It’s bad enough that readers of Farah Stockman’s column in today’s Boston Globe have to sit through all the usual techniques used to sell a blinkered vision of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Those who endure until the end of the piece are rewarded by a much more outrageous and explicit outrage. According to Stockman, the recent murder of four Jews praying in a synagogue, which was nothing if not a bloody, anti-Semitic pogrom (warning: that link leads to a page that includes images of blood that readers may find disturbing), is an example of the chickens coming home to roost:
Relatives say similar pictures on Facebook angered Rasan and Oudai Abu Jamal so much they went to West Jerusalem and slaughtered four rabbis during prayer. The act was unspeakable and inexcusable. But this is what separation sows.
Ignore, for now, that Stockman brazenly inverts reality, pretending the “separation” preceded violence when in fact it clearly followed it, both in the short term in Issawiya and in the longer history of Israeli-Palestinian relations since 1967. Instead, consider how she explains away the murders.
It is the Jews of Israel, Stockman tells us, who are responsible for a pogrom against the Jews in Israel. Of course, this is no less vile than the proposition — however many times the proponent repeats that it is an explanation and not an excuse — that the NAACP should be blamed for the lynching of blacks, or feminists for the rape of women. (See update below.)
The sliver lining, for those inclined toward optimism, is that the conversation might be leaving Stockman behind. Observers have begun noticing and critiquing what Alan Johnson describes as the “exculpatory impulse” toward one side of the conflict. Johnson refers to a world view in which “Palestinians (and Arabs in general) do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible. Israelis do and can; always, and exclusively.” It is, he continues, a racist and orientalist way of looking at the conflict:
Palestinians are understood as a driven people, dominated by circumstance and emotion, lacking choice, below the age of responsibility, never to be held accountable. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating, the root cause of everything, responsible for everything.
Former Associated Press journalist Matti Friedman recently criticized his past employer for promoting this world view, even to the point of spiking stories that might get in the way. And it isn’t only AP, he says:
If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.
Even New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has caught on. In a recent column about her newspaper’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, she felt compelled to remind reporters that Palestinians
are more than just victims, and their beliefs and governance deserve coverage and scrutiny. Realistic examinations of what’s being taught in schools, and the way Hamas operates should be a part of this. What is the ideology of Hamas; what are its core beliefs and its operating principles? What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven’t seen much of this in The Times.
sation remains warped enough that Stockman, a mainstream reporter for a major American newspaper, still felt comfortable using a massacre of Jews by Palestinians as a lesson about Israeli evil — a modern day misplacement of the mark of Cain onto Abel. Farah Stockman should take not of Sullivan’s reminder that Palestinians are more than just victims. And readers of the Boston Globe should demand better.