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Seeking the truth in the fog of the Israeli-Hamas war
Tomas Ragina/Getty Images

Seeking the truth in the fog of the Israeli-Hamas war

Everything is 'fake news' now.

As is often the case (or always the case, depending on who you ask), the media — including social media and international news — is saturated with misinformation regarding the events in Gaza.

Did Hamas behead 40 Israeli babies? The situation remains ambiguous, and the lack of clear confirmation has not stopped the claim from becoming a dominant part of the discourse. For many, however, especially those with significant influence, the literal occurrence of an event is less important than conveying some overarching truth.

This conflict, perhaps more than other recent ones, emphasizes themes over factual accounts. Something only needs to “seem true” to serve a purpose; it doesn't necessarily need to have occurred in the strictest definition of the term.

Many recognize that what they're witnessing might not depict the actual events — people seem to know that they’re being fed misinformation. And not in the same way people “knew” they were being fed misinformation during the 2016 presidential election, when the word took on a new and loaded political valence. It’s a meta-awareness — everything is “fake news” now.

Outside a handful of activists and people with skin in the game — people with family in Israel or Gaza, for example — this is a war of symbols.

And how do they know? It might be the timing of the footage; it might be the framing. It might be the press’ reluctance to report on it or not report on it or how quickly the details change. Yet despite this heightened skepticism, as long as a narrative communicates a truth, it doesn't necessarily have to be the truth.

This might stem from the fact that, for some Americans, especially those with no attachments to the region, it’s not about making a statement about Israel or Palestine; it’s an opportunity to speak of something else without saying it explicitly.

This isn't to suggest their emotions aren't genuine or that they're feigning concern, though. Take, for example, the recent scandal at New York University Law School. Ryna Workman, president of NYU’s Student Bar Association, released a statement that said, “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.” Workman didn’t condemn Hamas, but rather explicitly supported its actions.

As it turned out, Workman had accepted a job offer to work at Winston & Strawn LLP, a law firm that primarily represents large corporations. The offer was quickly rescinded, and the firm condemned Workman’s comments.

On social media, people shared their disgust about what Workman had said. Some blamed school administrators (and occasionally progressive American Jews as a group) for enabling political views like Workman’s. Others were just in disbelief – in their view, it was unfathomable to share something so callous. But after days of back and forth, the conversation boiled down to the racial politics that have plagued America for years.

But still, none of that is really about Israel or Palestine. Stateside, the hot war in Gaza is shaping up to be a turning point in our ongoing culture war. So it doesn’t matter what is or isn’t factually true. Outside a handful of activists and people with skin in the game — people with family in Israel or Gaza, for example — this is a war of symbols.

Are people like Workman, who will go on to make six figures representing major corporations, truly “in solidarity with the Palestinian people” or, even more radically, Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamist military organization? Or are they symbolically against American hegemony and feel that if they “support” Hamas, they’re standing against ... well, let’s be frank ... their competition?

Do we genuinely believe that people like Workman — who do, I hate to say it, become millionaires and lead very comfortable, enviable lives — would use their class position or influence or power or whatever you want to call it to subvert the current order and make the world a more egalitarian place? Ordo they just want a slice of the pie that they see as being taken from them unfairly?

When people like Workman condemn Israel, are they condemning Israel per se?

The answer is probably not. Definitely not. So what does it matter to them what really happened?

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