Wednesday, February 28th | 19 Adar I 5784

July 31, 2018 4:40 pm

Keeping the Flag Flying in the Face of Hate

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avatar by Dexter Van Zile


An Israeli flag flutters outside the Bank of Israel building in Jerusalem, August 7, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo.

The process goes like clockwork. Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip attack Israel with rockets, kites, or huge crowds of people intent on crossing into Israel. The fact that these attacks are organized and led by Hamas — an organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction — is largely ignored or downplayed.

The outrage machine gets started when Israel fights back to protect the safety of its citizens and the integrity of its border with Gaza. When Palestinians who have put themselves in harm’s way get killed, many of the people in the media who had previously been quiet suddenly sit up and take notice to declare that Israel is using “disproportionate” force to defend itself against “unarmed civilians” or “peaceful protesters.” They also ignore the fact that Hamas has incited many of these “protesters” and many of the dead are known Hamas members.

After this all takes place, some people in the US — a minority to be sure — start viewing the Jews in their orbit with an evil eye, asking themselves, “What is it with them? How can they support a country that does such terrible things to those innocent and helpless Palestinians?”

When the biased articles and news segments come out, people start calling CAMERA’s office in Boston to tell us about it. Like any researcher at CAMERA, I get a fair number of these calls. Sometimes, they complain about a particularly dishonest segment on the BBC that was aired in the United States courtesy of National Public Radio, or about how a legacy network is using its jaundiced coverage of Israel as a selling point for its news shows. Sometimes, the callers describe the impact that this distorted media coverage has had on their lives.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a woman living in upstate New York who displayed an Israeli flag on her front porch on May 14 in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. On May 17, the mailman brought a letter to her house and as soon as she saw it, she had a sense of foreboding.

Whoever sent the letter was not her friend. The envelope, which was postmarked on May 15 — the day after she and her husband put the Israeli flag on display — had only her family’s last name (which is identifiably Jewish) and their home address written on the front. The lack of a return address and the block letter handwriting were tell-tale signs of hate mail. The use of a stamp with the word “LOVE” on it was a nice touch.

Sure enough, inside the envelope was a single sheet of paper with the following words written in all caps with a felt-tip marker: “61 SLAUGHTERED/2,700 INJURED/GREAT DAY FOR ISREAL!” This woman sent me a copy of the envelope and the letter.

Among many other things, the misspelling of the word Israel is proof positive that the sender is not somebody you want living next door. Whenever I see anyone type “Isreal” in a Facebook rant, I conclude that the person typing is an ill-informed crank who has had too much to drink. In this case, the crank in question was a coward who lacked the courage to reveal his identity.

The couple that received the letter had a pretty good idea who sent it: a neighbor who seemed to be having a tough time figuring out what to do with himself during retirement. They were also pretty sure that the person who sent the anonymous hate mail was incited by the terrible coverage of the so-called “March of Return” during which mobs of Palestinians in Gaza marched on Israel at the behest of Hamas leaders. Some of these leaders called for Gazans to break into Israel and — if the opportunity presented itself — to murder Israelis in their sleep.

Instead of covering the march for what it was — an attempted invasion — many news outlets referred to the rioters as mere “protesters” and failed to acknowledge that many of the people who were killed were in fact members of Hamas. They also had a tough time reporting that some of the people who were killed were in the act of placing explosives at the security barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and some had fired their Kalashnikovs at IDF soldiers. The media coverage portrayed Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians who were doing the invading as the victims.

The couple concluded that after being exposed to this coverage, the neighbor with too much time on his hands got caught up in a frenzy, and when he saw the Israeli flag, he decided to vent his anger on his Jewish neighbors who had the audacity to show their support for the Jewish state while it was under attack. So he sent them a letter.

For a few days, the couple struggled with what to do next. Should they contact the neighbor that they thought sent the letter? Should they send an anonymous letter back to the person and tell him he got it wrong about what happened in Gaza? Should they just write a letter to the local newspaper? Should they host an event about biased media coverage of Israel in a nearby library? Eventually, the couple decided not to go the route of direct confrontation.

They did, however, decide to keep the Israeli flag on display. They moved it to their back porch, where their neighbor would have to see it while taking out his trash.

After a few days of the Israeli flag being on display, the couple saw a small Palestinian flag stuck in a gutter pipe on the back of their neighbor’s house. The two laughed. Without meaning to, the neighbor had given his Jewish neighbors pretty good confirmation that he was the one who sent the anonymous letter. It was only up for a day or so, and then it was gone.

Why didn’t he keep it on display? The husband concluded that the man who put the flag up realized that by displaying the Palestinian flag, he had revealed himself to be the person who sent the anonymous hate mail to his neighbors. But the Israeli flag is still flying on the back porch of the couple’s home, where it will stay until the first snow.

“Our flag will stay there until winter,” the husband said with a laugh.

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA). Van Zile’s work has appeared in a number of publications including The Jerusalem Post and The Boston Globe.

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