Imagine a map of Israel circulates on the internet.
It is filled with red dots. The caption reads that every red dot represents a place where an Israeli committed a human rights abuse against an innocent Palestinian child. The source of the map is the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
Would you believe it? Would you try and investigate and prove that the map was a fabrication? Or would you simply dismiss it as outrageous propaganda based on its source?
I know how I would react. I would be angry. Not only would I immediately reject such a map, I would ridicule anyone who posted it on social media. Those who put the false propaganda map on Facebook or Twitter would be proving their anti-Israel bias.
If anyone in the mainstream media published the map as a credible, I would say that it proved their anti-Israel bias and would demand that they take it down and issue an apology.
Yet the opposite has just happened.
The Fake IDF Map
It started with the IDF releasing a “declassified” map showing Southern Lebanon filled with armaments in civilian areas.
Many Hasbara organizations, representatives of the “pro-Israel” community, raced to see who would post it on Twitter and Facebook the fastest. They called it a “war crime” and demanded that the international community act if it cares about innocents being used as human shields.
Yet the IDF admitted it was a fabrication when a Twitter user (@JudgeDan48) simply took an objective look at the map and realized that the dots were set in a pattern.
Yet why didn’t the Hasbara organizations, including those that claim to be experts in exposing media manipulations, notice the same thing? Were they in too much of a rush to publicize material that helped make Israel’s case?
I guarantee they would not have spread a map created by the other side so fast.
Should the IDF be considered an objective, credible source of information?
I love the IDF and I am grateful for what they do to defend me and Israel. Yet I am aware that they have a mission to do.
This doesn’t mean that we should dismiss materials that come from the IDF Spokesman’s office. However, those interested in finding the truth need to use such materials as a starting point, not a finishing point.
When an organization, whether a news company or an advocacy group fail to vet sources and do independent fact-checking, they are guilty of factual distortion.
We Need the Media
The media should serve as independent evaluators of events here. I know they often fall short because of perceived biases. Yet they are the ones whom the undecided public will believe. So if they publish information which we know is not true, we need to provide them with facts that make our case.
I have always believed that anyone with an open mind who is presented with objective facts will end up being sympathetic to Israel. I reject the concept that if the other side lies, we have license to do the same.
Because when a group is caught promoting a lie because they didn’t think to check their information, they have done Israel a disservice.
Too often I see stories in the media that simply balance a quotation from an Israeli with one from a Palestinian. The public is left to guess who is telling the truth.
“Israeli Jews Cite…”
I recently was discussing a New York Times article on Jerusalem with a senior journalist at the paper. The article was well balanced presenting some history and each side’s views. My biggest concern with the way the city is treated in the press is that the historical context is left out. Here is how they handled it:
Israeli Jews cite a long history in Jerusalem dating back thousands of years, and even many on the left who support a Palestinian state think the embassy should be housed there.
Yet it would have been a lot stronger if the Times had gone to a historian or presented some evidence of the long-standing Jewish ties to the city.
“Israeli Jews” (like myself) do not have the presumption of credibility to the general public. We are biased. If we are the source of information, I can understand why someone without background might dismiss what we have to say without corroborating evidence.
It’s much easier just to report what each side says and let people make up their own minds. But journalism must be about helping the world understand what is happening. The media have the responsibility to hear what each side says, and then find out where the truth lies.
Rather than simply “retweeting” materials whose credibility is not known, those who support Israel should take the time to make sure they are promoting factual information.
We should not treat the media as the enemy. We need them to tell the world what is happening here based on objective facts.
An earlier version of this post originally was published on the Times of Israel.