On Nov. 14, an Israeli warhead struck a house in Gaza City and killed an infant, Omar Masharawi, 11 months old. His father Jiwad Masharawi works for BBC in Gaza. A photo of him grieving his son’s death, taken by the AP (below), was widely circulated and appeared on the front page of the Washington Post on Nov. 15.
Today the Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, whom we have praised before for straightforwardness, defends the publication of the photo, saying there were no photos of Israeli child deaths to “balance” this image. And who was complaining? Pexton refers to complaints by “American Jews in large numbers.”
But many Post readers saw it differently. Jewish groups and American Jews in large numbers wrote to the ombudsman and to Post editors, protesting the photo as biased…
[They] asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.
The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.”
The front-page photo on Nov. 15 told not the whole story of the Gaza conflict, no, but certainly a telling and important part of the truth.
Let’s leave aside the overwhelming ratio of Palestinian civilian deaths to Israeli civilian deaths in Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud, the last two Israeli conflicts with Gazan militants, and what that says about this “biased” photo.
Pexton raises a delicate and important issue. By identifying the religion of complaint-writers (on what basis I can only surmise; hey, I also guess at last names), he is saying that American Jews support Israel overwhelmingly. Well, it is on this basis that some have blamed the American Jewish collective for Israel’s behavior, and said that any American Jewish organization is responsible for the human rights atrocities Israel is committing. I am saying that Pexton’s generalization could foster anti-Semitism, as more and more Americans are disgusted by Israel’s actions and look around for who to blame for Israel’s impunity from accountability.
Which leads to my challenge. Isn’t it time that American media organizations and American Jewish groups began pulling apart the issue of To what extent the American Jewish community is married to Israel? I.e., When did Zionism (Jewish nationalism) ravish the Jewish community, and why? How many American Jews are no longer drinking that potion? I think the answer is, Many object to Israel’s conduct. And it’s time we heard from them. Because their argument is persuasive, and because an open fight among American Jews over Israel’s conduct will help everyone. More later.
(P.S. In fairness, once sharing Pexton’s generalization, I used to do posts saying that there are too many Jews on the Israel beat in our newspapers and too many Jews at the Council on Foreign Relations. I dropped that line because it was imprecise and because I came to believe, based on all the anti-Zionists I was meeting, that there is actual diversity inside the Jewish community. The media ought to foster that diversity by reporting on it.)