Soft Edges, Hard Core: A Media Tilt to Israel in Gaza

When the respected New York Times covers its Israel bias with soft words, it’s not surprising that more than 50 percent of the American public support the Netanyahu government’s increasingly bloody campaign in Gaza. Take for example the Times’ July 25, 2014, editorial entitled “Gaza’s Mounting Death Toll.” With unassailable platitudes, it seems evenhanded on its face. The following observations appear reasonable at first glance:

  • “What really matters now is that some way be found to stop the carnage.”
  • “The war is terrorizing innocent people on both sides of the border.”
  • “It is past time for an immediate cease-fire and for a political strategy that offers the hope of a more stable future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
  • “Secretary of State John Kerry has been working feverishly to get a cease-fire, but his mission is hugely complicated.”

Yet beneath the editorial’s “soft edges,” one finds ample evidence of the paper’s “hard core” message: a justification of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Let’s parse the paragraphs.

1. “There are competing charges over who carried out the attack – Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; or one of Hamas’s allies – and that could take time to sort out.”

Given the likely presence of shell fragments, why should it “take time to sort out” responsibility? Noting that the UN gave Israel the “precise GPS locations of all 83 schools that were being used as shelters for 141,000 people who had fled their homes,” a senior UN official, who cited the two school bombings earlier in the week, had little doubt that the Israel military was responsible. The editorial would have us believe that it was equally likely that Hamas (or one of its allies – who might that have been?) carried out the attack.

2. “The war is terrorizing innocent people on both sides of the border.”

True, but this statement ignores the striking disparity in casualties: over 1,000 in Gaza, 51 in Israel (as of July 28). To equate the violence by Hamas with that of the Israel Defense Force is to mislead the reader.

3. “Israeli officials say they have taken pains not to harm civilians.”

What value is such assurance in the open-air prison of Gaza? The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits attacks on civilians and condemns collective punishment.

4. “Surely, Israel has reason to take strong military action against the barrage of rockets on its territory.”

Against military targets, yes; against non-combatant women and children, no. Why did Israel not simply dismantle or bomb the tunnel exits or places outside civilian areas?

5. “The United Nations did not enhance its own credibility and influence when its Human Rights Council focused entirely on Israel in a resolution on Wednesday, opening an inquiry into possible Gaza-related human rights violations.”

This is an incredible justification of the US “no-vote” on that resolution. While Hamas must be accountable for its rockets, Israel has a much greater burden to justify attacks on civilians that strongly suggest collective punishment.

6. “Unlike Israel, Hamas has not built bomb shelters where civilians can seek refuge. And even as the war rages and his people are exposed, Hamas’s political leader, Khaled Meshal, has been safely ensconced at his exile home in Qatar.”

In another case of blaming the victims, the editorial devotes a whole paragraph (one out of nine) to excoriate Hamas for its high civilian death toll. The faulting of Gaza for not building bomb shelters, echoing Israeli publicists, is absurd. Given the restrictions Israel has put on construction materials for Gaza, how could its cash-strapped government have built shelters? If Israeli citizens are more protected through its Iron Dome and bomb shelters, shouldn’t that impose a greater Geneva Convention burden on Israel in attacking a defenseless civilian population?

7. “Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction . . .”

Had Israel and the United States given the recent reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas a chance, we could well have seen a moderation in Hamas’ stance. Clearly, we would not have had the current war and its likely expansion to the West Bank.

8. “Secretary of State John Kerry has been working feverishly to get a cease-fire, but his mission is hugely complicated.”

Had Kerry really wanted to achieve a fair Israeli-Palestinian settlement and now ceasefire, he would have used the withdrawal of military and economic aid to spur concessions on both sides.