The charge damning Israel with bombing a hospital in Gaza has circled the globe at lightning speed, time and again. But slowly the truth is getting its pants on.
The evidence is increasingly clear that Israeli Defense Forces did not bomb a hospital in Gaza, either deliberately or inadvertently. A video, now publicly available, shows the rocket coming from inside Gaza, not from outside or from a plane. CNN has had experts confirm that analysis. The US has confirmed that point with sensitive (and still secret) signals-intelligence. So has Israeli intelligence, independent of the US. There is also at least one captured phone call among jihadists acknowledging that the rocket was fired from inside Gaza. That, too, is publicly available. We also know that almost one third of the rockets launched from Gaza, either by Hamas or Palestine Islamic Jihad, misfire and explode within their own territory. (Israel says this rocket was fired by Islamic Jihad.) So, the evidence is strong and mounting that Israel was not responsible for this deadly attack on civilians.
Still, it’s crucial to nail down all the facts before reaching a firm conclusion. Anyone who remembers secretary of state Colin Powell telling the United Nations that Saddam Hussein definitely, absolutely, certainly had weapons of mass destruction can be excused for waiting until all the evidence is in, the conclusions confirmed, the objections refuted by sources without an ax to grind.
Currently, the best judgment by intelligence professionals is that the deadly rocket was fired by a terrorist group from inside Gaza. They are confident in that conclusion and the evidence on which they base it. (Of course, the source of the rockets doesn’t lessen the human tragedy. Innocent people were killed.)
Unfortunately, what actually happened at the hospital is now entirely divorced from its political ramifications. That’s because too many anti-Israel actors have too much to gain from sustaining the story that Israel did it, true or not. Hamas and its backers, plus governments across the Arab and Muslim world, are foremost among. They blame Israel for that deadly bombing and for everything else in a war Hamas started. They have made too many public declarations attributing responsibility for the hospital bombing to the evil “Zionist Entity” to retract those statements. Undergirding those statements is a still-deeper commitment: to an antisemitic hatred. Whatever political leaders think privately, they see too many of their own people rampaging through the streets this week to oppose them. They don’t want to be on the other side of that mob.
As we watch this story play out, it’s worth remembering that it’s not the first time activists, elected officials, dictators and biased media have trafficked in false storylines for political gain, denied or ignored the evidence, and refused to retract those stories or did so only after the fires and public attention have burned out.
Take the harrowing, racially-divisive case involved of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, outside St. Louis. Killed by police there in 2014, Brown’s death sparked widespread rioting, looting and attacks on police. It laid the groundwork for much larger, more violent protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in 2020. The latter prompted calls by progressives and black leaders to defund police or disband police departments entirely.
The protests surrounding Brown’s death in Ferguson were based on the notion, now proven false, that he had already surrendered when police shot him. That claim was encapsulated in the slogan, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Protesters chanted it because they believed that’s what Brown had said. They believed he had raised his hands, surrendered, said “don’t shoot,” and was then killed in cold blood by a policeman.
The whole story was a fable, according to a thorough investigation by the Washington Post, hardly a right-wing source, determined to defend police at all costs. The Post’s Fact Checker gave “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” four Pinocchios, denoting an outright lie.
What mattered politically, however, was not that the story surrounding Brown’s death was a lie but that it was so useful for anti-police activists. Indeed, it is still widely believed. Although the Washington Post gave prominent space to its fact-check, that investigation was not published until nine months after the shooting and the rioting.
It took CBS fully two years to verify that Hunter Biden’s laptop was actually his and that the information on it was his. By then, long after the 2020 election when the lies were propagated, the deceit by mainstream media and suppression by social media giants had served their political purpose. They had been used, deliberately and cynically, to bat down a story that could hurt candidate Joe Biden. The laptop story had been reported in October 2020 by the New York Post, before the election, when it mattered, and verified by computer forensic consultants they had hired. But the New York Post was damned as a right-wing source and its story hidden from wider distribution.
Mainstream news sources stayed away from Hunter’s laptop when it mattered. The CBS verification came long after the election, long after top officials, retired from the CIA, had claimed it had “all the earmarks” of Russian disinformation, long after candidate Biden had used a presidential debate to declare flatly that it was Russian disinformation (all he had to do was ask his son), long after social media giants blackballed the New York Post story and suppressed information from the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. It is a shameful tale of bad journalism for political purposes.
The stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop and Michael Brown’s killing tell us a lot about how false narratives can be deployed and spread by political actors, assisted by biased media, and never blotted out, at least not when it really matters. Those false stories and their political impact carry a message for today, for the false narratives surrounding this week’s tragic bombing of a Gaza hospital. More and more, it looks like the Israelis were not to blame. More and more evidence points to other actors. But for anti-Israeli activists, their media supporters and mobs marching through the streets, that hardly matters. For them, the story is too useful to check, too useful to die.
They would agree with the view of one protester about the Michael Brown killing, “Even if you don’t find that it’s true, it’s a valid rallying cry.” Consider how noxious that use of “valid” is. It simply means “it works.” That was the defense of Senator Harry Reid for propagating another lie. As Senate majority leader, Reid falsely accused Mitt Romney, then the Republican candidate for president, of not paying taxes for ten years. The charge, made on the Senate floor, was given wall-to-wall coverage. It was egregiously false. Polifacts later rated it “pants on fire,” but it did the job Reid intended. The smear helped defeat Romney. Years later, Reid was asked if he had any regrets about telling that lie. His answer was blunt. “It worked, didn’t it?”
Reid’s answer may be the future of a false story that Israel bombed a Gaza hospital and killed almost 500 innocents. Do you think the Hamas or Iran care if it is true? What matters to them is that it has already done important political work for them. As soon as Hamas and the PLO blamed Israel for the bombing, governments across the Arab and Muslim world agreed. They cancelled scheduled meetings with President Joe Biden, who had traveled to the Middle East to meet with them, as well as Israel, in hopes of containing the war between Israel and Hamas.
Do you think the governments that blamed Israel for the hospital bombing are now going to say, “Oops. Now that we have more evidence, we know the killers were really Muslim terrorists. They were the ones who launched the rockets”? Not a chance.
The actors who find the false story so useful don’t want to know what really happened, and they don’t want that knowledge to spread. The truth, if widely known and accepted, would put them in an awkward position. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s iconic line in A Few Good Men, they can’t handle the truth. Why should they even try? They find the lies too valuable to their cause.