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The ‘Jewish Week’ propagandizes for Israeli violence

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As an Orthodox Jew, I am particularly sensitive to the moral obligations at stake when a major Jewish publication purports to describe – and to defend – the violent acts of a state that calls itself Jewish, maintains a Jewish majority and an official Orthodox rabbinate, and, on top of that, enjoys crucial political support from a wide array of Jewish organizations.

Hence my deep disappointment with a recent editorial in the Jewish Week (“A Stab in Jewish Hearts,” October 13). Given the Jewish Week’s powerful reach into mainstream Jewish households – the paper has reported 100,000 weekly subscribers in the New York area (making it the single biggest-circulation Jewish periodical) and its on-line version boasts “about 150,000 visitors monthly” – its commentary on the growing violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories carries significant weight. Alas, the Jewish Week’s most recent summary of events, while ostensibly expressing sympathy for victims of “terror,” confounds its subject matter so completely that, in the end, it succeeds only in propagandizing for systematic violence, defending international crime, and embracing disinformation as an instrument of justice.

I’m sure the editorial wasn’t intended to do any of that: its author was justly worried about a recent spate of bloodshed of which Israelis have sometimes (though not usually) been the victims. So far, so reasonable. But if violence against Israeli civilians seems as novel to the Jewish Week, and therefore as newsworthy, as systematic brutality against Palestinians is evidently familiar, chronic and undeserving of comment, the Jewish Week’s resort to dishonest language in the way it describes the crisis serves no one’s legitimate needs. On the contrary, it betrays all those who have suffered in the conflict – both the Palestinians whose pain is decades-old, and the Israelis who are just now tasting the bitter fruit of their government’s illegal policies.

First there’s the matter of locale. Where did the “attacks” that so trouble the Jewish Week take place? To be sure, a small number occurred in Israel, but by far most of this Palestinian violence (some scattered stabbings aimed at soldiers and an occasional Israeli settler) happened in Palestinian territory, on land Israel has illegally occupied for close to 50 bloody years – a fact unanimously recognized by the 15-member International Court of Justice in 2004, but one a reader of the editorial would never guess. Had the victims of such attacks been Nazi soldiers and German colonists in occupied Poland during World War II, I’m sure the Jewish Week wouldn’t have been so coy about the venue of the encounters.

There is also a curious lack of proportion in the editorialist’s sympathies. Whoever wrote the piece worries that “in Israel…young children are unable to sleep at night and are fearful of going outside.” A genuine concern, no doubt; but it would carry more weight if the writer had bothered to notice that, as usual, Palestinian children have much more to fear than Israelis. Some 50 Palestinians have already been killed since the beginning of October, many of them children, not to mention more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians who have been wounded by soldiers’ live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets. Still others have fallen victim to the settler attacks that are commonplace all over the occupied West Bank. (The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded 324 attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and their property last year, and this year’s figure will probably surpass it.) Amnesty International has already condemned some of the killings of Palestinians – one the shooting of a child – under “circumstances indicating the killings were unlawful, and possibly extrajudicial executions,” while noting the customary Israeli use of “excessive force on a massive scale, including extensive use of live ammunition against people who were not posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”

If some isolated knife thrusts have so frightened the entire Israeli population, it’s not hard to imagine what life is like for Palestinians, including children, who not only suffer the chronic violence of occupation but must now look forward to being executed by heavily armed soldiers, maimed by roving gangs of Jewish colonists, or shot, tear-gassed or tortured if they dare to protest. Yet none of this touched the Jewish Week’s editorial sympathies – a fact that suggests that propaganda, not human concern, motivated its choice of language.

To this one-sided acknowledgment of human suffering, the Jewish Week editorial adds a breathtakingly selective reading of international reactions to the violence. President Barack Obama, who gave daily political cover to Israel’s massacre in Gaza last summer, has done the same for the official terror campaign in the Occupied Territories by asserting that “Israel has a right to maintain basic law and order and protect its citizens from knife attacks, and violence on the streets” – never mentioning a Palestinian right to law (freedom from occupation), order (an end to the illegal settlements strangling the indigenous population) or safety from the massive violence that has claimed far more civilian lives than those lost in Israel. At the U.N., no sanctions have been imposed on Israel – consider, by contrast, the Security Council’s swift punishment of Iraq for its occupation of Kuwait in 1990 – while the European Union (which largely underwrites Israel’s occupation) has mouthed a few platitudes about violence on “both sides.”

Yet the Jewish Week will have it that “much of the world shrugs its shoulders at the murders of innocent [Israeli] civilians.” I can only wonder what Obama & Co. could have done to satisfy the editors. Applaud the way Israelis ran over 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra with a car, then beat him with sticks and metal pipes and left him bleeding on the pavement, critically wounded, for nearly half an hour? Repeat the IDF’s claim that everything was okay because the child had tried to stab Israelis near an illegal settlement – though video shows no evidence to support the accusation?

But the editorial really tips its hand when it parrots a suggestion from CAMERA – an outfit the Jewish Week itself calls a “pro-Israel media watchdog” – that another young Palestinian child, shot dead while he walked home from school, was killed “during a violent Palestinian riot when an IDF bullet ‘aimed at the foot of the riot leader ricocheted off the ground and hit the victim in the chest.’” Really? Reports from witnesses placed the boy over 200 feet from any “clashes,” and not a shred of evidence has been produced that the fatal bullet was aimed at “the riot leader” (whoever he was) or that it entered the child’s chest from below. But a spokesman for the illegal occupation forces, and a professional propaganda agency, have said it was so – and apparently that’s good enough for the Jewish Week.

“Do not fight terror; fight those who dictate it.” Those words, spoken at the graveside of a settler couple slain in occupied territory earlier this month, are quoted in the editorial. But the editors fail to recognize their significance. If the Jewish Week is really concerned about terror, it should be writing about the Israeli cabinet ministers, generals, administrators and officers of the occupying forces who daily carry out the theft of Palestinian property and systematically plan the terror campaigns designed to intimidate the land’s lawful owners. To pretend that the retaliations inevitably prompted by Israeli violence are the heart of the problem – in fact, the only problem – and that Jewish victims of retaliatory violence are the only real victims, does more than miss the point. It corrupts what should be a demand for justice and an expression of sympathy for those who suffer into a labored apologia for international crime.

Michael Lesher
About Michael Lesher

Michael Lesher, an author and lawyer, has published numerous articles dealing with child sexual abuse and other topics, including the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the author of the recent book Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., Inc.), which focuses on cover-ups of abuse cases among Orthodox Jews. He lives in Passaic, New Jersey. More information about his work can be found on his web site

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18 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 23, 2015, 1:08 pm

    Good article.

    One thing, though. The writer calls the occupation illegal and says the ICJ called it that. I believe that’s confused and partly wrong.

    The ICJ said the settlements were illegal and the wall — and so we may say, correctly, that the occupation is being conducted illegally. Actually in many more ways than just those two.

    But ICJ did not say the occupation was illegal. (That was not a question for decision.) I for one believe that the occupation has become illegal over the 48 years of its existence because the creation of settlements and roads and wall are all indicators that cannot be ignored or denied that the Israeli occupation is intended to be permanent. And such permanence violates UN 242 and the UN Charter, which prohibit acquisition of territory by use or threat of violence.

    Net? I agree the occupation is, today, illegal both per se and in the manner in which Israel is conducting it, but I do not believe that ICJ has said that it is illegal per se.

    • Michael Lesher
      Michael Lesher
      October 23, 2015, 3:45 pm

      Point well taken. Strictly speaking, the question of the legality of the occupation itself wasn’t before the ICJ. However, all judges did agree that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are occupied Palestinian territory. Considering that in combination with the other findings (e.g., the illegality of all settlements), and in light of the court’s stress on the impermissibility of acquiring territory by force, I think it’s fair to say the judges “recognized” that the 48-year occupation itself is illegal. though this wasn’t specifically a “finding” of the court. I would have put it differently in a legal brief or a scholarly article. In the present context I think it was a fair way to express the point, but your more precise reading is welcome.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2015, 4:14 pm

        “a…reading is welcome.”

        It very much was, Mr Lesher, thank you.

  2. pabelmont
    October 23, 2015, 1:21 pm

    Quote: not a shred of evidence has been produced that the fatal bullet was aimed at “the riot leader” (whoever he was) [or at his foot!] or that it entered the child’s chest from below. But a spokesman for the illegal occupation forces, and a professional propaganda agency, have said it was so – and apparently that’s good enough for the Jewish Week.

    Comment: Consider the dreadful plight of Jewish Week for a moment. If it were to doubt the Hasbaristas, if it were to question official Israeli government pronouncements, it would cast doubt upon what I presume to be its rock-solid we-stand-with-Israel bona fides. Suddenly it would be treating Israel like any other country, one whose official pronouncements are to be evaluated in a balanced way, opposing evidence weighed, and disagreement (or even an accusation of lying) a possible outcome. Gosh it might even doubt what USA officials say, now and then.

    This is (if I read it right) an existential problem for Jewish Week. If it cannot be 110% pro-Israel, it might have to revert to reporting on Jewish matters and give up reporting on Israeli matters — considered as Zionist rather than Jewish –or perhaps begin to report on Israel with no more than the fervency it devotes to Iceland and Timor-Leste.

    • Michael Lesher
      Michael Lesher
      October 23, 2015, 4:05 pm

      Here, too, you may well be right. But if so, the Jewish Week shouldn’t call itself a newspaper. It should say that when it comes to Israel it serves simply as a propaganda organ of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. And then all these heartfelt editorials about the suffering of the Israelis, and of all Jews as we empathize with their hard times, etc., could be junked as superfluous.

      If they’re going to go on writing such things, and continue to call themselves a newspaper, they’re going to have to answer to a different standard.

  3. heartbeatt
    October 23, 2015, 1:23 pm

    Thanks for your article. It clearly sums up the discrepancy between what actually happens and how it is interpreted – not just by The Jewish Week.
    Almost as distressing as the constant ill treatment of Palestinians are the helpless and convoluted attempts to diminish or equate, which only serve to lessen my sympathy for Israeli victims. I am completely aware of this, I deeply regret it, and it should serve as a lesson to The Jewish Week: do not apologise, rationalise or diminish Israel’s role in oppression, illegal occupation, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, daily humiliation and violent acts against Palestinians. It does not help. We want it reported as it is, on both sides. The backlash caused by distortion will harm Jews, so cut it out.

  4. oldgeezer
    October 23, 2015, 1:34 pm

    In Israel young children are afraid to go outside. In Palestine young children are not safe in their beds. I feel for both groups but the Palestinian predicament is far worse.

  5. talknic
    October 23, 2015, 6:28 pm

    Just one point…

    “I’m sure the editorial wasn’t intended to do any of that:”

    Oh my. Even you’re doing it. Of course it was intended.

    • Mooser
      October 23, 2015, 6:55 pm

      “Oh my. Even you’re doing it. Of course it was intended”

      I think his “wasn’t intended” is a better way to get my MDR than putting irony filings on my cornflakes.

    • annie
      October 23, 2015, 7:27 pm

      Of course it was intended.

      i agree

      • Michael Lesher
        Michael Lesher
        October 24, 2015, 8:33 pm

        Annie, thanks for your comment. (See my response below.)

        I admire your work, if I haven’t mentioned that before.

        Since you recently wrote about extrajudicial executions in the West Bank, I wanted to make sure you knew about this recent incident. The link below comes from The Jewish Press, which includes a video taken by “security cameras” at a checkpoint. The article claims it shows a 16-year-old “terrorist” rushing at guards with a knife — he’s then “shot on the spot.” My eyes don’t see a knife in the boy’s hands as he runs. He disappears behind a vehicle, where he’s apparently gunned down by several heavily armed soldiers. So at first blush, at least, this looks like another extrajudicial execution, this time of a 16-year-old. Even if the kid had a knife, I see no evidence that he endangered a guard, or that it wouldn’t have been possible to stop and disarm him (if in fact he was armed). Here’s the link to the JP article with video:

        Hope this is of some use.

    • Michael Lesher
      Michael Lesher
      October 24, 2015, 8:22 pm

      Yes, I may be wrong on that one. Perhaps I’m over-cautious in assessing people’s motives (as opposed to their actions). In this case, my exchanges with the editors suggested that they really don’t see why their expression of concern for Israelis — which is how they characterize what they wrote — amounts to rather sinister propaganda (for all the reasons my column spelled out). And since I know from my own experience how dense and foggy the walls of denial can be, I’m trying to be fair when it comes to things I can’t prove.

      But, as I said, I may be wrong. Anyway, I’m not inclined to give the benefit of a doubt on any further occasions. And I apologize to readers here if I was too forgiving this time around — though I imagine the editors aren’t likely to see it that way.

      • Mooser
        October 24, 2015, 9:47 pm

        Leave handing out the out-of-hand condemnations, and freely assigning the lowest possible motivators, to the “Week”. After all, the editors may respond to your article.

      • annie
        October 25, 2015, 12:46 am

        there’s no need to apologize michael, you wrote an excellent article. some people are just more naturally inclined towards generosity wrt others intentions. i tend to be more cynical. regarding your exchanges with the editors, there is always the possibility that they are so racist that they are unaware of what their own intentions are. but when one describes ones ideological opponents (or enemies) as “primitive” it’s not an intellectual conversation, it’s propaganda.

        also, the same goes for calling a stabbing “intimate and personal”. for a victim and the victims family a violent attack is always “intimate and personal” but would the same paper call the recent knife attack on the rabbi “intimate and personal”? the settler attacks “intimate and personal”.

        i don’t read the jewish press or take it seriously. not to say they have not had some decent reporting in their history, because perhaps they have – but – it reads like a personal ‘inside family’ type journal. i don’t think of it as a newspaper. perhaps more like a small hometown paper. i’m sure there are lots of people who take it very seriously inside their world or whatever world they’re living in but it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a news source, especially wrt foreign policy or israel. only a brainwashed person or a completely biased person peddling propaganda could look at what’s happening today and explain it was primitive man vs innocent jews.

        re the other article, i did see a knife in the hand of the person running (13 seconds). however, i would not trust a video with this provenance to be completely trustworthy, given the history of the gov and military of israel wrt tampered videos. that is not to say i don’t think there have been knife attacks or that it could be accurate. unfortunately because of israel’s extrajudicial executions we will never know what happened. also, once someone has lied to me i don’t trust the source. the israel gov lies routinely, therefore i automatically question everything they say and decide for myself what seems credible.

        but even if he did have a knife, even if he was an assailant who intended to kill, i still would consider it an extrajudicial execution. and they would not have treated a jewish assailant that way.

        thanks for your article.

      • Michael Lesher
        Michael Lesher
        October 25, 2015, 7:40 am

        Annie, you’re very welcome. (And thanks, Mooser.)

        Ha’aretz has a higher-resolution screen capture that seems to show a knife hanging downward from the boy’s right hand (albeit in a rather unnatural position). I’m no expert in these matters. But you’re right: video can be doctored, and there’s no reason to trust an IDF production.

        Anyway, the whole thing’s wrong. If he never got near a guard — and it doesn’t look from the video as though he did — then his killing was likely an execution whether he was armed or not, given that deadly force was obviously used (five bullets in him?) without, apparently, an imminent threat. And the IDF’s account (repeated without question by Ha’aretz) makes no sense either. We’re told he posed as a vendor to get close to the soldiers and then attempted a sudden sneak attack. But the video shows him running from a point quite distant from the soldiers; there’s no way they could have failed to see him coming. And whatever he’s doing, he’s certainly not sneaking.

        But you’re right — this is Israel and we’ll probably never know, particularly because powerful countries and their journalists are unlikely to ask. It’s just hard for me to stop thinking about a child’s murder, especially one I’ve just watched.

        Your criticisms of the Jewish press in general are, unfortunately, accurate. And in this instance you’re clearly right about the choice of language. By the way, the idea that Palestinians use knives because such attacks are “intimate” is a creature of Israeli propaganda: I remember it creeping into the written discourse as far back as the 1980s — a clever way of converting barely-armed people trying to fight a huge military machine into the villains of the story. But I don’t know that the British press was any better when it covered Indian resistance, or the American press writing about Native Americans (our Declaration of Independence calls them “merciless Indian savages”), or for that matter any of the recent mainstream Western coverage of Iraq or Afghanistan. So I tend to think the problems are more institutional in nature, and more widespread, than just the parochialism of the Jewish media.

        As for The Jewish Week itself, it has done some serious reporting on issues including child sex abuse by rabbis — I know because I’ve been a source for many of those stories. And I never regretted the work involved in helping to get that topic discussed in such a venue. How better to reach the community one hopes to change? I must say, though, that just for that reason it’s very unsettling to observe the same people who were so exacting about evidence in connection with those stories casually ladling out racist propaganda when it comes to Israel and Palestinians. But — so it goes. My father was a reporter for many years, so I really ought to be used to the pattern by now. But I never really get over it.

        Well, on to the next windmill, I guess.

      • annie
        October 25, 2015, 4:14 pm

        michael, i read about their coverage of the sex abuse scandal. they got a pulitzer for that i think i read. my comment was mostly wrt to foreign policy or israel. and since most of the topics we cover here are in this category (we leave the sex abuse alone, although occasionally i visit failed messiah to follow up on it) that’s how i generally intercept the jewish news site — from their political articles re israel popping up. as a local neighborhood paper they’re probably not so biased. but anything about israel is just out of the question completely mega uber zionist biased. they repeat the gov mantra and one might have been reading press releases from the israel military w/emo syrup poured over the top.

        and another child got slaughtered today.

      • Mooser
        October 25, 2015, 12:41 pm

        ” But I don’t know that the British press was any better when it covered Indian resistance, or the American press writing about Native Americans (our Declaration of Independence calls them “merciless Indian savages”),”

        Yes, and that was only last week, too. And what about…

  6. Boo
    October 24, 2015, 1:27 pm

    “in Israel…young children are unable to sleep at night and are fearful of going outside.”

    Just a quick culling from various sources:

    “in a study of high school-aged children from southern refugee camps in Rafah and Khan Younis, 69 percent of the children showed symptoms of PTSD” (Electronic Intifada, 2009)

    “More than half of 15 to 18 year olds in Gaza show signs of full or partial post-traumatic stress disorder” (Telegraph, 2014)

    “Around 35 per cent to 40 per cent of Gaza’s million children are suffering from shell-shock due to last year’s attack on Gaza” (Telegraph, 2015)

    “Gaza Community Mental Health Program’s (GCMHP) Deputy Director General for Professional Affairs Taysir Diab Thursday said around 51% of Gaza’s children suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (Informed Comment, 2015)

    It’d be wonderful to see Israeli and Palestinian kids playing soccer together, but I wouldn’t advise they do it on the beach in Gaza.

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