Many members of the Western press seem to have two standards for covering terrorist groups: one for those whose primary target is Israel, and another for everyone else. An examination of recent news coverage proves it.
Few examples better highlight the media’s double standard on terrorist groups than reporting on the so-called “March of Return,” which began in the spring of 2018, and has waxed and waned in intensity ever since. Although many commentators incorrectly characterized the “march” as a grassroots “protest” by Palestinians at the Israel-Gaza border, in reality, Hamas—the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip—orchestrated it for propaganda purposes.
Armed Hamas operatives, as well as those from other Palestinian terrorist organizations, including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and others were interspersed among unarmed Palestinian civilians attempting to break into Israel.
Israeli authorities responded with a mixture of live fire and non-lethal munitions; the former targeting terror leaders and those perpetrating violent acts, and the latter, including tear gas and rubber rounds, aimed at dispersing the thousands who had gathered at the border under the auspices of Hamas and other terror organizations.
Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups involved hoped to put international pressure on Israel to end or reduce a blockade that Jerusalem had initiated to curtail the flow of arms to the terror group. Hamas also wanted increased international aid to fill its coffers. To achieve these objectives—and to elicit widespread condemnation of the Jewish state—Hamas sacrificed its own people. Terrorists used mirrors and burned tires to obscure the vision of IDF snipers who were specifically targeting the terror leaders hiding among civilians. And children and the disabled were bused in with the hope that they’d catch an errant bullet and perhaps make for a good headline.
IDF targeting proved superior, however, and detailed analyses by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center soon showed that a majority of the Palestinians killed during the “Great Return March” were affiliated with terrorist groups. Hamas itself acknowledged as much.
In a March 16, 2018 interview, Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official, told Palestinian news outlet Baladna TV that “50 of the martyrs were from Hamas, and the other 12 were regular people.” He added, “I am giving you an official figure.” Similarly, Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar admitted to Al-Jazeera on May 13, 2018 that the group was “deceiving the public” when it claimed that the “march” was one of “peaceful” resistance. This was, he acknowledged, “a clear terminological deception.”
Many journalists, however, took Hamas’s bait.
Correspondents and columnists referred to the dead as “protesters.” Long after evidence, including photographs and numerous videos, showed that many of the dead were linked to terror groups, several major Western press outlets continued to regurgitate Hamas propaganda. Few noted the recorded admissions of Hamas officials.
When, on March 15, 2019, Hamas ordered that no border “demonstrations” would occur, none did—illustrating the hollowness of media reports pretending that the “protests” were anything but a Hamas operation.
Perhaps most damningly, many reporters cited the “Gazan Health Ministry” for casualty counts—ignoring the fact that the ministry is a Hamas entity with a long-documented history of making false claims. Some, such as The Washington Post, have continued to treat the Hamas “ministry” as credible.
Would the press similarly trust the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda for figures of its casualties, or for those of the civilians they use as human shields? The answer, of course, is “no.” Reporters treat claims by these groups with the skepticism that they deserve. Many wait (and actively work) to verify declarations by these terror groups. Yet, this is often not the case when it comes to terror groups whose primary target is Israel.
As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has noted, Hezbollah—which now, similar to Hamas, effectively controls Lebanon’s Ministry of Health—has a long history of providing the media with distorted casualty figures and statistics.
Some in the press incorrectly characterize Hezbollah as a “Lebanese resistance movement.” Hezbollah, however, is a transnational terrorist organization that does Tehran’s bidding. It has fought on behalf of its Iranian paymasters in the Syrian civil war, in Iraq, and following recent flooding and protests, was recently deployed to Iran. It is not a “resistance movement,” nor can a wholly owned subsidiary of the Islamic Republic be accurately called a “national movement” of the Lebanese people.
Like Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, Hezbollah calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. And like them, Hezbollah is often described as merely a “militant group” as opposed to the more accurate “terrorist organization.” Groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, by contrast, are more likely to be described as the latter.
And while some commentators have claimed that the West in general, and the United States in particular, is responsible for the terror perpetrated by Al-Qaeda and ISIS, this victim blaming is much more pronounced when it comes to groups whose primary target is Israel. Some even take it a step further.
In an April 18, 2019 Chicago Tribune op-d titled “Talk of looming major attacks is overblown,” John Quigley claimed that facing territorial losses, ISIS had a “diminished” capacity for arranging violent attacks “outside the Middle East.” The self-described “leading scholar on U.S. relations with Russia and the Middle East,” added that by shooting “6,000 Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border,” Israel and U.S. policy towards the Jewish state were “giving ISIS issues to use to incite against the United States.
Three days after Quigley’s commentary appeared, ISIS affiliates murdered at least 250 people in attacks on churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. In their missive claiming credit for the attack, ISIS made no mention of U.S. policy towards Israel.
In 2004, Natan Sharansky—the Soviet-born Israeli dissident, author and politician—famously suggested the “3D” test to help distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and subjecting Israel to double standards. It seems clear that many in the media have a double standard for reporting on terror groups as well.
(Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in JNS on May 1, 2019)