The horror of the events that took place in Israel this past weekend is still sinking in. Such atrocities, deliberately videoed and broadcast for the world to see, reveal a pathological mindset. It is also a harbinger of far worse to come unless we face the truth: far from constituting a clash of civilizations, these attacks repudiate civilization.
Sponsored by Iran, Hamas has little ideology beyond hatred, but hatred is ideology enough when your adversary fails to understand the multifaceted war being waged against it. For decades, Islamists, trained first by the Nazis and later by the KGB, learned how to manipulate the instruments of political warfare. By coopting naïve Western elites to embrace anti-Western, anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic memes, they’ve gradually succeeded beyond their wildest initial expectations.
True to form, the mainstream media in the West covered the attacks with soulless rhetoric. The New York Times, for example, refused to apply the word “terrorists” to the murderers, even as images of the atrocities flooded social media. The Washington Post, PBS, NPR, and Reuters all opted for the far milder “militants.”
An antiseptic moral equivalence infuses mainstream media coverage in the West. Reports routinely take pains to emphasize that there are victims on both sides. Hours after the invasion, PBS’s NewsHour announced, “In an unprecedented surprise attack, the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza sent dozens of fighters into Israel by land, sea, and air,” but then followed with this laconic statement: “Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians are reported dead between the attack and Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza cities.” Similarly, the Washington Post noted that “[t]he death toll has risen to 700 in Israel and thousands have been injured, according to local media, while Palestinian authorities said at least 370 were killed and 2,200 injured in Gaza.” On October 9, too, the New York Times and the Washington Post duly reported death totals on both sides.
In a New York Times editorial, “The Global Context of the Hamas–Israel War,” we see two photos: one of a boy running against a background of unidentified burning buildings far in the distance, from Ashkelon in Israel; the other, with no location provided, shows “a Palestinian mother [crying] next to the body of her son.” The asymmetry of pity on display in the pairing is clear. From these contrasting photos, are we meant to understand that the greater fault lies with Israel and, ultimately, America?
Perhaps we are—for as the Times editorial points out, it was Donald Trump who “encouraged Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, to show little concern for Palestinian interests and instead seek a maximal Israeli victory.” After all, “Netanyahu’s extremism has contributed to the turmoil between Israel and Palestinian groups like Hamas.” The Times appeals to Haaretz for confirmation: “The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession.” Netanyahu, Haaretz added, adopted “a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians.”
What the Times and Haaretz have come to share is a narrative according to which America’s divisions mirror Israel’s: the racist Right vs. the anti-racist Left, the pro-military xenophobes vs. the compassionate pro-peace victims. If Palestinians are seen as oppressed by white supremacist Zionists, whoever claims to fight on the former’s behalf is on the right side of history. Should it happen to be Iran’s proxies, so be it. This kind of mindset grows exponentially more dangerous when embraced by a governing administration, as happened under the Obama and Biden presidencies.
Such an ideological framework may explain at least in part the continued refusal of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to admit Iran’s culpability for inciting Hamas: “We have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long relationship.” The administration has indeed not “seen” the evidence, because it prefers not to face the implications of its bizarre courting of a regime that considers the U.S. and Israel its main enemies, deeming one a Great Satan and calling for the extermination of the other.
Yet the most alarming consequence of this metastasized ideological cancer lies far beyond the Middle East: the warped narrative framing of the conflict has spread to the minds of America’s best and brightest. Even while the massacres were ongoing, more than 30 Harvard student organizations declared that Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence occurring in its war against Gaza. A student group at Columbia University went further, celebrating Hamas’s “historic” massacre of Israeli civilians, calling it a long-overdue “counteroffensive” against Israel’s purported apartheid regime. This is no longer a mere matter of moral equivalence but proof that the West is at war with itself.
This time, however, the contrast between reality and media spin is too extreme, and the atrocities too shocking, even for casual observers to ignore. As the world becomes more chaotic, with Russia, China, and Iran fomenting violence directly or through proxies, multilateral cooperation against terror is likely to increase, and ideology is more likely to give way to truth and common sense. Morality admits of no equivalence. The innocents in Israel cannot be allowed to die in vain.
Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images