On Wednesday, Nov. 15, the opinion editors of The Amherst Student published a statement with a new policy regarding Israel-Palestine op-eds, with the goal of the paper’s platform not being used in such a way that it would be complicit with the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. It outlined a policy to not publish, or to publish with critical editor’s notes, submissions that supported or were complicit in the perpetration of this ethnic cleansing. The piece was quickly met with criticism, and the writers had their names and faces posted to a far-right pro-Israel account on Instagram and Twitter, where the comments were filled with threats, hate, and racism.
The writers soon retracted the policy and issued a clarification. While the clarification addressed a number of important potential issues with the language and tone of the original statement, the policy itself is an essential step in ensuring The Student remains an ethical journalistic publication, and I argue that it should be reinstated in some form.
Any publication’s attempt at “neutrality” — meaning an equal platforming of every discourse about an issue — is futile in an environment where mainstream Western media (such as The New York Times, and CNN, to name a few) has been extremely biased against Palestine. This extends from what they cover down to the language they use when covering it, and this kind of bias has existed for over a decade.
A 2011 analysis of over 200 news programs done for the BBC by the Glasgow Media Group found that words like “atrocity,” “brutal murder,” “lynching,” and “slaughter” were commonly used to describe the killing of Israelis but almost never Palestinians. On the other hand, words like “terrorist” were almost exclusively used to designate Palestinians, while Israelis who committed blatant terror attacks, such as a group that was reported attempting to bomb a Palestinian school, were labeled “vigilantes,” or “extremists.” Israeli voices were in general featured over twice as often as Palestinians.
Now, the massacre being committed against Palestine is almost exclusively referred to by mainstream media as the “Israel-Hamas War.” The use of “Hamas” instead of “Palestine” is a substitution used to manufacture continued consent for the atrocities by maintaining the false impression that Israel’s operations primarily target members of Hamas or are effectively dismantling the group’s regime. After all, by the IDF’s own estimates, 86 percent of those killed by Israeli bombs since Oct. 7 have been civilians, with an estimated 70 percent of those killed having been women and children.
Mainstream media outlets in the U.S. similarly platform the claim that Hamas uses human shields, despite the fact that very little evidence exists to support this assertion and, conversely, NGOs have repeatedly found over the years that Hamas’ operations in Gaza do not meet the international definition of “human shields.” By presenting this shaky argument as an unproblematic truth, these outlets boldly legitimize Israel’s utilitarian logic that the thousands of children they have killed are justifiable collateral damage in the attempt to destroy a small number of Hamas combatants.
In a testament to the disingenuousness of the “human shields” claim, Israeli officials have used dehumanizing and racialized language, such as “human animals” and “children of darkness,” when referring to their enemy in the conflict. While these specific remarks were addressed to Hamas combatants, we must recognize how the force of these words goes beyond their explicit meaning in the context of a far-right Israeli regime that violently represses Palestinians and has vowed to annex the West Bank: They are part of a broader narrative that all Palestinians are terrorists or potential terrorists, and are liable to be dominated as such. For instance, in the West Bank, where Hamas is not in power, bombings and raids have also escalated since Oct. 7, resulting in hundreds of Palestinians being killed. Amid all of this, it seems clear that Israel’s military campaign cannot accurately be called a war with Hamas.
The bias of mainstream Western journalism against the Palestinian perspective is one of the main ways in which Israel has been able to maintain such widespread support. This is evidenced by the ways in which the Israeli government has actively worked to silence dissenting voices, such as their various attempts to shut down newspapers like Al-Jazeera and Haaretz — the latter of which is considered by many to be Israel’s “highest quality newspaper” — for contradicting their narrative. It can be further seen in their targeted killings of Palestinian journalists.
Even outside of the Middle East, those who have attempted to provide an honest accounting of the crisis have been met with doxxing and intimidation, such as what happened to The Student editors. This very doxxing further showcases the need for honest and ethical reporting on Palestine. In order to legitimize and maintain support for brutal warfare, Israeli propaganda works by silencing, harassing, and shaming those who dissent from their point of view, and this reality makes extraordinarily clear the importance of fighting against this propaganda.
Amherst College is not removed from this widespread bias. On Thursday, Nov.16, President Michael Elliott sent an email announcing that New York Times columnist Bret Stephens would be speaking about Israel at Amherst. Stephens has a long history of extremely bigoted comments, which includes referring to antisemitism as a “disease of the Arab mind.” Stephens’ visit without a comparable pro-Palestine presidential speaker is just one clear-cut example of the administration’s pro-Israel bias.
As such, it is imperative that The Student not contribute to this immensely biased landscape when such bias is actively enabling genocide. Declaring neutrality and allowing op-eds that justify this mass death to be published without any notes or additional context accompanying them is to be complicit in the mass propaganda campaign.
In my view, this is not a violation of free speech. I believe it is essential to hold critical discussions around this crisis that involve a wide variety of different perspectives. But when it comes to what is published, shared, and read as the truth, as newspapers are, it is essential not to contribute to a mass humanitarian crisis in any way. Pro-Israel articles should be allowed to be shared in The Student, but not those that attempt to justify the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, and errors of fact or misrepresentations of what is happening should be clearly noted and corrected.
When the nation of Israel has the support of mainstream media, nearly all members of the U.S. government, and this school’s administration, it becomes even more clear that it is an absolute necessity to have spaces and platforms like The Student dedicated not to spreading pro-genocide propaganda, but to illuminating the massacre of the Palestinian people and speaking out against it.
In the face of a crisis like this one, “neutrality” is a false idol, an imagined ideal. In a country where our tax dollars go to supporting Israel, an institution where our endowment is used to invest in weapons companies that support Israel, an economy where you will be fired for speaking out against Israel, and a media landscape that is biased towards Israel in almost every way, attempting to achieve neutrality becomes nothing more than support for this immensely non-neutral landscape. By default, your position is chosen for you. You must either be OK with that position, or reject it.
As editors, journalists, and human beings, we have a responsibility to use our platforms, such as The Student, not just to promote “neutrality” but to promote truth, honesty, and ethics. One side is committing a genocide, and the other is a victim of a genocide. The situation itself is not neutral, and The Student should not be neutral either. Articles such as that of David Wolpaw ’92 which parrot the “human shields” talking point to justify mass civilian killings should at the very least be accompanied by critical notes. It should not allow for the publication of articles justifying ethnic cleansing, and should make sure articles with pro-Israel viewpoints, like all viewpoints, contain accurate information and are free from bigotry.