A member of the Jewish community holds a poster outside BBC Broadcasting House to demonstrate against the BBC's refusal to label Hamas as terrorists, in London, England, on Oct. 16, 2023. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

To Uphold the Preferred Narrative, Media Will Go to Any Lengths to Demonize Israel

The news story of the year in 2023 was indubitably Hamas’s Oct. 7 pogrom in southern Israel and its aftermath. Hamas’s monstrous achievement stunned the world. Equally stunning was what the event triggered: the explosive escape of a triumphalist Islamist genie from its loosely corked bottle. The incendiary genie continues to whip its cyclonic path across the entire West. Whether its fury will subside or escalate remains uncertain. I lean to the latter probability.

Someday the annals of journalism will record that our mainstream media—with a few noble exceptions—did not acquit themselves well in this crisis. The narrative rapidly shifted from sympathy for a democratic ally’s terror victims to mitigation of the perpetrators’ guilt (“resistance”) and pre-emptive condemnation of the “genocide” of Gazans to come. Censure of Israel’s “disproportionate response” and demand for a ceasefire—not the detonation of hysterical global Jew hatred and a burgeoning lust for a general Intifada in support of a “free Palestine”—became “the story.”

The BBC in particular has shown an appallingly anti-Israel face to the world. Its most egregious error was rushing to report an unverified account from Palestinian sources, soon discredited, that an Israeli airstrike caused the Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital, for which professional dereliction its director-general was formally accused of parroting Hamas propaganda. The BBC wasn’t alone in that rush to judgment, but as a media bellwether, betrayal of its elite, credibility-conferring status justified singular criticism.
Unlike the Israeli Defense Forces, which has over the years proven itself a reliable source, whether the facts redound to their credit or not, the Palestinian authorities take a postmodern approach to news arising out of conflict. Their goals are to demonize Israel and inflate victimhood. To this end, they see even pure fabrication of “news” as justified. It’s no secret that their spokespeople habitually conflate the deaths of fighters with civilians, and blame Israel for own-goal casualties.

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Richard Landes is a scholar of millennial movements and honour/shame cultures. He blogs at theaugeanstables.com. Some years ago, Landes published a documentary, “According to Palestinian Sources,” which showcases “Pallywood” (his coinage, a play on Bollywood) in all its inglorious detail—producers, directors, extras, make-up artists, fake blood, “dead” bodies that hop off stretchers at “cut!” —flaunting the depthless cynicism characterizing the factitious, but successful Palestinian propaganda mill.
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For Gen Z, imbibing their “news” from TikTok, Pallywood antics may be ho-hum yeah, whatever. But for a CBC or New York Times Middle East bureau chief, Pallywood skepticism is minimally a fair ask as a job criterion, no? The very words, “from Palestinian sources,” should by now ring alarm bells for seasoned mainstream news editors (not to mention politicians like Justin Trudeau and Melanie Joly).
HonestReporting Canada, which monitors Israel bias in media, has over the years elicited hundreds of public corrections to errors in CBC’s Middle East coverage. The persisting pattern suggests the CBC considers frequent corrections a small price to pay for the advocacy pleasure of Israel-bashing via Palestinian sources. Like other pro-Palestinian media outlets, CBC refuses to apply the word “terrorism” to Hamas’s civilian atrocities, and furthermore intentionally turns a blind eye to the central role in the Free Palestine movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful, West-loathing Islamist movement that birthed and mentors Hamas.
In 2022, Landes published a book, “Can ‘The Whole World’ Be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad.” He took the title in part from a remark by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, who rejected Israel’s (fact-based) denial of a “massacre” in their 2002 operation to demolish the West Bank’s suicide-bomber pipeline source in Jenin: “I don’t think the whole world, including the friends of the Israeli people and government, can be wrong,” Anan said.
Landes demonstrates handily through a plethora of well-annotated examples, that on the contrary, where Israel is concerned, the whole world can be, and often is, wrong (the alleged IDF “Jenin massacre” of 500 civilians killed 52.) The mountain of evidence in Landes’s book reveals that the shamelessness of Pallywood-produced schlock is matched only by the shameless credulity of those media (and politicians) who routinely apply double standards of moral agency in their approach: virtually none to the Palestinians, but to Israel more than to any other nation.
Pallywood draws its power from pathos. Dead babies feature large in its oeuvre. Landes cites the 2000 case of a Palestinian militant who shot his baby daughter in the head while cleaning his gun. Spokespeople stated that an Israeli settler had shot her in a car (they riddled a car with bullets as “evidence”). Paris Match loved the unverified story, dedicating half an issue to it, replete with emotive photos of the dead child. The inference most readers would draw is that Israelis deliberately target children, a contemporary version of the medieval blood libel that Jews lust after the blood of gentile children. According to Landes, a more objective Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, had the CIA investigate, and “even PA police told [the CIA] the father accidentally killed the child.”

Dead babies provide such valuable propaganda material, Pallywood has no hesitation in using own-goal victims as agitprop. In 2012, the photo of an 11-month old baby of a BBC journalist in Gaza, wrapped in a white shroud, held by his anguished father amidst a crowd of sympathizers, was featured in newspapers and social media as an alleged victim of an Israeli airstrike. NGOs hostile to Israel pushed the claim. But a U.N. report found that the baby was killed by “what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” Nevertheless, like the steady drip of CBC corrections, such findings, if noticed at all, are dismissed by many readers as pedantic footnotes beside Pallywood’s lachrymose narratives.
Rather than explore the irony of Pallywood’s exploitation of dead babies by setting it against Palestinian terrorists’ criminal strategy of grooming Palestinian children into martyrdom as suicide bombers and willing human shields, too many media outlets prefer to buy the blood libel. Indeed, the same Muslim-respectful media that piously refuse to publish an image of the Prophet Muhammad, will defend an odiously antisemitic cartoon depicting former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon eating Palestinian children out of a cereal bowl.
Tragically, Gazan children will continue to die in 2024 due to Hamas’s atrocities. There are—were—400 kilometres of terror tunnels in Gaza. These are ideal bomb shelters only Hamas terrorists have access to, as the Underground was for Londoners during the Blitz. This doesn’t arise as a discussion topic, though. Because Israel’s moral culpability is “the story,” not Hamas’s.