Balance needed in portrayal of Israel during Gaza conflict

Andy Babitz, 29, is a St. Louis attorney, board member of United Hebrew Congregation and Vice President of the St. Louis Kollel’s Torah and Turf program. He is also a 2014 Millstone Fellow and a member of the Millstone Advisory Board. 

By Andrew Babitz

As I have watched the events of the last 18 days play out, I must say that as a young American Jew I find myself on an emotional roller coaster.  I find myself constantly trolling the Internet for updates on what is going on and making sure that another idiot doesn’t post lies about my people on social media.  I can only imagine how the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and the civilians in Israel feel 24 hours a day. I am not writing this in order to inform you of what is going on, because most of you already know.  My goal is continuing the theme I believe we all should embrace: We are one Jewish people, and Israel’s struggle for to exist in peace should be our struggle as fellow Jews.  

When I discuss the matter with my fellow Jews in St. Louis, the common question that arises is what can we do?  What can we do to help our brothers and sisters thousands of miles away? Here are my suggestions: 

• Stop apologizing for Israel’s actions:  As a pragmatist and a constant cooperator and negotiator, I find that in normal circumstances admitting that I am wrong in some respect is the first way to induce cooperation from the adverse side. However, in this situation, we cannot do it. Every time a Jew — whether a man on the street or Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” — states that Israel has done something wrong, it fuels the fire and the hatred of the anti-Semitic, biased media that only care about body counts, ratings and photos of dead Palestinian “civilians.” The conflict is simple. It is not as complex as the media make it out to be. One side is firing rockets aimlessly at the civilians on the other side. The other side is trying to stop it. It is as simple as that. Israel is constantly under attack. Hamas is firing 100 rockets a day with the goal of killing innocent Israeli civilians.  What other civilized nation would allow a terrorist organization to do this?

• Become an educated advocate: How many times in the past two weeks have we seen a posting on Facebook or Twitter from a non-Jewish friend denouncing the actions of Israel, with links to stories from Al-Jazeera, CNN or The Huffington Post? Often, the people posting these stories only read the headlines. The news organizations and the Facebook poster are at fault for posting these radical headlines slanted against Israel when the facts are not so. The majority of these headlines are biased against Israel, but within the article, albeit later, there is information regarding the actual accuracy of the “reports.” 

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For example, in regards to the United Nations and Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school that was hit, the first headlines that came out were “Israel Shells UN School — Women and Children Dead.” Only later in the day, after the entire world blamed Israel for the attack did the news organizations

state that it may have been a Hamas rocket that hit the school. Additionally, those same news agencies continually fail to report the existence of Hamas rockets hidden in the school aimed at killing civilians in Israel. 

Do yourself a favor and read The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel or follow the IDF on Twitter for live real-time updates of what is really going on on the ground. I’m not advocating that we call out friends on their Facebook walls or Twitter feeds, but send them a private message, attempt to educate them about the facts and biased reporting of the U.S. media. If they are unwilling to see the truth, unfollow them. There is no need to upset yourself everyday by looking at lies from your supposed friend’s account.  

• Do not accept any form of anti-Semitism: As we hear reports of extreme anti-Semitic rallies occurring in major cities around the world, as well as instances of anti-Semitism within our own community, we must take a stand. 

While we cannot do anything about the demonstrations outside of our community, we can make sure that it doesn’t happen to us here. If we see an instance of anti-Semitism directed at one of our one, we must make sure it is addressed. I am not advocating violent means of doing so, but we must let non-Jews know that any form of anti-Semitism against our people will not be tolerated. As Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”  

• Come together as one community: Continuing on the previous point, I see too often in St. Louis, we think of us in terms of our religious sect, whether it be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or non-practicing Jew.  As one local rabbi has said to me multiple times, “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” 

We are all one people. Go to your temple and congregate with your community, even if it has been years since you have been there. Go to the Jewish Community Center or the Jewish Federation Building. Attend a learning event. If you are a young professional, attend a YPD, Moishe House or Hillel event. Speak to your rabbi. Read the Torah.  Light Shabbat candles. Engage yourself in the Jewish community. Our sages tell us that our most difficult trials and tribulations as a people come when we are most distant and most divided from our roots. We must come together as one people with one future.  

• Pray for the health and well-being the IDF and the civilians of Israel: There are a million ways to pray for the health and well-being of the IDF and the civilians in Israel.  You can do it online, you can do it in temple, and you can do it at the foot of your bed, or in a quiet moment at your desk.  There are American Jews fighting for Israel as we speak, some have lost their lives.  Stop for a moment each day and say a prayer for Israel.  

As this situation continues to play itself out, I hope and pray that we as a St. Louis Jewish Community and the American Jewish Community as a whole continue to have faith in and support our own people, even if the rest of the world fails to do so.