Israel’s fresh start and the media’s missed opportunity

No sovereign nation should need to consult with terrorists about whether they can hold a parade in its own capital city.

Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day, May 9, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day, May 9, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Mark Goldfeder
Mark Goldfeder

Israel managed to finally hold its Jerusalem Day flag parade on June 15, despite continued threats from the terrorist group Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett passed his first test as head of the country, and the new national unity government held together despite some intense internal disagreement. Unfortunately, many major media organizations failed their first test with regard to how they intend to cover this new administration, missing the chance to prove their objectivity in what should have been an easy situation on which to report.

The Jerusalem Day flag parade is an annual event celebrating the anniversary of the reunification of the city after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. It started in 1968 and since then it has become a staple of the celebration and festivities. This year, the original May 10 event was canceled due to rocket fire from Hamas. The parade was then rescheduled multiple times for security purposes, with officials even changing the route in an effort to avoid further angering Hamas, before the final date for the modified and scaled-down version was confirmed for this past Tuesday.

But there is no negotiating with terrorists. Despite the various concessions, last Sunday night, just as the new Israeli government was being sworn in, Hamas once again called for a violent “Day of Rage,” complete with the launch of rockets and incendiary devices, if the parade went forward as planned. Faced with the decision on how to respond, Bennett unquestionably made the right call in allowing it to happen, because anything else would have set an unbearable new precedent.

No sovereign nation should need to consult with terrorists about whether a parade can be held in its own capital city. That should not be a controversial statement at all, but somehow when it comes to Israel it is, and the problem runs much deeper than Hamas.

In the lead-up to the parade, major media outlets called all would-be marchers “ultranationalists,” while others stuck with the equally pejorative “far-right” designation. The parade itself was referred to as “inflammatory,” “contentious” and “provocative.”

The United States unequivocally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Calling it “incitement” for Israeli citizens to have a parade in their own capital is no different than vilifying the people of Washington, D.C., for hosting their annual Independence Day march. It also feeds into the false narrative of Israel as occupier instead of the demonstrable historical and legal truth of the Jewish people as indigenous to the land.

But it is a bridge even farther to use the argument that an event might be divisive as an excuse to justify violence and create a false moral equivalence between citizens marching in a parade and a terrorist regime threatening to kill innocent people, then attempting to make good on that threat. Such coverage should be utterly shocking, but unfortunately, in the case of Israel, it isn’t, and that is shameful.

This time could have been different.

For the last several years former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the media and left-wing politicians’ favorite international punching bag; everything he did was labeled either racist, undemocratic or authoritarian in nature, and the anti-Israel pundits conveniently couched their uniquely harsh criticism of the Jewish state behind an open hatred for its leader. But Netanyahu is gone now, and the makeup of the new Israeli government itself reveals just how laughable it is to call Israel an apartheid state.

The ranks of the new Israeli ministers include Jews, Druze and Muslims, along with multiple immigrants from Ethiopia, Morocco and the former Soviet Union. The kingmaker of the governing coalition was none other than Mansour Abbas, the head of the Islamist Ra’am Party. It was this national unity government, and not Netanyahu, that gave the final go-ahead for the flag parade.

This week could have been a fresh start for those who claim they are not really anti-Israel. This time there was no civil court case in Sheikh Jarrah to drum up outrage, no right-wing government to castigate. Just a designated terrorist organization threatening a sovereign democratic country over holding a parade in its own capital city. But somehow, the media’s refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy remained. Even in the aftermath of the event, multiple media outlets that have been known to call actually violent protests “mostly peaceful” when it suits their agendas ran stories on a tiny fringe group that shouted racist things, and that were immediately condemned by Israeli officials as if they were somehow a representative group.

What the first week of the Bennett administration has taught us is that the media’s Netanyahu charade was just that: It was never really about the leader of Likud, or his right-wing coalition, just as Hamas’s threats were never really about a flag parade. To be clear (because Hamas is very clear in their charter) it was also never really just about Jerusalem. Neither Hamas nor the prominent news outlets serving as their unofficial mouthpiece ever bother mentioning the multiple deals Israel has agreed to over the years that would have divided the city while giving the Palestinians a state.

The reason is that when push comes to shove, no matter who is sitting in the prime minister’s chair, or who is handling the negotiations, no Israeli government, no Israeli offer, and no Israeli rights will ever be enough to satisfy those in the region—or in the media—who simply don’t want the State of Israel to exist. People will continue to see what they want to see and report what they feel should be reported, even if they need to twist the truth to make the spin work.

But now that the Bibi bogeyman is gone, it is getting even harder to deny that it was never really “all about the Benjamins.”

Dr. Mark Goldfeder is the director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.

This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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