The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

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Northeastern faculty and professional journalists comment on Israel and Gaza at university panel

Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities invited students to attend an Open Classroom Series Oct. 11 featuring Northeastern professors and veteran journalists who voiced their thoughts on the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza.

Moderated by Jonathan Kaufman, director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism, the event probed panelists’ reactions to the current war, which the United Nations says has resulted in over 4,200 casualties, and discussed the journalistic challenges of covering the unfolding events.

The panel consisted of six academic scholars and journalists: Jill Abramson, former editor of the New York Times; Bob Davis, former senior editor at The Wall Street Journal; Dan Lothian, professor of the practice in journalism and executive producer of The World, NPR’s international news show; Lori Lefkovitz, director of the Northeastern Jewish Studies program; Rima Farah, visiting lecturer in the Jewish Studies program; and Eve Trout Powell, professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Pennsylvania.

“There are very few places these days which are not polarized, so we tried to put together a panel of people with different political views and backgrounds, but it’s only going to work if people try to make this succeed and understand where others are coming from,” Kaufman said in his opening statement.

Farah began by saying the last time Israel was unprepared for an attack such as Hamas’ was during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel’s forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights in an attempt to gain control of the land.

Farah said that in the past, the conflict has been between the Arab nations and Israel, usually over land control, but that this time was different. “Israel today is looking at and facing not a war with a state as it was before, but with a terror organization [Hamas].”

Kaufman asked Farah to “put herself in the shoes of Hamas” and think about the motive behind the attack.

Farah said she believes society tends to equate Hamas with the views of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and shared how Hamas interferes with opportunities to establish peace in the region.

“[As Hamas] I will look and see there are the Abraham Accords and the potential peace treaty, and I would say, ‘No, this is pushing me away from the center of being in control,’” Farah responded. She said one of the ways radical organizations like Hamas reassert power is through violence like the Oct. 7 attack.

Lefkovitz highlighted the damage resulting from back-and-forth blame narratives on social media and in the news. “This unilateral blaming in a context of so much complexity is unhelpful,” she said.

“Somehow, Hamas is being celebrated. This is not how you draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians by murdering babies in their beds,” she said.

As the president of the Middle East Studies Association, or MESA, Trout Powell spoke about her decision to sign the 2022 boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, referendum which aimed to “hold the government accountable for ongoing human rights violations [by the Israeli government].”

“Institutions should bring pressure on Israel, remove endowments and their campuses [in Israel],” Trout Powell said. Her main goal in signing the voting membership was to “wake the world up to occupation.”

A Northeastern student became visibly upset at Trout Powell’s comments and stood up to evoke how she felt.

“I think it’s a huge, huge problem to endorse BDS,” the student, who identified herself as Talia, said. “It’s eliminating the Jewish state and to endorse an organization that endorses the destruction of a state, not for the uplifting of the Palestinian people, is so damaging.” 

Another Northeastern student, who identified herself as Dana, said she was most surprised by “the incredibly apathetic response from many who are completely unrelated to the issue,” following the grief and shock she had been dealing with all week as an Israeli student.

Lefkovitz expressed concern about the immediate jump in the media to talking about the political context in the Middle East amid so much violence and death. “It feels disproportionate to me,” she said. “What feels urgent right now is the immediate suffering.”

“The description and images of what occurred were not war as we knew it, but a pogrom,” Lefkovitz said. “The intended victims were not soldiers, the Israeli Defense Force, but normal people living in kibbutzim, living in the city.”

Although it is important to look at how Palestinians are suffering under conditions imposed by the Israeli government, Farah said it’s equally as important to present an accurate picture of what Hamas stands for.

“There’s no doubt as humans, we look at the [conditions of the Gaza strip] and say it needs to stop,” Farah said. “But I think it’s also important to exert a certain balance when alerting citizens about what is happening among citizens when it comes to Hamas. Israel can be a problem, but we have to look at how other groups have been involved.”

Soft-spoken but impassioned, a Northeastern student, who did not identify themselves, approached the panel to express concerns about the rhetoric of news organizations like BBC News, which represent Israeli deaths using the word “killed,” versus Palestinian deaths using the word “died,” which they said could have dangerous implications for Palestinians.

This language gives way to public opinion feeling that one nation’s deaths were purposely inflicted, while the other one’s just “happened,” they said.

Members of the panel agreed that news organizations are often challenged when deciding what language to use, particularly in instances of conflict. However, Lothian said it depends on the individual reporter who may not have realized a difference.

Lothian said his podcast is putting together its own unique style guide on how language should be used in the context of this war to prevent biased or insensitive voices in their publications.

“Over-inflammatory hyperbolic language is unnecessary,” Abramson said. “It’s counterproductive in the most extreme way… words should be chosen carefully.”

All of the panelists agreed upon the fact that this war is full of nuance and there is no simple approach to covering it, let alone processing all of the information seen on social media and in the news.

“There are not two sides, but a thousand sides,” Trout Powell said. 

About the Contributor
Alexa Coultoff, Projects Editor
Alexa Coultoff is a second-year criminal justice and journalism combined major and projects editor of The News. Previously a staff writer for The News, she is excited to bring new insights and investigations into the projects section this semester. You can follow her on Twitter for updates @alexacoultoff.
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