As Israel faces international outrage over the death and suffering in Gaza, many are asking whether U.S. opinion is turning against it, too -- and if so, whether the shift is justified.
While Americans overall are still strongly pro-Israel, with 40 percent in a Pew Research poll holding Hamas most responsible for the violence and only 19 percent blaming Israel, those younger than 30 are more likely to believe that Israel is at fault. But are they more open-minded, or more influenced by out-of-context images and imbalanced reporting, further skewed when social media amplify inaccurate early information? While the tragedy of Gaza is undeniable, there is evidence that Israel is being demonized by a narrative that is neither fair nor complete.
An Amnesty International report concedes that Hamas militants have urged Palestinian civilians to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate -- but gives Hamas the benefit of the doubt, adding that this could be due to "desire to minimize panic and displacement."
The deaths of children in Israeli air strikes have been understandably viewed as especially disturbing. Yet it is rarely mentioned that Hamas' use of child labor to build tunnels from Gaza into Israel and Egypt has cost at least 160 children their lives -- as reported in a 2012 paper for the Journal of Palestinian Studies.
Israeli strikes that hit UN-run schools, including ones used as shelters, have been (again understandably) decried. The fact that Hamas has been repeatedly caught storing weapons in such schools, uses a hospital for its headquarters, and often sets up rocket launchers near humanitarian facilities gets much less exposure and is not illustrated by images or human interest stories.
Little attention is paid to evidence that Hamas intimidates journalists with inconvenient stories to tell. Last week, Italian reporter Gabriele Barbati confirmed that a blast which killed nine children at a refugee camp came not from an Israeli strike but from a misfired Hamas rocket -- and said he was only free to disclose it when away from Gaza and safe from retaliation. Russia Today reporter Harry Fear got kicked out of Gaza after tweeting about Hamas firing rockets from a civilian-populated neighborhood.
A New York magazine report that Israeli officials had admitted Hamas was not responsible for the abduction and slaying of three Israeli teens in June was circulated as proof that Israel's war was based on a lie. In fact, the officials had said the kidnapping was probably the work of a "lone" Hamas cell, acting without orders from the central organization. And even that may be wrong: Israel says a captured Hamas operative confessed the kidnapping was ordered and funded by the leadership.
One common argument is that we should take a stronger position on Israel's actions because it receives American financial and military aid. Yet, as former President Bill Clinton noted recently, Hamas receives international aid for humanitarian purposes -- and uses the money instead to build tunnels to attack Israel. It is also rarely mentioned that the blockade of Gaza, cited as a factor in driving Palestinians to desperation and violence, is maintained not only by Israel but by Egypt, in response to the security threat posed by Hamas.
All people of good faith, no matter what their sympathies, should welcome an impartial investigation of the war by media and international groups. "Israel can do no wrong" should not be the stance of any reasonable person. But there is little chance of fair criticism when Israel faces a disproportionate backlash rife with misinformation, double standards, and extreme rhetoric, including comparisons to Nazis -- common in Europe, and increasingly on the U.S. left. In this environment, U.S. support for Israel remains the moral stance.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.