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.