Gaza baby libel: Equal narratives; unequal treatment

How is it that Hamas’ credibility is treated as equal to that of the IDF and Israeli authorities? Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard journalists complain about the way in which Israel has dealt with their needs in relation to the weeks of violence at the Gaza border. I’ve also heard the argument from at least one journalist that both Hamas and Israel have equal and competing narratives that should be reported equally.

One major difference between the two sides is that one actively lies.

The death of Palestinian eight-month old Leila al-Ghandour on May 14, reportedly as a result of Israeli tear gas, made global headlines. Doubts were raised at the time over the cause of death and Hamas eventually took the baby off its list of casualties of the Gaza border violence. Still, headlines such as the Daily Express’ “Mother’s agony as baby dies in Gaza gas horror” and “Drones drop deadly cannisters” contributed to the libel of Israel as a brutal baby killer.

Despite this framing of the incident, the media cannot be blamed for covering the story. They can, however, be held responsible for taking Hamas claims at face value, not only in this case but more widely.

Reports now suggest that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar paid baby Leila’s parents NIS 8,000 ($2,200) to tell the media that the infant had died due to tear gas inhalation at the Gaza protests. This information comes from a relative of the family arrested and questioned over terror activities at the Gaza border who told Israeli authorities that the baby had died of a fatal blood condition that runs in the family.

Perhaps the media might be skeptical of any information of this nature given that it was apparently obtained from a Palestinian held in Israeli custody. Nonetheless, surely those same media outlets that reported the baby’s death in such a damning manner even while questions remained, have a duty to report this latest development? After all, how can the media not give equal coverage to what they would claim to be equal and competing narratives?

But, aside from a few reports, this new revelation simply didn’t register on most of the international media’s radars. A blood libel, like most of the blood libels leveled at Israel over the years, has essentially become part of the accepted narrative even if it is subsequently proven to be fake news.

Hamas knows it can get away with it.

After all, the media are prepared to rely on Palestinian casualty figures from the Gazan Ministry of Health despite the fact that it is controlled by the Hamas government in Gaza. Hamas has a vested interest in high casualty rates on its own side precisely in order to portray the IDF as vicious murderers.

If Hamas is paying a family to falsely claim that a baby died as a result of Israeli actions, why should anyone believe its casualty figures?

For the media, acknowledging the baby blood libel would be an admission that they have willingly reported the false narrative of a terrorist organization, something most journalists are understandably reluctant to do.

Israel is often on the receiving end of negative coverage, sometimes deserved, other times not. Israel doesn’t always get it right in its relationships with the media. But Israel is also a victim of the media’s selective reporting and a failure to acknowledge when the journalists been played by blatant Palestinian lies and propaganda.

Either way, for Israel, the media playing field isn’t a level one.

So don’t tell me the media are treating both sides equally. When one side has been proven to commit lies time and time again, it should not be treated with the same weight as the other side.

One side is a brutal Islamist terror organization that governs the Gaza Strip with an iron fist. The other is a democracy whose army and citizens are accountable under the rule of law. Don’t tell me that both sides should be treated equally.

But worst of all, if the media are going to report a blood libel against Israel, don’t tell me that they are treating both sides equally if they won’t even bother covering reports that the libel has been proven to be a lie.

About the Author
Simon Plosker is the Managing Editor of HonestReporting. With overall responsibility for HonestReporting’s content and output, Simon joined the organization in November 2005 following several years working in a variety of non-profit organizations and immigrating to Israel from London in 2001. He has a BSoc.Sc in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Birmingham and a MSc in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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