Back in July, I wrote about how a Newsweek article pushed the limits of how journalism can still be quite slanted, even if it technically falls within legal boundaries. That piece focused on Birthright Israel, the organization that provides free trips to Israel for Jewish college students and young adults, for the purpose of helping them learn about their heritage. The article falsely implied that Birthright was in danger of collapsing due to protests from participants who were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, even though it was only based on two isolated incidents. A month and a half later, NBC News has now run a similar article based on the same premise, despite no new information, titled “As Israel moves right, young American Jews target Birthright tours in protest.”
The timing of the article is concerning; not just because the protests are old news, but because they waited to publish the old news until hours before the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. By the time the article went up, many observant Jews–who tend to be pro-Israel–were likely too busy preparing for the holiday to even notice. In fact, the reason why I’m first writing about this now is because I was celebrating the two-day holiday, during which work and the use of electronics are prohibited. The New Republic was also late in discussing the matter, but they wrote about it in a different context, and published their piece last week, well before the holiday.
Law&Crime reached out to NBC about the article and the timing of its publication, but they declined to comment.
Like the Newsweek article, NBC News refers to two incidents from June and July–even though they characterize them as taking place “in recent weeks.” The instances in question involved trip participants who left their groups in protest, claiming the organizers did not provide enough of the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, that’s not what the trips are for, because they aren’t political at all. As a Birthright spokesperson told NBC, the trip is meant to give “the gift of a free education experience to Israel for Jews worldwide between the ages of 18 and 32 so they can explore their Jewish identities, strengthen their connections to Israel and experience its diverse society,” and “without endorsing any specific agendas, opinions or beliefs.”
While Newsweek‘s framing of the issue gave the initial impression that these incidents were spontaneous demonstrations of outrage, NBC was more up front about how they were staged by a left-wing activist group.
At the same time, NBC’s writer used these isolated incidents as the basis for claiming that this is a thing that’s regularly happening, giving the impression that Birthright is part of some large political problem. In reality, the dozen or so people who joined organized walk-offs are a minute fraction of the tens of thousands of people who go on the trips that, again, are not meant to be political in nature.
A spokesperson for Birthright told Law&Crime that NBC News Digital’s managing editor defended the article after complaints that the headline ignores the fact that the people who left Birthright trips were just 12 people out of 30,000 reported yearly participants. The spokesman said he was told by the managing editor, “There isn’t always room for those kinds of details in the headline.”
Articles like NBC’s and Newseek‘s dance awfully close to the line of what’s legal. While they don’t go so far as to meet the elements of defamation, some states have “false light” laws, which typically are against widely publicized statements that identify a particular subject and paints them in a false or misleading light that would be offensive to the subject. While such laws are far from universal, these articles skirt awfully close, as they give an impression of Birthright Israel that the organization disputes.
Not only that, the article simply uses these isolated instances as a launching point for a much broader–and equally questionable–premise that young Jews in general are rebelling en masse against a Jewish State that is actively moving away from their leftist ideals. The article even pits those on the left at odds with those who oppose the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel economically. In reality, even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke out against this movement.
How does NBC support the idea that the new generation of Jews and the State of Israel are drifting further and further apart? By relying heavily on quotes from two of the protesters, and from the rabbi of a congregation described as “progressive non-denominational,” as opposed to being part of any of the major movements within Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist).
When the article tries to argue that “Even prominent mainstream Jewish leaders in the U.S. are starting to publicly criticize Israel’s government,” the only example provided is an op-ed that doesn’t even make reference to Palestinians, Birthright, or the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In reality, young Jews–like young people in general–don’t all fall into the same political box, and many of them support Israel regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. I know quite a few liberal young professionals who oppose many of the Israeli government’s policies and want to see change, but they still love the country and do not agree with the tactics employed by far-left activists.
Yes, there are those like the ones who walked off their trips, but to say that they define their generation, and that the far left is the new normal is not accurate.
[Image via Michael Nagle/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.