Calling Hamas terrorists “militants,” as most of the Western media does, is not only absurd, it’s hateful.
By Michael Oren
Since the start of the Gaza War, I’ve conducted dozens of interviews with the international media, including NBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, and have been dismayed—indeed, sickened—by their use of the word “militants” to describe Hamas terrorists. The word is deeply imbedded in the lexicon of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Wall Street Journal whose latest headline reads, “What Is Hamas? What to Know About the Militant Group Fighting Israel.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “militant” as an adjective describing someone “engaged in warfare or combat” or “aggressively active (as in a cause).” The synonyms are “fighting” and “combative.” How, then, a reasonable person might ask, can the word be used to describe those who massacre more than two hundred concert-goers, machinegun entire communities, and behead babies? How can that word apply to those who kill, maim, rape their victims out of insane religious hate?
In any other context and in relation to any other country or people, the perpetrators of such atrocities would be referred to as terrorists. The attacks of 9/11, the decapitation of Western journalists by ISIS, the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut—all were labelled acts of terrorism. The American press, both left-leaning and right-wing, routinely report on incidents of “domestic terrorism.” There is only one case that I know of in which those responsible for the deaths of innocent people—proportionally equal to 30 9/11’s or 90,000 Americans—are labelled “militants.” The case is, of course, Israel.
Let’s be clear: Hamas terrorists are “militants” solely because their victims are Israeli Jews. Inherent in the word is the belief that the Israeli Jews who were gunned down, tortured, and dismembered somehow had it coming to them. After all, this logic holds the Israelis repeatedly rejected Palestinian offers of peace (and maintain a brutal occupation of the Gaza Strip. Inherent in the word is the belief that Hamas “fighters”—some of my interviewers have used that word as well—for all their excesses, are operating out of a legitimate sense of grievance. Between the criminal and the five members of the Kedem-Siman Tov family (the mother grew up with my children) he shot to death in cold blood there existed a longstanding symmetry, a moral equivalency, a reciprocal relationship of bloodshed. The calculated slaughter of hundreds of Israeli civilians was merely, in the words of the first anchorperson to host me, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, a continuation of “the cycle of violence.”
According to this logic, the murderer of eleven American Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was a terrorist, but the killers of the roughly one hundred Israeli Jews in Kfar Azza were “militants.” No great leap of reasoning would be required to similarly call those responsible for the genocide of European Jewry “Nazi militants.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism cites the following criteria:
Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
To date, forty-three nations have adopted the IHRA definition. The Biden Administration cited it as one of the bases of its initiative to combat antisemitism unveiled in May. Judging by the standard established by IHRA, the use of the word “militant” by the international media is, on several counts, flagrantly antisemitic.
I call on American leaders, national and local, and the heads of American Jewish organizations, on influencers and public intellectuals, to stand up to the media and demand an end to this outrage. By calling Hamas terrorists “militants,” journalists not only condone the massacre of innocent Israelis, they are also complicit in the future slaying of countless others. “Militants” legitimizes the murder of Jews. It is, unassailably, antisemitic.