Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 11 March 2024



What’s Behind the Propaganda War Against Israel


The Biden administration has commendably resisted the clamor from the increasingly strident anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party to ostracize the Jewish state. But it’s a mark of the power of that wing that the president feels obliged to balance his support with a rhetorical campaign of increasingly shrill, daily denunciations of Israel’s efforts in Gaza. Israel has a right to defend itself, he seems to be saying, but it should stop the war now.

Mr. Biden expressed this dichotomous position in his State of the Union address last week. He was at it again over the weekend, when he told MSNBC that the offensive in Gaza was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel. . . . It’s contrary to what Israel stands for and I think it’s a big mistake.”

If you’re inclined to think that war fatigue and understandable pain at the deaths of Palestinian innocents are driving the pleas for an end to Israel’s offensive, let me remind you that calls for Israel to call off its response to the Oct. 7 attacks have been coming since days after the massacre of Jews on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.


António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations called for a cease-fire on Oct. 18, in response to false stories about Israeli air strikes. Mr. Guterres later blamed Israel in part for attacks on its citizens, saying they didn’t “happen in a vacuum.” Relentless media efforts to besmirch Israel produced a flowering of the familiar statements from leaders about “restraint” and “proportionate” action. Even after the horrors of Oct. 7, Israel is tagged as the aggressor.

The basis for this calumny, from the lips of everyone from U.N. leaders to self-promoting Hollywood mavens, is that Israel has—either recklessly or, in the more repugnant description of some of its critics, out of genocidal intent—massacred tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The scale of the killing is deemed to delegitimize Israel’s war.

But in the process of extirpating Hamas it was inevitable civilians would be killed. This wasn’t simply because there is “collateral” damage in any large-scale warfare, but because Hamas intended it that way. To the terror group, the propaganda value of a dead Palestinian child is as great as that of an Israeli.

In the familiar way in which factitious information gets circulated around the world, a credulous media gets its tallies from Hamas itself; and then in turn officials recycle the narrative. The number claimed by Hamas—and scarcely challenged and now put about even by Mr. Biden—is that more than 30,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza. What possible confidence do we have that this is true?

An intriguing statistical analysis by Abraham Wyner in Tablet magazine last week scrutinized the number published by Hamas and noted several statistical oddities, including an implausibly steady and consistent increase in the dead day by day and a curiously tiny number of civilian men among the casualties.

“Taken together Hamas is reporting not only that 70 percent of casualties are women and children, but also that 20 percent are fighters,” he notes. “This is not possible unless Israel is somehow not killing noncombatant men, or else Hamas is claiming that almost all the men in Gaza are Hamas fighters.”

If the actual number killed is somewhat below 30,000, and Israel has killed somewhere close to the 12,000 fighters it claims, then the rough ratio of combatants to noncombatants killed is around 1 to 1.

For recent comparison, estimates of the total number of Islamic State fighters killed in the coalition war against Islamic State in the battles of Mosul and Raqqa in 2016 and 2017 ranges from 10,000 to 15,000. According to evidence presented to a U.K. parliamentary committee, that battle resulted in the loss of at least 11,000 civilian lives, a similar ratio to what Israel has probably achieved in Gaza. Yet that fight—waged mostly by Arab armies, with help from the U.S.—is hailed as a necessary fight to eliminate a terrorist organization.

Why does Israel always seem to be held to a different standard? To see the answer, to understand why Israel is usually portrayed as the blood-lusting warmonger, it might be helpful to reframe our original question. Instead of asking what Israel has to do to be allowed to defend itself, we might simply ask: What do Jews have to do to be allowed to defend themselves?


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