Let's Fix This Country

The Students, the Media, and the Israel-Gaza War. Comments?

The protests on America's college campuses, at first laudatory for speaking out for the benighted and butchered civilian populace in Gaza, quickly devolved into extremes that told us how little students at even the élite schools know or choose to. Critical thinking, the ability to sort through complexity, is no longer taught apparently. Instead of staying with protests against Israel for its military policy, student factions took up support for Hamas, eliding its barbarian attack of murder and rape of innocent Israeli citizens and the cowardly taking of hostages to bargain with their lives.

Unseen and unreported, their generation had developed an ethos of anti-colonialism in which everyone is either the oppressed or the oppressors. The only Israel they know is its over half a century of occupation of the West Bank, the "open air prison" of Gaza, the progressing annexation of the West Bank, the increasing attacks of Palestinians by settlers there who sought to drive them out. That, for them, justified the Hamas atrocities.

article illustration
Students as George Washington University in D.C.

The students lost the public chanting "from the river to the sea", many seemingly not knowing that means the elimination of Israel. In a memorable interview, a student could not name which river and which sea. Just one student does not a student body make, but one had to think that geographical ignorance was widespread.

From there, the worst possible broke out: antisemitism, with Jewish students afraid to walk their schools' campuses. History's most senseless hatred has lain relatively dormant except for white supremacists and other hate groups, but one had to wonder where was this coming from among the nation's supposedly brightest? Who instilled that?

liberal media coverage

Liberal media reported all of this. Reporting was sympathetic to the protests, immediately alarmed at the block-busting bombing and the horrific death toll. There was no ducking the student excesses, but — as you'd expect — opprobrium when college administrations called in the police, even to clear occupied and vandalized buildings.

There was at first distrust of Israel's claims that Hamas was using hospitals and schools as headquarters with tunneled access, until that proved true. Editorial opinion lobbied for pauses and cease fire as one after another town within Gaza was obliterated. The outrage grew as Israel's constriction of humanitarian aid grew to the point that a United Nations agency rated the threat of starvation in northern Gaza the worst anywhere in the world.

Biden's withholding of 2,000 pound bombs to prevent the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from resuming destruction of buildings without regard for civilian life was cheered as the right move in the liberal media, especially in retaliation for Netanyahu's repeatedly ignoring the U.S. entreaties to maximally avoid human casualties. Why is Israel offended by interrupted delivery if it does not intend to drop them on Rafah?

the conservative viewpoint

Like Joe Biden, before he realized he had a problem with the youth vote and world opinion, conservative media has given Israel the “rock solid and unwavering” support that Biden pledged.

Whether cable news shows or the opinion pages of publications such as The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, or National Review, support for Israel is unqualified. Like Senate Republicans, where all save Rand Paul voted for South Carolina's Lindsey Graham's measure to condemn the administration’s halting weapons deliveries to Israel, they have been unyieldingly pro-Israel with hardly a mention of the civilian death toll and the humanitarian crisis. Conservative media is virulently opposed to Biden's withholding of weapons with headlines such as "Biden tries to save Hamas" and reproofs such as "We shouldn't tell Israel how to fight its war". Except we should. We are accomplices, supplying the weapons. We are already on the edge of violating the Arms Trade Treaty, which proscribes supplying weapons to those who will use them to commit human rights violations, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Gerard Baker, formerly the Journal's editor-in-chief, now a columnist, a Brit recently a naturalized American citizen, says about Israel,

"In a hostile region, it is also the sole standard-bearer of individual freedom, tolerant pluralism and self-rule"

and that

"We should give thanks every day for the sacrifices Israelis make at the fragile frontier of freedom."

He goes so far to say in the title of one column "Western Democracy’s Future Depends on Israel’s Victory" and in the text says, "Every Islamist terrorist Israel kills is one fewer threat to the rest of us." His thesis is that, If we allow moral outrage to triumph over Israel, that same morality will hobble America's ability to defend itself.

The editor-in-chief of Washington Examiner, Hugo Gurdon, says "There is no occupation, by the way, and indeed, no Palestine". From the sea to the river?

From a journalistic standpoint, we'd take issue with three topics that right-wing media (and left-wing media somewhat) accepts unchallenged:

1. human shields

Hamas, not Israel, has wrought this suffering, said the Journal in an editorial. We hear the same from others such as Sen. J.D. Vance, who asks,

"Why are Palestinian civilian casualties so high?’ It’s because Hamas started the war and now, they hide behind Palestinian civilians."

Hamas strategy is to "place civilians in maximum danger" and let Israel take the blame. The Journal says, "Hamas, whose strategy of hiding behind civilian deaths is the real source of Gaza’s humanitarian tragedy."

That Hamas uses its own people as human shields is a ubiquitous and thinly examined trope that needs two caveats: One, there have been no reports we've seen of a Hamas militant holding a civilian in front of him to inhibit Israeli fire, the literal meaning of human shield. Second, even if you expand that definition, and this cannot help sound like a Hamas apology, however unintended, their fighters are fenced into Gaza, into a sliver of land 25 miles long and just over five miles wide on average, unallowed to leave, and therefore intermixed inextricably with 2.1 million people. When Israel drives over a million into Rafah, a town of 170,000 in 2017, it is Israel that packing in a human shield. Incidentally, a NATO study of the human shield question goes no further than to say:

"Hamas has launched rockets, positioned military-related infrastructure-hubs and routes, and engaged the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from, or in proximity to, residential and commercial areas."

So when the press on the right (and the left) says Hamas's goal is to maximize the number of deaths of their own people, has Hamas said so, or is that made up? "Every ounce of civilian suffering in Gaza is a public relations victory for Hamas and a public relations loss for Israel". Hamas is depraved, evil, but should we be so quick to believe that?

2. utmost care

Media on the right gives unquestioning credulity to Israel's claims of the precautions it takes to avoid killing civilians. In Washington Examiner in February, we read, "One key Israeli tactic is to maintain humanitarian corridors that allow Gazans to flee battle zones". With the populations uprooted and sent from one town to another, from Deir al-Balah to Khan Younis, from Khan Younis to Rafah, and now routed from Rafah, when has that been true? That publication contends…

"Israel has gone to extreme efforts to minimize civilian casualties. It has done a remarkably good job.

We are given the casual explanation that,

"There will be civilian casualties as there are in all wars, although there are notably fewer in this one than is usual, due to the IDF’s great care to avoid them."

How to explain no end of photos of entire housing blocks flattened, with people inside crushed in the rubble, because there was believed a Hamas higher-up was in one of the buildings? Were there warnings, risking scaring off the target? We just don't know. It is bad journalism to assume.

3. death counts

Both sides of the media cite the death count provided by the Gazan Health Ministry, currently over 34,000. The left is too accepting; the right, with a desire to minimize the carnage Israel has caused, challenges the ministry's count as unproven and too high.

But conservative media do not challenge Israel's count of 14,000 Hamas militia members killed, according to Natanyahu in a May 13 interview. Other than those killed shooting at them, how does the IDF know? The Journal's editorial board writes on an earlier date,

"To condemn Israel, Mr. Biden trots out the Hamas figure of more than 30,000 casualties in Gaza. Why doesn’t he mention that Israel says more than 13,000 of them were Hamas fighters? "

You can see that Israel has an incentive to inflate the number of militants killed; the higher the number subtracted from the ministry's death count, the lower the count of civilians killed.

a trifecta

The Washington Examiner falls for all the fallacies we're citing — human shields, Hamas maximizing deaths of human shields, Israel taking maximum precautions, acceptance of IDF counts of militants killed — all in a single paragraph back in February.

"Hamas claims that 29,000 Gazans have died…Israel says 12,000 of those deaths are Hamas fighters. If one takes both sides’ numbers as accurate, that would be near a historic low in the ratio of combatants killed to civilians. Israel’s success in minimizing civilian deaths is all the more impressive when considering that it is Hamas’s goal to maximize them."

Shouldn't so low a ratio have raised the suspicion that something is off?


Also accepted is that the remnants of Hamas are in Rafah, four battalions out of an original twelve all cite unquestioningly, and that they will accommodate the IDF by remaining in place rather than drift away with the fleeing civilians so as to reconstitute and fight another day — as they have in northern Gaza, with firefights having resumed in areas the IDF thought they had cleared. It is postulated that Netanyahu prolongs the war to stay in power, indefinitely postpone inquiries into his failings and of his governing coaltion, and to avoid prison for corruption.

Someday his time will run out and there will be the "day after" the war, but that is another subject.

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2 Comments for “The Students, the Media, and the Israel-Gaza War. Comments?”

  1. Congratulations on publishing one of the few well-balanced pieces on this unfortunate situation

  2. Jay

    pretty biased piece, even though I consider myself a novice, I can eliminate the author in an open debate, it seems the author is paid by one of those members of the watsapp group WaPo reported about

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