Sorry, Media // Distaste isn’t license to Slander

Photographs of racial prejudice—from the Jim Crow era, from South Africa during its apartheid years and from Nazi Germany—began appearing on social media shortly after August 23 with the caption “Sorry, Mohammad.”
The reference was to a snippet of an interview that took place that day on Israeli Channel 12 news’ version of  “Meet the Press.”

The interviewee was National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit party, and he was questioned about limits on the travel of Palestinians in certain areas.

“My right,” he said to his inquisitors, “the right of my wife and my children to move around Judea and Samaria, is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs. My right to life comes before freedom of movement.”

And then he offered the meme-ready closing sentence: “Sorry, Mohammad, but that’s the reality.”

He was not referencing some generic Mohammad in a sort of “Sorry, Charlie” manner; rather, he was addressing a member of the news panel, Mohammad Magadli, an Arab Israeli.

From the media—and various governmental—responses, you’d think he had called for a lynching.

Aside from the cynical social media photos and captions, howls of outrage ensued.
There were the usual suspects, like the Palestinian Authority, which condemned Ben-Gvir’s statement as representative of “Israel’s systematic hate speech, provocative rhetoric, violence, and dehumanization of the Palestinian people…”

And American clotheshorse Bella Hadid, who declared that “in no place, no time…should one’s life be more valuable than another.” The Israeli group B’Tselem commented that “The rights of the Jews are more important than the rights of the Arabs, this is what apartheid looks like.”

But censure echoed in more august circles, too. The European Union tut-tutted that “relations between Israel and the EU shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles,” adding that “respect for human rights” includes such respect for “people living under occupation in the Palestinian territory.”

Even our own State Department, pressed by Israeli journalists, climbed onto the bellyaching bandwagon, with a spokesperson “strongly condemn[ing]” Minister Ben-Gvir’s “inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank,” calling them “racist rhetoric.”

I’m no fan of Mr. Ben-Gvir. While I take him at his word that he no longer lionizes Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshipers at the Me’aras Hamachpeilah in 1994, and that he has distanced himself from his once hearty embrace of Meir Kahane’s desire to deport all Arabs from Israel, he remains a provocateur who says things that, while they may please some, invariably feed anti-Israel sentiment. And he has repeatedly ascended the Har HaBayis in a public manner intended to raise the hackles of Muslims worldwide.

But if media or governments wish to criticize him, they should limit themselves to facts and not mischaracterize his words.

In his “Sorry, Mohammad” response, he was not expressing anything remotely like racism or disdain for human rights. He was expressing concern for human life.

Though it is somehow overlooked by some, there are reasons for road restrictions and checkpoints in Yehudah and Shomron. Reasons having to do with things like—to take only happenings last month—the drive-by murder of Batsheva Nigri, a 42-year-old mother of three, while her 12-year-old daughter watched.

And the firearms and weapons parts discovered in a raid on the town of Beitunia. And the bomb that wounded Israeli soldiers in Shechem. And the Palestinian driver who slammed his truck into soldiers at a busy checkpoint in Yehudah, killing one and wounding five.

Mr. Ben-Gvir wasn’t disparaging Arabs or promoting unjustified restrictions. He was simply noting that checkpoints and such are necessary evils —necessary because of, as he put it, the unfortunate “reality.” If anything deserved calumny, it is that reality, namely, some Arabs’ determination to kill Jews.

Do any of those who lambasted Ben-Gvir for voicing a truism in fact disagree with what he expressed? Do they believe that protecting the lives of innocent people is really not as important as unfettered access to roads and the “right” to not be burdened with checkpoints aimed at preventing murders?

The PA and Ms. Hadid might well believe that. One hopes that the EU and State Department do not.

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