Like the proverbial old soldiers, anti-Jewish lies never die. But they don’t fade away, either. No matter how often they are proven false, they come back to incite hatred and motivate murder. Blood libels against Jews can be found before the Common Era and as recently as 1912. The pogrom-inspiring Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document purporting to be the minutes of a meeting between Jews who conspired to promote war and revolution throughout the world, created around the turn of the twentieth century and thoroughly debunked in the 1920s, is still a best-seller in Muslim countries – and dozens of versions are available in the US as well.
Today the focus of antisemitism has moved to Israel, although the old forms of Jew-hatred still bubble up regularly in Europe and North America. So there are contemporary blood libels like the media accounts of the alleged shooting of 12-year old Mohammad Durah, an exercise in what Richard Landes has called “lethal journalism.”
One of the most pernicious and persistent lethal narratives has been the myth of the Jenin Massacre. In April 2002, the IDF entered the Jenin refugee camp in pursuit of terrorists that had committed numerous attacks inside Israel, including the Passover Seder Massacre in Netanya, in which 30 Israelis were murdered. After a 10-day house-to-house battle, 23 IDF soldiers lost their lives as well as (according to later investigation by the UN) 52 Palestinians, most of whom were fighters from various Palestinian factions. Even the notoriously anti-Israel organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International admitted that there had been no massacre (although they did accuse the IDF of various war crimes).
The media, academics and politicians exploded in a frenzy of exaggeration and condemnation. James Petras, a sociologist associated with (my alma mater!) Binghamton University compared the battle to the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Reporter Phil Reeves of the UK Independent wrote a series of articles in which he accused Israel of a “monstrous war crime,” with “hundreds of corpses entombed beneath the dust.” Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority told CNN that “the number [massacred] will not be less than 500,” and his remarks were echoed throughout the media.
One of the most influential vectors of the massacre myth was a “documentary” by Arab-Israeli actor/director Mohammad Bakri called “Jenin, Jenin.” Bakri went to Jenin several weeks after the battle and interviewed Palestinians, who regaled him with accounts of atrocities committed by the IDF. He did not interview anyone connected with the IDF, nor did he attempt to validate the Palestinian testimony, because, he said, he wanted to present the Palestinian viewpoint.
The film was well done and persuasive, but most of its content was simply not true or massively exaggerated. Dr. David Zangen, an IDF doctor who was present during the battle, wrote a response called “Seven Lies About Jenin,” in which he refuted several of the more prominent atrocity stories. One of them involves a hospital wing that was supposedly destroyed by Israeli bombing. Zangen points out that the wing never existed, and that IDF soldiers carefully protected the hospital and its water, electricity and oxygen supplies. He also notes that,
In pictures shot at the site in the center of Jenin, the damage appears much larger than it was in actual fact, and the martyrs’ pictures and jihad slogans – which had been present at the time of the IDF military operation – had disappeared from the walls of houses. The film systematically and repeatedly uses manipulative pictures of tanks taken in other locations, artificially placing them next to pictures of Palestinian children.
Joshua Mitnick of the Newark Star-Ledger interviewed Bakri and described the technique he used to create a “documentary” of events that did not occur:
The film also attempts to visualize allegations of summary killings based on rumors that spread among residents of the camp. Bakri spliced together video footage shot during the offensive in which an Israeli tank [actually an armored personnel carrier – vr] appears to trample a group of Palestinian prisoners. Bakri said there was no proof that incident ever took place, but that he was trying to demonstrate what an Israeli tank symbolized to Palestinians. [!]
Given all of this, it is remarkable that a supposedly serious publication like the Jewish Daily Forward would publish an article that gave credence to the film. But that is exactly what it did, when it published Mira Fox’s paean to Bakri’s “guerrilla journalism.” Perhaps the article’s placement in the “Culture” category is supposed to absolve it from the responsibility to note that the film is a viciously manipulative piece of propaganda and full of lies, but it is still shocking when she writes that
Israel claimed they killed around 50 Palestinians, the majority of whom were responsible for bus bombings and terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis, while Palestinians alleged a death toll near 500 composed largely of civilians.
And then fails to mention that even the hostile UN and NGOs admitted that the Israeli numbers were correct! Or when she repeats the unsubstantiated Palestinian atrocity stories that appeared in the film. She writes,
Yet, today when social media has given everyone a platform to tell their personal stories, the stories in Jenin, Jenin feel almost commonplace. Now everyone has a camera in their pocket, and can capture the violence as it unfolds, unlike Bakri’s film which was limited to shots panning over rubble afterward.
Did she miss the deceptive editing, the spliced footage of tanks, that gave the film so much of its force?
Probably not. It’s clear where her sympathies lie:
While the Palestinian fight may be trendy online, the real-world changes have not been so abrupt. Palestinians still live under occupation, and Israel’s military might still greatly outstrips Palestinian insurgents. Part of the reason videos of Palestinians running down the street, throwing stones at tanks or being forcibly evicted from their homes, are so common online is because they’re so common in life.
I have no idea who Mira Fox is, but I do know that the Editor in Chief of the Forward is Jodi Rudoren, an experienced journalist who served as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief for several years, and who is certainly aware of the facts about the massacre that never happened. Allowing this hit job on Israel and the IDF to be published was no less than editorial malpractice.
Will the Forward publish a correction? I’ll wait.
A version of this article was published on the Jewish News Service website.