Though most New York Times readers would not likely have realized it, the dramatic, front-page, full-color photo collage of children killed in the recent Hamas-Israel war was a crudely repackaged version of a classic blood libel against the Jewish people. 

On May 28, after Israel ceased its defensive operations to stop Hamas rocket fire and ensure security for Israel’s citizens, The New York Times plastered on its front page a collage of 67 faces of children killed in the conflict, under the title, “They Were Only Children.”

A caption under each photo in the associated article described how each child died. The captions under 64 of the children perversely named Israel as the cause of death. The truth, of course, is quite the contrary. 

Gaza’s terrorist-designated Hamas dictatorship, which started the fighting unprovoked by attacking Israeli citizens with thousands of rockets, determined the pace and intensity of the war, as well as the targets of Israeli retaliation.

While the Times insinuated that Israel chose to kill these children—and that Israel’s actions were unjustified at best and malicious at worst—in fact, every one of those 67 children died at Hamas’s hands.

Ever since the Middle Ages, Jews and Jewish communities around the world have been regularly accused of killing innocent non-Jewish children, in bloodlust or in the service of fantastical religious services. Over hundreds of years, such false accusations of murder have come to be known as “blood libel.”

Unfortunately, these numerous blood libels—none of which were backed by a shred of evidence—resulted in oppression, mass murder and expulsion of Jews in various countries in Europe and the Middle East. 

Such blood libels were used by the Nazis as propaganda for the genocide of the Jewish people. Even today, there are still many who hold this bizarre obsession with Jews lusting after the blood of non-Jewish children. According to historian Magda Teter, there are many websites and social media pages trumpeting these dangerous lies.

Despite the Times’ almost daily criticism of the Jewish state—and its decades-long tradition of siding with Israel’s enemies—the front-page photo collage reinvigorated an anti-Semitic canard, and clearly crossed a line. 

The Times’ editors no doubt justified this editorial attack on the morality of Israel and the Jewish people with the excuse that it “puts a human face on the conflict.”

Fair-minded people need to ask why, of all the bloody conflicts raging around the world, only the operation involving self-defense for the national homeland of the Jewish people was singled out for this graphically disturbing treatment. 

Hundreds of thousands of people die in violent conflict and war around the world every year—19,444 died in Afghanistan and 19,044 in Yemen in 2020, to say nothing of tens of thousands more in Syria, Somalia and Iraq. Not one of these conflicts was deserving of a front-page photo collage in the Times

Moreover, the Times collage project deceptively hid the context of the children’s deaths. It did not mention the reason these children died.

According to HonestReporting, the context was buried: “Just minutes after the war between Israel and Hamas broke out, a 5-year-old boy named Baraa al-Gharabli was killed in Jabaliya, Gaza,” the opening sentence of “They Were Only Children” dramatically asserts. Only 20 paragraphs later do readers find out that al-Gharabli’s tragic death “may have been” caused by a Hamas rocket that fell short.  

Israel Defense Forces’ radar images show that some 15 percent of all rockets launched by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fell inside Gaza, unquestionably killing and injuring many Palestinians. Initial research indicates that failed Palestinian rocket launches killed at least nine of the children pictured in the Times piece. Still, the Times absolves Hamas of the responsibility for their deaths.

Furthermore, in an embarrassment to those who put the collage together, some of the photos were of children alive and well, while others were of those who Hamas claimed as members, even if they were only 17 years old. One of them, Khaled Qanou, was a member of the Mujahideen Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement. This vital information was not mentioned anywhere in the Times’ disingenuous diatribe. 

Finally, the images provide no clarification as to the remarkably low ratio of civilian deaths in Israel’s wars with Hamas. Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, notes that a United Nations study showed “that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.” 

Kamp states that this ratio was less than 1:1 and compared it favorably to the estimated ratios of NATO operations in Afghanistan (3:1), western campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo (believed to be 4:1), and the conflicts in Chechnya and Serbia (much higher than 4:1). 

Kemp argues that the low ratio was achieved through unprecedented measures taken by the IDF to minimize civilian casualties, including warnings to the population via telephone calls, radio broadcasts and leaflets, as well as granting pilots the discretion to abort a strike if they perceived too great a risk of civilian casualties. 

He also states that the civilian casualties that did occur could be seen in light of Hamas’s tactical use of Gazan civilians “as human shields, to hide behind, to stand between Israeli forces and their own fighters,” and strategic exploitation of their deaths in the media.

None of this was mentioned on the New York Times front page. It was a deliberate attempt to gain sympathy for the Palestinians and to tar Israel with the “child killers” image. It met all “three Ds” of Natan Sharansky’s definition of anti-Semitism: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel and subjecting Israel to double standards. 

So many of the modern accusations against the Jewish state are eerily reminiscent of ancient anti-Semitism, whether it is claims of secret Jewish power, global conspiracies about financial control or the age-old accusation of “child killers.” These medieval motifs are sadly alive and well, but must be called out for what they are. They are not criticism of Israel’s policies, they are simply old-fashioned, repackaged Jew-hatred.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

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