When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When he’s a Palestinian Arab, of course.
In any other part of the world, under any other circumstances, somebody who, for nationalistic reasons, fires a submachine gun into a crowd of civilians is recognized as a terrorist.
But when Fadi Abu Shkhaydam opened fire with a submachine gun into a group of Jewish civilians in Jerusalem earlier this month, murdering tour guide Eliyahu (“Eli”) Kay and wounding four others, the word “terrorist” was nowhere to be found.
The opening sentence of The New York Times article about the attack read: “A Palestinian teacher shot dead an Israeli tour guide … .” As if his profession is relevant; as if, hey, that’s what teachers normally do.
But other characterizations of the murderer by the news media and various advocacy groups were not much better.
J Street’s press release called Shkhaydam “a Palestinian gunman.”
The Guardian called him “a Hamas militant.”
On National Public Radio, he was “a Palestinian assailant.”
In The Washington Post, he was just “a Palestinian man.”
We all get aggravated by the relentlessly pro-Palestinian bias of much of the international news media. We’ve all become accustomed to gritting our teeth as we open our morning newspaper or click on the day’s headlines. My point about the way Shkhaydam was described is not to complain about media bias per se. That’s like complaining about death and taxes. That’s how inevitable it has become.
Instead, I’m raising the issue because we can learn something by taking a closer look at this episode. Realizing why the pro-Arab side chooses such terminology is important to understanding how to effectively combat it.
The fact that so many media outlets and advocacy groups employ essentially the same language is not evidence of a conspiracy. It’s evidence of a mindset—the mindset of partisans who want to present a certain perspective, which they hope will influence public opinion.
The Guardian, J Street and the others are passionate supporters of the Palestinian Arab cause. And the word “terrorist” is harmful to that cause. A “terrorist” is obviously a bad person, doing a bad thing. The word reveals the true, horrible nature of the killers. That’s why terrorists and their apologists do everything they can to keep the word “terrorist” out of the conversation.
“Gunman” is neutral. It’s a man with a gun. Could be a robber.
“Assailant” is neutral, too. Somebody is assailing someone or something. You can’t tell whether it’s justified or unjustified.
“Militant” indicates that violence is involved, but it’s still essentially neutral. The word itself doesn’t tell you whether the violence is aggression or self-defense.
Calling a murderer just “a man,” or worse, “a teacher,” is so misleading that it almost gives away the fact that the writer is engaged in a cover-up of the killer’s nature.
Now, I’m not saying that J Street or National Public Radio support Palestinian machine-gun attacks on Jewish civilians. What I’m saying is that they choose their words very carefully, and they consciously chose descriptions of Shkhaydam that avoided acknowledging he is a Palestinian Arab terrorist.
And they did it for a clear and obvious reason: because telling the truth, by using truthful words, would undermine the Palestinian Arab cause.
So, when we read about Palestinian Arab terrorists and we notice how they are described, let’s try to keep in mind that it’s not by accident. They are being described that way for a reason—to whitewash the killer’s image, in order to whitewash the killer’s cause.
Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terrorism.”