This 2024 - Let's Win the Battle of Headlines

AP pushes false narrative on Texas synagogue attack

In clinging to a narrative rejecting anti-Semitism as a motive for attacking Jewish worshippers, the outlet not only misinforms but also fuels an already-toxic environment.

Police at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, during the taking of hostages, Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: News 360 TV via Wikimedia Commons.
Police at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, during the taking of hostages, Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: News 360 TV via Wikimedia Commons.
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

In its coverage of Saturday’s hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, The Associated Press has advanced, intentionally or not, the absurdly false narrative that the terror attack was not connected to the Jewish community.

The leading news agency has completely ignored statements by the Anti-Defamation League, the largest and most established American organization combatting anti-Semitism, along with remarks by President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other senior U.S. and British officials, all indicating that the assault on Jews gathered for prayer in a synagogue on their holy day, was, unsurprisingly, anti-Semitic.

Meanwhile, AP has repeatedly highlighted an FBI official’s poorly-worded statement pointing to the hostage-taker’s efforts to obtain the release of Pakistani terrorist Aafia Siddiqui while seemingly rejecting anti-Semitism as a motive—as if the former factor necessarily negated the latter.

Thus, in yesterday’s article, “Texas rabbi: Captor grew belligerent late in standoff reports,” Jake Bleiberg and Eric Tucker report:

“FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community. It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Saddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.

“Michael Finfer, the president of the congregation, said in a statement ‘there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation.'”

Indeed, DeSarno’s apparent denial of an anti-Semitic motive in an attack on a synagogue to force the release of a terrorist with a history of vitriolic anti-Semitism has been an immutable fixture in AP’s coverage since the incident.

Thus, Sunday’s article reported (“Hostages safe after Texas synagogue standoff; captor dead”): “DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community and there was no immediate indication that the man had was part of any broader plan, but DeSarno said the agency’s investigation ‘will have global reach.’ ”

The original headline for this article was particularly egregious and ignited a firestorm of rebuke. It read: “Hostage-taker was not focused on Jewish community, FBI says.” Though AP later amended the headline, which no longer appears on its site or on the news database Lexis-Nexis, versions with the original wording are still available at secondary news outlets.

Even as the FBI later backtracked and finally affirmed the obvious—that the synagogue hostage-taking incident is directly connected to the Jewish community—the news agency used the occasion to repeat DeSarno’s earlier attempt to disassociate the attack from anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, unlike AP, which ignored Biden’s calls to renew the fight against anti-Semitism in the wake of the Texas synagogue attack, other news agencies highlighted the president’s remarks. Agence France Presse reported on Monday and Sunday that “the Jewish community and Biden renewed calls to fight anti-Semitism.” AFP added:

“Britain’s foreign minister Liz Truss likewise Sunday condemned the hostage-taking as an ‘act of terrorism and anti-Semitism.‘ … The siege had sparked an outpouring of concern from Jewish organizations. … Biden pledged to ‘stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.'”

An AFP article on Monday included: “Beth Israel congregation member Ellen Smith described the situation as ‘shocking and horrifying’ in a CNN interview. But she said it was ‘not shocking’ the crisis occurred in a Jewish community. ‘Cases of anti-Semitism have risen lately, but since Jews were first walking the Earth, we have been persecuted,’ she said.”

United Press International, for its part, reported statements by the Texas attorney general and by Harris tying the attack to anti-Semitism: “While we will learn more about the hostage taker’s motivation, we know this: what happened yesterday at Congregation Beth Israel is a reminder that we must speak up and combat anti-Semitism and hate wherever it exists,” Harris said. “Everyone has a right to pray, work, study and spend time with loved ones not as the other, but as us.

ADL is out, CAIR is in

Another striking feature of AP’s coverage in recent days is that while the news agency has not once mentioned the Anti-Defamation League, it has repeatedly given voice to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror-finance case in U.S. history. With a history of Hamas ties, and a vast record of anti-Semitism, CAIR has unsurprisingly campaigned in recent months on behalf of Siddiqui, the Pakistani terrorist whose release captor Malik Faisal Akram sought. Dubbed “Lady Al-Qaeda,” Siddiqui was found with plans for chemical attacks on New York landmarks and called for DNA testing of all jurors in her case to ensure they weren’t Jewish.

Zahra Billoo, until very recently CAIR’s San Francisco director, recently blamed synagogues just like Congregation Bnai Israel of Colleyville for a host of world evils.

It appears AP took Billoo’s advice to heart, granting the anti-Semitism-peddling CAIR the opportunity in at least five separate articles to carry out damage control while completely shunning groups like the ADL and Secure Community Network, which counter and protect against anti-Semitism. (“Texas rabbi: Captor grew ‘belligerent’ late in standoff,” “Texas rabbi: security training paid off in hostage standoff,” “A closer look at the case of Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in Texas,” “Hostages safe after Texas synagogue standoff; captor dead,” “Ranting man takes hostages at Texas synagogue”).

Retired federal prosecutor Henry Kopel argues in his recently released book, “War on Hate: How to Stop Genocide, Fight Terrorism, and Defend Freedom,” that “what is needed above all [to fight terror] going forward is a simple, empirical insistence on truth and accuracy: rather than bending facts to fit some preferred theory, determine and follow the facts wherever they lead.”

In clinging to the false narrative rejecting anti-Semitism as a motive for attacking Jewish worshippers, and in insisting on propping up the purveyors of anti-Semitism while spurning the whistleblowers against anti-Semitism, AP not only misinforms but also fuels a toxic environment enabling the next attack on a Jewish congregation.

Update: The AP announced on Jan. 18 the deletion of an earlier tweet quoting the FBI saying the hostage taker’s demands were about an issue not connected to the Jewish community.

Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Israel is at war - Support JNS

JNS is combating the barrage of misinformation with factual reporting. We depend on your support.

Support JNS
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates