Since the Brexit referendum and the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, disinformation has been a hot topic in European politics. Policy-makers across the spectrum have fretted over the way social media is able to disseminate false information, i.e. “fake news”, that risk manipulating voters’ views on important political issues. Yet glaringly, at a time when disinformation is causing violent riots causing injuries, death and destruction, the Commission has so far been silent. Where is the outrage against the antisemitic disinformation that for the past two weeks have spread like a wildfire through both social and news media?
The most recent example of disinformation is the hospital bombing supposedly carried out by the Israeli air force. This bombing supposedly killed upwards of 500 people, a claim that was based on reports from the Palestinian health ministry, which like all government agencies in Gaza is controlled by Hamas. Early on, there were a number of problems with the story that ought to have raised questions: First, the hospital is still standing. The explosion hit the nearby parking lot, but did not take down the hospital, contrary to initial reports. Second, the number of fatalities was announced within hours of the explosion, which is suspicious seeing as how digging people out of rubble to confirm the number of dead is a process that would normally take days or weeks. Hamas’ long-documented history of poorly constructed rockets accidentally striking its own territory should also have given journalists and influencers pause.
To accept the reports of a warring party within careful verification violates basic media ethics, and yet it is seen as acceptable in this particular conflict. At best, this could reflect a misguided attempt by journalists to be “fair” and try to portray both sides as being equally guilty of atrocities. At worst, it reflects a deep-seated antisemitic notion that holds that Jewish people do not care for and joyfully take the lives of the non-Jewish “goyim”, a notion that was behind the Medieval blood libel myth.
Since the horrendous attacks of October 7, Palestinian sympathisers have also taken to social media to promote the view that Hamas is treating its hostages humanely, using video clips and pictures produced by Hamas. The truth is that Hamas has a long history of torturing and killing its hostages. That Hamas is allowed to use social media to construct a Potemkin village as misleading as the Theresienstadt camp is outrageous, and so is the EU’s silence on the topic.
By the time media began to slowly backtrack after independent geodata was released supporting the Israeli claim that the “bombing” was actually a misfired rocket, it was too late. In a riot in Berlin provoked by the “bombing”, synagogues were attacked with Molotov cocktails. 65 policemen were injured while arresting over 170 of the rioters. Similar riots and antisemitic demonstrations caused by this disinformation have occurred across many Western European countries, which is to say nothing of the widespread attacks on Israeli and American embassies across the Middle East. Jewish students across the West now report not feeling safe on their own campuses after major, mainstream student organisations made statements endorsing the October 7 attacks. It appears that the EU has developed a sort of tunnel vision: While undertaking great efforts to fight the traditional antisemitism found in fringe far right movements, it has been utterly blind the rising antisemitism among ethnic minorities and among our own European students.
Here, some may respond that these demonstrations and riots, while perhaps unfortunate, are merely an expression of loyalty between Muslims who naturally feel a sense of solidarity with their fellow believers suffering in Gaza. If this is the case, however, one must ask why no Muslim riots or large-scale protests have been organised outside Chinese embassies, despite China’s genocide against its (Muslim) Uighur minority. In fact, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West bank, has expressly endorsed China’s treatment of the Uighurs, while other Muslim nations have largely remained silent on the topic.
Like after the Kristallnacht, a horrendous attack on the Jewish people is now being met not with sympathy, but with accusations that the Jews themselves bear the guilt due to them somehow provoking their attackers. Then as now, these attackers are not granted any agency: By any measure, Hamas’ firing of rockets serves no military purpose, as their relatively primitive rockets cannot possibly overwhelm the Israeli Defense Forces and won’t ever force Israel to surrender its land. All that the rockets accomplish is to increase the plight of the ordinary Palestinians. Yet, when faced with this reality, anti-Israel pundits argue that Hamas can’t be expected to stop firing rockets under these circumstances. In the narrative spun by these pundits, Hamas and Palestinians in general completely lack agency, and cannot be expected to act calmly and rationally, to think about the long-term, or even to consider a ceasefire and a release of hostages to secure the humanitarian aid that their own people desperately needs. Ironically, underlying this left-wing worldview is not just antisemitism, but also a deeply racist view of Palestinian and Arab people in general, because it is simply impossible to deny a person or group its agency, without also depriving it of its humanity.
A bystander may get the impression that the Commission only cares about disinformation when it threatens the Commission’s own political interests, such as in the case of the Brexit referendum. It is up to the Commission to prove that this is not the case, to take the responsible media outlets to task, and to crack down on antisemitism on social media platforms.