Hamas or not Hamas: The NY Times Just Can’t Say

It seems that Hamas leaders were not responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers last June. It also seems that maybe they were responsible. This is the deliberately muddled message of a story appearing in The New York Times last week.

In “New Light on Hamas Role in Killings of Teenagers That Fueled Gaza War” Isabel Kershner reports that Israeli investigators have found “no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths.”

This seems straightforward enough, but Kershner is reluctant to accept what she herself states as fact. Two paragraphs on she claims that the findings present a “nuanced picture” and “do not necessarily undercut the Israeli government’s assertions” that Hamas leadership was directly involved.

In her effort to present “nuance,” Kershner does her best to tie Hamas to the crime. Her opening paragraph states that the crime was financed with money “mostly obtained through a relative who worked for a Hamas association in Gaza.” Note that this does not say it was Hamas money or even money from the association; it was money from a relative, and that relative happened to work for a group that is said to belong to Hamas.

It seems that Kershner was determined to present a Hamas link in her lead, no matter how tenuous. The news that no evidence ties Hamas leadership to the crime comes in the second paragraph, and then she undercuts it later in her “nuanced” claim.

The story goes on from there to mention Hamas at frequent turns: The three suspects in the crime were connected to the organization; Hamas has captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining leverage; Hamas leaders praised the abduction; an Israeli government official (unnamed) thought evidence of a direct link to Hamas leadership might yet emerge and insisted that it is fair to blame Hamas for the kidnapping in spite of the findings.

Kershner’s story fails to say that the suspects in the kidnapping and murder were members of a family that has often defied Hamas and acted counter to its directives and interest. This news emerged more than two months ago in an Al Monitor article by Israeli author Shlomi Eldar. He noted that the Qawasmeh clan was known to “deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements.” (See TimesWarp, “So Maybe It Wasn’t Hamas After All.”)

But Kershner would rather not go there. The clan’s defiance of Hamas directives gives more weight to the evidence pointing to the crime as a limited family affair, and she prefers to leave the impression that Hamas, somehow, is ultimately to blame.

Thus we have the headline that cites the “Hamas Role” in the crime, even though the story denies any official role. James North and Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss do a fine job of deconstructing this title in their article “NYT headline implicating Hamas in teen killings is a lie.”

They state, “If you’re leafing through the New York Times on a Friday morning and in a hurry, you’re going to glance at that headline and think that something you already ‘knew’ has just been confirmed.” Exactly. And Times editors know that most readers won’t pay close attention even if they take the time to read the entire article.

The newspaper is content to present a muddled story that undercuts its own reporting. This prompted another critique of Kershner’s story in the FAIR Blog, where Peter Hart concludes that “Kershner’s article works hard to de-emphasize” the obvious conclusion, that the attacks on Gaza were based on a false premise of Hamas culpability in the kidnapping.

In this piece, as in many others, we see a tight link between the Israeli government and the Times Jerusalem bureau. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his top officials have been proven wrong, and this sets off a reflexive effort to cover up the facts with muddled reporting and deceptive headlines.

Barbara Erickson

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