Monthly Archives: December 2016

University of Central Florida Israel Diversity Week

December 30, 2016

Jason Frances, CAMERA Fellow

Jason Frances, CAMERA Fellow

This past November, CAMERA-supported group Knights for Israel (KFI) and Central Florida Hillel collaborated to host the very first Israel Diversity Week at the University of Central Florida; the second largest school in the nation with over 62,000 students. With the help of CAMERA on Campus, the two organizations came together to host a number of events with the goal of educating students on the diversity that makes Israel the sole inclusive state in the Middle East.

The week began with the screening of the sequel to the successful Jerusalem U documentary, Beneath the Helmet. The fresh documentary Mekonen follows Mekonen Abebe, an Ethiopian immigrant to Israel that went on to become an officer in the Paratroopers unit of the Israel Defense Forces. In the former film, directors followed a number of soldiers, including Mekonen, during their army service. Such an up-close perspective enabled all viewers to establish a connection with the soldiers. The event concluded with an open dialogue on Mekonen’s story as well as other topics that surround diversity in Israel.

UCF students tabling at Diversity Week

UCF students tabling at Diversity Week

The week continued with the featured speaker of the week, Pastor Dumisani Washington. Pastor Washington is a Christian Israel advocate that travels around the world with the goal of educating others on the diversity that exists within Israel; regardless of race, color, or creed. Pastor Washington led an impassioned discussion on the religious, racial, and political diversity that makes up the State of Israel. Not only did he speak on the importance of diversity, but he also explained how to strongly defend Israel’s diversity from the numerous misconceptions that surround the state. The event drew over 50 students and was one of Knights for Israel’s most successful events of the semester.

more-ucf

Our goal with Knights for Israel is to educate students about different facets of Israel and challenge their thinking as well. Trudy Morse, Junior, and Chair of Israel Initiatives at Hillel tells me that “Events like these show people that there is more to Israel than what you learn in religious school”. This is one of our biggest goals at KFI and for the week overall. By introducing new topics and conversations about Israel, students become more educated and in turn become more involved with Pro-Israel efforts on campus and worldwide.

Contributed by Jason Frances, member of CAMERA-supported group Knights for Israel and CAMERA Fellow at University of Central Florida

This event was also covered by Heritage Florida Jewish News.

 

The Most Important Thing You Will Never Hear About Last Week’s UN Resolution

December 29, 2016

The discussion and analysis of Resolution 2334, passed by the Security Council last week, is still continuing in earnest. But in all the coverage of the resolution and its aftermath in the media, there is one central point – maybe in fact, the most central point – that has not been mentioned and it is actually just one photo. I would argue however, that without mentioning this photo, no media outlet can truly have claimed to have presented the full story of Resolution 2334 and its meaning.

 

This image (captured by Palestinian Media Watch) is from the Facebook page of Fatah; the party of Mahmoud Abbas. Posted a day after the resolution, the words at the top of the image say “Thank you!” and then it lists the fourteen countries who voted for resolution 2334. In the center of the picture is the “Palestine” shaped knife stabbing the word “settlement” with blood pouring from it.

This reaction to resolution 2334 is not praise or condemnation, but incitement of the most explicit type – a call to people to stab and attack settlers and settlements. And it comes not from a fringe extremist, but from the party of the President of the Palestinian Authority himself.

This was not widely reported – just as many other instances of Palestinian incitement are not reported – but to ignore it is to ignore a crucial piece of the jigsaw. Focusing on it helps understand the difference between Western and Palestinian views of the conflict. Whereas Samantha Power, in her speech after the American abstention at the vote, spoke of a desire to see two states next to each other in peace and security, this cartoon speaks of a desire to attack and harm settlers. For the USA, resolution 2334 was about securing the prospects of a two state solution. This cartoon implies that the Palestinians see resolution 2334 as supporting their right to violence – and rather than pushing them to coexistence – it makes them emboldened in radical positions.

The fact that such a cartoon goes unmentioned in the media is also jarring considering the level of incitement that is considered newsworthy if it comes from an Israeli politician. Netanyahu’s comments about ‘the Arabs voting in droves’ still are mentioned frequently, a year and a half after they happened – yet surely a call to murder settlers is far worse than playing the race card in an election?

The extent and depth of Palestinian incitement is a significant piece of any understanding of the Arab Israeli conflict; one that is not focused on enough and which was missed once again last week. The veneration of martyrs, financial support for terrorists and spreading of incitement via pictures and music do not go away just because Western ears don’t want to read or hear about them. Until the Palestinians are challenged on these issues, they will not change their approach and will remain more hard-line in their position – harming both Israel and themselves.

Contributed by CAMERA intern Aron White.

Originally published on UK Media Watch.

Celebrating and Attacking Israeli Culture

December 28, 2016

Rebecca Zagorsky, CAMERA Fellow

Rebecca Zagorsky, CAMERA Fellow

A few weeks ago, the Buckeyes for Israel club hosted “Ohio Loves Israel Week”, an entire week dedicated to celebrating Israeli culture.  Incredible speakers flew across the country to speak about their experiences in the state of Israel, including Eyal Rob, Titi Aynaw, and Etai Pinkas. They varied in their stories, representing different aspects of Israeli life.

Eyal Rob is both a DJ who writes his own music and a lecture, who tours America and teaches about the incredible mix of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions that create the culture of Israel.  Titi Aynaw was a true inspiration, as she is not only a beauty queen who won the title of Miss Israel in 2013, but is also a role model of determination and strength.  As an Ethiopian orphan, she walked across Ethiopia at the age of twelve to immigrate to Israel.  At the age of eighteen, she entered the army, and soon became a Lieutenant with three hundred soldiers under her command.  Etai Pinkas was another inspiration.  He is an openly gay Israeli and is one of Israel’s main champions for LGBTQ rights, serving both as chairman for Israel’s national LGBT Association and as an advisor to the mayor of Tel Aviv.

Flyer of the event, featuring some of the main speakers.

Flyer of the event, featuring some of the main speakers.

Buckeyes for Israel co-hosted these events with other student clubs, such as Pride OSU and The Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Organization, as well as national organizations like CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and the Jewish National Fund.  I had the privilege of hearing these speakers, and it was inspirational to hear their stories and see the support and solidarity offered from outside organizations.  However, there was one dark spot to the week.  The Students for Justice in Palestine club conveniently scheduled their “Palestinian Awareness Week” at the exact same time.

Their events were far less positive, hosting speakers such as John Quigley, who unfairly demonizes the state of Israel, and holding a letter-writing campaign to protest Ohio’s ban on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Movement (BDS).  BDS is a poorly disguised anti-Semitic movement that aims to prevent colleges from investing in companies that do business in Israel, and is so toxic that Obama himself denounced the movement and signed a bill to end the BDS campaign.

If “Palestinian Awareness Week” were true to its name, I would be in full support.  Our campus is comprised mainly of white students from Ohio, and the opportunity to learn more about Palestinian culture would be an interesting addition to our college education.  But SJP’s events were nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts to attack and delegitimize the only democratic country in the Middle East.  There was no focus on Palestine, only a constant attempt to defame and undermine the Jewish state.

One of my friends at King’s College in London recently attended a pro-Israel event where protesters broke the windows and stormed into the room.  Police protection was necessary to keep the students safe from harm, but they were still attacked with verbal insults and threats of later violence.  Thankfully, anti-Israel sentiment here at Ohio State is nowhere near that level.  But make no mistake, hatred for Israel and Jews in general is still lurking underneath the surface.  Hopefully OSU students will soon be able to celebrate Israeli culture on campus without another club staging events in protest, but until then, I will choose to spend my time celebrating and learning about other cultures rather than attacking them.

Originally published in the Ohio Jewish Chronicle.

Contributed by Rebecca Zagorsky, CAMERA Fellow at The Ohio State University.

The Real Definition of Zionism

December 27, 2016

Eliav Terk, CAMERA Fellow

Eliav Terk, CAMERA Fellow

Zionism is at its essence a movement advocating for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Whether Jews were fleeing the Nazis in Europe, Arab dictatorships in the Middle East, or brutal crackdowns in Ethiopia, Zionism has always dedicated itself to preserving the lives and freedoms of Jews around the world. The Zionist movement strives to provide the Jewish people a place in their historical homeland, where they can seek refuge from all types of persecution. Zionism means supporting a country built by refugees and immigrants, a country which provides full rights for women and LGBT+ citizens, a country the size of New Jersey that has created more medical and technological advancements than nearly any other, the Middle East’s strongest democracy, Israel.

On campus however, Zionism has a very different meaning and connotation. Identifying as a Zionist often results in being cursed at and told that you are not welcome on campus. It can also lead to hate filled accusations of racism, fascism, genocide, or whatever else protestors can rhyme together. Although Zionists are few and far in between on campuses across the country, this is not a result of animosity towards the Zionist ideology, but a lack of exposure to what Zionism really means. What being a Zionist does not mean is supporting everything the Israeli government does, or everything Benjamin Netanyahu says. There is no standardized political position held by all Zionists nor should there be. You don’t support the construction of settlements in the disputed territories of the West Bank? Great, you can still be a Zionist. You believe that there should be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Wonderful, we’d love to hear your ideas. Zionism does not advocate for the prioritization of Jewish citizens over Arab citizens of Israel or the separation of the two groups, but rather, strives for the Jewish people to have the basic right to coexist in peace.

Zionism is a movement dedicated to giving my family and millions of others the basic right of self determination. It catalyzed the rebirth of the Jewish people from the ashes of the Holocaust, advocated for people like my grandparents who were trapped in the Soviet Union, and gave my family a home in Israel where they were treated as full citizens for the first time. To us, Israel symbolizes all that was lost and found, cried over and celebrated, saved and destroyed across the precarious journey of the Jewish people until their return home and the ultimate fulfillment of the Zionist dream. If you support the right of families like mine to control their own futures, you’re already a Zionist.

Jews from all over the world have returned to live in the State of Israel

Jews from all over the world have returned to live in the State of Israel

This semester, Texans for Israel tabled on the West Mall to raise awareness for what Zionism means and why it is important to so many members of the UT community. We received an outpouring of support from the student body and were able to have many spirited discussions with students interested in learning about what Zionism means and the importance of self-determination. However, our campaign was unfortunately met with aggressive protests and calls for “Zionists off our campus” and “racists off our campus” in addition to the traditional tactics used by anti-Israel campus groups. Although we have no problem with spirited discourse, what we will not tolerate is having our students labeled racists, told they are not welcome on campus because of a differing belief, or cursed at and made to fear for their safety for voicing their opinions on our diverse campus. Nonetheless, we were excited to have these opportunities to openly discuss Zionism, self-determination, and the necessity for both in a world in which injustices ranging from racism to anti-Semitism sadly persist.

Contributed by Eliav Terk, CAMERA Fellow at University of Texas, Austin

Sudanese Human Rights Activist Denounces BDS

December 26, 2016

Hannah Pomerantz, CAMERA Fellow

Hannah Pomerantz, CAMERA Fellow

Last week, Mohamed Abubakr, a Sudanese human rights activist, came to speak at Case Western Reserve University as sponsored by Cleveland Hillel, Hillel International, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, CAMERA and several other organizations. Despite growing up under the rigid autocracy of Islamic Sudan, Abubakr has been fighting for women’s rights, LGBT rights and democracy since he was a child.

As a child, he was both shocked and disappointed to learn that the outside world did not treat people with the level of respect and decency that his parents had taught him was appropriate. By the time he was in high school, he helped to found SudanAid, which helps protect children and other at-risk groups. He continued this good work by founding the Of Noor Foundation to educate and empower children, especially girls who are at risk of domestic violence.

Mohammed Abubakr speaking during his tour

Mohammed Abubakr speaking during his talk

Abubakr first encountered antisemitism and anti-Israel campaigning during his college experience at The American University in Cairo. Despite a lot of antisemitic, anti-Israel rhetoric suggesting that Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian students would not be able to get along, he noticed that while many of the Jewish students on the campus were friends with other Jews, they were also friends with Palestinians. He was inspired by the instances of constructive dialogue that he witnessed and wanted to contribute by facilitating dialogue on a larger scale.

After graduating, he joined the YaLa Young Leaders Middle East peace movement in 2011. As a part of YaLa, Abubakr brings Israeli and Palestinian young people, as well as those from other Arab nations, together to talk about the conflicts present within the region. During his talk, he discussed that one of the most important facts that everyone should acknowledge when discussing the Middle East, Israel and territories under Palestinian control in particular, is the complexity of the issues and the number of players involved. He was adamant that no solution could be found without support from the surrounding nations for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Abubakr with students after the talk

Abubakr with students after the talk

One of the aspects of the Western discourse on Israeli-Palestinian conflict that frustrated Abubakr the most was the idea of “boycott, divestment, sanction” (BDS) which calls for Western institutions to pressure Israel economically until it falls apart. He described BDS as a campaign by “a bunch of elitist kids and their European friends telling us how to be good Palestinians.” The economic impact of BDS has been shown to be much worse for Palestinians than it has for Israelis. When the boycotts and sanctions called for by proponents of the BDS movement are put in place, Palestinians are the first to lose their jobs, and without a source of income they are put at a severe disadvantage. Despite media coverage that says otherwise, Abubakr has been told by his Palestinian friends that the BDS movement is not popular with the majority of the Palestinian population and that in order to agree with BDS, “You have to be really ignorant of the conflict and its complexities.”

Abubakr has done so much in his life to increase open dialogue and inspire people to be better. Hopefully, CWRU’s campus can add to his work and make his job a little bit easier.

Contributed by Hannah Pomerantz, CAMERA Fellow at Case Western Reserve University.

Lebanese, Christian, Gay — and Fully Israeli

December 23, 2016

Jonathan Elkhoury represents multiple minority groups in Israel. He told his life story to a rapt group of students at the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation on Dec. 1. His father fought for the South Lebanese Army against the Palestine Liberation Organization and fled to Israel when the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000. His family joined his father in 2001, when Elkhoury was 9, after a harrowing journey from Lebanon to Israel via Cyprus.

Settling in Haifa, the family was rejected by the local Arab community and its schools as traitors. Elkhoury, who spoke both Arabic and English, was accepted only by the Jewish schools, where teachers took turns teaching him Hebrew. Although he was embraced by the Jewish community, his first years in Israel coincided with the second intifada, making for a difficult and scary transition.

Receiving his Israeli ID card in 2006 was a turning point for Elkhoury. The high school student realized that “this is my home now.” The family received “a big hug” from the Israeli society, he says, as other Jewish families took them on tours around the country.

Jonathan Elkhoury.

Jonathan Elkhoury.

Elkhoury explained that as a Lebanese Christian, he is not Arab. Rather, his family can be traced back 15 generations in Lebanon, before the Muslims swept through the Middle East. His ethnic group traces its heritage to the early Christians who spoke Aramaic, not Arabic, which solidified his growing awareness of his identity. He points out that his roots are Phoenician, not Arab Muslim, and that his ethnic group is the original indigenous people of Syria, Lebanon and parts of Israel.

Receiving his IDF card, Elkhoury felt he could contribute in a meaningful way apart from entering the army. He chose national service, working in a hospital in Haifa. Although the IDF has had gay officers since 1999, he was also afraid to join the army as a young gay man.

With a Catholic mother and a Greek Orthodox father, Elkhoury struggled with his sexuality. Leaving home for three years to attend Western Galilee College in Acre  afforded him the freedom to explore life, and gave his conservative family time to process his living as a gay man. Nevertheless, the Arab community as well as his Christian circle doesn’t talk about homosexuality, which is considered taboo. “It was like my whole family went into the closet with me,” he says. At this point, he feels fortunate there’s little written in Hebrew about his work in the gay community that his family could see.

Elkhoury is now a spokesman for the Christian Empowerment Council, founded by Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest. The Council works for greater recognition by all Christians of the importance to participate in Israeli society. The Council’s mission is to encourage all Christians to contribute and be part of Israeli society, as well as to educate Christians worldwide about life in Israel. Naddaf was motivated by the growing ethnic cleansing and violence toward Christians in the Middle East, ushered in by the Arab Spring. Under Naddaf’s leadership the number of volunteers for the Israeli Army has increased from 35 to 150.

Tucson was Elkhoury’s final talk on a publicized tour of 19 college campuses in the United States, sponsored by CAMERA – Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Back in Israel, he has been active in the Israeli Gay Youth, which organizes activities for gay Jewish and Muslim youth, in private environments. However, Elkhoury and the IGY are becoming more visible, as they build an LGBTQ space in Haifa to serve as an after-school youth center.

Today, Elkhoury also has his own food show on Israeli television to demonstrate the multi-cultural nature of Israeli society. He is proud that in 2014, the Israeli government recognized Aramaic Christians as a separate ethnic group from Arab Christians. His message is one of unity in diversity. “Israel is not an apartheid society,” he says. “I would like to go back to Lebanon to visit my family, but I live in Israel and that is where I need to make my contribution.”

Contributed by Ed Leven.

This article was originally published in the Arizona Jewish Post.

CAMERA Fellows In Focus: Jason Storch

December 22, 2016

The CAMERA Fellowship program supports student leaders in developing and strengthening their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year underway, InFocus is giving you an inside look into the lives of the 2016-17 CAMERA Fellows who are working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus.

CAMERA Fellow Jason Storch.

CAMERA Fellow Jason Storch.

Meet Jason Storch.

Currently a junior pre-med student at Vassar College, Jason studies Chemistry, Russian Studies, and History. He hopes to one day be a cardiovascular surgeon. Very focused on his studies, Jason always makes time to advocate for Israel in his personal life as well as on campus. In the past, he has written on Israel-related topics in the Times of Israel as well as the Jewish Daily Forward.  He is very excited to be a CAMERA Fellow and promote a positive and accurate view of Israel on his campus.

A New Way To Peace

December 21, 2016

When we think of how peace will be achieved in Israel, we tend to think of negotiations, diplomacy and other political methods. However, Dr. Shahar Sadeh, who is currently a visiting scholar at NYU, brings a different perspective to the table, and focuses on how shared environmental initiatives can lead to peace, both in general, and specifically in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. On November 30th, Dr. Shahar Sadeh spoke about her work at an event held by CAMERA-supported group Judges for Israel at Brandeis University.

Event poster for Dr. Sadeh`s lecture

Event poster for Dr. Sadeh`s lecture

One of the ideas Dr. Sadeh has worked on is the concept of “peace parks” – protected natural areas, in which multiple governments work together to protect natural life there. These peace parks can achieve multiple goals – they can lead to greater co-operation between governments, they lead to greater of engagement between local communities on different sides of a conflict, and they also have additional side benefits such as bringing in money from added tourism. There are over one hundred peace parks in the world today, and Dr. Sadeh is looking to bring the concept to the Middle East.

Dr Sadeh is an academic scholar in the field of Environmental Peacekeeping, but has also been involved as a practitioner in the field. In 2007, she founded the Van Leer Institute`s “Jerusalem Forum on Environment and Regional Sustainability” which focused on enhancing co-operation between Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian scientists, governments and NGO`s. In the course of her talk at Judges for Israel, Dr Sadeh talked both about her academic research, as well as her practical work in the field.

The event wrapped up an exciting November at Brandeis, with many events being hosted by Judges for Israel; On November 1st, Jonathan Elkhoury, a Lebanese refugee in Israel spoke about his perspective on minority rights in Israel. On November 3rd, there was a screening of “Mekonen: Journey of an African Jew” as part of its national opening tour. All the above events were sponsored by CAMERA.

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

 

Israel’s Water Solution for the Middle East

December 20, 2016

CAMERA Fellow Ben Suster.

CAMERA Fellow Ben Suster.

We are undeniably blessed to live in a first-world nation like the United States and it’s not because of the copious amounts of WiFi hotspots and unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden. Nor is it because of our incomparable military and massive economy. We are the most fortunate population of people to ever exist because of our access to the most important entity life has ever known; water.

It is absolutely intolerable that 660 million people – or 1 in 10 – live without access to clean water in the 21st century. What’s more outrageous is that this number may jump in the coming years with water supplies across the world being in severe jeopardy of vanishing. From Central Africa to Flint, access to water is a basic human right.

However, the sole region that can least afford such an overwhelming crisis is next in line to face one. The Middle East is on the verge of an apocalyptic situation and its only hope is the sole nation in the region not facing acute water stress and whose existence is perpetually denied. After years of continuous conflict, Israel and the Arab nations have the potential to build organic relationships. The nations of the Middle East must put their irrational differences aside and come to grips with the outlook of their region.

With willpower being their greatest resource, the Jewish people transformed a desolate desert into a world-power of thriving agriculture and sprawling cities. Green technology and strong environmental policies propelled the desert state to become one of the greenest nations on the planet. Israel is the global leader in water recycling. Israel recycles 86% of its water with Spain coming in at a distant second at 19%. Furthermore, Israel remarkably has a surplus of water and this is large part due to Israel’s emphasis on reverse-osmosis desalination. 40% of Israelis rely on desalination techniques for clean water and this number may jump to 70% by 2050.  Such an unorthodox method to sustain life did not arise from a situation of convenience.

The Middle East endured a horrific drought in 2008 and Israel was out of options. With her freshwater sources reaching the “black line,” Israel was forced to turn the more saltwater ocean for a unconventional water supply. Affordable water quotas were enacted on civilians and farmers alike and municipalities were forced to repair their pipe systems. Today, Israel generates 55% of its domestic water supply from desalination based techniques and it’s leaving the Israeli government scrambling to find an answer for their water surplus; undoubtedly an incredible problem to have.

Sorek Desalination Plant

Sorek Desalination Plant

The state of California has been victim to a historic drought that has brought about water conservation initiatives and legislative amendments; yet California still needs a miracle for any chance of a turnaround. Enter Israel. With the state of California using 80% of its water on agriculture, Israel is advising on how to exploit crops that require little water and how to best implement drip-water irrigation. Additionally, the US is being introduced to Israeli companies in order to promote collaboration on a series of industrial water technology projects. According to a UCLA study published last week, It will take four years for the Sierra Nevada snow pack, one of California’s main sources of water, to recover from the past six years of drought according to a UCLA study. By now, it should be abundantly clear that California needs as much help from Israel as it can get.

The Middle East has consistently been host for a series of brutal transitions. From suffocating dictatorships to an Arab Spring, and then to the Islamic Winter we bear witness to today, there are a variety of reasons to explain for the current deplorable status of the Middle East. Although the extent at which remains to be seen, arid environmental conditions in the Middle East undoubtedly influenced a notable population towards acts of violent desperation.

The devastating Syrian Civil War bears no end within reach and the complete eradication of the Islamic State can hardly be guaranteed. Iran’s expanding sphere of militarized-Shiite influence continues to terrorize and it can be assumed it will further be met by Saudi Arabia’s militarized-Sunni response. The combined hundreds of thousands of innocents murdered in Iran’s proxy wars and Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has been met with a deafening silence. Furthermore, after witnessing the fragility of the Syrian state, we must not make the mistake of assuming such turnover can’t occur in the perceived “stable” nations of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and just about everywhere else in the Middle East. Israel’s neighbors face heavy obstacles before the region has any chance of finding stability. While individual terrorists and groups can be physically removed, ideologies can only be changed through education and a quality of life these Arab nations have never seen before.

Drought in Syria has had an impact on the Syrian Civil War.

Drought in Syria has had an impact on the Syrian Civil War.

Now more than ever, the Middle East cannot afford to fall into a state of irreversible chaos due to the potential depletion of water supplies. The loss of life due to dehydration and brutal conflict for water resources would be catastrophic. Now is the time for water diplomacy and for a push of a normalization of ties with Israel. Water exports and conservation technology can be on the table in negotiations for peace and normalization. In a similar fashion to past land-for-peace deals, Israel is capable of basing peace agreements on a need for water that make or break civilizations. Time is of the utmost essence and there is absolutely no excuse for nations continuing to reject Israel’s continuously outstretched hand for peace. If the states of the Middle East cannot overcome their differences, we will be forced to wonder how we left such a world for the future generations.

Contributed by Ben Suster, outgoing president of Knights for Israel and CAMERA Fellow at University of Central Florida.

Republished at Heritage Florida Jewish News

Do You Remember When Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords Was Shot?

December 19, 2016

CAMERA Fellow Leora Eisenberg.

CAMERA Fellow Leora Eisenberg.

It was a few years ago; I remember the commotion and stress. People were glued to their screens and social media, scanning CNN and NPR’s Twitter feeds for any insight or information on her current status. Several news outlets quickly jumped to be the first to say that she had been killed; a few minutes later, they revealed instead that there were conflicting reports on her condition. Eventually, they all issued corrections stating that Representative Giffords was in critical condition; she was, however, alive. News sources rushed to be the first to write these headlines, knowing we would be hungry to consume it, but not question it.

On Dec. 1, the Editor-In-Chief of “the Jerusalem Post,” Yaakov Katz, came to speak to students about media accuracy — and not even just in the context of Israeli-Palestinian affairs. He laid out example after example of cases where the media sacrificed the accuracy and validity of a story in order to be the first to print it. Naturally, in each case, the media issued a correction, as in the case of Rep. Giffords, but the media hasn’t changed its habits since.

When we scan our Facebook feeds for news, we rarely check the content of an article; instead, we scan the (probably sensationalist, clickbait-y) headline. In order to get the most views, it is in the best interest of a news outlet to be the first to break the news, and thus attract the attention of readers who are interested in the news, but have neither the time nor the resources to check the facts behind the article.

Take Obamacare, for example; multiple news sources tweeted that the Supreme Court had repealed it, but soon thereafter they issued corrections to say that, in fact, it hadn’t been repealed. Take the murder of U.S. army veteran Taylor Force earlier this year. He had come with a Vanderbilt University tour group, but was tragically stabbed to death in a terror attack (that wounded ten others) while in Tel Aviv. USA Today reported his death as “American dies in Israel stabbing attack.” This headline belies the potential political motive behind Force’s murder, changes murder to “death,” and gives the reader little background on the full story.

gabby

Representative Gabby Giffords.

Take any news story that’s been corrected after a misleading version has already been written. Katz put it best when he said, “The narrative has already been set, and the audience has already consumed it.”

Thus, it is our duty as the audience to question the news. I’m not arguing that we should disregard everything that the “mainstream media” writes — not at all. I’m also not saying that we should only read articles from smaller news outlets. I am suggesting, rather, that we take our articles with a grain of salt and ask ourselves when an article was written, what its sources are, and whether we are reading it for the headline or its content.

We naturally remember few of the corrections and retractions. That doesn’t mean that what they represent is unimportant. They represent accountability and accuracy in the media. There are organizations, like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for example, that regularly call out misinformation and bring people’s attention to the facts. But we can’t rely just on them. If we, like the media, strive for accuracy, we should ask for fewer corrections and, instead, for more truth in the articles themselves.

Originally published in The Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper of Princeton University.

Contributed by Leora Eisenberg, CAMERA Fellow at Princeton University.