Once again, The New York Times is taking up the issue of divestment debates on college campuses, subjecting readers to yet another discussion of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and how the boycott movement affects student feelings.
For the third time in as many months, the Times has published a prominently displayed article on the subject. The latest is titled “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities;” it appears on page 1 of the print edition and notes that many minority organizations are now supporting Palestinian rights and this “drives a wedge between many Jewish and minority students.”
It is difficult to understand why the Times gives such play to this story, which rehashes material from earlier ones centered on debates at UCLA and Stanford, but all the articles take aim at the divestment effort. The previous ones attempted to connect the boycott movement (known as BDS for boycott, divestment and sanctions) with anti-Semitism (see TimesWarp posts here and here); this one tells us that the movement is divisive.
Each of the stories is notable for avoiding the substance of the campus debates. In the latest article, for instance, we learn only that students are objecting to “what they see as Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians” and that “they have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group.”
Readers would never know that students are motivated by the facts on the ground: the brutality of the occupation, the horrific attacks on Gaza, and a racist system that a South African jurist recently called “infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”
The Times obscures these facts in its daily reports from Israel and in its discussions of BDS, focusing instead on abstractions and political maneuverings. It attempts to change the subject from the very real Israeli oppression of Palestinians to talk of campus strife over the issue.
Meanwhile, it ignores another, more pernicious, BDS debate unfolding in the legislative bodies from Congress to state assemblies and senates. In these halls, Israel supporters are promoting attempts to outlaw and rein in BDS.
The U.S. House and Senate recently passed amendments authorizing negotiators for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership bill to push for efforts that would normalize trade with Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (even though these have been declared illegal under international law), effectively erase the boundaries between the West Bank and Israel and punish companies that resist collaboration with the occupation.
The House amendment openly identifies BDS as a target, saying that negotiators should discourage “politically motivated efforts to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.” One observer has noted that some of the language in the amendments is identical to that in an Israeli bill adopted in 2011.
State legislatures, such as those in Tennessee and Indiana, are taking aim at BDS, with bills declaring that the movement is anti-Semitic and requiring state pension funds to withdraw money from companies that boycott Israel. The Tennessee bill (and the Congressional amendment) includes passages taken directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2014 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
There is something askew here: The Times finds the BDS debate newsworthy when it takes place on college campuses but not worth mentioning when it shows up in legislative bodies, even at the federal level. It may be that such coverage would bring inconvenient facts to light—Israeli breaches of international law, for instance, and European restrictions on trade with settlements.
We can trace a link from Israel to lobbyists in the United States and from the lobbyists to the halls of Congress and state legislatures. It appears to connect also with The New York Times, where we find some of the familiar techniques for protecting Israel in play: avoidance and diversion.
Thus Times readers, uninformed about the full extent of Israeli atrocities in the occupied Palestinian territories (and within Israel proper), are directed away from the facts on the ground. They are sidetracked into discussions of anti-Semitism or divisiveness, all part of an effort to take the heat off Israel.