TEL AVIV (JTA) — When he spoke with a news anchor on Thursday night, Israeli reservist Aviad Frija was hailed by right-wing politicians and commentators as a hero for his role in responding to a terror attack at a Jerusalem bus stop earlier that day.
By Monday, Frija was arrested by the IDF and under investigation. The man he had shot was not a suspected terrorist but an Israeli civilian who had himself played a role in halting the attack.
According to video from the scene, Frija had shot the man, a 38-year-old lawyer named Yuval Doron Castleman, after Castleman had gotten on his knees, dropped his gun and put his hands in the air to show that he was not a threat. Castleman, a former police officer turned lawyer, was initially left bleeding on the ground and later died of his wounds, a day shy of his 38th birthday.
Castleman “did everything he needed to do so they could identify him. He went down on his knees, opened his jacket to show he didn’t have any explosives on him, yelled at them, ‘Don’t shoot, I’m Jewish, I’m Israeli,’ and they continued to shoot him,” his father, Moshe Castleman, said on Israeli Army Radio.
Castleman’s death has drawn scrutiny to the ways in which Israel’s right-wing government has encouraged everyday Israelis to own guns and fight terror themselves — a gambit to boost security that, critics say, has instead led to the spilling of more Israeli blood. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who already faces widespread public disapproval over his handling of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — has come in for more criticism in recent days over what some say was a flippant response to Castleman’s death.
“This has allowed a jungle in terms of everything related to distributing weapons, using weapons,” Eran Etzion, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council, said on Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster. “This is a terrible thing that will have far-reaching consequences… an atmosphere where everyone will take a weapon, and use it.”
Castleman’s family is also castigating officials for their response. His father and sister Shaked have called his death an “execution,” while his sister Noga said the family did not hear from the police until several hours after the incident and did not get the chance to comfort Castleman in his final hours of life.
“We carried on with our lives as he was fighting for his life,” Noga said, according to Kan. “We weren’t there to caress him, to call to him. I wouldn’t wish upon anyone that they hear what happened to a loved one in such an unclear way.”
After his death, said Shaked, “instead of mourning, we find ourselves in a war for justice.”
For more than a year, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, has encouraged private citizens to own guns and has made Israel’s historically strict gun-control requirements more lenient. He has also pushed to loosen open-fire regulations for police officers, whom he oversees. Earlier this year, he praised an Israeli settler who killed a Palestinian in an altercation. (Frija is a member of the Hilltop Youth, a group of young extremist settlers, as well as a reservist in the IDF.)
Since Oct. 7, Ben-Gvir said in a recent government hearing, more than 260,000 people have applied for gun licenses. “When the war started, we knew that we were right when we said that every place that has a weapon can save a life,” he said at a recent meeting of his party, Otzma Yehudit or Jewish Power.
But Ben-Gvir’s policies have faced backlash. In recent weeks, Israeli media reported that U.S. officials were threatening to stop supplying guns to Israel if they continued to wind up in the hands of civilians. (The Department of State declined to comment, with an official telling JTA the department does not comment as a matter of policy on “the status of licensed direct commercial defense sales activities.”) On Monday, the head of Israel’s Firearm Licensing Department resigned in protest of the loosened gun ownership requirements.
And critics of Netanyahu’s government have drawn a link between Ben-Gvir’s policies and Frija’s shooting of Castleman, even though Frija was in uniform at the time.
Moshe Yaalon, a former Netanyahu ally and defense minister, posted online that Ben Gvir’s “populist calls” to loosen open-fire regulations “contributed to the tragic result.” Yaalon and others also linked the shooting to a 2016 incident in which IDF soldier Elor Azaria shot dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist who was lying on the ground. Azaria was tried and convicted but also became a hero to some on the right.
Netayahu’s critics have also chided him for his initial response to the incident, in which he defended Ben-Gvir’s policy though he acknowledged that it posed potential dangers.
“We know that in the waves of terror in the last decade and earlier, the presence of armed civilians often saves the situation and has prevented a huge disaster,” he said. “I think that in the present situation we need to continue this policy. I fully support that. It may be that we will pay a price for this, and that’s life.”
The “that’s life” comment particularly irked critics, and on Sunday, Netanyahu offered a more sympathetic message in a video shared to his social media in which he said he had spoken to Castleman’s father.
“Yuval Doron Castleman is a hero of Israel. In a supreme act of bravery, Yuval saved many lives,” Netanyahu said. “However, unfortunately, a terrible tragedy occurred there – and the man who had saved others was killed. There must be a thorough inquiry.”
In the days following the incident, the IDF has released several statements indicating that its rules of engagement forbid firing upon suspects with their hands raised, and announced on Monday that Frija is being detained and questioned in what is called a “preliminary arrest.” Since his initial interview, Frija has subsequently claimed that he was acting out of fear for his own life.
Critics of the shooting on the left do not see it as an isolated incident, but as the result of a culture that has been nurtured for years on the Israeli right. Avner Gvaryahu, director of the Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation group focused on the experiences of combat veterans, described a “years-long campaign led by the right-wing politicians, organizations, spokespeople, and journalists to ‘not tie the hands of our soldiers’” when they face a threat — though he noted that it was impossible to know what Frija was thinking in the moment.
Gvaryahu, whose organization leads tours in the West Bank, said he sees that culture taking hold there as well. He said, from what he’s witnessed, rules of engagement for soldiers are “becoming more flexible, basically, making it easier to shoot.”
In the face of the criticism, Ben Gvir and others on the right have portrayed the incident as a horrible accident. In an online post, right-wing journalist Yotam Zimri called the shooting a “terrible tragedy” and implied that it was wrong to place blame on Frija.
“There are no bad guys in this story except for the two Arab murderers,” he said, referring to the two Hamas-affiliated terrorists who perpetrated Thursday’s attack. “If you’re looking for other bad guys, there’s something wrong with you.”
But during a visit with Castleman’s family on Monday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog acknowledged that the state bore some responsibility for his death.
“I have come here not as a private citizen but as the president of the state of Israel, to ask forgiveness and express great appreciation for a hero of Israel who did something great and courageous,” Herzog said, adding that Castleman “paid with his life in what I see as the worst and most outrageous way possible.”
Harvard University Students Chant ‘From Water to Water, Palestine Will be Arab’
Harvard University students continue to chant slogans widely deemed genocidal against Jews, according to new footage of a “die-in” protest that is viral on social media.
On Monday, dozens of students, led by “Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine,” amassed on the steps of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library and chanted “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab” in Arabic, following the phrase with a rhythmic, call and response chanting of “Free, Free, Palestine!”
“They’re clearly calling for a very frightening vision of what they think should happen in Israel and Palestine,” Harvard University student Charlie Covit told The Algemeiner on Tuesday. “Just imagine students chanting that America should be white from the Atlantic to the Pacific. One might argue that doesn’t constitute calling for a genocide of minorities, but it’s still immensely frightening and racist.”
The students, according to The Harvard Crimson, later laid on the steps of the library, pretending to die.
Since Oct. 7, extremist anti-Zionists at Harvard have oscillated between commending violence committed by Hamas — which murdered civilians and raped women during a massacre across southern Israel — and condemning violence when it appears that Israel may successfully eradicate the terrorist group from the Palestinian territories, calling for a “ceasefire now” and falsely accusing Israel of “genocide,” for example. Monday’s protest condemned Israel’s military operation in the city of Rafah, which resulted in the recovery of two hostages kidnapped by Hamas.
“According to the Hamas view of things, there are no civilians in Israel and no combatants in Gaza. Every death in Israel can be justified in some way,” Covit said, commenting on the protesters mixed messaging. “It’s scary, especially as we learn more about what happened on Oct. 7. If they really cared about Palestinians, let them criticize Israel, but let them also say ‘maybe don’t build tunnels under [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency].”
For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”
In November, a mob of anti-Israel activists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student on campus. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.
Three weeks later, they issued a set of demands an an ultimatum to former Harvard President Claudine Gay, which included the reinstatement of a student proctor involved in mobbing the Jewish student.
The conduct of administrators has also caused concern from Jewish students, alumni, and elected officials. Claudine Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. Gay, who has since resigned in disgrace, eventually condemned students’ chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” another chant interpreted as calling for a genocide of Jews in Israel, however, she severely undermined the public’s confidence in her administration after she suggested during a congressional hearing that calling for the genocide of Jews does not necessarily constitute bullying and harassment on campus.
Harvard’s mounting controversies prompted an investigation by the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce, an inquiry administrators have allegedly obstructed by refusing to share documents requested by committee chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). On Wednesday, Foxx issued the school a “final warning” to comply with the committee’s instructions.
In the interim, the school is managing another antisemitism scandal following reports that a Middle Eastern studies professor has invited Dalal Saeb Iriqat, an extreme anti-Zionist and alleged advocate of terrorism, to the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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Hezbollah Commander Training Russians in Operation of Iranian Drones, Ukrainian Intelligence Says
A senior Hezbollah commander is leading training sessions for Russian troops in the use of Iranian-made drones to prosecute Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to a Ukrainian intelligence report.
Ukrainian media sources on Monday quoted the assessment of Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) that Kamal Abu Sadiq — a commander of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization — is training the Russians with the assistance of officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russian soldiers are being schooled in the operation of drones, including the Shahed-136/-131, the Ababil-3 and the Qods Raab 85, which have been used to deadly effect against civilian population centers in a war fast approaching its second anniversary.
The training is taking place at the Shayrat Airbase in the Syrian city of Homs. The Israeli Air Force has launched airstrikes against Shayrat on several occasions since the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel, which triggered a new round of tensions between Israel and Iran’s regional allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The Ukrainian intelligence report highlighting Abu Sadiq’s role comes one week after the GUR revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime is recruiting mercenaries in Syria — where Russian arms helped to secure the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad during that country’s devastating civil war — to fight in Ukraine.
In a post on the Telegram social media channel, the GUR said “the aggressor state of Russia is recruiting mercenaries in Syria to participate in hostilities against Ukraine.” It noted that about 1,000 newly-recruited mercenaries were being trained in urban warfare techniques at the Kuweires Military Aviation Institute near the city of Aleppo. From Kuweires, the mercenaries were taken “to the Khmeimim air base, and from there to the territory of the Russian Federation,” the GUR said. “After arriving in Russia, they are issued Russian passports, and then mobilized into the occupation army.” An accompanying video showed some of the mercenaries brandishing Russian passports just five days after submitting their applications.
“Recruiting Syrians for the war indicates the deterioration of the moral and psychological state of the Russian occupying forces due to large-scale losses,” the GUR post observed.
Iran has emerged as one of Russia’s key allies since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, providing the Russian regime with military and diplomatic support. Recent efforts in the US to bolster Ukraine’s defensive capabilities have been blocked by Congressional Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump, who last week threatened to allow the Russians “to do whatever they hell they want” to European allies who fail, on his terms, to contribute a significant portion of their national budget to defense.
On Monday night, the US Senate approved a $95 billion aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas. However, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has pledged to block the bill over a dispute concerning security arrangements on the US-Mexico border, saying that “any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border.”
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Media Outlets Use Daring Israeli Rescue of Hostages to Shield Hamas, Attack Israel
Early on Monday, February 12, news outlets reported that Israel had rescued two hostages from Hamas captivity in Gaza.
But instead of sticking to the facts of the daring overnight raid in Rafah — which happen to justify Israel’s claim that the southern Gaza city is a Hamas stronghold — prominent news sites framed the story in a way that minimized the terror group’s role and presented Palestinians as the victims.
The result inverted reality: Positive news was portrayed as negative and good became evil.
Such framing, which subtly cast doubt on the worthiness of the Israeli rescue operation, was achieved by using one or more of the following tactics:
Selectively using the word ‘”freed” instead of “rescued.”
Uncritically emphasizing the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes during the raid.
Adding lengthy paragraphs focusing on the plight of 1.4 million displaced Gazans in Rafah, and their fear of a potentially imminent Israeli invasion.
Ignoring Hamas altogether.
The Guardian, for example, packaged the first two points in a headline that reads: “Two Israeli hostages freed in Rafah, says IDF, as Palestinians report dozens of deaths.”
Who freed the hostages? Hamas? Islamic Jihad? An invisible force? Unclear.
Using the word “freed” rather than the value-laden “rescued” muddies the dramatic nature of the Israeli operation and whitewashes Hamas. That’s because it blurs the lines between the two sides and can also be mistakenly attributed to the terror group, as seen above.
But what’s worse is the added framing of Palestinian casualties — some of whom are undoubtedly terrorists killed in the raid.
And it’s not just in the headline.
The first paragraph of the story leads with the Palestinian death toll, according to “Gaza health officials,” who don’t differentiate between terrorists and civilians:
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on the southern city of Rafah, according to Gaza health officials, as the Israeli military said it had freed two hostages during a raid by special forces on the city.
The rest of the story — except for 2.5 paragraphs dedicated to the Israeli hostages — includes 18.5 paragraphs on the suffering of displaced Palestinians in the area, amid global warnings against a looming Israeli invasion of Rafah.
It is not clear why such background paragraphs don’t include any information on Hamas’ entrenchment amid or under the civilian population of the city, particularly in light of the fact that Israeli hostages had been held in an apartment building there.
The Guardian’s story was partly based on a Reuters report, which also used “freed” in its headline and framed the Israeli operation with unverified casualty numbers that serve the Palestinian narrative:
We’ve fixed your headline, @Reuters. The hostages were rescued, not “freed.”
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 12, 2024
But they framed their headlines similarly:
And the live coverage page of the BBC still led with the lethal Israeli strikes:
Voice Of America (VOA) went further and did not even mention the Israeli rescue operation in its headline about the Rafah strikes:
It’s been some 9 hours since it was publicly announced that Israel had rescued two hostages from Rafah.
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 12, 2024
VOA’s story starts with what seems to be random Israeli air strikes that killed tens of Palestinians sheltering in Rafah. Again, no context is provided, nor is there any critical caveat about the problematic source for Gaza’s casualty figures:
Israeli airstrikes Monday hit the southern city of Rafah, killing at least 67 people according to local health officials in the area of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million civilians have already fled to in order to escape the war.
Residents described heavy bombing, with the Israeli strikes hitting several houses and mosques.
It’s not until the third paragraph that VOA mentions the Israeli rescue operation, although it is almost glossed over as a mere coincidence:
“…the strikes coincided with a mission that rescued two Israeli hostages who were being held by Hamas militants.
NBC News also made the Israeli airstrikes look like an indiscriminate bombing of Rafah, unrelated to the fact that Hamas had been holding the Israeli hostages there:
Some media outlets didn’t just change words or add context.
National Public Radio, for example, completely omitted Hamas from its story about the Israeli rescue operation.
It did not mention Hamas even once, as if the Israeli forces had been fighting an unidentified enemy:
The Israeli military said on Monday that special forces rescued two Israeli hostages held in Gaza.
Heavy airstrikes were conducted during the operation and there were initial reports that Palestinians were killed in the strikes.
Disturbingly, NPR relied on a military report that clearly identified Hamas as the group that kidnapped the hostages on October 7, while its terrorists killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and abducted some 240 others.
Why did NPR ignore that?
Whatever the reason, the result is the whitewashing of the murderers responsible for taking the hostages in the first place.
Indeed, it’s possible to sum up by repeating the cliche that framing is everything.
But it shouldn’t be.
Journalists should avoid it and simply report the facts accurately.
They should also be aware of the ramifications of their words, especially when these words are used to minimize evil — the evil of a terror group that holds hostages while using innocent civilians as a human shield.
And when journalists fail to do so, news consumers deserve to know that they are being misled.
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.
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