When Hamas organized a “March of Return” on March 30, like the producers of a theatrical production, leaders of the terrorist group and their foreign enablers waited to see the returns from their investment and how it would fare with the critics. Given the deaths of as many 17 Palestinians and the willingness of the foreign press to blast Israel for defending its border, they had to be satisfied with both.
Though the second iteration of the march this past Friday yielded smaller crowds and fewer casualties, Hamas appeared to be equally pleased with the sequel. The reason was in large measure due to the uncritical coverage their efforts generated from news organizations such as The New York Times, which downplayed or even refused to mention the point of the “return” or to accept the Palestinians’ claims that what they were doing was an example of a successful nonviolent protest in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to fight segregation in the United States.
That was the conceit of a piece labeled “news analysis” that appeared in the Times Sunday edition, giving the march a rave review in which it lauded participants for their “enthusiasm.” Yet the willingness of the paper to embrace the King analogy calls into question more than the veracity of its reporting. King’s legacy was very much in the news this past week as the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights leader’s murder. However, if his achievements are to be compared to a march devoted to fighting a cause he supported— Zionism—and to depict an effort that was inherently violent as nonviolent, then we are forced to ask how the Times and other outlets that echoed this theme define human rights or nonviolence.
The Palestinian narrative about the marches being nonviolent that the Times embraced was contradicted even by its own reporting. The Times’s accounts of both the March 30 and April 6 events largely ignored what “return” means in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They also treated videos of the “demonstrators” shooting and hurling Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops as a matter of dispute, even though the evidence from both sides of the fence indicated that what was going on was hardly peaceful.
Their stories spoke of demonstrators hurling rocks at the Israelis and attempting to physically dismantle the barrier that marks not merely the Jewish state’s security boundary, but an international border. The Times also noted that many of those who were killed were Hamas fighters, not civilians.
That makes an analysis whose centerpiece is a claim that the “return” marches are a replay of 1965 in Selma all the more bizarre.
The Selma to Montgomery Marches in Alabama were a key moment in the history of the civil-rights movement—one that illustrated the brutality of the segregated South while being broadcast live on television. In Selma, a group of peaceful protesters attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma were savagely attacked by white police officers. The civil-rights protestors were assaulted with fire hoses and clubs. Hundreds of people, including Dr. King, were dragged off to jail.
The contrast with events in Gaza couldn’t be greater.
The goal of the Gaza march was itself not peaceful. The “return” theme of the event makes clear that the purpose was to perpetuate the conflict with Israel. “Return” is widely understood by both sides to be synonymous with the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. The Gaza demonstrators never speak of wanting equality with Israelis; they want Israel to disappear.
The comparison also breaks down when considering that, despite the cheering for the march from the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights—an anti-Zionist group that advocates economic warfare against the Jewish state, which was quoted often in the Times’ analysis—the marches were organized by Hamas terrorists, not independent groups seeking equal rights for Arabs. Hamas is the government in Gaza with unlimited power to imprison, intimidate or otherwise make miserable anyone who opposes its aims or resists its efforts to stage incidents with Israel.
The Selma marchers were not serving at the behest of an armed group using them as human shields. In Gaza, Hamas’s efforts were geared towards provoking Israeli troops defending its border to fire on mobs seeking to breach the fence that protects civilians, who have been subjected to terror attacks from the air and tunnels aimed at facilitating murder and kidnapping raids.
Nor did the Selma marchers pelt the police with lethal rocks—let alone firebombs or rifle fire from active terrorists, as was the case in Gaza.
The verdict of history on Selma is clear. When those seeking the same rights granted to white American citizens answered racist violence with peaceful demonstrations, they illustrated the injustice they were seeking to overturn. Dr. King’s cause was just, and his methods were both peaceful and democratic.
The same cannot be said for Hamas’s Gaza show. Its cause is to overthrow Zionism. Dr. King denounced the intersectional myth that any Third World “colored” cause is inherently impartial. He supported both Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. When confronted by someone who condemned Zionism, he answered: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.” Nor would he have recognized an event staged by an armed terror group in which Molotov cocktails and rocks—and, in some instances, guns—would be used as “nonviolent.”
To link the Gaza marches to Dr. King or the civil-rights movement is not merely ahistorical. It sullies the memory of the sacrifice of genuine nonviolent protesters who wanted to fulfill the promise of American freedom, rather than to extinguish the sole democracy in the Middle East. It also falsely links Dr. King’s peaceful creed to a noxious form of anti-Semitism—something he would have deplored.
To do so sullies the name of Dr. Martin Luther King. The Selma-Gaza comparison is a classic big lie that honest journalists ought to debunk and not bolster. Anything else, like what appeared in the Times, discredits itself, not Israel.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.