In the Service of Israel, The NY Times Opts for Incoherence

It’s mainly about Hamas in today’s New York Times story out of Gaza. Even as we hear of Palestinian resilience in the face of a prolonged assault, the subtle secondary message is straight out of Israeli propaganda: These people are suffering because of Hamas.

It’s not an easy spin to make in the face of broad support for the resistance in the beleaguered territory, but Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren gives it her best. The result is an internally inconsistent story with assertions that contradict its own reporting.

High in the article she states that Gazans are angry at Israel, Arab leaders, Western officials and “even quietly at the Palestinian militants who built tunnels under their neighborhoods.” The implication here is that ordinary citizens are afraid to speak out and criticize Hamas for endangering their lives by fighting in residential areas.

This fits neatly into the Israeli claim that the civilian death toll has been high because Hamas and other militants operate in densely populated neighborhoods. It also fits into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge that Hamas prevents the truth from coming out. (He recently told this to a group of international journalists, who firmly rejected his charge.)

Rudoren asserts in her story today that open dissent against Hamas “is seen as dangerous.” To bolster her claim, she quotes a woman who insults Hamas and is told off by a man who disagrees. We are expected to take his words as a warning for her to be careful, but in fact, it tells us that people are not afraid to speak their minds openly and in public.

This is underscored in Rudoren’s interview with a local resident, who says that “he and his neighbors ‘do not allow the resistance to strike from here.’” This makes one thing clear: that the residents themselves have the final say in whether militants are fighting in their neighborhoods. It flies against the claim that they live in fear and are afraid to express their thoughts.

Her story also makes a general statement about Gazan attitudes toward the resistance: “They were proud of the performance of militants led by the Islamist Hamas faction, who managed to kill 64 soldiers and repeatedly penetrated Israel underground and even briefly shutter the airport in Tel Aviv.”

Rudoren goes on to quote a woman who called the tunnels “brilliant” and a stroke of “genius.” She also tells of a former Hamas critic who wrote that Israel had created “thousands—no millions—of Hamas loyalists.” None of this jibes with her message that the tunnels endangered the people of Gaza and they resent Hamas for getting them into the war.

It is likely that Rudoren was fishing for quotes to use in her effort to present Hamas as the villain, not as the protector, asking residents if they resented the tunnels in their neighborhoods. She found some critics, of course—one said the idea “bothered him,” another said the cement should have been used for homes—but in quoting them she undermines her claim that dissent is “dangerous.” Neither man was afraid to give his name to a reporter nor to speak out in front of others.

The effects of Israeli spin are also evident in a story by Isabel Kershner and Merna Thomas on ceasefire talks. They report (far down in the article) that more than 1,900 Palestinians have died, “a majority of them probably civilians.”

This is a serious erosion of the facts. The United Nations, which is experienced and trusted in collecting such data, has put the civilian toll at “at least 1,395” out of a total of 1,960, including 458 children and 237 women. There is nothing probable about the fact that the vast majority of victims were civilians.

The Times, however, gives deference to Israeli efforts to deny the evidence of this terrible toll, even though the government has a clear agenda in doing so. The newspaper would rather stand with Israel, the party responsible for this massacre, than report information from an independent source.

In the ceasefire story, this Israeli-centric bias gives us a deliberate distortion of reality. In the story out of Gaza today, the same dynamic is at work, and here it creates an incoherent narrative, an attempt to undermine its own findings and more obfuscation in the service of Israel.

Barbara Erickson

[For those of you who would like to let the Times know what you think about their coverage of Palestine and Israel, there is a perfect opportunity right now in an ongoing effort by the US Campaign to End the Israel Occupation. Click here and find out what you can do.]

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