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May 10, 2023 9:47 am

What Is Islamic Jihad? The New York Times Misleads Its Readers About the Answer

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avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times is covering Israel’s counterterrorism operation in Gaza by whitewashing the terrorist organization’s goals.

Under the headline, “What Is Islamic Jihad and Why Is Israel Targeting It?” the Times offers what it calls “A brief guide to the armed group that saw three leaders killed in Israeli airstrikes early Tuesday.”

Times reporter Raja Abdulrahim reports, “Islamic Jihad was founded in the 1980s in the Gaza Strip to fight the Israeli occupation and maintains a presence in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Compare that highly sanitized and misleadingly minimalist New York Times statement of the group’s ambition to the more direct one in the U.S. State Department’s 2021 terrorism report: “Formed by militant Palestinians in Gaza during the 1970s, PIJ is committed to the destruction of Israel and to the creation of an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including present-day Israel.”

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The Times simply won’t level with its readers that the goal of this terrorist group isn’t merely to “fight the Israeli occupation,” but to destroy Israel entirely and replace it with an Islamic state. I guess it’s technically possible to reconcile the two statements if one believes that “the Israeli occupation” describes the entire land of Israel, every square inch of it, but that’s not how the term is commonly understood outside of terrorist groups dedicated to wiping Israel off the map.

Cambridge University Press published A History of Palestinian Islamic Jihad by Erik Skare in 2021. In it, Skare describes the ideology of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s founder, Fathi al-Shiqaqi: “Because of Israel’s nature as a colonial entity in the region, and not merely as an occupying power, al-Shiqaqi concluded that all Arabs and Muslims would persist in their state of dependence on the West on the intellectual, political, economic, and military levels as long as Israel exists. Israel is then the very precondition and source for continued instability and wars in the region. It is consequently through al-Shiqaqi’s analysis of Israel as a colonial entity, and as an extended part of colonialism in its entirety, that we understand why PIJ asserts that recognizing any part of it, or giving up any inch of Palestine, is unlawful.”

Skare interviewed a member of PIJ’s political bureau, Anwar Abu Taha, who told him, “What is the solution with Israel? Fighting. Here is the West. What is the solution? Conversion [to Islam]. Not Marxism, but conversion. …What is anti-Westernization? The Islamization of the entire world.”

Skare describes the terrorist organization’s beginnings among Egypt-based students from 1974 to 1981. “It was there that they gradually formulated the initial tenets of PIJ’s ideology,” he writes, describing al-Shiqaqi’s apartment near Zagazig University, where the future terrorist group leader was a medical student.

Al-Shiqaqi has recalled, “There, in Egypt, we met as a group of believing and intellectual Palestinian youths, with the roots of rich cultural and political experiences. We discovered each other at evening gatherings as most of us read Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Sartre, T. S. Eliot, and others, and also Naguib Mahfouz, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, and Salah Abdel Sabour, just as we read Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Hassan al-Banna, Baqir al-Sadr, and Sayyid Qutb, in addition to sporadic Islamic sciences, humanities, and history. I recall writing critical reviews of Sartre when I was seventeen years old and articles on Lenin on the centennial anniversary of his birth when I was nineteen years old.”

Anyway, the idea that this is all about the Israel occupation of Gaza—from which, the Times omits to mention, Israel withdrew in 2005—is nonsense.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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