Abu Akleh case on social media: Where facts go to die - opinion

No matter who was responsible for the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, Palestinian terrorists or the IDF, it was not a murder nor was it an assassination.

 ‘SQUAD’ MEMBERS, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, took to Twitter to bash Israel for the ‘murder’ of a journalist. (photo credit: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
‘SQUAD’ MEMBERS, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, took to Twitter to bash Israel for the ‘murder’ of a journalist.
(photo credit: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

It’s been a terrible week on social media for Israel and Israel’s institutions, and the police certainly aren’t helping themselves. Incorrect information has taken over the narrative on social media, especially on Twitter, and subsequent events have only intensified the problem. If you ever wanted a case study in how quickly misinformation can spread, the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is a pristine example.

On May 11, Abu Akleh, while wearing a press vest, was killed during an IDF counter terror operation in Jenin, where the IDF and Palestinian terrorists exchanged gunfire. In the immediate aftermath, it was unclear who was responsible for the death of Shireen, yet that didn’t stop Al Jazeera from accusing Israel, or Palestinians on social media from reporting that Israel assassinated a journalist (and calling for revenge).

In response, Israel immediately called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority to review who in fact was responsible for the accidental death of Shireen Abu Akleh (which the Palestinian Authority adamantly and suspiciously refused to do).

In the hours and days following Shireen’s death, footage from the scene of the tragic incident continued to be shared on social media. In one clip released by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), they showed themselves opening fire nearby and claiming they hit a soldier. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported explicitly that “no Palestinians had opened fire” – which was 100% inaccurate, even by the Palestinians’ admission.

It may be unlikely that the PIJ gunfire was responsible for the death of the journalist, based on estimates of where the shooters were geographically. However, multiple other clips at the scene show Palestinians believing that the victim (Abu Akleh) was not only male but an IDF soldier at first, only to realize it was a journalist.

 A portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, is displayed during a special mass in her memory in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, May 16, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA) A portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, is displayed during a special mass in her memory in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, May 16, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

Meanwhile, during a press conference, the Palestinian forensic director refused to state that Israel was responsible for the death of Abu Akleh.

SO WE do not know who was responsible. We will only know after a thorough investigation – and perhaps not even then. Therefore, for any news source to be outright lying (Al Jazeera), or for public figures like Mehdi Hassan, Bella Hadid and Susan Sarandon to be accusing Israel of assassination is slanderous, unethical and incitement to more violence. Even more outrageous, US Congress members from The Squad, including Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, immediately took to Twitter to bash Israel for the murder of a journalist and called for consequences from the US in the form of cutting or reevaluating aid to Israel.

Thanks to social media, not only has the narrative spun out of control based on a completely unproven accusation, but now elected officials are even spouting off about consequences for Israel for an event (a murder) that didn’t happen. No matter who was responsible for the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, Palestinian terrorists or the IDF, it was not a murder nor was it an assassination.

This inflammatory rhetoric is intended to ignite rage against Israel and, just as we saw last May, leads to antisemitic violence in Israel and abroad. These public figures have a responsibility to encourage dialogue and cooperation, not to exacerbate tensions.

Perhaps the most absurd aspect of the whole incident is that, while it is incredibly tragic, there are dozens of journalists who have been killed in war zones while reporting. None, including the 23 journalists killed in Ukraine, have received the same level of attention or outrage as what occurred with Shireen Abu Akleh. This is a double standard being promoted by both public figures on social media and Al Jazeera itself.

It was this outrage and double standard that fueled tensions at the funeral of Abu Akleh, in which rioters violated the wishes of the Abu Akleh family, which had coordinated the funeral procession with the Israeli police. Instead, rioters took the casket and carried it out on foot instead of in a vehicle, ignoring the demands of the family, Israeli police and the EU ambassador to stop.

According to the Israeli police, some of the rioters began attacking them and police retaliated, beating the rioters (some of whom were holding the casket) in a shameful scene that the police should never have been a part of. The images went viral.

After the instigators were arrested, the funeral proceeded as normal, but the damage on social media was already done. Israel was attacked for assaulting mourners’ at the funeral even though those beaten were in fact hijacking the funeral for their own political cause. The Palestinian propagandists succeeded in putting the Israeli police in a lose-lose situation, which they should have handled differently and frankly should have known better. Once again, the facts don’t matter anymore because of a 30-second clip on Twitter.

It’s unfortunate that we live in an era where truth is more and more scarce, but that doesn’t always mean the truth won’t get out. We must continue to expose and call out inaccurate statements, sloppy reporting and outright lies.

The writer is CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.