to complex and sensitive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As followers of Jesus, let us continue to seek the truth in all things.