In its May/June issue, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article by J.J. Goldberg about charges that Israeli soldiers shot unarmed Palestinian women during its operation against Hamas in Gaza. For most of the piece, Goldberg treated the unfounded allegations as if they were true. The fact that they almost certainly were not was buried and minimized — it wasn’t until the article’s fourth and final page that he admitted, albeit dismissively, that the charges were shown to be mere hearsay.
CAMERA’s letter about Goldberg’s article was published in the July/August issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, followed by a response by the author. Goldberg’s response, however, does not address the central point of CAMERA’s letter, namely, that news organizations across the world bungled the story and misled audiences by treating rumor as fact. Surprisingly for a contributor to a magazine about journalism, he instead insisted that it was not so important whether or not the killings took place, since Israel allegedly behaves with “brutality.”
(It is worth noting that, prior to the publication of Goldberg’s piece, Danny Zamir, the source of the Gaza allegations and a character in Goldberg’s story, had slammed the New York Times and others for replacing balance with dogma and promoting a “dangerous misunderstanding of the depth and complexity of Israeli reality.” Readers were not made aware of this criticism. Also worth recalling is another view that dramatically contrasts with the sketch of a “brutal” Israel. British Colonel Richard Kemp said of Israel’s Gaza operation, “I don’t think that there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza”)
CAMERA’s letter and Goldberg’s response follow:
Not So Fast
In “A Matter of Trust” (CJR, May/June), J.J. Goldberg writes that U.S. and British news outlets, in covering allegation sof Israeli misconduct in Gaza, missed “bits of information,” omissions that “can go a long way, intentionally or not, in tilting a story.” As if to demonstrate the truth of this observation, Goldberg’s analysis is itself tilted by the omission of key information. While he correctly pointed out that the Israeli soldiers — whose testimony was the basis for the numerous stories in Ha’aretz, The New York Times, The Guardian and other news outlets — admitted their stories were based only on hearsay, he neglected to mention that that admission was available to reporters as early as March 19. Meanwhile, beginning on March 20, The New York Times and other news outlets trumpeted what they wrongly called “eyewitness accounts” of Israeli atrocities — after it was already clear that the allegations were dubious at best.
It seems that reporters on both sides of the Atlantic were a bit too eager to condemn Israel.
Senior Research Analyst, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
J.J. Goldberg responds: Among the soldiers who told their stories at the Rabin academy in February, two drew the bulk of media attention because they told of shootings of civilian women. Other soldiers in the gruop told of witnessing brutality, vandalism, disregard of property, and scattered shooting that they thought needlessly threatened civilians, but whose accounts were lost in the media uproar.
The two soldiers who told of the shootings were immediately questioned by the army, and were quoted afterward as admitting that those two particular accounts were based on second-hand accounts. An eleven-day investigation followed, producing evidence refuting the accounts of killings, and the army dismissed the soldiers’ allegations as uncorroborated and likely false. There was no further investigation of the other allegations — brutality, vandalism, etc. — which, in contrast were largely direct-eyewitness accounts; numerous other soldiers have given similar accounts. Whether or not the two shooting deaths did take place, there is little reason to doubt the broader description of courseness that so shocked Israelis. And no, whatever foreign audiences might have gotten out of it, it wasn’t the allegations of killings alone that sparked Israel’s national soul-searching, but rather the broader portrait of brutality, which has not been refuted.