I’m usually a passionate defender of the media.
I’ll be with friends or family or out in the world somewhere, or on the phone with a reader. I’ll be told the New York Times or some other media organization is anti-Israel. They say it to me in particular because I’ve worked in the media most of my adult life. They want to see what I’ll say.
The New York Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the TV, the man on the moon, you name it, all anti-Israel. Or so I’m told.
So then I go into explanation-mode, which never really works in life, but I give it a shot. I explain that most journalists get into the business because they care about truth. Being a journalist has shades of similarity to being a Packers fan or a Marquette grad or even a Jew — it becomes part of your identity. And it’s woven into that identity that you seek to be balanced, to tell it like it is.
I explain that print journalists are overworked. The news writing business is under financial pressure. They’re busy, without enough bodies to get it all done. They don’t have as much time for nuance as they would like, so they do their best. Imagine the reporter who is writing a story about Israel and the Palestinians, who doesn’t follow it all as closely as we do. He or she is writing to meet a deadline and then is handed another story by an editor. Now, reporter has to crank both stories out, even as text messages are coming in from home: What? You’ll be late again?
Explanation mode is like bug spray for a conversation, where the conversation is the bugs. So if you’re still with me, thank you.
Yet the thing about an explanation is, it doesn’t mean what went wrong shouldn’t be discussed.
An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published online June 25, 2019, sports the headline, “Milwaukee activist’s beating on West Bank road sheds light on changing Jewish conversation.”
Right off the bat, this is problematic. The claim the man suffered a beating (which means multiple strikes) is not backed up by any video or photo provided by the newspaper. The only source in the story who appears to have direct knowledge seems to be the allegedly beaten man himself, a man who clearly sympathizes with the “peace” camp. But with peace elusive, the achievement of the day appears limited to publicity. Consider why he was there. Fixing a road, we’re told – his group’s protest against Israel. With cameras fired up.
In lots of photos and a video, Israeli soldiers can be seen mostly escorting and dragging protesters away. This, after the protesters were asked to leave a “military zone” and chose not to, according to the newspaper. In one shot, a soldier appears to slap, strike or push a man who is apparently our Milwaukee activist. The moment appears to also exist on Twitter, from a different angle. We have no context, no sense of what happened immediately before the incident.
This somehow leads to the “beating” headline. Not an alleged beating, mind you. Not a beating according to activists. Just a beating. (Note: Editors usually write headlines, not reporters.)
And beyond the fact that we have no context in a narrow sense, there’s also no context in a greater sense. What if an Israeli soldier did overreact to outsiders coming in, refusing to leave, and telling them how to run their country? Could a harsh moment have come from a 19-year-old Israeli soldier whose family must run to shelter when Hamas sends rockets into the southern half of Israel from Gaza?
These protesters would have Israel withdraw from the West Bank. As it did from Gaza, so that children in Israel could have bomb shelters beside their playgrounds?
Actually, one can imagine that many of these protesters would have Israel withdraw from Israel.
And what of the multiple olive branches that Israel offered to Palestinian leadership over many years?
I’m reminded of a famous conversation between former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and former President Bill Clinton. According to media reports back in 2001, Clinton told guests at a party that Arafat called to wish him well three days before he left office. “You are a great man,” Arafat said. “The hell I am,” Clinton said he responded, according to Newsweek. “I’m a colossal failure, and you made me one.”
The Palestinian people deserve better. Their situation is a shonda, for sure. Israel and the Palestinians need to negotiate and find a way to live together.
If there’s a road for protesters to fix in Israel, it’s the road to peace as laid by Palestinian leadership.
Perhaps a protest at a Hamas headquarters in Gaza could get things moving.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.