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Empathy vs. Criticism - Chronicle Online/The WORD 05/30/2024

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

May 30, 2024

22 Iyar 5784

Parashat Behukotai

I was listening to a discussion between the journalist Matti Friedman (no relation) and former Israeli MK Dr. Einat Wilf – who earned a PhD in political science from Cambridge.  She said something that I can’t get out of my head.  She made the point that there is no horrible accusation that one can make against the Jews and Israel that won’t be believed by at least some people.  In other words, some segment of the population is always ready to accept that Jews are capable of despicable acts.  

So, when Israel is accused of killing babies, perpetrating a genocide, ethnic cleansing or colonizing an indigenous people’s land, it is immediately reported by the media as a fact.  When Israel accuses Hamas of operating out of hospitals, raping Israeli women or stealing aid from their fellow Palestinians, it is always an unconfirmed allegation.  There’s a double standard.  We are supposed to believe the accusations against the Jews and investigate the allegations against Hamas.

No sooner had I heard Dr. Wilf’s words than I read in the news that President Recep Erdogan of Turkey referred to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a “vampire” who feeds on blood.  It is one of the oldest antisemitic accusations in the world.  Since at least the 12th century, Jews have been accused of using the blood of Christian children in order to make matzah.  President Erdogan skipped over the matzah part and simply accused the democratically-elected leader of the only Jewish state in the word of drinking blood.

Now you might be saying to yourself that no one takes President Erdogan literally.  But, is that really so?  And even if most people do not believe it, accusations such this contribute to an atmosphere in which Jews are perceived as guilty – no matter what.

This is a stark example, but there are more subtle ways that this plays out.  Consider the New York Times coverage of the Gaza-Israel war.  The Jerusalem Post did an analysis of 1398 articles that appeared in the NYT between October 7th and May 7th to see if the articles were empathetic to either Hamas or Israel.  Then, they analyzed them again to see if they were critical of either Hamas or Israel.   You can read how the articles were chosen here.  

You might think that after the horrible attack of October 7th, we might see more criticism of Hamas and more empathy for Israel.  If you thought that, though, you’d be wrong.   647 of the articles expressed empathy only towards Palestinians, while 147 articles expressed empathy only towards Israelis (50 of which expressed empathy towards the hostages).

When it comes to criticism, we see the inverse.  641 articles expressed criticism of Israel alone.  Only 81 expressed criticism of Palestinians alone.  

It’s no surprise that yesterday Israel was widely criticized for its bombing attack on Rafah which successfully eliminated two high-level Hamas commanders.  There was no criticism of the fact that Hamas fired rockets out of Rafah earlier in the day.  There was no criticism of the fact that Hamas militants and equipment were so close to civilian tents.  There was no curiosity about the secondary explosions that led to the fiery deaths of civilians.  Of course, we are supposed to accept Hamas’ version of what happened and accept that Israel was wrong.  It’s the same old story – a blood libel dressed up in modern journalism.



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