By Bill Simons
As the Israel-Hamas War rages in the Mideast, the battle for public opinion is fiercely contested in the Western democracies, notably in the United States. Thus far, three stages of media coverage have emerged and overlapped. Initially, the October 7 Sabbath morning surprise attack on southern Israel by rockets and Hamas terrorists, followed by the murders of 1,200 Jews, primarily civilians, and the abduction of 240 hostages, prompted widespread media sympathy for the victims and condemnation of celebratory terrorists, as well as acknowledgment of peril to Israel’s very survival.
However, after Israel declared war on Hamas, staged a massive call-up and launched a fierce military campaign in Gaza to annihilate the terrorists, much of the media turned against Israel, concentrating on Palestinian deaths and displacement. With the late November exchange of prisoners and pause in the conflict, a dominant third stage of media coverage emerged, less fixated on the sensational and more focused on the details of a rapidly changing situation.
Nonetheless, powerful resonances of earlier stages of media coverage continued and cast polarizing messages. This is a broad, complex, evolving and multifaceted topic, not subject to closure in a single column. Nonetheless, the writings of Susan Estrich provide ballast for an initial discussion.
Estrich, an influential and informed political columnist, is a Jew. Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Southern Israel, several of her syndicated commentaries have dissected canards that foster condemnation of the Jewish state and fuel resurgent antisemitism on the American home front. Estrich brings an impressive background to journalism. After graduating from Harvard Law School, where she was elected editor of the Law Review, she went on to a notable legal career as litigator and professor. A strong advocate of religious freedom, she has defended Muslim activists. A liberal Democrat, she managed the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis. As a rape survivor, Estrich has written about the violent attack upon her from a personal and legal perspective in “Sex and Power” and other books. Although an outspoken feminist, Estrich represented former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes against charges of sexual harassment. Now, through commentaries addressing the Israel-Hamas War, Estrich has emerged as a leading proponent of a nuanced Jewish American perspective in the battle for public opinion.
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman spoke for the generations in his characterization of war: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” Yet, Sherman mounted his 1864 March to the Sea against the Confederacy, bringing suffering, hunger and loss to civilians in Georgia. Sherman’s campaign also hastened the end of the Civil War, preserving a united, albeit imperfect, nation with the will to abolish the scourge of slavery and to aspire to Abraham Lincoln’s vision of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In response to terrorists determined to eradicate the Jewish state and kill as many Jews as possible, Israel is now engaged in a terrible war.
Within the context of battle, Israel has tried to minimize Palestinian civilian deaths. In its war against Hamas, Israel, unlike the terrorists who provoked the conflict, neither seeks the annihilation of a people nor takes pleasure in slaughter. However, significant media outlets moved in a trajectory that lost sight of the precipitating carnage in southern Israel and reported almost exclusively on tragic Palestinian deaths. In an Orwellian use of language, several pundits have accused Israel of genocide. Certain influencers appear more comfortable with Jews as victims than as soldiers. Even the august New York Times, as Estrich documents, has strayed from journalistic canons of truth and fairness.
When an explosion devastated Gaza’s largest hospital, Dar al-Shifa, Estrich termed it “a terrible tragedy.” Endorsing Hamas claims, the Times ran the following headline: “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.” As a result of thorough investigation, Israel presented compelling documentation, based on intercepted audio communications and video of the drone path, that the destruction resulted from misfire of a terrorist rocket. Independently, U.S. intelligence and CNN corroborated Israel’s findings. In response to evidence that contradicted its initial coverage, Times headline revisions ultimately morphed into “At Least 500 Dead in Blast at Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.” The Times, however, failed to acknowledge its earlier mistake and left responsibility for the blast enigmatic. Another elite news organization, NPR, engaged in obscurantism, alluding to conflicting accounts by Israel and Hamas. Without flinching before powerbrokers, Estrich wrote, “Israel will be blamed not only for what it does, but for what it does not do.” As to the motivation for such media distortions, Estrich concluded, “Antisemitism? What else?”
In recent years, American antisemitism has been ascendant, and the Israel-Hamas conflict has brought it to a post-World War II peak. Asserting that “random acts of violence... random expressions of antisemitism... are everywhere,” Estrich noted, “Jewish Americans, all of 2.4 percent of the American population, are the targets of 60 percent of religious-based hate.” Concerning Representative Rashida Tlaib, whom the House censured for demanding Palestinian hegemony “from the river to the sea,” Estrich made clear that freedom of speech does not mean exemption from consequences. Talib endorsed Islamic Jihad’s cry for the obliteration of Israel, whose modest boundary markings run from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Estrich emphasizes that an unyielding commitment to the survival of Israel and the defeat of American antisemitism is consistent with opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reflecting on the anti-Netanyahu protests by Israeli and American Jews prior to the war, Estrich writes, “In his desperation to protect himself, he was willing to divide the country by undercutting the independence of the judiciary, and he clung to office thanks to allying himself with the far right, which increased the tensions on the West Bank (at the expense of a stronger military presence in Gaza?).” After Hamas is eradicated, Israelis must and will, by democratic and legal processes, remove Netanyahu from office and hold him responsible for misdeeds and malfeasance.
Jews are argumentative. Bring two Jews together and three opinions emerge. However, as the death sentence imposed on the Tree of Life murderer this past summer and the unrelenting pursuit of Hamas terrorists demonstrates, those who take an innocent Jewish life will pay a heavy price. As Estrich writes, “Never again is now.”