The NY Times, Netanyahu’s Stenographer

The New York Times serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s stenographer in a story this week that reports his latest rant against critics of Israeli policy, repeating his claims at length but making no attempt to verify or even question the distortions in his response.

The Israeli prime minister was reacting to comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who criticized Israel’s settlement construction in and around East Jerusalem during a session in parliament Wednesday, saying that he found the situation “genuinely shocking.” The Times, which made no mention of Cameron’s remarks at the time, now presents us with an article by Isabel Kershner framed around the official Israeli response.

Her story, “Benjamin Netanyahu Rebukes David Cameron for Criticizing Israel,” gives much space to the prime minister’s assertions and allows him the final word. It also quotes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and lets the comments of both men to stand without challenge.

Netanyahu, speaking at a political meeting Thursday, portrayed Israel as the peacekeeper in East Jerusalem, saying that “only Israeli sovereignty” has prevented ISIS “and Hamas from igniting the holy sites as they are doing all over the Middle East.”

He implied that Israel has brought prosperity to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, citing “roads, clinics, employment and all the other trappings of normal life that their brethren do not enjoy elsewhere in the Middle East.” Mayor Barkat also stated that Israel is building “the newest, most advanced schools” for Palestinian youth and paving new roads for residents.

The Times made no attempt to challenge the veracity of these comments although they grossly misrepresent the situation Palestinians face in occupied East Jerusalem. The data is available for all to see and is certainly familiar to Kershner and Times editors.

For instance, as of January 2011:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods were not connected to a sewer system and lacked paved roads and sidewalks.
  • West Jerusalem had 1,000 public parks compared to 45 in East Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 34 swimming pools; East Jerusalem had three.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads and sidewalks in the city were found in West Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 26 libraries; East Jerusalem had two.

More recent news also belies the claims of Netanyahu and Barkat. Far from working to provide education, health care and road access for Palestinian residents, Israeli policies and actions have made life more and more difficult for the non-Jewish residents of the city:

  • In 2015, Israel placed dozens of Palestinian children under house arrest in East Jerusalem, preventing them from attending school.
  • The Israeli government has been working with settler groups to dispossess Palestinians of their homes.
  • More than a third of East Jerusalem students are unable to complete high school because there are not enough classrooms. (Under an order by the Israeli High Court, some new classrooms are being built, but these will only alleviate the shortage by half.)
  • Some 38 percent of East Jerusalem’s planned areas have been confiscated for the development of Jewish settler neighborhoods, while only 2.6 percent is zoned for public buildings—such as schools—for the city’s indigenous Palestinians.
  • Israeli invasions of Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem hospital and restrictions on patients attempting to enter the hospital prompted several United Nations agencies to condemn the actions as violations of international law.
  • By Feb. 22,  Israeli forces had demolished 27 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, including a school, since the beginning of this year.

Kershner’s story, however, makes no mention of any of this. The focus here is solely on the Israeli show of outrage. Netanyahu and Barkat’s statements are allowed to stand, even the claim that Hamas and ISIS are working together to foment terrorism. In fact, the two are bitter enemies, but the Times has no interest in disabusing its readers of this inconvenient fact.

Cameron’s statements gave the Times an opening, a chance to examine the settlement enterprise, conditions in East Jerusalem and the attitudes of Palestinian leaders and citizens living under Israeli control. But this was not to be. Only the Israeli narrative was of interest to the Times, and even the prime minister of the United Kingdom could not make his voice heard above its strident demands.

Barbara Erickson

Six Palestinians Die, Silence in The NY Times—One Israeli Dies, We Get Headlines

Six Palestinians died over this past weekend, three of them minors, all of them relatively young. They died in separate incidents that took place throughout the West Bank, from Jenin in the north to Hebron in the south, and although their deaths left a bloody trail throughout the region, they were deemed unfit to print in The New York Times.

Now we have an Israeli death and the event appears prominently at the top of page 3 in the print edition, with a four-column photo. Online the headline reads, “New West Bank Violence as Palestinian Boys Stab 2 Israelis.”

According to the Times, we can not say that Palestinians experienced violence when six young people died from gunshot wounds. The word became relevant only when Israelis were the victims.

The story today by Isabel Kershner names the one Israeli killed in this latest attack. It says nothing of the half dozen Palestinians who died at the hands of security forces in recent days. Their names and even the circumstances of their deaths are of no interest to the Times, and they appear only as additional numbers in brief mention of Palestinian dead since the latest “lone wolf” uprising began last October.

Kershner reports that some 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in that time, compared with 28 Israelis killed by Palestinians. In the Times’ formulaic explanation for this striking contrast, she throws the blame on Palestinians, saying they were killed during attacks or in “clashes.” (For more on this, see TimesWarp 1-4-16.)

Her story does mention claims that Israeli forces have killed Palestinians who pose no threat. This is a small step forward in Times reporting, and she goes on to quote Israeli Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who criticized the use of excessive force and those in the government and military who have encouraged it.

His remarks are evidence that leaders the military and government recognize that Palestinians have died at the hands of trigger happy troops. It’s not unlikely that Times reporters have also known this but made no effort to report it.

Meanwhile, Kershner’s report also fails to inform us of the numbers of injured on both sides, data which provide at least a hint of the violence Palestinians face daily under occupation.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli security forces injured 14,925 Palestinians last year, and as of Feb. 8 this year, they had already injured 719.

In other words, Israeli police and army have been injuring over a hundred Palestinians weekly during 2016. By contrast, according to OCHA reports, the weekly average of Israelis injured by Palestinians this year is no more than two.

The difference here is a factor of more than 50 to one, yet we have headlines in the Times that point to Palestinian violence as the only news fit to print.

Also missing from Kershner’s story, as usual, is any context for the attacks. The brutal military occupation has no place in her story, and there is no attempt at all to provide the Palestinian attackers with a motive. Readers will have to look elsewhere for the real news here.

Meanwhile, we will end with a list of the six who lost their lives over this past weekend:

  • Omar Ahmad Omar and Mansour Yasser Abdulaziz Shawamra, both of them 20-year-olds from the West Bank village of al-Qubeiba;
  • Nihad Raed Muhammad Waqed and Fuad Marwan Khalid Waqed, both 15, in the northern West Bank near the village of al-Araqa, west of Jenin;
  • Naim Ahmad Yousif Safi, a 17-year-old from the village of al-Ubediya, east of Bethlehem;
  • Kilzar al-Uweiwi, 18, a young woman who died near the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Maps Jerusalem: Distilling the Worst of Israeli Propaganda

In a new multimedia production The New York Times is now offering us “The Roots of the Recent Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians,” a series of 13 images accompanied by brief notes. The title promises much, and the teaser adds that this new offering presents us with “the geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence.”

Here, it seems, the newspaper has an opportunity to provide the context so often missing from Times stories about Palestine and Israel. With such an introduction readers might hope to learn about the historical beginnings of the conflict and to perceive the effects of occupation on the face of the land.

It was not to be. In fact, this slick presentation distills the worst of the Times reporting on the issue. The text never once mentions the occupation; it provides no historical context of any kind, and it blindly follows the preferred narrative of Israeli propagandists.

The visuals never leave Jerusalem, and the text sticks to events there. The presentation opens with an image of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by the comment that the violence “was set off in part over a dispute over Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” Nothing more is said about this complex issue.

The images then move on to highlight Jewish “neighborhoods” in Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish homes dotting the Palestinian neighborhoods, and we learn that the “neighborhoods” are “considered illegal settlements by most of the world.” This is the Times’ usual formulation, which distorts the fact that the entire international community—outside of Israel—deems the settlements illegal.

There is no mention of the impact these settlements have on Palestinians’ lives. We get nothing but maps and terse comments about who lives where, but the Times does finally provide a motive for the recent attacks: It comes from “frustration” over the lack of basic city services.

We are set up for this trivial claim in the fourth visual, which shows us Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem surrounded by a yellow line. “Israel built a barrier in response to Palestinian attacks from the West Bank in the early 2000s,” the text notes. “While effective at stopping suicide bombers, it cut off several East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the city, leaving them without basic services.”

In the following image the narrative continues, “Palestinians say these frustrations are at the root of the recent attacks. Israelis officials accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence.”

There we have it. Not a word about loss of land, the confiscation of resources, military incursions and all the many miseries associated with military occupation. So much for the “roots” of the conflict.

Although the Times attempts a show of balance, by referring to both sides, the text is heavily weighted toward the Israeli point of view. It twice mentions Israeli actions as “responses” to violence and never suggests that Palestinians are responding to oppression.

It repeats the Israeli claim that Palestinians who died in the recent uprising were all involved in attacks or “clashes” with troops, omitting the reports of human rights groups and others who charge Israel with “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no possible threat to security forces or civilians.

In addition, the Times gives a distorted account of the Separation Barrier. It fails to say that the 2004 International Court of Justice decision held that the wall is illegal and that its route (85 percent of it inside the West Bank) threatens “de facto annexation.” The newspaper also repeats the Israeli claim that the wall “effectively stopped suicide bombers.”

As an Israeli journalist recently observed in 972 Magazine, the recent assaults have demolished this facile claim. The latest attackers could have come with bombs instead of knives; the wall did not keep them out. The bombings ended when militants abandoned the tactic.

If the Times truly intended to illustrate the “geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence,” it could have shown some dramatic effects of the occupation on the landscape, such as:

  • The route of the Separation Barrier, snaking well inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel
  • The rows of dead parsley and spinach fields in Gaza, where Israel has deliberately sprayed herbicides on hundreds of acres
  • The contrast between lush West Bank settlements, with their lawns and swimming pools, and parched Palestinian villages nearby
  • The shrinking cantons of the West Bank, where Israel is illegally confiscating more and more Palestinian territory
  • The dead strip of land inside Gaza, where Israel has imposed a firing zone and has frequently entered to bulldoze crops and soil

Images such as these might provide a real sense of the “roots” of the recent violence. Instead, the Times has chosen to encapsulate Israeli propaganda in this latest presentation, perpetuating its ingrained bias in a package of misleading notes and slick visual effects.

Barbara Erickson

[To subscribe to TimesWarp, scroll to the bottom of this page for email, follow @TimesWarp on Twitter or like Times Warp on Facebook.]

The Occupation Goes Missing from The NY Times

The occupation went missing from The New York Times this past week. Palestinians were there, as victims and attackers, but the brutal military regime that controls their lives made no appearance.

The newspaper had plenty to say about Israeli Jewish life, however: two lengthy stories about prayer space at the Western Wall and one discussing Zionism. Each of these stories ran over a thousand words.

Two shorter news articles reported that the murderers of a Palestinian teen had been sentenced to prison and that a knife attack left one Israeli police officer dead, but nothing in either of these provided the context crucial to understanding events in the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, as the Times obsesses over Israeli identity and attitudes, the occupation grinds on, producing news that appears elsewhere. At the top of the list were two major stories: A Palestinian prisoner was near death after passing his 75th day on hunger strike, and Israeli forces carried out a massive demolition of over 20 homes, rendering more than 100 Palestinians homeless in the dead of winter.

The ordeal of Mohammed al-Qeeq, a journalist held without trial since Nov. 21 of last year, drew the attention of Israeli and international media outlets, which recounted his legal appeals, protests on his behalf and an Israeli Supreme Court decision which “froze” his detention but confined him to a hospital. (Al-Qeeq refused the offer and continued his fast.)

Al-Qeeq’s hunger strike was deemed unfit to print in the Times, perhaps because it would touch on Israel’s use of administrative detention, which holds prisoners without trial. Readers are not to know that as of last December 660 Palestinians were held in this limbo, nor were they to be informed that a number of human rights groups have protested Israel’s unsavory use of the practice.

And then there is the matter of two impoverished villages in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, Khirbet Jenbah and Khirbet Al-Halawah, which were made even more destitute after Israeli army crews arrived last Tuesday and demolished 22 structures, displacing 110 people, including dozens of minors. The army also confiscated solar panels, which, like many of the homes, had been donated by aid organizations.

The military claimed that it destroyed Jenbah and Al-Halawah because they were located in a declared firing zone. The Israeli publication 972 Magazine, however, noted that “Jewish settlements within [the zone] have not been served with eviction orders.”

This was the largest mass demolition in a decade, and the plan to destroy villages within the firing zone has drawn international attention and a petition from world-renowned authors to spare the communities. None of this, however, was enough to draw the interest of the Times.

Instead, the Times considered it more urgent to examine the effects of a new prayer space at the Western Wall—not once, but twice—and to take a look at Zionism today. Villagers thrown out in the cold of winter and a prisoner on the brink of death took a back seat to these concerns.

The Times claims that it gives readers “the complete, unvarnished truth as best as we can learn it,” and it insists that the newspaper’s overriding goal is to “cover the news as impartially as possible.” Readers who never stray to other sources of information may actually believe this.

Barbara Erickson

Update: NY Times Hoaxers Come Forward

The authors of yesterday’s spoof edition of The New York Times have pulled back the veil and revealed their identities: the New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!, organizations based in New York and dedicated to supporting the rights of Palestinians and Israelis.

The perpetrators of the hoax told Ben Norton of Salon that the parody had been months in the making. They also said that their website domain and Twitter accounts had been suspended, but in a separate statement, Jewish Voice for Peace published links to views of these and to a PDF of the full parody.

The Times was quoted in several news accounts as saying, “We’re extremely protective of our brand and other intellectual property and object to this group (or any group’s) attempt to cloak their political views under the banner of The New York Times. We believe strongly that those advocating for political positions are best served by speaking openly, in their own voice.”

We can be sure that the Times would adopt a much less huffy tone if the spoof had not managed to hit a nerve by focusing on Israel-Palestine. Their icy response to a good joke reveals a defensive posture at work. Could there be a conscience lurking somewhere in the depths of the Times leadership? We can only hope.

Barbara Erickson

A Change of Heart at The NY Times!

Someone else is watching The New York Times’ coverage of Palestine and Israel with a keen eye. Today a spoof edition of the paper, using heavy doses of irony, points up the obvious bias in its news reporting of this critical topic.

Everything is changing at the Times, according to this wonderful parody: The paper met with representatives from both sides of the conflict and issued a mea culpa, saying that they have protected Israel and trashed Palestine, and now that is going to end.

This news appears on a fake website and was handed out in a print edition at venues across New York City this morning, including Grand Central Station, Times Square subway stations and outside corporate offices.

The entire edition is devoted Israel-Palestine, and it reports that as the Times goes, so goes Congress and even presidential candidates. Hilary Clinton is dropping out to run a women’s coop with headquarters in Ramallah, Palestine, among other places. Congress is actually debating the issue of military aid to Israel.

The letters to the editor, editorials and news stories all take up the same theme, and some reports come to us under bylines that carry a familiar ring: Peter Quaker (for Peter Baker, the presumptive new Jerusalem bureau chief), Laila Said (suggestive of Diaa Hadid, a frequent contributor) and Imogen Lerner (rhyming with Isabel Kershner, a longtime Jerusalem bureau staff writer).

Who did it? Democracy Now and others speculate that it was The Yes Men, a group that did a similar Times spoof in 2008. Now it appears that they have been reading the paper closely and noting the infinite variety of ways it shields Israel and betrays its obligation to readers.

Our thanks and congratulations go out to the authors of this insightful hoax. Please give us more!

Barbara Erickson