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Rudyard Griffiths: The media’s reporting on the war risks going from bad to worse

Commentary

Imagine the following. It’s a cool autumn night in October on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The usual small groups of migrants are picking their way north through dry riverbeds and mesquite along the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez towards El Paso, Texas.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, gangs of masked men in the thousands on motorcycles and trucks equipped with machine guns, rocket launchers and explosives rush out of the streets of Juárez to and through the border fence. They quickly overwhelm lightly armed U.S. border patrol officers.

That night and the following days La Línea, the ultra-violent military wing of the Juárez Cartel, rampage through El Paso killing local law enforcement and engaging in the wholesale slaughter of thousands of Americans. Women, children and the elderly are kidnapped and taken back across the border into Juárez, a city of a million and a half people, and secreted in the dense, warren-like slums of Delicias and Babicora Sur. The cartels continue to launch rocket attacks on El Paso, hinder the evacuation of civilians from Juárez and refuse to negotiate over the return of hostages.

It is clarifying to ponder how mainstream media might react to a proportional horror perpetrated on America as that experienced recently by Israel. Would we see a rush to judgment, just hours after the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history, to call its cartel perpetrators “militants”? As the president and joint chiefs planned America’s overwhelming military response would our curated news feeds be flooded with experts cautioning the response be “proportional” and urging negotiation with the cartels before resorting to armed force? When the 1st Marine Division began to prepare the battlespace in Juarez with sustained ariel assaults, would news outlets report, with utter credulity, civilian casualty numbers compiled by the cartels themselves? And would NGOs and the United Nations take to the airwaves unchallenged to blame America for the refugee crisis unfolding in Juárez while the cartels actively prevent the civilian evacuation?

The answer is no. Yet here we find ourselves, a week after the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, engaged in a bizarre contest of equivalency when it comes to much of mainstream media’s reporting on the war and the respective actions of Israel and Hamas.

Supposedly world-class broadcasters like the BBC and CBC continue to double down on calling Hamas terrorists “militants” seemingly oblivious to the very definition of the word and the implied legitimacy it conveys when one describes persons who perpetrated crimes against humanity as “engaged in warfare or combat.” To state the obvious, the mass murder of civilians is terrorism, never “warfare or combat” and this moral confusion is a moral stain on those who chose to perpetuate such a fallacy.

The media’s sudden fixation with proportionality as a moral rubric to assess the legitimacy of Israel’s assault on Gaza (and by inference Hamas’ response) should also elicit suspicion. Where for example were media concerns about proportionality when Western armies fought ISIS in Iraq just six years ago? In the Battle of Mosul (2016-2017) upwards of 40,000 civilians were alleged to have been killed by allied bombing and a coordinated ground assault by over a hundred thousand troops. Yet, press reports at the time are devoid of any discussion of the “proportionality” of the Western led military response. It is hard not to conclude that for many in the media a different moral yardstick applies when it is our militaries fighting radical Islamic extremists as opposed to Israel’s.

Similarly too the media’s goalposts for screening disinformation are shifted when Israel is at war. The scoresheet like charts and graphs blaring Israeli and Gazan civilian casualties on websites like The New York Times represent some of the mainstream press’ worst perpetuations of false equivalency. Half of the numbers tallied come, after all, from the Hamas controlled and operated Gaza Health Ministry. Yet, a media that is rightly hyper-attuned to, say, Kremlin falsifications of war casualties reports out public health data from an internationally banned terrorist group running a brutal authoritarian government as unquestioned fact. Again, one is left with the sense of a powerful double standard at work in much of the media’s coverage of the war so far.

These sins of commission are compounded by a grave error of omission. Missing from much of the reporting on this war, to date, is evidence of a basic understanding of the perilous strategic situation Israel finds itself in as a ground invasion of Gaza begins.

Put bluntly, much of the media’s coverage of the conflict assumes that what is unfolding in Gaza is a war of choice for Israel—that viable strategic options not only exist but in fact are preferable for the Jewish state that don’t involve an all-out assault on Gaza. These include everything from rebuilding in the short term its border fence and entering into hostage negotiations with Hamas to restarting lapsed negotiations with the PLO to explore new avenues for a “two state” solution over the long term. These kind of policy mirages, however pleasant and immediately de-escalatory, are based on deeply flawed logic and ignore the reality of the current situation. 

The scale of Hamas’ attack, the carnage it wrought and the national trauma it caused, represents arguably the greatest failure of Israeli deterrence since the founding of the Jewish state. Deterrence or the ability to shape and influence the behaviour of your enemies is the sine qua non of sovereignty and doubly so when you live in a neighborhood as dangerous as the one Israel inhabits. Put simply, the state of Israel will not survive unless it can re-establish credible deterrence with its enemies. Logically, this can only be brought about by a complete strategic defeat of the entity that caused Israel’s current crisis of deterrence or Hamas.

Other nation states understand the importance of credible deterrence and it is the major reason for the full-throated support for Israel from great powers like the U.S.France and U.K. They know that in a similar situation (for example, my cartel counterfactual) there is no other option for a sovereign power but to reestablish, as quickly as possible, credible deterrence.

This cold calculus isn’t nice. It is especially cruel to the civilians now caught up in the war. It cannot and will not indemnify the IDF for any war crimes committed in its pursuit of the destruction of Hamas. But it does establish that this is a war of necessity for Israel and needs to be understood as such.

The moral calculus of wars of necessity are inherently different (think, for example, the Second World War). They represent moments in history where false equivalencies are laid bare. The mainstream press needs to acknowledge this and get on with covering the war accordingly. 

Hamas is a terrorist group, full stop. Proportionality isn’t a particularly helpful metric to assess right and wrong in a war of necessity against evil. All participants’ claims must be subject to rigorous verification and vigorous disinformation screening. Benefit of the doubt should be given to the truthfulness of democratic governments over authoritarian, terrorist regimes. Israel is not invading Gaza out of choice. And, most important of all, Hamas is singularly responsible for this war and ultimately all its attendant suffering by Jews and Palestinians.

‘If we are not careful, we will be become dangerously fragmented’: The best comments from Hub Forum this week

Commentary

When news broke on Saturday morning about the deadly surprise attack carried about by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians the world’s attention was entirely focused on the Middle East and, at The Hub, it was no different.

We featured a new essay or podcast about the war in Gaza every day this week and Hub Forum, our new web forum for Hub members, was buzzing all week with discussion about it.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community into one place and with that in mind, here are some of the most interesting comments this week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

David Frum: ‘Hamas started the war. Let Israel finish it’

Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023

“I suggest that pundits, aside from condemning Hamas and this “aktion” as a further example of why Hamas in most places is viewed as a terrorist organization, bite their tongues for a while to see once the dust settles, what Israeli does and whether Egypt, as it has in the past, brokers a ceasefire to stop the senseless destruction and loss of innocents’ lives on both sides, and to give negotiators an opportunity to get active.”

— Jon Snipper

Janice Gross Stein on the surprise attack on Israel and the best historical analogy to the crisis

Monday, Oct. 9, 2023

“At the moment both sides in this conflict refuse to listen, to dialogue and be present to the needs and suffering of everyone. Ideology once again stands in the way, blinding both sides to peace… It was encouraging to hear a young man say that although is grandmother was killed in yesterday’s fighting, he was open to dialogue so that peace could be found. Maybe the younger generation is the hope for the way forward.”

— A. Chezzi

Shocking pro-Hamas, anti-Israel rallies lay bare the limits of Canadian pluralism

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023

“With Canada’s growing diversity, the natural tensions between freedom and acceptance of a values-based consensus will become more challenging. This is where the role of teaching in our schools becomes more seminal than ever.”

— Thomas d’Aquino

“Sean’s point was pluralism requires principles and limits. If we are not careful, we will be become dangerously fragmented as a society. Marches in support of anything that does not cross into hate speech (from a legal perspective) should be permitted. Although unsavory, ugly, or even despicable, it is not much of a cost. Counterprotests, counter speech, and social costs for participating should also be fair game and send an important counter signal. We need to see ourselves peacefully but unambiguously not accepting these abhorrent views. The social media monetization of outrage is making this a much bigger challenge.”

— Rob Tyrrell

“Your article strikes at the heart of the most challenging aspect of Freedom of Expression, as defined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadian Gov’t DOES have the ability and duty to limit hate speech. You can’t just do or say anything and be permitted, nay protected, as if this is a ‘right’. It is not. What Canadians often forget is that although we are a melting-pot of cultures, there is a fundament that Canada is built upon; a culture and set of values, and becoming a Canadian means adopting those values while honouring and preserving the culture of one’s heritage.”

— Peter Byrne

“There is no equivalence between a recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people and the slaughter of innocent people by the nihilistic Hamas.”

— Steve J. Chipman

Pro-Hamas demonstrations may be despicable, but they are still legal—And that’s a good thing

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023

“Obviously these demonstrators don’t qualify and if they aren’t Canadian citizens, they should not be allowed to become so. Would that a person with the writer’s kind of control and thoughtfulness were in charge of the Israeli response, now clearly eroding with its attacks on civilian centres and closing the Egyptian escape hatch, whatever high moral ground in the court of public opinion Israel had regained after so much has been lost. However, signs saying “Death to Jews” seem to me to qualify as hate speech and those carrying them should be prosecuted and if they are immigrants, deported if the law so permits. Our country should not become a duplicate of the battle grounds in the Middle East.”

— Jon Snipper

“The right to free speech is very important and dare not to be suppressed or canceled just because someone else doesn’t like what you are expressing.”

— Austin Brown

‘Israel is going to endure’: Bret Stephens on anti-Semitism and Israel’s war against Hamas

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023

“This is a beautiful dialogue, and I agree whole heartedly. I have spent time in Israel as recently as February, with a group of Orthodox Jewish women. There is no question that we are family, sisters , regardless of political leaning. It never hurts to pray to something larger than ourselves.”

— Joan Tucker

“Israeli officials keep saying they know not all Gazans are pro Hamas but they are doing nothing to show that they mean what they say. This whole situation has been covered with generations of layering of misinformation and propaganda. Neither the present Israeli government, nor Hamas will find the solution. What is needed is a wholesale change on both sides.”

A. Chezzi

Why are normally outspoken universities suddenly hesitant to condemn violence against Israel?

Friday, Oct. 13, 2023

“Universities have a lot of diverse and demanding customers/students to keep happy. Commenting on a heinous event related to a complex, multi-party, eight-decade conflict could be considered “tricky”, especially if sympathies are predominantly with one of the two primary sides. HOWEVER, when it comes to wholesale, carefully planned, and inexcusable atrocity, it is the act alone that must be condemned in absolute terms, free of all context. This includes universities.”

Rob Tyrrell

“Whether universities commenting on such situations could do so from a position of neutrality is a matter of debate but given how nuanced this particular case is I believe no public comment is the wise choice. Classroom discussions—backed by comprehensive historical research from parties on both sides—would be valuable and perhaps a synopsis of these debates and their conclusions might be a useful addition to the discourse.”

Gordon Divitt