The NY Times and BDS: Changing the Subject

The topic of boycott, divestment and sanctions has made another rare—and fleeting—appearance in The New York Times, a phenomenon that takes place only under the right conditions: when it is possible to bury the issue under charges of anti-Semitism.

So it happens that this week BDS creeps into a story titled “Student Coalition at Stanford Confronts Allegations of Anti-Semitism” by Jennifer Medina. Although the Times never covered any aspects of an intense Stanford debate that ended in a vote favoring divestment from Israel this February, the newspaper has now broached the issue in a story based on a single complaint of anti-Semitism.

The student, Molly Horwitz, wrote in the Stanford Daily that she was “shocked and devastated” after an interview with a panel representing a group called the Students of Color Coalition. She was running for the student senate and sought an endorsement from the group, and she had written extensively in her application about being both Jewish and Latina (she was adopted from Paraguay and raised Jewish).

Horwitz claimed that a panel member asked, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” and she answered that the voting process had been fair but she was disappointed by the outcome. An “awkward silence” followed, she told the Times, and the interview soon came to an end. She failed to get the endorsement.

In a response also published in the Stanford Daily, SOCC denied that the divestment question had been linked to Horwitz’s religion and said it was asked of all candidates. The group also denied charges that it asked senate candidates who received endorsements to sign a contract prohibiting affiliation with Jewish groups.

This last allegation appeared in the Stanford Review, a publication founded by Peter Thiel, who has campaigned against efforts to promote diversity on campus. The Times identifies the paper only as “a student publication that has criticized the [SOCC] in the past.”

There we have it. Even though the Times article admits that the circumstances here are “murky, with no official record,” editors nevertheless chose to run this non-story with a four-column photo at the head of the National section of the newspaper.

By contrast, readers have received virtually no news of the many divestment votes on campuses throughout the United States, including Stanford and a system-wide poll at University of California. Although these have generated lively discussions, late-night meetings and hotly contested votes (and most have been successful), the Times chooses to ignore them.

The paper would rather have us believe that the raging debate on campus concerns “what constitutes anti-Semitism.” In this story and an earlier one about a similar occurrence at the University of California Los Angeles, the Times states that the topic has become a big issue at universities but fails to name any other incidents to support the claim.

The Times is eager to foster a debate about anti-Semitism, but it avoids the hot-button campus discussions on divestment. Those debates bring up unsavory facts about Israel and Palestine, which the paper prefers to obscure and marginalize: human rights abuses, breaches of international law and the daily cruelties inflicted on the residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

In its coverage, the Times amplifies the voices of those who raise charges of anti-Semitism, aiding their efforts to undermine the BDS movement and divert attention from divestment debates. It does so, unfortunately, under the banner of “objective journalism.”

Barbara Erickson

[Further BDS news omitted from the Times: The Israeli High Court of Justice this week upheld a controversial law that allows anyone to sue an individual or group that calls for a boycott of Israel or any entity under its control (such as settlements). 972 Magazine has written two excellent pieces on this development, here and here.]

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