All a matter of preconceptions
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 15, 2002
It is no secret that the way the news gets reported has a great deal to do with the preconceptions of the reporter. One classic example is the gory AP photo that ran on the front page of the New York Times of a young man with blood pouring down his face and a bellowing Israeli policeman waving a billyclub immediately behind him. The caption informed readers that the young man was a Palestinian, and that he had just been beaten by the policeman.
As it turned out, the young man in question far from being a Palestinian was a young yeshiva bochur from Chicago named Tuvia Grossman. He and two friends were on the way to the Western Wall on Erev Shabbos when they were dragged from their cab by a throng of Palestinian teenagers, who proceeded to bash a large rock on Grossman’s head. Somehow he managed to break free from mob and reach the Israeli policeman pictured.
A moment’s attention would have alerted the Times that the AP caption could not be right. For one thing, the photo identified the site as the Temple Mount and showed a gas station in the background. Even a succession of Israeli governments that have turned a blind eye towards Palestinian excavations and building on the Temple Mount have not yet permitted a gas station to be built there.
The Times, however, missed this obvious error because of the stereotypes it has done so much to create, including that of Israeli security services wantonly brutalizing Arabs. The AP caption raised no eyebrows because it so neatly dovetailed with the stereotype.
Such stereotypes play a large role in the coverage of the chareidi community as well. In the eyes of the Times, for instance, chareidim are primitive fanatics. Last year, a booby-trapped car blew up just down the block from the Mirrer Yeshiva, only seconds after a truck laden with highly flammable gas had passed by. Damage from the blast was minimal, and injuries limited to a few cases of shock.
In response, joyous Mirrer Yeshiva students burst out of the yeshiva to spontaneously celebrate. The Reuters photo of a group of obviously chareidi students holding twisted metal remnants of the destroyed car, subsequently published on page 3 of the Times, however, was captioned: ``Israelis chant anti-Arab slogans after a car blast."
Again the caption was completely wrong. As reported by Ha’Aretz, a paper that cannot be suspected of a pro-chareidi bias, the only ones who chanted anti-Arab statements were a group of Kach supporters, who raced to the area, and they were confronted by a group of yeshiva students, who attempted to silence them.
And again even a minimal scrutiny of the photograph would have revealed the error. The photo showed jubilant faces, not faces contorted in hatred, such as one would expect from a mob bent on revenge. The Times, however, failed to catch the discrepancy between the photo and the caption because of its preconceptions about primitive, violence-prone chareidim.
The same preconceptions colored the Times’ coverage of the tragic Motzaei Shabbos suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood last week. According to the Times’ reporter Joel Greenberg, ``When a garbage truck carrying Arab sanitation workers passed the site of the bombing, a crowd of yeshiva students surged towards the vehicle shouting, `Death to the Arabs,’ and beating the workers with their own brooms before they fled for their lives." Greenberg made no mention of Kach in his report.
Greenberg’s account, however, conflicted with every major Israeli daily that covered the aftermath of the blast. Yediot Aharonot reported the yeshiva students had stood between the Arab workers and the Kahanists, before driving the latter away. Maariv specifically identified Kach supporters as the one’s attacking Arab cars passing down nearby Shmuel HaNavi Street.
Even the virulently anti-chareidi Ha’Aretz reported ``A few moments after the blast, members of the Kach movement arrived on the scene with cries of `We want revenge,’ but were unable to attract anyone but a few children."
The Boston Globe provided perhaps the most extensive coverage of the reaction of chareidim living in the Beis Yisrael neighborhood. ``There were few calls for vengeance, no chants calling for death to the other side," wrote Globe correspondent Charles Radin.
Radin also described how when the Arab sanitation workers drove past the bomb site, ``some members of the crowd threw trash and spit at them, but more formed a cordon around the Arabs and attempted to protect them. `No, no! That’s not necessary,’ shouted students and teachers from the many local study houses, as they attempted to shelter the Arabs."
Radin quoted extensively from interviews with neighborhood residents and yeshiva students. As if in one voice, all of those quoted spoke of the futility of vengeance against Arabs and how ridiculous it is to focus on revenge against Arabs, as opposed to the far more difficult work of changing oneself in response to the many wake-up calls from Above.
The question is: Why did Greenberg, who lives in Israel and who is certainly familiar with Kach, completely neglect to mention the identity of the attackers of the Arab sanitation workers or utterly fail to distinguish between the Kach response and that of chareidim, while Radin, who has only been in Israel a few months, pick up the crucial distinctions?
Again the answer would appear to be the preconceptions that the two men brought to their task. To a large extent, the Times lumps all religious Jews together, and then labels all those of whom it disapproves ``ultra-Orthodox.". Thus the Times’ once described Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, as ``ultra-Orthodox."
By contrast, the Globes’ Radin has taken a genuine interest in the Orthodox community since arriving in Israel. The day after the bombing, he spoke with a highly respected talmid chacham about the traditional Jewish response to tragedy. Among the many subjects they covered was the classical understanding of vengeance as belonging to the Hashem – in all but one instance in which the Torah mentions nekama (vengeance) it is conjoined to Hashem’s name in some fashion – and how antithetical that is to the Kach view.
Open minds, open eyes; closed minds, closed eyes.
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