Spin Becomes “Fact” in NY Times Gaza Flotilla Story

Now, with the seizure of a Swedish boat in international waters, The New York Times can no longer ignore Flotilla III, the latest attempt to break Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza. So we find a story today that ends the paper’s silence on this weeks-long saga that began in Gothenburg last month.

Times readers learned nothing of the Marianne and her three companion vessels as the international organizers of the flotilla announced their plans and gathered crews throughout the spring. Even when one of the boats was sabotaged last week or when a Palestinian member of the Knesset announced that he was joining the group, none of these events appeared in the Times.

Those who checked out The Washington Post, Newsweek, CBS News or Israeli media would have known that Flotilla III was on its way to Gaza, with the Swedish vessel approaching the strip and the others far behind. The Times, however, avoided any mention of the effort until today, when the Israeli navy announced that it had seized the Marianne and was taking her to the port of Ashdod. (The other vessels by then had turned back toward Europe.)

Now the Times has published an article by Diaa Hadid on the seizure, and in the print edition this is downgraded from an 850 word story to a one paragraph item under World Briefing.

Moreover, Hadid’s piece gives precedence to Israeli spin, allowing official excuses for the brutal siege of Gaza to stand as fact. Thus, she writes that Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip “because militants have tried to smuggle in weapons and attack Israel by sea.”

Hadid repeats this formula in the following paragraph where she states that Israel allows only “small amounts” of construction materials into Gaza “because Hamas has used building materials to construct tunnels to attack Israel.”

United Nations investigations have provided very different takes on these two issues: A 2010 fact-finding mission, for instance, declared that Israel has imposed the blockade (by land and sea) out of “a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel’s actions amount to collective punishment as defined by international law.”

Where Hadid’s piece implies that tunnels have been used for random “terror” attacks on Israel, a recent UN report on the 2014 conflict found that the tunnels had been used only for legitimate means, to engage with Israeli troops during the fighting this past summer. Neither the Times nor any other media outlet has named a single Israeli civilian who was harmed because of these tunnels. (See TimesWarp 6-22-15.)

Unfortunately, Hadid fails to mention either of these findings and repeats Israeli spin as accepted fact. She fails to make even a minimal attempt at attribution, and so we have no “according to” or “Israel claims” here—just the bald, assertive “because.”

Her story ends with a poignant quote that begs for explanation. As fishermen gathered in Gaza to protest the seizure of the Marianne, one of them spoke to a Times representative. “We hope that other activists come to Gaza to help us break the naval siege,” he said, “so that we can sail again without fear.”

The article leaves us with an unanswered question: Why are the fishermen living in fear? Times readers, however, never learn the answer: Israeli naval boats routinely open fire on fishermen as they sail within the 6-mile limit imposed by the blockade. At least one died this year, several have been injured, and several have lost their boats and equipment because of the Israeli attacks.

The Times ignores this ongoing breach of the August 2014 truce, which stated that the fishing limit would expand to 12 miles. (This in itself is still far short of the 20-mile boundary set by the Oslo accords.) The paper also ignores Israel’s military incursions into Gaza, which are further breaches of the ceasefire.

Times editors are counting on a short shelf life for the Flotilla III story. Too much attention to such messy topics as international law, the definition of piracy, assaults on unarmed fishermen and Israeli breaches of the 2014 ceasefire might expose some inconvenient facts about Israel’s pitiless siege of Gaza, and this is not to their taste.

Barbara Erickson

14 thoughts on “Spin Becomes “Fact” in NY Times Gaza Flotilla Story

  1. Thank you Barbara, as always, for exposing the New York Times’ pro-Israel anti-Palestine bias. Interesting that Michael Oren agrees there are a disproportionate number of Jews in charge of U.S. media (though if we said that he would call us antisemites) but according to Oren they are Jews to be reviled because rather than take advantage of their opportunity to twist the news in Israel’s favor, they instead criticize Israel. Good on them, then. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case with the Jews reporting for the New York Times, or at least not the ones we are most familiar with.

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    • Thank you, Maria! Among the many wonderful Jewish activists working for Palestinian rights, I have heard some say that the actions of the Israel Lobby could threaten to awaken anti-Semitism in the United States. I suppose this may apply to the the Times, but it seems to me that the NYT is looking for reporters who stay within the accepted narrative concerning Israel, Jewish or non-Jewish. If these reporters happen to have Arabic names, this just provides more cover, sadly enough.

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  2. Anyone with a fraction of a heart or a sliver of a brain can see that Israel’s brutality towards Palestinians is outrageous, criminal, brutish, beyond the pale, insert adjective. The real question, to me, is how is it that Israelis don’t see it, and so many Americans don’t see it? I am most befuddled by that. NYTimes articles help to keep people in the dark, but that still doesn’t explain it. It’s too difficult to hide the truth nowadays, and the emperor has no clothes.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. ” allowing official excuses for the brutal siege of Gaza to stand as fact. Thus, she writes that Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip “because militants have tried to smuggle in weapons and attack Israel by sea.”

    That is indeed a fact Barbara. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26451421
    not to mention that there have been others including the Karine A . So please explain how Ms. Haddid is in error and your claim is correct. Also please explain how Grad rockets were fired out of Gaza since they are not made there. Very interested to hear your response.

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    • The “facts” in question here are not whether or not Gaza has possessed rockets; they are Israel’s claimed motivation for besieging 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip. Although Israeli officials claim that the blockade is for security reasons, the UN found otherwise, and Israelis have themselves made it clear that the blockade has a political aim: to undermine Hamas. (See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/apr/16/israel) So it is unprofessional for the Times to state these Israeli claims as fact.

      The BBC story you link to is a case in point. It does not present Israeli claims of having intercepted an arms shipment as “fact.” It quotes officials and makes it clear that these are simply charges, part of the propaganda war. And it quotes the denials on the other side. This is what the Times story fails to do.

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      • So you are claiming that because a 2006 story concerning the closing of the Karni crossing gave a political motivation for that closing that there can not also be a legitimate security concern? Do you consider it at all odd that you find the Times biased enough a source to warrant a blog, and yet you cite as a source to prove this the IMEU which is certainly the Palestinian equivalent of hasbara , as well as If Americans Knew which can’t be described as anything other than partisan, …
        It seems to me you are quite content with biased sources that share your political view no matter how biased they are but have no tolerance for media outlets that are much more even handed if they at any time they are not in agreement with your own prejudices.

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      • Of course, there could be a legitimate security concern, but you well know that my point was something else entirely: that the Times story was presenting Israeli claims as fact and this is shoddy journalism. Moreover, the IMEU and If Americans Knew, which you dismiss as biased, both cite primary sources. Please check them out.

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      • I did check them out. As a journalist you should no that citations are not proof of fact. Firstly the IMEU provides commentary and a selective quote. It leaves out such important tidbits from the UN paper such as when referring to the Oslo accords. “However, the external security of the Gaza Strip was specifically excluded from the PA’s functional jurisdiction;9 responsibility for external security was retained by Israel until the final status agreement” as well as ” In September 2007, Israel declared the Gaza Strip “hostile territory” and that
        the movement of goods into and out of Gaza would be restricted for security concerns as well as in order to apply pressure on the Hamas government” So clearly the UN document cites both reasons given by Israel where IMEU only cites one.
        Secondly If Americas Knew cites the Times but uses a B’Tselem as a source for the causality figures as opposed to many more neutral source available. CAMERA does a critique of the study and also cites sources. As a journalist you should no that citations are not proof of fact.

        Lastly are you really denying that these groups are biased?

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      • Your support for CAMERA labels you as a troll for the Israel Lobby (as if that wasn’t obvious enough from the start), and since you insist on misrepresenting my words, and also those of IMEU, I’m wasting my time responding to you.

        Liked by 1 person

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