Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, reportedly a flop at the assembly hall, also received short shrift in The New York Times. The article appears at the bottom of page 4 and gives scant notice to Netanyahu’s attempt to rebut Palestinian charges of war crimes and genocide in Gaza.
The Times thus refused to cooperate with the prime minister’s plan to use his time at the podium defending Israel against accusations made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN last week. In other ways, however, the newspaper stays within its Israeli-centric boundaries, failing to note the errors in Netanyahu’s broad claims that Islamic extremists are a threat worldwide.
“Netanyahu, at U.N., Lashes Out at ‘Poisonous’ ISIS and Hamas,” by Somini Sengupta and David E. Sanger, reports the prime minister’s charges that the Islamic State and Hamas are “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Appealing to the widespread abhorrence of ISIS, he asserted that all militant Islamists are dangerous, regardless of their affiliation.
Although experts dismiss these allegations, the Times allows Netanyahu’s comments to stand unchallenged. Readers never hear, for instance, from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who states that “there is no comparison between Hamas and ISIS except in Israeli propaganda. Hamas is a Palestinian religious-national movement, not a world Jihad organization.”
Nor do they hear from Hamas expert Mark Perry, who notes that Hamas is a democratic institution and that ISIS rejects democracy and charges Hamas with having “sold out.” While Hamas is a political party, taking part in elections and producing plans for governance, ISIS is rather like the Khmer Rouge, Perry says, intent on destruction as a first step to a new order.
Perry makes this observation about the charge that “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas”: “Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israelis who have made the claim has made much of an effort to support it. Manifestly, because it is unsupportable.”
It is the Times’ job to challenge Israeli spokespersons when they make such charges. Readers should be hearing from knowledgeable commentators like Perry and Levy, but their voices are censored in its pages. The Times would rather let the false linkage of ISIS to Hamas stand and thus support Israel’s attempt to demonize Hamas at every turn.
Today’s story also fails to inform readers how Netanyahu was received at the UN, but readers can turn to Barak Ravid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who has provided us with the scene in the assembly hall. “The General Assembly plenum was mostly empty,” Ravid writes, “and the diplomats who were there sank into their chairs and looked bored.” The only leaders on hand were the foreign ministers of Liechtenstein, Iceland and Bahrain.
A loyal group of supporters, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, sat in the upper balcony to cheer their patron. “They rose and applauded every time they detected a need to boost morale,” Ravid writes, “when Netanyahu mentioned Iran, when he declared that the IDF was the most moral army in the world, and when he attacked the organization under whose logo he was speaking.”
Ravid says that Netanyahu tried to repeat a former strategy of holding up an image to illustrate his point, but this time it fell flat: “Instead of the bomb drawing and the red line of two years ago that became a viral video hit, we got a poster with a less-than-clear photo of Palestinian children playing near a Hamas rocket launcher. The people in the first rows had to strain to understand what they were looking at, and Netanyahu himself needed a second or two to turn the picture right-side up.”
(For photos of the empty assembly hall and the image gimmick, see the Los Angeles Times, “Netanyahu calls on Arabs to take first step for peace.”)
If addresses by the Iranian or Palestinian presidents had bombed, would the Times have hinted that all was not well? If Netanyahu had found an enthusiastic reception this week, would that have been newsworthy enough for the paper? Last week Abbas received a standing ovation, and the newspaper made no mention of it. It has been up to others to fill in the blanks for both stories.
Of more concern, however, is the consistent failure of the Times to set the record straight about Hamas. (See TimesWarp, “Hamas in its Own Words.”) Although it is capable of defying Netanyahu, the Times is more than happy to “delegitimize” the Islamic party at every opportunity, following the lead of official spokespersons in Washington and Tel Aviv.