By: Jonathan Levin  | 

From One Journalist to Others: Check Your Bias on Israel

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” or so the expression goes. 

Following Hamas’s massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7, the pen has often proven to be mighty, fueling and influencing attitudes towards Israel across the world.

It is the pen, wielded by journalists, that led credence to Hamas' lie that Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians in a missile attack on a hospital, creating a wave of anti-Israel hate across the world. It is the pen, wielded by journalists, that has portrayed Rep. Rashida Talib’s censure as an injustice towards the sole Palestinian-American in Congress, rather than a damning indictment of her terming Hamas’s actions “resistance” and her calls for the destruction of Israel. Finally, it is the pen, wielded by student journalists, that portrays Israel as the aggressor in its war against a State-Department-recognized terror group, making Jewish students feel unsafe on campus.

While we student journalists understand that and have answered the call of  “moral clarity,” taking a strong stance with Israel and against terror — we call Hamas “terrorists,” veering from the AP style we normally keep — journalists at other campuses do not.

Unlike other papers, we will never release deeply antisemitic editorials — as student journalists at the University of Utah and McGill University have — stating that Israel is committing “genocide” against Palestinians or that Hamas’s actions were “retaliation” against Israel. We will never, like the Harvard Crimson, defend antisemites or support BDS, and unlike other papers, our coverage will never ignore antisemitism.

We have heard many stories of student papers refusing to publish articles from pro-Israel students, many of whom have been forced to approach other papers — including one student from UPenn who contacted The Commentator after The Daily Pennsylvanian refused to publish their article (The Times of Israel published it in the end). 

Our team at The Commentator takes our job and position seriously. As then-Managing Editor Elisheva Kohn wrote in 2020, we do our best to highlight student voices, and we wouldn’t unilaterally reject reasonable views from any students — whether they are pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. We understand that as journalists, our pens can influence the campus climate, and we take our responsibility to the YU community seriously.

The Commentator is guided by journalistic principles, a desire to cover stories in the most accurate way possible, a commitment to our community, and most of all, an understanding that we answer to a higher authority. We understand that the pen wielded by journalists is mighty and what journalists say matters. 

When writing about the Israel-Hamas War, journalists need to know that their words matter. When reporting on Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip — and all innocent lives lost are tragic — it is important to mention that the Gazan Ministry of Health is also the Hamas Ministry of Health. It is not a seemingly independent organization in “Hamas-controlled Gaza.” It is Hamas.

Hamas’s numbers don’t distinguish between combatants or innocents — and Israel has said its clearing operations have killed thousands of Hamas terrorists. It doesn’t distinguish between victims of the hundreds of misfired rockets that have landed in Gaza or Hamas’ human shields.  If you don’t mention that Hamas hides rockets near schools, hospitals or under children’s beds or if you bury the fact that Hamas’s assets are located among civilian infrastructure, you are excluding crucial context and lending credibility to claims that Israel is targeting civilians.

When reporting on anti-Israel rallies and slogans, don’t whitewash obvious antisemitic slogans as pro-Palestinian activism. “From the River to the Sea,” is the same as “Ho, Ho, Israel has got to go” and “We don’t want a Jew State, we want 48.” 

Calling to destroy Israel is most certainly “aspirational.” It's just as aspirational as Hamas's desire to repeat Oct. 7 until Israel is destroyed and every last Jew on earth is exterminated. Legitimizing it means mainstreaming it. Asking White House officials to comment on chants of “Genocide Joe,” as if it’s a legitimate question, only normalizes dangerous rhetoric. The same applies to questions addressed to Israeli officials about whether Israel is “happy to kill children” or whether its hostage release terms with Hamas demonstrate that Israel ascribes lower value to Palestinian lives. Journalism is not a shield to mainstream hate.

Many American papers have been doing a fine job reporting on the war, but there is always room to improve. The overwhelming majority of people reading about the conflict are not experts on Israel, the Middle East or the Arab-Israeli conflict. What journalists choose to include and the choices they make about paragraph placement has a tremendous impact on how readers form their views towards an issue, especially one as sensitive as this. “Burying the lead” is not balance. 

The pen is mightier than the sword precisely because it is those who wield the pen that can cause the sword to be sheathed or unsheathed. It is high time that the journalists in our country and in the world over understand that, and make sure to cover Israel’s war against Hamas in the most moral way possible. It is important to recognize that liberty depends upon the freedom of the press, but it is crucial to accept that morality depends upon the responsibility of the press. Journalists, the world’s only Jewish state is currently at war. Recognize your influence and the might of your pen.