Fighting Words Become Bland and Bloodless in The Times

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, asking the international community to support the State of Palestine. What precisely did he say? Not much, according to The New York Times.

In a brief story on page 6, Times UN reporter Somini Sengupta presents us with a gutted version of Abbas’ speech, shorn of any details that might alert readers to the reality of Palestinian life under military occupation and missing any mention of international support for the Palestinian cause.

Sengupta focuses her article on topics already treated at length in the Times: the failed peace negotiations and Palestinian demands for an end to the occupation. Readers would not know that the speech painted a vivid picture of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza and that it broached other subjects that the Times prefers to avoid.

One of these forbidden Times topics is international support for Palestinian rights, a subject that appeared in the opening words of Abbas’s speech: “In this year, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Abbas later referred to massive protests against the attacks on Gaza this summer, saying that Palestinians “witnessed the peoples of the world gathering in huge demonstrations on the streets of many cities declaring their condemnation of the aggression and occupation” and adding that the “overwhelming majority of countries on the various continents” joined in this support for their cause.

As for his charges of genocide, the Times story omits that entirely. This is in contrast to the majority of other mainstream media accounts of the speech, which feature the word “genocide” in headlines and lead paragraphs. (See here and here.)

Although the Times article states that Abbas rejected any more peace talks, it failed to clarify his reasons for this decision, which are clear in the text of his speech.

Even as Palestinians negotiated with Israelis earlier this year, he noted, Israel was engaged in home demolitions, land confiscation, killings, arrests and attempts to undermine Muslim control of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Also during that time, he said, “racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”

In regards to the assaults this summer, he said, “This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realize the magnitude and horror of the crime.”

He went on to appeal to the conscience of United States officials, who have steadfastly supported Israel through all its attacks. “Yet, we believe – and hope,” he said, “that no one is trying to aid the occupation this time in its impunity or its attempts to evade accountability for its crimes.”

None of this appears in the Times story, which sums up Abbas’s words on the occupation in one sentence: “Mr. Abbas described the Israeli occupation as ‘an abhorrent form of state terrorism and a breeding ground for incitement, tension and hatred.’” Thus in Sengupta’s words, Abbas comes off as indulging in the rhetoric of an adversary and nothing else.

She also says that Israel is concerned about Palestinian talk of joining the International Criminal Court because it could “open the way for the prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders for building settlements and other policies related to its decades-old occupation.”

There is no mention of the allegations of war crimes in Gaza this summer, even though these have provided a renewed impetus for calls to join the ICC. The Times prefers to give a bland, bloodless tone to the charges against Israel.

The paper likewise fails to include reaction to the speech in its story. We find in The Guardian that Israeli spokespersons were incensed and one official called the address “diplomatic terrorism.” Al Jazeera tells us that the U. S. State Department termed it “counterproductive” and said it would undermine peace efforts.

Meanwhile, we learn from The National that “widespread international support was evident after Mr Abbas’ address on Friday, when he received an unusual drawn-out ovation from the assembly.”

The Times has none of this, neither the ovation at the UN nor the grumbling out of Israel and the United States, but we can be assured that the newspaper staff was well aware of the reactions in Tel Aviv and Washington and made certain their reporting was in line.

Thus we have the Times avoiding any mention of uncomfortable or revealing topics, such as the realities of the occupation, the broad international support for Palestine and the isolation of Israel and the United States in this regard. Times editors chose to give the story short shrift, bury it on page 6 below the fold and let us believe that it is all of little account.

Barbara Erickson

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s