In The NY Times Israeli Angst Trumps Gaza Deaths

The number of dead is approaching 100 in the latest attacks on the Gaza Strip, but The New York Times finds this news is secondary to something closer to its heart: Israeli soul-searching over the killing of a Palestinian teenager.

“Killing of Palestinian Youth Puts an Israeli Focus on Extremism” by Steven Erlanger appears above the fold on the front page today. The story emphasizes just how the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir has shocked Israeli Jews and sparked “a good deal of reflection” over the shortcomings in their society.

Meanwhile, “Gaza Deaths Spike in 3rd Day of Air Assault While Rockets Hit Israel” is relegated to page 10, and a story directly out of Gaza itself, “In Rubble of Seaside Café, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer,” appears at the bottom of that page.

In the minds of Times editors, Israeli self-absorption trumps anything the residents of Gaza may be suffering.

As for the soul-searching story, we should note that the Times continues to blame extremists for the climate of vengeance that apparently inspired the killing of Abu Khdeir. The article includes nothing about official incitement, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has called for blood and other officials have let loose with hateful rhetoric.

Take these words of Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, posted on Facebook the day before the Abu Khdeir murder: “This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people…They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

Erlanger’s story, however, gives emphasis to the claims that the killers represented “a very marginal phenomenon” and were “outliers in Israeli society.” It ignores the evidence at hand of official complicity. (See TimesWarp, “Blaming the Extremists, Absolving the State.”)

Back on page 10 Isabel Kershner leads off her story with the news that Palestinian deaths “rose sharply” while more than 180 rockets were fired from Gaza. Here, Israeli and Times spin is hard at work. Note that she links the number of rockets to an unspecified number of dead, emphasizing the threat to Israel while glossing over the casualties in Gaza.

Instead, we should have links such as these: the number of Israeli dead versus the number of Palestinian dead and the sophisticated weaponry employed against Gaza versus the homemade rockets aimed at Israel.

If the Times were dedicated to clarity in its reporting of Israel, we would learn high in the story that no Israelis had died but at least 78 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza (at that point). Instead, we have to read through eight paragraphs before we find this information.

As for the comparison of arsenals, the Times prefers to focus on rockets, which are largely ineffectual. It fails to inform us that Israel had dropped 800 tons of explosives on Gaza as of July 10 nor to give even a hint of the huge array of weapons employed against the besieged people of the strip. (See yesterday’s TimesWarp on the disparity in military might.)

Kershner’s story quotes Israeli military sources who say they are trying to spare civilian lives by warning occupants before their homes are destroyed, and it gives space to Israel’s attempt to explain the deaths of seven people in one home after a warning had been given. It also quotes Netanyahu as blaming Hamas for the deaths because it is “maliciously hiding behind Palestinian civilians.”

This is all about Israel, as usual, but fortunately, we have a story by Fares Akram, the Times stringer in Gaza, placed below Kershner’s article in the print edition. Akram’s story places the Israeli military actions in a different light: On Wednesday an Israeli missile struck a festive group watching a World Cup match on the beach, killing at least eight.

In the course of his story, Akram notes that the Israeli attacks on Gaza have “the stated goal of halting the rocket attacks.” Readers can decide for themselves if the bombing of a group of sports fans helps Israel attain this goal.

We can also ask if the destruction of family homes in Gaza furthers the aim of reducing rocket fire or the bombing of agricultural land. But it seems that Kershner has no intention of scrutinizing the seaside café bombing nor the recent destruction of greenhouses, tractors, citrus groves and agricultural fields in Gaza.

And then there is the fact that the Gaza story finds itself in the back pages, toward the rear of the international section. As the bombs were falling and the numbers of dead were rising in Gaza, Times editors turned their sights on Israelis and their internal debates about social values. The editors’ choice tells us plenty up front about values at the Times.

Barbara Erickson

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