Unfit to Print: The Long Journey of African Refugees

Some news is not fit to print, but you may find it online. Today the Times ran a short item in the World Briefing section of its print edition. It is titled “Israel: Migrants Protest New Law,” and it contains fewer than 100 words, a very brief account.

It’s also a very ho-hum story. The migrants (asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan) are dismayed by a new law that allows for their indefinite detention. About 200 of them protested outside the prime minister’s office and marched to parliament. With some background about the law, that’s the end of the story.

But the real story didn’t begin there and didn’t end there. The Africans had walked out of their open prison in the Negev Desert two days before, making their way on foot to Beer Sheva, in the midst of bitter cold. They arrived in Jerusalem by bus, held their protest, and then they were hauled back to prison, this time to a closed facility.

The online story by Isabel Kershner is nearly seven times the length of the printed piece. It describes the shoddy footwear of the marchers, their journey, the placards they held and their re-arrest in Jerusalem. It quotes an asylum seeker who asks, “How can a refugee be in prison for two years?” and it quotes Prime Minister Netanyahu, who refers to the refugees as “infiltrators.”

At the bottom of the online piece a brief notice states, “A version of this article appears in print on December 18, 2013 on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘Israel: Migrants Protest New Law.’”

You would think that a Times editor would be quick to print the full story, for it involves drama, pathos and serious concerns about racism and unequal treatment. It has drawn the attention of Israeli and international activists, and it has been covered elsewhere in greater detail, especially in the Israeli press.

But the usual standards often don’t apply when the news involves Israel, and sometime before the print edition went to bed, a decision was made: readers of the Times print edition were deemed unworthy of knowing the full story.


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