Jewish Journalism: Focus on The Forward

A firestorm of protest recently erupted over an article that ascribed sexual assaults on women by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to the perpetrator’s Jewishness, invoking the type of racial characterization that was a staple of Hitler’s Jew‑demonizing propaganda. The piece, however, was not from The Daily Stormer, National Vanguard, or any other such neo‑Nazi publications. It was from Tablet Magazine, which describes itself as “a daily online magazine of Jewish news and ideas,” and was penned by its Jewish editor‑at‑large, Mark Oppenheimer. The article, entitled “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein,” was a boon to white supremacists who gleefully cited it in their own postings. Elsewhere, however, the article was harshly denounced, forcing Oppenheimer to append a published “apology.” 

Those who are shocked that a Jewish publication would engage in such appalling racial stereotyping and bigotry should not be. While Oppenheimer’s defamatory writings do not appear to suggest a pattern at Tablet Magazine, whose commentators generally hew to the facts, elsewhere this is not the case. There is a disturbing trend within certain Jewish journalistic circles to conform to the extreme, supposedly “progressive” zeitgeist in which religious values, Jewish leaders, and most of all the Jewish state and its supporters are consistently condemned.

Nowhere is this trend as pronounced as at The Forward under the helm of editor‑in‑chief Jane Eisner. That publication touts itself as “the most influential nationwide Jewish media outlet today,” providing “incisive coverage of the issues, ideas and institutions that matter to American Jews.”

The question is what does The Forward consider to be of matter to American Jews?

Consider the recent opinion column The Forward published by a UC Berkeley student justifying a since-retracted cartoon in a Berkeley student newspaper. That cartoon was also reminiscent of Nazi-era, anti-Jewish propaganda. It depicted Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz crushing a Palestinian with his foot while his hand displays an IDF soldier pointing a gun at a prone Palestinian whose blood drips off Dershowitz’ palm. The imagery mimicked the sort of anti-Semitic caricatures that depict Jews as predators who prey on the blood of non-Jews. After a slew of protests, the student newspaper issued an apology and removed the offending graphic. But The Forward published a defense of the cartoon, claiming it correctly depicted Dershowitz as a “shill for Israeli state violence against Palestinians.” “That is not anti‑Semitic,” the author declared, “it is true.” And he went on to attack the Jewish state:

In the present, there is a Jewish state, which has nuclear weapons and a well‑trained army, and which occupies Palestinian territory. If your definition of anti‑Semitism makes it impossible to depict those facts, then you have defined the term poorly. You are not clarifying the boundaries of prejudice; you are crafting a tool to foreclose discussion.

Sadly, this was one of the milder columns attacking Israel and its supporters that recently appeared in The Forward. Indeed, there is growing criticism of the Jewish publication’s apparent hostility toward the Jewish state. A column by the editor-in-chief on Oct. 9, 2017 appeared to be directed at this backlash. In it, Eisner proposed “a new framing” for The Forward‘s editorial policy in which discussions about Israel should be “based not on ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ but on whether Jews are engaged with Israel in some productive way.” It amounted to a justification of the numerous columns vilifying Israel by pretending they somehow productively “engaged” with the country.

But this new framework was quickly abandoned. An opinion column ten days later by a self-described “typical New York Jew based in Los Angeles” focused on the author’s detachment from Israel:

I am a Jew…At the same time, I feel zero attachment whatsoever to the state of Israel. Nil. When I hear news related to the country, I feel no added resonance or relevance to my own life. I have never visited the country — even when I was presented with ample opportunity to do so, free of cost. I have no plans to ever explore this part of the world. You could not pay me enough to consider it…

This is because the writer claims to shun “particularistic, tribal politics.” The self-congratulatory piece added nothing productive to the conversation about Israel; it was filled with puffery about the author’s commitment to “unmitigated plurality” and universalism and completely refuted the editor’s stated new framework of “assert[ing] Israel’s centrality to Jewish life.”

But Eisner was, at that point, no doubt buoyed by an endorsement in the New York Times, a hallowed icon of progressive journalism. She crowed, “The New York Times Just Explained Why The Forward Matters So Much,” and explained that her greatest pride was “the Times‘ highlighting of our coverage of topics as diverse as transgender rabbis, interfaith life, The Who, as well as our groundbreaking reporting on Sebastian Gorka, the ‘alt‑right’ (and the Jews who embrace that movement).” She declared that “a spike in anti‑Semitism since last year’s presidential campaign and into the Trump administration” had “given a new resolve to our journalism.”

Eisner’s jubilant pride in The Forward’s offerings stand in sharp contrast to the complaints voiced by many American Jews. Some of those complaints are about resident columnist Peter Beinart’s commentary, which almost unvaryingly depicts the Jewish state as a malignant entity. Others concern the many columns by anti-Israel activists that smear the Jewish state with dishonest claims.

The core of these grievances is not that the publication’s opinion columns voice criticism of Israeli policy. Nor is it limited to the publication’s obsessive pursuit of negative columns to feature about the Jewish state. It is that journalistic standards of accuracy and evidence are s
o readily abandoned in order to peddle unfettered, anti‑Israel propaganda.

Take, for example, the following sampling of columns by virulent anti‑Zionist propagandists that were featured in The Forward in recent weeks. These columns all present unsupported claims or false information that demonize the Jewish state:

Yousef Munayyer: “It’s Time to Admit That Arthur Balfour Was a White Supremacist and an Anti-Semite Too.” (Nov. 2)

Mariam Barghouti: “Palestinian Women Are Harassed and Humiliated at Checkpoints. Here Are a Few of Their Stories.” (Oct. 17)

Steven Salaita: “What Just Happened to Jemele Hill Happened to Me – Over Israel.” (Oct. 10)

Stephen Walt: “That Israel Lobby Controversy: History Has Proven us Right.” (Oct. 2)

Issa Amro:  “Israel: Take Note – The NYPD Didn’t Kill Manhattan Terrorist.” (Nov. 2)

Issa Amro: “Israel Has Created a Palestinian Ghetto in Hebron.” (Sept. 27)

Issa Amro: “The Writing on the Wall: Signs of Occupation in Hebron.” (Aug. 29)

Issa Amro: “The Al Aqsa Protests Prove That Palestinian Nonviolence Has Arrived.” (July 27)

Who are these anti-Israel propagandists and what misinformation did they disseminate in The Forward?

Yousef Munayyer

Youssef Munayyer is Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (previously known as the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation) and a zealous crusader for the anti‑Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign. Munayyer justifies violence against Israel by labelling suicide bombings and terror attacks during the second Palestinian intifada “armed resistance” while condemning any Israeli military actions to defend its citizens from murderous attacks as “brutal repress(ion)” of Palestinian tactics. He is an anti-Israel propagandist who opposes the existence of a Jewish state, and portrays it as a “repressive,” “colonial” enterprise.

Approaching the centennial of the Balfour Declaration endorsing the Jewish right of self-determination in Judaism’s ancestral homeland, Palestinian groups and BDS campaigners went into full gear to delegitimize the Jewish state and blacken the name of its sponsor, Lord Arthur Balfour. The Forward provided BDS frontman Munayyer with a prime platform from which to spread his disinformation.

Munayyer carefully chose his tactics for the Jewish publication: Lord Balfour was presented as intrinsically anti-Jewish, and his eponymous declaration as a “legacy of his racism,” rooted in anti-Semitism and white supremacy – and therefore, to be resisted. Munayyer attributed Balfour’s advocacy for a Jewish state to his alleged

desire to protect Britain from the negative effects, the “miseries,” of having Jews in its midst. Rather than protecting the rights of one of its minorities, Britain could simply export them, or at least, not import any more.

To present this version of history, Munayyer completely ignores Balfour’s own comments about his intent in establishing a Mandate for a Jewish homeland. In fact, Balfour eloquently justified the Mandate, addressing those in the British Parliament who were hostile to it:

… if there is any case or cause for [implementation of the Palestine Mandate for a Jewish homeland], surely, it is in order that we may send a message to every land where the Jewish race has been scattered, a message which will tell them that Christendom is not oblivious of their faith, is not unmindful of the service they have rendered to the great religions of the world, and, most of all, to the religion that the majority of your Lordships’ House profess, and that we desire to the best of our ability to give them that opportunity of developing, in peace and quietness under British rule, those great gifts which hitherto they have been compelled from the very nature of the case only to bring to fruition in countries which know not their language, and belong not to their race. (June 21, 1922, British House of Lords, Debate on Palestine Mandate)

Balfour’s niece, Blanche Dugdale, further explains her uncle’s motives in her biography, Arthur James Balfour:

Balfour’s interest in the Jews and their history was lifelong. It originated in the Old Testament training of his mother and in his Scottish upbringing. As he grew up, his intellectual admiration and sympathy for certain aspects of Jewish philosophy and culture grew also, and the problem of the Jews in the modern world seemed to him of immense importance. He always talked eagerly of this, and I remember in childhood imbibing from him the idea that Christian religion and civilization owes to Judaism an immeasurable debt, shamefully ill repaid. (Blanche E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour (1936), quoted in David Brog, Standing With Israel: Why Christians Support Israel)

To present a balanced and informative look at the Balfour Declaration would require an examination of all positions, but this is not what Munayyer set out to do. Nor did The Forward’s editors hold him to journalistic standards of accuracy, balance and integrity. Munayyer was apparently given carte blanche to ignore inconvenient facts and use The Forward‘s pages to create a false illusion of an Israel built upon racist and anti-Semitic foundations.

Mariam Barghouti

Mariam Barghouti  is a Palestinian activist with the ISM (International Solidarity movement), an extremist, anti‑Israel organization that condones Palestinian violence against Jews. She too is an active proponent of the BDS campaign; and a contributor to the anti‑Israel propaganda site, Mondoweiss. She has justified violence against Israelis, labelling stone‑throwers – “unarmed;” terrorists – “martyrs;” and terrorist attacks – “armed struggle” or “operations.”

Her column at The Forward begins with the oft-repeated but ludicrous Palestinian propaganda claim that “since 1967, about 40% of the Palestinian male population has been detained by Israel.”

This absurd charge counts every single Palestinian man who was ever detained by Israeli authorities at any point during the past 50 years as a proportion of the number of males who are currently alive and living in Israel and the territories. It is a meaningless statistic that would only make sense if one assumed that all those who were ever in police custody for any amount of time over the course of half a century were still alive and residing in Israel or the territories.

But logic and facts matter little to propagandists. So Barghouti continues: “With their men in jail, Palestinian women are left to continue surviving and ensuring the well‑being of their families,” using the contemporary theme of female harassment to suggest that Palestinian women are routinely harassed at Israeli checkpoints. She offers six first-person stories by Palestinian females who accuse Israeli soldiers of stopping and questioning them at checkpoints. While none of these women claim to have been physically assaulted or abused, their dramatically recounted stories revolve around having been frightened, intimidated, profiled or inconvenienced – which, they charge, constitutes harassment and humiliation.

Doubtless, being interrogated and passing through checkpoints is upsetting, as any air traveler who was selected to pass through extra TSA security checks knows. But what is entirely omitted from the picture is how Israeli checkpoints function as the last line between terrorists and their victims, how Israeli soldiers must weed out those who come with the intent of murdering Israelis from the many peaceful Palestinians who cross through, and how at these checkpoints – including Qalandia, the setting for most of the anecdotes in the column – it is a common occurrence for knife-wielding Palestinians, including many women, to approach the crossing with weapons and try to carry out attacks. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here about armed women whose attacks were thwarted at the Qalandia checkpoint.)

Without the context of the checkpoints’ role in pre-empting suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks and actual accounts of would-be-murderers thwarted, the story presented in The Forward is simply one more example of agitprop.

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita is an American-Jordanian-Palestinian academic whose claim to fame is that his conditional offer of employment at the University of Illinois was withdrawn after he publicly posted a series of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic pronouncements on social media. Turning this into a case of academia muzzling criticism of Israel, Salaita sued the university and made a career of talking about it. The university eventually settled out of court, with Salaita receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation, although his offer of a job was not reinstated. Two years after the settlement, Salaita is still capitalizing on the same theme, with The Forward offering him a choice platform from which to raise the specter of an evil “Israel Lobby” that punishes anyone who dares stray from its diktats.

In his Forward column, he writes of “his sharp criticisms of Israel” which ultimately “cost” him a tenured position at the University of Illinois and “illuminated a longstanding problem: the punishment of those who disturb the sensitivities of pro‑Israel organizations.”

Salaita distorts the truth: His tweets were not simply “sharp criticism” or even “condemnation”of Israeli policy. They constituted overt anti-Semitic hate rhetoric and incitement. Below are some of the postings in question:

“Zionists: transforming ‘anti‑Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

“Hate’ is such a strong word. That’s why it’s my preferred verb when discussing racism, colonization, neoliberalism, sexism, and Israel.”

“Let’s cut to the chase: If you are defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”

“Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime.”

“If (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”

And after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists:

“You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.”

As then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise made clear in her letter to the faculty regarding the withdrawal of the employment offer to Salaita:

…the decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy… What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them…

Salaita, nevertheless, was given a platform at The Forward to repeat his old, dishonest claims of being victimized, as well as to invoke an alleged “Israel Lobby” that “perpetuate[s] racism and inequality” by viewing Palestinians as “unworthy of dignity” and seeking to “punish” them for articulating their justified negative feelings about Israel.

Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt achieved notoriety as co-author of a controversial and dishonest book alleging that an “Israel lobby” has been influencing U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel and to the U.S.’s detriment, making the country a target of terrorists. It is an allegation that evokes the white supremacist slur of a “Zionist Occupied Government” (ZOG) expressing the racist belief that the U.S. government is controlled by Zionist Jews. Walt’s book, parading as a scholarly tome, has been widely dismissed by academicians, reviewers and politicians across the spectrum, who have criticized the study for shoddy scholarship, using falsified quotations, twisting the facts, and for being simply wrong.

Indeed, when the book was published in 2007, The Forward, under previous editor J.J. Goldberg, published an editorial harshly critiquing the “study” by Walt and his co-author. The editorial indicated that the study was “flimsy,” got “countless facts” wrong, included “comically implausible” arguments, and “oddly amateurish” research. It pointed out that the study was “drawn not from credible documents or primary source interviews but from newspaper clippings…seemingly dug up in quick Internet word searches aimed at proving a point, not exploring the truth.” The column noted that “an undergraduate submitting work like this would be laughed out of class” and concluded that

Mearsheimer and Walt join a long line of critics who dislike Israel so deeply that they cannot fathom the support it enjoys in America, and so they search for some malign power capable of perverting America’s good sense. They find it, as others have before, in the Jews.

But times have changed. Under The Forward‘s new editor, the Jewish publication now offers Walt a platform to argue that his critics were wrong. His column claims that time has proven his arguments correct – even while he is unable to provide any evidence for his central thesis that an Israel lobby controls the actions of the U.S. government or that it has harmed American foreign interests. More insidiously, the column is turned into a direct attack on the Jewish state and an attempt to drive a wedge between what he describes as meritorious liberal American Jews and malicious Zionists:

The vast majority of American Jews remain deeply committed to liberal values, while Israel has been moving away from them for many years now. There is a certain tension between liberalism and Zionism, because liberalism assumes that all humans possess the same set of basic rights and it emphasizes mutual tolerance, while Zionism is a nationalist movement that in its current iteration privileges one people at the expense of another. Until 1967, however, that tension between liberal and Zionist values was muted because most Israelis were Jewish and the second‑class status of Israel’s Arab minority did not receive much attention.

Walt uses his space at The Forward to allege that Israel “subjugat[es] millions of Palestinians,” and “den[ies] the Palestinian subjects meaningful political rights,” and he accuses Israel of over-reacting to Palestinian violence and terrorism, which he justifies as a “response” to Israeli actions. He suggests Israel’s anti-terrorist actions are misguided, serving to “tarnish” Israel’s reputation globally.

These are not the reasoned, evidence-based words of an academician opening up dialogue. They are the words of a demagogue, stirring up hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters.

Issa Amro

Issa Amro is an anti-Israel activist based in Hebron. He co-founded and directs an organization called Youth Against Settlements and is a member of the Hebron branch of the violence-condoning ISM (see above). But he markets himself as a “Palestinian Ghandi” committed to non-violent “resistance.” As he explained to Al Jazeera in a televised interview, it is not because he believes that violence against Israel is morally or legally wrong. “On the contrary,” he insisted, “armed resistance is allowed according to international law to resist the occupiers. It’s about tactics and how you will win” in the current situation.

Amro, who has been accused of inciting violence and is awaiting trial in an Israeli military court for incitement and attacks on soldiers, has enlisted several U.S. congressmen to pressure Israel to drop the charges. His group’s website reportedly has, in the past, included calls to participate in violent riots and has posted photos, since removed, of Palestinians using stones and slingshots as weapons.

But allegations of incitement and violence notwithstanding, Amro’s primary tactic these days is to present the guise of non-violent, popular resistance
as a vehicle to disseminate his anti-Israel rhetoric internationally. He gives media interviews, writes op-eds, hosts foreign delegations to Hebron, and travels to Europe and the U.S. to enlist the support of foreign government and UN officials against Israel.

What better platform to market his sophistry than the self-declared “most influential Jewish media outlet” in the U.S? The Forward seems particularly eager to promote his message, publishing four of his columns within about three months – all filled with slanders against Israel. Moreover, The Forward gives authority to his words by identifying him as a “human rights defender.”

I. Dishonest Claims That Israelis Are Violent, While Palestinians Are Not

Amro’s July 27 column was devoted to burnishing his credentials as a peace activist and promoting the notion that Palestinians are non-violent. He wrote:

My dream has always been to see my people in a mass movement of nonviolent resistance. I have spent most of my adult life making this appeal to my fellow Palestinians and building the relationships we need with the international bodies who can help us. And for one of the first times in my life, I’m seeing the fruits of my labor. Since July, I have seen my fellow Palestinians displaying the strength and the will to pursue nonviolent resistance as the fastest and the only way to end the occupation. It is the success of nonviolent resistance, and its spread throughout Palestinian society, that you have been witnessing over the past few weeks.

This claim is particularly dishonest given that events on which he’s commenting center on murders perpetrated by Arab Muslims and a subsequent campaign of Palestinian incitement to violence. Let’s recap:

On Friday, July 14 (a Muslim holy day), three Arab assailants from Umm‑Al‑Fahm collected weapons they had stashed on the Temple Mount and attacked a group of Israeli security officers just outside the Temple Mount, murdering two and wounding one. The attackers were pursued by Israeli police as they fled back to the Temple Mount, and were killed as they tried to stab their pursuers. Israeli security forces responded by evacuating and temporarily closing the holy site. Two days later, after security consultations and the installation of metal detectors outside the entrances to the Temple Mount, the holy site was reopened to Muslim worshippers. And a new campaign of anti-Israel incitement was launched, resulting in Palestinian riots that ensued over the next days. The rioting was in fact violent and resulted in the injuries of Israeli security officers as well as the deaths of several of the rioters.

A week later, also as a result of the incitement, a Palestinian teenager breached the walls of a nearby Israeli settlement and brutally slaughtered a father and his two adult children, as well as seriously wounding the mother, as they gathered for a festive meal. Just before the gruesome murders, the terrorist posted on his Facebook page that he was “going to die for Al‑Aqsa.” But unlike his victims, he did not die.

Amro glosses over these murders by mentioning them only in passing and dismissing them as “actions of individuals” not representative of the vast majority of Palestinians. He makes no reference at all to the incitement campaign by Palestinian leaders that gave rise to the savagery.

Instead, he tosses out anti-Israel falsehoods, maliciously accusing Israel of:

* “chang[ing] the status quo at the most important religious site in our land”

(In fact, Israel has maintained the status quo since gaining access to the site in 1967 and has repeatedly stated its intention is not to change the status quo. But this lie has long been a battle cry effectively used by Palestinian leaders to incite anti-Israel violence.)

* “[using] massive force and violence by the Israeli military”

(Any defensive action by Israeli military to protect its citizens from rockets, stabbings, shootings and other murderous attacks is routinely and falsely characterized by anti-Israel propagandists as excessive force.)

* “[enforcing]a system that subjugates, oppresses and controls every aspect of our lives”

* “[using an] excuse to dehumanize us, to delay our lives and worship, and to take more land”

* “ongoing land theft”

* “confiscat[ing] our holy places”

II. Twisting the Facts About Hebron

Amro was featured again several weeks later, peddling more propaganda, this time on his main area of focus, Hebron. The activist’s underlying premise is that Hebron is a Palestinian city to which Jews have no right or claim. It is exactly this type of historic revisionism by Palestinians that underlies much of the anti-Israel rhetoric that has influenced UN international bodies to side with them. (See, for example, UNESCO and the Jewish Legacy in Hebron.”)

Amro describes Hebron as “the ancient Palestinian city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank” and uses disinformation to deny Israel’s legacy there. He calls Israelis living in Hebron “illegal settlers” who have “implanted themselves in our midst” and alleges they represent “decades of a colonial project that works day and night to erase my Palestinian identity and displace me from my land and birthplace.”

He repeats this false “illegal” label throughout this and a subsequent column, although there is no international law that prohibits Jews from living in Hebron. In fact, the UN Charter’s Article 80 states that:

nothing in the [U.N. Charter’s chapter on the administration of Mandate territory] shall be construed . . . to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or peoples o
r the terms of existing international instruments.

The international instruments mentioned include the British Mandate, of which Article 6 encouraged “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use.” This legal right is even more obvious for a city like Hebron which was home to Jews since biblical times. Hebron is the second holiest of Judaism’s four holy cities (Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias) and the site of the world’s oldest Jewish community, that predates the Palestinian community by thousands of years and which existed with few interruptions since biblical times.

Amro discusses his efforts to appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court to remove Hebrew directional signs from Hebron, as he attempts to erase millenia-old Jewish history and tradition in Hebron.

He falsely alleges that signs in Hebrew and English directing people toward Jewish cemeteries and holy sites are “illegal even under Israeli law…according to the Hebron Protocol signed in 1997…”

In fact, there is no Israel law that prohibits erecting directional signs in Hebrew. Nor does the Hebron Protocol prohibit such signs. Under the January 1997 Hebron protocol, then‑Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ceded control of more than 80% of Hebron to the Palestinians under the leadership of PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat. Hebron was divided into two sectors: area H‑1, which comprised over 80% of the city and is controlled by the Palestinian Authority; and area H‑2, where Israeli Jews live under Israel civil and security control. Palestinians too live in area H‑2 (just under 20% of the city), giving them access to both sectors of Hebron, whereas Israeli Jews are confined to area H-2.

While Amro presents himself as a moderate by claiming not to oppose Jews visiting Hebron, he and his anti-Israel cohorts maintain that Jews have no right to maintain a community even in a small portion of Hebron.

Erased from Amro’s telling is the brutal displacement of Hebron’s native Jews in 1929 by their Arab neighbors, a description of which can be found here. Nor does he mention any of the brutal assaults on Israeli Jews by Hebron’s Arab population subsequent to that. Instead he disingenuously claims the “goal of all the restrictions, closures, barriers, and Hebrew signs is to make life so difficult for Palestinians that they leave willingly.”

Amro’s column ends with a plea to “our progressive allies across all communities to help us place our signs of truth, justice and accountability” – evidently aimed at revising history and eliminating the Jews from their second holiest city.

III. More Historical Revisionism About Hebron

The Forward ran yet another dishonest column by Amro a few weeks later, allowing him to amplify his complaints and distort the facts to make it seem as if it were Palestinian Arabs and not Israeli Jews, who are confined to the smallest part of Hebron. Rewriting the history of Hebron, he makes his point of reference the 1994 murders of 29 Arab worshippers by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Kiryat Arba:

Before the 1994 massacre that divided Hebron, we had bustling marketplaces. We were a major market for gold, glass, ceramics and camels.

This time (following complaints that Amro’s previous piece about Hebron had disingenuously ignored the 1929 Arab-perpetrated massacre that ended centuries of Jewish habitation there), the anti-Israel activist does refer to the seminal attack, but deceivingly minimizes Palestinian blame for the atrocity. He writes:

Without negating the horror of that day, it’s necessary to point out that it was only a minority of Hebronites who took part in the riots. The majority instead hid their Jewish neighbors, providing them with a safe haven from the violence outside.

While there were courageous Arab Hebronites who sheltered Jews in their basement and who guarded them with swords, they represented a small fraction of Hebron’s Arab population. (Auerbach, J. Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel, Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009; page 70-71) Only about two dozen individuals helped protect Hebron’s Jewish community from the hundreds of Arab attackers who set upon their Jewish neighbors.

While Amro claims not to negate the horror of “that day,” he does negate the multitude of murderous attacks by Hebron’s Arabs on Jews afterwards, both before Goldstein’s 1994 massacre and since. These attacks are what motivates the security measures that Amro deplores as “part and parcel of the nationalist agenda that seeks to erase us from this land.”

In 1976, Arabs destroyed the synagogue at the Cave of the Patriarchs and burned Torah scrolls. In May 1980, Palestinian terrorists murdered six Yeshiva students and wounded 20 others returning from prayers there, and in 1983, another yeshiva student was gunned down in the center of Hebron. During the first intifada and after the Oslo Agreements, Jewish settlers became victims of murder, stabbings, firebombings and shootings by neighboring Palestinians. All this preceded Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of Muslim worshippers.

To avert future attacks, a Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was established, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs was divided between Muslims and Jews with separate entrances and security barriers between each prayer site. But despite the TIPH, violence against Jews in Hebron continued. Among the dozens of Israelis murdered in the area during the Second Intifada were Shalhevet Pas, an infant targeted in the crosshairs of a Palestinian sniper, and twelve security personnel—including civilian guards, border policemen and soldiers—who were ambushed and killed as they accompanied worshipers returning from prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Nor were TIPH members themselves exempt from being targeted. In 2002, two TIPH members were shot and killed just outside Hebron by Palestinian gunmen. And in 2006, TIPH temporarily withdrew from Hebron after its headquarters were attacked and destroyed by Palestinian Muslims angered about cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish magazine.

Such murderous assaults and attempted attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers by Palestinians in the Hebron area are ongoing. In late June 2016, 13‑year‑old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed in Kiryat Arba, a community contiguous to Hebron. The following day a family travelling in their car near Hebron were fired upon by Palestinian terrorists. The driver was killed and other family members were wounded. Numerous stabbing and car ramming attempts ensued. The violence is ongoing: Just the other week, a 12-year old Jewish Hebronite was knocked unconscious by a large rock thrown at a group of children by a Palestinian assailant.

These waves of assaults are met with more checkpoints, closures and temporary restriction on the movement of Palestinians in the area. But their goal is not, as Amro charges, “to make life difficult for Palestinians.” Both the security measures and the division of Hebron have been implemented to ensure the safety and well being of all residents – Palestinian and Israelis, alike – in the area.

Amro continues with his disinformation campaign:

Imprisoning us inside our own neighborhoods is part of the settlers’ plan of “Jewish return” to occupied Hebron. (Where are the internationally enshrined rights of Palestinians to return to their homes and lands they were forced out of in 1948, across all of historic Palestine?)

Not only is the claim that Israel “imprisons” Palestinians in their neighborhood to facilitate their return patently false, but there is no “internationally enshrined right” of Palestinians to return to their homes in present-day Israel. According to Lex Takkenberg, former deputy‑director general of UNRWA and author of the book, The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law, there is “no consensus amongst legal scholars as to the applicability of the principles and provisions of international instruments concerning the right of return…” (Quoted in “The Controversy of a Palestinian ‘Right of Return’ to Israel,” Tamar Kramer, Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 18 #3, 2001)

While Palestinian advocates maintain that Palestinians have a legal right to return to Israel, citing Resolution 194, passed after the first Arab‑launched war against Israel, Arabs rejected this resolution and refused to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel, one of the central assumptions of the resolution. Most legal authorities consider Palestinian claims for repatriation to their homes of 1947–49 as having no legal basis. (See, for example, “Evaluating the Palestinians’ Claimed Right of Return,” Andrew Kent, 34 University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, 149, 2012)

IV. Accusations of Israeli Extra-Judicial Killings Based on Falsehoods

Amro turns every news event into an opportunity to attack Israel, and so he pounced on a deadly, car-ramming attack in Lower Manhattan on Halloween as a hook to smear Israeli security forces. And yet again, The Forward provided him with a platform for his dishonest rhetoric.

He begins by contrasting the NYPD’s shooting of the terrorist, which resulted in his wounding and arrest, to shootings by Israeli security forces that have resulted in the deaths of Palestinian terrorists or would-be terrorists. “It was surprising,” wrote the activist of the New York perpetrator’s arrest, “ because it feels so antithetical to Israel’s approach.”

According to Amro, “Israel’s approach” is shooting to kill, while that of U.S. law enforcement officers is to democratically arrest terrorists and allow them “due process” in US courts. This premise is a launching point for Amro to smear Israel as an undemocratic society that denies Palestinian “suspects” their “right to due process,” and “deprives” Palestinian “society itself of justice…”

But Amro’s column is based on falsehoods – both about the NYPD and about Israeli forces.

In both Israel and US, as in all democracies, there are rules of engagement and codes of ethics governing the use of force by security officers. The NYPD patrol guide, the IDF code of ethics and Israel’s police guidelines all instruct officers to minimize the force used to neutralize an assailant, while allowing for the use of deadly force against an assailant who poses a threat to the life of the officer or to the public.

According to the NYPD:

The use of deadly physical force against a person can only be used to protect members of service and/or the public from imminent serious physical injury or death.

According to the IDF:

The IDF serviceman will use force of arms only for the purpose of subduing the enemy to the necessary extent and will limit his use of force so as to prevent unnecessary harm to human life and limb, dignity and property.

According to the Israeli police force:

Police can use firearms only as a last resort, with due caution, and only in circumstances where there is logical relationship between the danger arising from the use of the weapon and the result which they wish to prevent…The necessity of using firearms during an event will be examined at each stage of the event. The policeman must stop firing as soon as necessary.

The determination of whether to use deadly force is left to the security officers confronting a suspect. They are forced to make split-second determinations, under pressure, about threats to their own lives or those they are entrusted to protect. Indeed, the use of deadly force by American, as well as Israeli, law enforcers is a hot-button issue these days, subject to investigations which have resulted in court trials when deemed excessive.

The aim of police officers in shooting murderers, terrorists or would-be murderers is not to kill them, but to stop them from killing others. The approach by American law enforcement officers to aim deadly force at the torso has been widely covered and explained in the wake of protests. Experts describe the goal as “shooting to stop” an attack and say the likelihood of bringing down an aggressive assailant is best attained by aiming at the chest and vital organs. Shooting at a limb is impractical and likely to fail. As criminologist David Klinger explains, shooting in order to “maim or injure would have little effect on the actions of the individual who is trying to kill” and “wouldn’t stop an aggressive subject.”

Therefore, when confronting a potentially deadly assailant, NYPD officers are instructed to aim for the “center mass,” i.e. the head and torso, which is, by definition, “deadly force” likely to kill rather than wound. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here for just a few of the numerous examples of people who have been killed by NYPD officers trying to stop them.) However, not all who are shot in the torso succumb to their wounds. The fact that the Halloween terrorist survived the nine shots to the torso fired by an NYPD officer does not evidence the lack of deadly force used, but the officer’s marksmanship and luck in felling the perpetrator, stopping his rampage, and bringing him into custody, without killing him.

Israeli security officers are confronted by Palestinian assailants on a regular basis: Since September 2015, Israelis have faced 186 stabbing attacks, 132 attempted stabbings, 163 shootings, 60 car-ramming attacks, and one bus bombing. Yet even under these constant lethal threats, the goal of Israeli soldiers and police is to detain rather than kill the attackers whenever possible. Israeli soldiers frequently manage to neutralize and arrest the perpetrator or would-be perpetrator without killing him or her. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

And while car-ramming attacks are more difficult to stop, security officials have also managed to successfully neutralize and arrest perpetrators or would-be perpetrators of vehicular attacks. (See, for example, here, here, and here.) Even in the case of brutal stabbings, like the murders by a Palestinian terrorist of three members of an Israeli family last July, the perpetrator was detained after being shot in the stomach by an off-duty soldier. The success of subduing or neutralizing an attacker is a function of how imminent the threat is deemed, how difficult it is to stop the attacker, and often, sheer luck.

Cases in which a perpetrator does not survive an attempt to neutralize him or her are often publicized and twisted by anti-Israel propagandists to demonize Israelis.

Amro focuses on the case of a Palestinian woman, Hadeel Hashlamun, who was shot and killed by Israeli security guards at the beginning of the knife intifada in September 2015, when Israeli civilians and security guards were under daily attack by knife-wielding Palestinians. It is the keynote feature of Amro’s and his group’s anti-Israel campaign, which they photographed and publicized, and for which they demand international condemnation of Israel.

It is a disputed case: According to Amro’s testimony at the time, the Israeli soldiers gratuitously killed an innocent, unarmed Palestinian woman who tried to leave the checkpoint when soldiers asked for a search because she felt uncomfortable being searched by a male officer. He claimed that the woman was confused and frozen with fear and that she was shot and killed in cold blood.

According to the IDF’s testimony at the time, the woman, concealed from head to toe in a black burqa, set off a metal detector at a checkpoint, ignored repeated requests by the soldiers to stop and came toward them with a knife. When she continued to advance after shouted warnings and shots at the ground, they shot at her legs and when she still did not stop, fired at her torso. She was evacuated to hospital but died of her wounds. Soon after the incident, the IDF took the knife and released a photograph of it on the ground.

A subsequent IDF investigation of the shooting determined that “the soldiers were right to open fire after the woman failed to lower her weapon” after repeated warnings and warning shots on the ground. They acknowledged, however, that “on a tactical level, soldiers could have aimed lower and fired fewer bullets than they did during the incident.”

B’tselem, an Israeli-based, Palestinian rights group hostile to Israel (and which often bends the truth to indict Israel. See, for example, “B’Tselem Photographer Stages Scene,”  “B’Tselem’s Annual Casualty Figures Questioned,”  “In 2007, B’Tselem Casualty Count Doesn’t Add Up,”  “B’Tselem, Los Angeles Times Redefine ‘Civilian’,”  and “Bending the Truth“) published its own investigation of the case, concluding that there was “no justification for multiple bullets” and that the shooter overreacted. While it purports to be refuting the IDF’s account of the shooting, the details it provides appear to correlate in many respects with those of the IDF investigation. According to B’tselem:

…al‑Hashlamun approached the checkpoint from the direction of the neighborhood of Bab a‑Zawiya in H1. She was wearing a Niqab, which covers the entire body, and holding a concealed knife. She aroused suspicion among the soldiers and they told her to open her purse. For an unknown reason, al‑Hashlamun froze and did not respond to their calls. One soldier shot at the ground, next to her. Fawaz Abu ‘Easheh, a resident of the neighborhood of Tel Rumaidah, who arrived at the scene, thought the young woman did not understand the soldiers’ instructions and tried to help her leave. As she was leaving the checkpoint, with a 1.2 meter metal barrier between her and the soldiers, a soldier called her to stop as he was shooting at the ground next to her, and then at her leg. According to Abu ‘Easheh’s testimony Al‑Hashlamum fell, and as she was falling, her right hand was revealed to be holding a knife. She did not get up, but the soldier shot her again, in the other leg, and seconds later in the torso. Some of the incident was caught on camera by an international volunteer who was at the scene.

Nonetheless, the case was adopted by the Palestinian authority, anti-Israel groups and journalists unfriendly to Israel as a cudgel to attack the IDF.

Amro, caught up in his own propaganda, denies even what B’tselem confirms and completely abandons the truth in his Forward column as he writes:

The soldiers claimed she tried to stab them, though they never produced a knife. And because we have pictures of the incident, we know what actually happened: A terrified woman was killed as she tried to navigate another day of checkpoints, guns, searches and humiliation.

The soldiers did, however, release a photo of the knife and even B’tselem’s Palestinian sources who condemned the soldiers confirmed that Hashlamun was carrying a knife and did not heed soldiers’ calls to stop.

The willingness by The Forward‘s editors to overlook fact-based evidence in order to give dishonest anti-Israel propagandists a platform is striking. They evidently believe these sorts of factually shoddy, hostile and dishonest attacks on the Jewish state are what most American Jews seek in Jewish journalism. Yet, given the core support for Israel among mainstream Jewish communities, it’s more likely that the increasingly extreme publication is actually appealing to an ever narrower group of readers who share Eisner’s views. Those who want factual, balanced and serious reporting and analysis are sure to gravitate to other venues.

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