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The Hamas pogrom and the nadir of journalism

The Western media’s coverage of Hamas’s barbarism has been utterly lacking in depth and morality.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK World

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I’ve seen some mad media corrections in my time, but the one from the BBC this week was on an entirely new level. It wasn’t a correction as such, it was an ‘update’. ‘This post replaces an earlier story which has been updated’, said a tweet from BBC News. It concerned the story of Yocheved Lifschitz, the 85-year-old Israeli woman who was seized by Hamas during its genocidal pogrom in southern Israel on 7 October. Mrs Lifschitz was released on Monday evening. ‘Released Israeli hostage shakes her captor’s hand’, gushed the BBC, encouraging us to think this elderly lady must have got on pretty well with her Hamas keepers. Then came the new post, the updated one, the correction, the truth. ‘I went through hell, says 85-year-old hostage released by Hamas’, it said.

That is some turnaround. From a handshake to ‘hell’, in two tweets. From fawning over a kidnap victim and her kidnapper briefly shaking hands to admitting that the kidnap victim actually had a horrific time. It seems the BBC, belatedly, caught up on some of the things Mrs Lifschitz said after she was released. It was ‘hell’, she said from her wheelchair in a hospital in Tel Aviv. ‘They stormed into our homes. They beat people’, she said, seeming ‘overwhelmed’. She herself was thrown on to a motorbike by the terrorists: ‘My head was on one side and the rest of my body was on the other side.’ Her watch and jewellery were stolen. And she was battered with sticks. With Herculean grace she said: ‘They didn’t break my ribs but it was painful and I had difficulty breathing.’

Why would any journalist worth his or her salt focus on a touching of hands rather than the near breaking of ribs? On the briefly humane ending of a racist and unjust false imprisonment rather than on the inhumanity of the imprisonment itself? You could say ‘Shame on the BBC’ virtually every week. (This week, for example, it was revealed that the Beeb’s channel for kids, CBBC, asked an academic who’s just published a book on the ‘psychosis of whiteness’ to explain ‘white privilege’ to its young viewers.) But the BBC’s switch on the Lifschitz story is an entirely different order of shame. Here we have an elderly Jew who was violently kidnapped by an anti-Semitic movement, and what does our public broadcaster initially say? That there was a nice moment between her and her tormentors. It focussed not on the vile humiliation of Mrs Lifschitz, but on the fleeting instant in which she reached out to one of the anti-Semitic monsters who conspired in her violation and persecution.

This is a journalistic failure of extraordinary proportions. Actually, it’s more than a failure in journalism – it’s a failure of morals, reason, decency. Yes, it is proper that the BBC eventually corrected the record and reported that, beyond the handshake, beyond Mrs Lifschitz’s appreciation that her captors let her wash her hair and gave her food to eat, fundamentally this was an intolerable act of violation against a pensioner’s liberty and dignity. But why the happy-clappy crap before the truth? Imagine if a black woman was kidnapped by the KKK and was beaten and kept in a tunnel for two weeks – do you think the Beeb would have said, ‘Ah, bless, she shook her captor’s hand when she was released’? Would they hell. Jews, though? Hamas? That’s different, it seems.

Nurit Yitzhak, who is 79, was released alongside Mrs Lifschitz. The sight of these two elderly ladies walking into the arms of the Red Cross has led to some seriously skewed journalism. ‘Maybe Hamas isn’t all bad?’ has been the tone on social media. Why else would an old lady shake the hands of one of their operatives? Well, maybe Mrs Lifschitz is that way inclined – decent to a fault. More to the point, her husband, the 83-year-old peace activist Oded, remains in captivity. My wild guess is that she showed kindness to the scum who put her through ‘hell’ because she wants her husband to be safe. Did this possibility not cross the minds of the BBC before it led with the handshake rather than the harm? The ‘humanity’ rather than the horror?

It wasn’t just the Beeb. Sky News gave a staggeringly one-sided account of Mrs Lifschitz’s experience in its initial social-media posts. It quoted her as saying, ‘Each person had a guard watching him or her. They took care of all the needs. They talked about all kinds of things, they were very friendly.’ This, editorialised Sky, is what it was like ‘being held hostage by Hamas’. You didn’t have room to mention that she was beaten? Robbed? Violently degraded on account of her race? The idea that you can have a ‘nice’ captor is a deceit of Orwellian proportions. Sky’s ‘very friendly’ Hamas tweet has been shared and liked tens of thousands of times. It has ignited a firestorm of Hamas apologism online. ‘They’re good people’, cry anti-Semites across social media.

Serious outlets, initially, opted to tell only part of Mrs Lifschitz’s story. The larger story, the hellishness of her abduction, was downplayed. It fell to a newspaper like the Sun, snootily looked down upon as ‘racist’ by the right-thinking elites, to tell the truth of Mrs Lifschitz’s persecution. ‘My hell in spider’s web of Hamas tunnels’, its frontpage headline said, next to an image of Lifschitz looking withered from her experience, not the image of her shaking hands with the terrorist. There is infinitely more truth in the Sun’s coverage than there was in the BBC’s and Sky’s and the Twitterati’s suicidally ‘Kumbaya’ response to the release of an elderly Jew from the violent clutches of a poisonously anti-Jewish movement.

The twisted, partial coverage of this week’s release of elderly hostages — was it journalistic oversight, or something worse? It certainly seems that some newsrooms in the West were looking at this story in completely the wrong way. They are still under the delusion that Hamas is a normal organisation, with ‘nice’ members, when in truth it is a genocidally violent group that was founded for the express purpose of murdering Jews. Yes, some journalists focussed on the handshake to emphasise Mrs Lifschitz’s humanity, and that’s fine. But others focussed on it to suggest Hamas is not what Israel says it is. They jettisoned objectivity — in this case the objective facts of Mrs Lifschitz’s horrific mistreatment, and the objective fact of Hamas’s nature.

There have been numerous incidents of ‘journalistic oversight’ in the past two weeks. Consider the bombing of al-Ahli hospital in Gaza. Media outlets, including the BBC, instantly pinned the blame on Israel. But a more complicated picture has since emerged: there is evidence this calamity was in fact a consequence of a misfired missile by Islamic Jihad from inside Gaza. As NPR in the US says, the list of news organisations that fell short in their coverage of the hospital bombing is ‘long and illustrious’ – ‘the New York Times, the BBC, Reuters, the Associated Press and more’. All rushed to blame the IDF, when ‘concrete facts’ were ‘scant’, in NPR’s words.

The New York Times has publicly reckoned with its failures over the hospital bombing. We ‘relied too heavily on claims by Hamas’, it said in a special editorial statement. We left readers with the ‘incorrect impression’ that Israel was unquestionably to blame, and we should have taken more ‘care with [this] initial presentation’. The BBC also admits that its initial strong speculation that Israel bombed the hospital was premature, ‘and we apologise for this’. It is possible this is all too little, too late. The impact of the liberal media’s frenzy of Israel-blaming for the hospital bombing has been huge. Diplomatic efforts for peace have stalled. Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have risen. ‘Words have consequences’, the chattering classes love to say. That is actually true when we’re talking about global institutions like the BBC and the New York Times instantly bashing Israel for something it likely did not do.

Are these mistakes? Or reflections of something more worrying? To my mind, the bad journalism we’ve seen over the past fortnight speaks to the corruption of the media by the ideology of identitarianism. ‘The media will never forgive Israel for not bombing that hospital’, said the National Review. The liberal media ‘wanted the hospital to be destroyed’ by Israel, because this would have helped to boost their ideological conviction that ‘Israel is a violent, aggressive, oppressor nation’, said NR. This is right. The larger problem we face today is the colonisation of the media by a new generation that has been inculcated with such identitarian orthodoxies as ‘Israel Evil’, ‘Gender Fluid’, ‘White Bad’, etc etc. The media no longer tell us the truth but the ideology.

We need to wake up to the fact that the New York Times – which was very recently rocked by a generational struggle for control – and the BBC are increasingly the property of a rising class of youthful ideological influencers. This is why we have a situation where the Beeb will happily refer to a rapist with a cock as ‘a woman’ but not to radical Islamists who massacre entire families as ‘terrorists’. Why it frowns upon the evils of ‘whiteness’ but erms and ahhs on whether Hamas’s mass murder of Jews really is terrorism. The liberal media have fallen. We are living through the nadir of journalism. The lives and the rights of Jews like Mrs Lifschitz are being sacrificed to the morally infantile storytelling of a woke establishment that has truly lost its bearings.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK World

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