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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Letter to the Editor: Israel, Hamas, and the importance of balanced coverage

Jeremy is the former editor-in-chief of  The Statesman and a Jewish-American student at Stony Brook. The views expressed in this letter are his alone.

The Jerusalem Post recently ran an editorial decrying what they called the “moral idiocy” currently making its way through American campuses following the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by the terrorist group Hamas.

I had already known that many Americans were attempting to justify the murder of over 1,400 Israeli citizens by bringing political messaging into their arguments. What I didn’t realize was that the phenomenon is mostly exclusive to college campuses. 

A survey conducted by Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and The Harris Poll found that while 86% of American voters were able to correctly identify Hamas’s actions as a terror attack, only 64% of respondents aged 18-24 believe that Hamas are terrorists.

More importantly, only 16% of American voters said they side with Hamas in their conflict with Israel. Somehow, that number jumps to 52% when asking voters aged 18-24. A majority of young voters also believe Hamas’s terror attack was justified. That means Hamas has more support among American college students than among the actual people living in Gaza.

It’s crucial to note that respondents were asked whether they side with Hamas, not with Palestine. The survey explicitly separated the two. Obviously, there’s longstanding conflict in the Middle East with valid political arguments in support of either side. My aim in this article is not to take issue with anyone who voices support for Palestine in a respectful manner.

Rather, what shocks me is that more than half of young voters were willing to vocally support a known terrorist group. 

Hamas had just murdered innocent parents in front of their own children in one of the most brutal displays of violence in human history. More recently, they vowed to kill every man, woman and child living in Israel.

Additionally, 32% of young voters think it is a “false story” that the Hamas attacks even occurred at all. I’m not sure what that even means. There’s video taken by Hamas themselves; it’s not up for debate. 

I’m aware that terror attacks do not occur in vacuums. Nothing does. The terrorists were motivated by what many perceive as Israeli oppression of Palestinians over decades. But any terror attack in world history has had some motive. Why only now is an explanation for murder seen as rational? 

Whether or not Israel is an oppressive state is entirely besides the point. There’s no reason in the world that makes it acceptable to rape and behead civilans. It’s a matter of common-sense morality, not politics.

United States President Joe Biden said the Oct. 7 attacks were “like 15 9/11s,” and multiple politically neutral think tanks have also drawn parallels between 9/11 and the Hamas attacks.

Likewise, 9/11 did not occur in a vacuum. American support for Israel, among other factors, influenced Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Imagine how absurd it would have been to rally against the history of American foreign policy in the days immediately following 9/11, or argue that America “had it coming” because they supported Israel. Imagine how those grieving would have felt.

Israel’s mere existence was not seen as a valid reason to knock down the Twin Towers. Why today is it seen as a valid reason to stab civilians in the streets?

Still, it was entirely possible to critique American foreign policy without siding with Al Qaeda. Just as debate rages now over whether Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks is humane, debate raged over how President George Bush handled the aftermath of 9/11. Yet, no one suggested that Bush’s response meant 9/11 was justified, even now with the present-day consensus that Bush handled it poorly.

Why, then, have college students found it impossible to separate the Hamas attacks from the larger Israel-Palestine conflict? What is so difficult about supporting the people of Palestine — or even condemning Israel — without simultaneously supporting Hamas and the murder of children?

The trends in the Harvard survey can be seen on Stony Brook’s own campus.

President Maurie McInnis sent a message to students on Oct. 9 about the attacks that did not contain the words “Hamas” or “terrorist.” Instead, she conflated the murders with the larger political conflict in the region and asked students to respect both sides.

McInnis revised her message the next day following an outcry from Jewish students, but her initial instinct was still seemingly to try and avoid angering those that felt Hamas’s actions were reasonable. 

Not to beat a dead horse, but imagine the response if a university president had asked students to respect Al Qaeda supporters following 9/11. 

[Note: This letter was written before McInnis’s message about antisemitism on Oct. 31]

As the former editor-in-chief of The Statesman, I was particularly disappointed to see that the newspaper has published only one article this semester about the Middle East: a front-page, unbalanced account of a pro-Palestinian march that contains misleading information about Israel.

The article ends with a Stony Brook student claiming that a “genocide” is occuring in Palestine, without offering context for a term that many experts feel is being used incorrectly and could inadvertently contribute to rising antisemitism. 

Newsday’s coverage of Stony Brook protests avoided including the term “genocide.” Outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian have made sure to balance their reporting and explain the issues with the term when using it in news coverage. The Statesman did not. 

It’s a direct quote and should be included in the article, but publishing it without factual information risks furthering the racism against Jews which is already increasing at Stony Brook and other schools

The article also plays into the justification narrative by calling the Hamas murders a “surprise attack” and a “retaliation” against “Israeli rule.” This implies that the murders were part of a sanctioned military operation against Israel’s army instead of identifying them as a terror attack designed to kill civilians. The author’s narration should be objective and avoid contextualizing terrorism. 

The article’s author also says that Israel’s response to the attack was intended to give “consequences” to the Palestinians. He mentions nothing about self-defense or the need to prevent further attacks. The idea of the siege being a punishment has no basis in fact and does not belong in a news article — regardless of one’s opinions on the rationality of self-defense.

I am deeply ashamed of any editorial policies that could have allowed the article to run in The Statesman unchallenged. With the White House intervening to combat campus antisemitism, accurate reporting is more important than ever.

Student groups such as the Hillel and Seawolves for Israel have held memorial services and other events on campus with huge turnouts, but apparently those were not seen as newsworthy enough for coverage. It’s almost inconceivable to me that not a single Jewish student has been interviewed for any article on the newspaper’s website in the wake of one of the worst tragedies of the modern era. 

The point of this article is not to debate over whether Israeli policies towards Palestinians over the past few decades (or in recent weeks) have been oppressive or inhumane. There’s no denying that Israeli leadership has been at least somewhat flawed, and I’ll be the first to admit that my sensitivity towards the country’s mistakes is dulled by virtue of my love for the nation of Israel. 

However, there is no possible larger context that should influence the rhetoric with which we discuss an unmitigated act of terrorism. 

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  • S

    Susan ShimonNov 20, 2023 at 1:51 pm

    Proud of Jeremy Portnoy, a student that is not afraid to voice the truth. Thank you Jeremy for writing a wonderful letter to the editor and for not being afraid that the Pro Palestinian students will come after you for your opinion as has happened to many Jewish students in many colleges.
    Thank you Jeremy

    Reply
  • W

    Wendy PaceNov 17, 2023 at 5:56 pm

    Well said and glad to read this article!

    Reply
    • E

      eleanorNov 18, 2023 at 6:19 pm

      jeremy bravo for taking a stand and defending democracy, civilization and freedom. Hate of all kinds should rightfully be condemned. Israel is a democracy and allows all religions to practice as they see fit. We should all applaud the government of Israel. No one in their right mind should glorify terrorism , barbaric acts displayed by Hamas etc. I don’t know what’s wrong with the students who do not condemn such acts are they deranged?? Again I commend you on your brilliant beliefs

      Reply