The Hamas-UN-LA Times Echo Chamber

A leading terror organization has mastered the art of the echo chamber, enlisting a leading Western media outlet to falsely cast its claims as independently verified by a supposedly authoritative international body, thereby repackaging them as authentic and reliable.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades (Photo by Abos7k, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

To see how this works, check out reporting by veteran foreign affairs journalist Tracy Wilkinson in The Los Angeles Times today (“Amid criticism, Biden administration makes plea for civilians trapped in Gaza under Israeli bombardment,” page A1 in today’s print edition). She writes:

According to figures provided by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry and the U.N., more than 5,000 Palestinians — nearly half of them women and children — have been killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes launched in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israelis in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400. (Emphasis added.)

In citing “the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry and the U.N.,” Wilkinson falsely presents the United Nations as providing independent verification of Hamas’ information (emphasis added). Far from verifying Hamas casualty claims, the United Nations, by its own acknowledgment, merely regurgitates Hamas claims.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times helpfully hyperlinks to this U.N. page, which, unlike Wilkinson, at least transparently reveals: “The number of people killed in Gaza has exceeded 5,000 according to latest reports from de facto authorities there.” The de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip, for those who still don’t know, are Hamas, an internationally designated terror group which just carried out one of the world’s bloodiest massacres of civilians in recent memory.

In addition, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs likewise notes that its source for the claim is the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is controlled by Hamas.

Wilkinson’s smoke and mirrors on non-existent confirmation of Hamas casualty figures is hardly the only misinformation that she embeds into her piece. 

She also egregiously mischaracterizes a statement by White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby. Regarding the repugnant remarks by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday, widely understood as justifying Hamas’ ISIS-like savagery — “It’s important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum” — Wilkinson writes:

Israel immediately demanded that Guterres step down. In Washington, John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, also bristled at the attempt to place the conflict in context.

“Hamas is to blame. Hamas is to blame,” he told reporters.

Contrary to Wilkinson’s fabrication, Kirby did not bristle at the attempt to place “the conflict in context.” He bristled specifically at Guterres’ apparent attempt to “contextualize,” or rationalize, Hamas atrocities. Here is Kirby’s full statement, from which Wilkinson selectively quoted and wholly misreported:

The President has spoken very clearly and, I think, very forcefully on who’s to blame here for October 7th.  It’s Hamas.  It’s not the Israelis.  It’s not the innocent Israeli people that were slaughtered going to a music festival.  It was Hamas. 

They planned this thing for many months, maybe even as long as a year.  Hamas is to blame.  Hamas is to blame. [Emphases added.]

Kirby very clearly blamed Hamas for the Oct. 7 mass slaughter, rape, mutilation and torture of civilians, an orgy of brutality in which Hamas terrorists specifically targeted children and women. But Wilkinson erases those victims, along with Kirby’s unequivocal condemnation of their murderers and tormentors, by fabricating that he was rebuking the Secretary General for “plac[ing] the conflict in context.”

Her grotesque manipulation of a White House official’s message, and the erasure of his outrage on behalf of the Oct. 7 victims, including no small number of women and children, stands in stark contrast to her earlier promotion of Hamas casualty figures for casualties, in which she repeated the unverifiable 5,000 claim, with “nearly half of them women and children.”  

Wilkinson’s double standard in favor of Hamas is likewise on display in the article’s very first sentence:

The Biden administration is facing mounting criticism that its support of Israel is ignoring massive civilian casualties, a potential war crime, while it also confronts ripples of dissent within its own governing ranks.

Massive civilian casualties are not on their own tantamount to a war crime, and Wilkinson herself refers to the complexity of international law only some 17 paragraphs later. As CAMERA’s Alex Safian has previously noted:

The actual laws of war refer to the military value of a target (how much of an impact would the target’s destruction have on the outcome of a battle or war) versus the expected threat to the lives or property of civilians. If the target has high military value, then it can be attacked even if it seems there will be some civilian casualties. What has to be “proportional” (the term is not actually used in the relevant conventions) is the military value of the target versus the risk to civilians.

Wilkinson’s opening sentence speculating that Israel may be guilty of “a potential war crime,” though there is no evidence of one, stands in stark contrast to her failure to identify the many thousands of war crimes that Hamas has indisputably carried out Oct. 7 and every day since as just that: not only the atrocities inflicted on civilians and soldiers in southern Israel, but also the firing of more than 7500 rockets at communities across Israel and exploiting civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as cover to bombard Israeli communities.

She returns to the notion that Israel is likely violating international law: “The denial of basic goods to a besieged population like Gazan Palestinians can also be considered a violation of international humanitarian law.” In fact, trucks filled with food, water and medicine have entered the Gaza Strip, a point which she does not make clear.

Finally, in light of egregious misreporting of an on the record statement of a National Security Council official, this editorializing about administration thinking is a mere blip of miscoverage:

President Biden and his government were so horrified by the Hamas killings and kidnappings that their “unwavering” support for Israel left little room for consideration of Palestinian civilians, who soon fell victim to Israeli retaliation in a bombing campaign of the densely populated strip of an intensity not seen in years, if ever.

As for Hamas and its devastating war crimes, Wilkinson goes silent on international law. Perhaps Wilkinson’s unwavering depiction of the U.N. as providing independent verification of Hamas propaganda left little room for consideration of the millions of civilians, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who are the tragic victims of the terror organization’s horrific barbarity. 

See also: “Gaza Casualties: Hamas Must Exercise Care and Be Honest With Audience

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