Another Israeli Execution in Cold Blood, Another Whitewash in The NY Times

An Israeli soldier is caught on video murdering a helpless, wounded Palestinian as he lies on the street; the graphic scene makes headlines in Europe, the United States and beyond—with a notable exception: The New York Times.

In the newspaper of record we find a different focus. The video and its contents are not the news here; it is the reaction from the Israeli Defense Forces that takes precedence over all.

In other words, the Times has chosen to emphasize Israeli spin over events on the ground, and so we have this headline above today’s story by Isabel Kershner: “Israeli Soldier Detained in Shooting of Palestinian.” It is all to convince us that this incident is a terrible aberration from accepted norms and will call forth a swift response.

Her article opens with reference to the IDF announcement that it had arrested the soldier accused of shooting the Palestinian, and it quickly adds that a military spokesman condemned the act as a “grave breach” of the corps’ values.

Kershner goes on to quote and paraphrase the IDF or Israeli officials no less than nine times in the course of a 900-word story. We have comments by the Israeli defense minister, a brigadier general, a lieutenant general, the lawyer representing the detained soldier and the army’s flak, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

She expends seven paragraphs on the IDF claims before allowing the other side to speak, and then she quotes from two representatives of human rights groups before returning the microphone to official apologists once again.

Take a look at the headlines and stories in, for instance, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Both these newspapers took the video itself as the news, with headlines, such as this from the Post: “Watch: Israeli soldier caught on video fatally shooting wounded Palestinian attacker.”

Both papers also include a disturbing quote caught on the video, a voice saying, “This terrorist is still alive, this dog.” The statement was made moments before the wounded man was shot, but Kershner omits it entirely from her story.

She also buys into the army claim that it had started its investigation before the video emerged and then “rocketed around the Internet.” This, however, does not jibe with her statement that the army’s original announcement of the incident was “routine,” a brief report that two assailants had been shot.

The army’s claims of outrage ring hollow in the face of the video evidence, which places the soldiers’ indifference at the killing of the wounded man on full display. They appear cheerful and callously unconcerned and allow local settlers to approach and take pictures of the body.

Kershner, however, characterizes this atmosphere as “a calm, secure scene.”

Readers can find a very different perspective in a brief blog post by Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook. In a piece titled, “Another routine execution by Israeli troops,” he writes that “two Israeli officers standing close by don’t bat an eyelid as the Palestinian man is murdered next to them. The soldier who executes the Palestinian even confers with another officer seconds before the deed, apparently getting permission.”

He concludes, “All of them seem to view this as standard operating procedure. And it is: in Israeli military parlance, it is called ‘confirming the kill.’”

Cook’s claim that the incident is far from an aberration has support from many rights groups, international monitoring organizations and even Israeli journalist Gideon Levy (see TimesWarp 1-20-16), and although Kershner mentions these briefly, she gives the weight of her story to the Israeli response.

The Times has almost totally ignored these accusations, and now it strives to convince us that the assassination was anything but routine even as the visual evidence shows otherwise. Readers who care to discover the actual story here can simply watch the scene unfold, a brief and chilling view of the Israeli army carrying out a normal day’s work.

Barbara Erickson

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How The NY Times Trashes Palestinian Society

Once again, The New York Times has provided us with a Palestinian “slice of life,” a look at that society from within, and once again the portrait is unflattering. In recent articles the newspaper has shown us Palestinian sexism, patriarchy, prudery, violence and general backwardness. Now we get a close look at the “dysfunction of Palestinian politics.”

The latest piece by Diaa Hadid is titled “A Legislature Where Palestinian Lawmakers Go to Hide,” and it introduces us to Najat Abu Baker, a member of the defunct Palestinian parliament, who took refuge in an “all-but-abandoned legislative building” in Ramallah. She was avoiding prosecutors who had summoned her to answer charges of insulting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The building is considered a “protected space” where security forces do not enter, but it serves for little else. A few guards patrol the site, and some 120 employees show up in order to collect their paychecks, although they have little real work to do.

No doubt the system is dysfunctional, but in all her 1,200 words about the subject, Hadid never once mentions the Israeli occupation as a factor in the breakdown of Palestinian governance. Israel has arrested and currently imprisons elected members of parliament, for instance, but in her telling it is all a Palestinian problem, fed by rivalries between the Fatah and Hamas factions and nothing else.

Hadid fails to mention the occupation in other stories that depict a “slice of life” in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper, and these articles also present Palestinian society in a censorious light. Since the beginning of the year, she has published the following in the Times:

  • An article about nightlife in Haifa, shown as a “liberal” refuge from the backward and conservative Palestinian community. (1-3-16)
  • A story about Gaza women who ride bicycles in defiance of the sexist norms of local society. (2-23-16)
  • A piece about the killing of a Hamas fighter, allegedly for homosexual acts and theft. (3-2-16)
  • An article about a Gaza woman who was allowed to sing in public under the watchful eyes of prudish Hamas officials. (3-14-16)

The Haifa piece was the subject of comments by Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted that the story lacked context. “While it’s impossible (and a bad idea) to summarize the history of Israel and Palestine in every piece of news coverage or every feature article, this article needed more political and historical information to put it in perspective,” she wrote.

But neither Hadid nor her editors took this advice to heart. In each of the following feature stories context is almost totally missing. The three Gaza articles fail to mention the eight-year blockade of the strip—a stunning omission.

The best Hadid can manage is this vague reference in the article about the Gaza singer: “In recent months, Hamas officials have been quietly loosening the reins as Gaza residents chafe under years of restrictions on their movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. They have endured three wars in a decade, and poverty and unemployment are rampant.”

Readers are left with no real sense of Israel’s role in these successive disasters. Once again, the focus is on Palestinian shortcomings.

If they were so inclined, Times reporters could choose to write any number of positive stories underscoring Palestinian resilience, perseverance and achievements. Here are just a few:

  • Only last week Hanan al-Hroub, a Palestinian elementary school teacher in the occupied West Bank, won the $1 million Global Teacher Award for 2016, beating out other talented educators throughout the world with her inspired teaching of nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • Gaza fishermen have been braving the constant harassment of Israeli gunboats, the threat of arrest and live fire each time they go to sea in search of their daily catch. They continue to work even as Israeli sailors damage and confiscate their boats and equipment.
  • Herding communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills cling to their land in spite of repeated demolitions and encroaching settlements. Some of them take refuge in caves after bulldozers destroy their tents and houses.
  • Authorities have demolished the Israeli Bedouin community of Al Araqib at least 95 times, but the residents keep returning to rebuild in an incredible show of determination.
  • The Nassar family has held off Israeli confiscation of their ancestral land in the West Bank for decades, drawing on international support for their community, the Tent of Nations, where they operate under the slogan, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”

The Times has shown no interest in highlighting any of these topics, although they provide first-rate material for profiles and “slice of life” feature stories. It appears that such articles would also carry the risk of challenging the accepted narrative by exposing Israeli brutality as well as Palestinian efforts at peace-building.

Times editors and reporters can claim that they have provided sketches of Palestinian life from inside the occupied territories and in Israel proper, but they show little interest in moving beyond facile stereotypes. Robbed of context and viewed through a prejudicial lens, Palestinian society takes a beating in the Times.

Barbara Erickson

 

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Pew Study Exposes Israel Racism: The NY Times Buries It

When the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of Israeli Jews would like to expel or transfer Palestinians from their land, the press took notice. Although this finding was one result among many in an extensive poll, media outlets everywhere devoted their headlines to this striking sign of racism in Israeli society.

“Groundbreaking Pew Survey: Almost Half of Israeli Jews Back Transfer or Expulsion of Arabs,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz proclaimed. The British paper The Independent announced, “Nearly half of Israeli Jews believe in ethnic cleansing, survey finds.”

Similar headlines appeared elsewhere, even in Jewish papers within the United States . But there was one notable exception: The New York Times presented readers with this aberrant title: “Deep Rifts Among Israeli Jews Are Found in Religion Survey.”

Readers who dig into the text that follows find no mention of the attitude toward expulsion until they have plowed through eight paragraphs of commentary about divisions between Israeli Jewish groups.

When the author, Isabel Kershner, finally addresses the burning topic of expulsion, she immediately adds that the result should be taken with a grain of salt because the question was not specific enough. She then drops the subject for another 10 paragraphs before circling back to take it up once again.

The fact that she concludes her piece with this topic suggest that it is the data on transfer and expulsion that most concern her, in spite of the diversionary headline and story line.

Readers who stick with Kershner until the end find several paragraphs of commentary aimed at whitewashing Israel’s image: The question about expulsion was too general; other surveys have produced different results; it may be used as a “weapon” by Israel’s critics; and this single result shouldn’t be taken “in isolation.”

These are the final words in the piece, and they are aimed at denying Israel’s problem with racism. But Kershner has omitted other findings from the survey that paint a different picture. Nearly 80 percent of all Israeli Jews agreed that Jews should have “preferential treatment” in Israel, and some 80 percent of Israeli Muslims said discrimination against their group is common.

She also omits Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s comment on the data concerning Palestinians. She provides only his vague quote that Israelis need to “address our problems at home, more than ever,” omitting the fact that he had named the “attitude towards Israel’s Arab citizens” as a singular challenge.

Kershner’s story drew the attention of James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, who wrote in the Huffington Post that her article includes a “classic example of deflection.” After reporting that nearly half of Israeli Jews want to get rid of the Palestinians in their midst, he noted, she immediately adds that “Israeli pollsters found the wording of the question problematic.”

In other words, she couldn’t report the finding in a straightforward way, as she did with the data on other issues dividing various Jewish religious groups.

The entire story, from the headline to the final quote, is built around evasion, beginning with the title and a photo—not of the threatened Palestinian population, but of Jewish citizens at a market. It wanders into sidetracks before reporting the alarming result from the Pew study, then veers away again, coming back to end the piece with a series of quotes meant to deflect the blame from Israel.

Times editors know that many readers never get beyond the headlines and many others read little more than the opening paragraphs of a story. Once again it has buried the real story under piles of diversion, knowing well that few readers will take note.

Barbara Erickson

What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

A delegation of seven lawmakers from the European Parliament arrived in Israel last month to visit Gaza, but one day before they were due to enter the enclave, Israeli authorities refused to give them access. Officials gave no reason for this ban, and The New York Times was equally silent, making no mention of the event in its pages.

This past week a group of six Belgian members of parliament, representing a range of political parties, also traveled to Israel, planning to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations in Gaza. Israeli authorities blocked their entry to the coastal strip, sparking an outraged reaction from the MPs. Once again, the Times had nothing to say.

Three days later, however, the Times ran a story on page 3, informing us that India has denied visas to a group monitoring religious conflicts. The story, “India Denies Visas to Group Monitoring Religious Freedom,” appears online and in print, and it tells us that the delegates had hoped to assess the state of religious liberties in India and were “deeply disappointed” in the outcome.

This isn’t the only time the newspaper has found such state actions newsworthy. When China refused entry to a delegation from the United Kingdom, for instance, the Times ran a story under the headline “China Says It Will Deny British Parliament Members Entry to Hong Kong.”

And then there was Iran and the matter of inspecting its nuclear facilities, all very much part of the lengthy negotiations that led to an historic agreement and the lifting of sanctions. The concern over inspections took up many column inches in the Times. Would Iran allow access? How much and when?

Meanwhile, the newspaper had nothing to say about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and its refusal to allow entry to inspectors. (See TimesWarp 6-2-15.)

With the India visa story last week, the newspaper reveals once again that such affairs are fit to print—if the offending state is not Israel—and that the Times continues to maintain a double standard. This policy has left its readers ignorant of Israel’s lengthy record of denying entry to monitoring groups and international officials.

Less than two weeks ago, Israeli officials refused to allow Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The request was made too late, the officials said. Kenyatta was on a three-day state visit, the first from a Kenyan president since 1994. No mention was made in the Times.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, also on a three-day visit to Israel in December of 2014, did manage to meet with Abbas, but he was denied entry to Gaza. Adams, who had been instrumental in reaching a peace agreement in Ireland, said the refusal to allow him access ran “contrary to the needs of the peace process.” Israel (and the Times) made no comment.

During and after the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014 Israel denied repeated requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the enclave and investigate charges of war crimes against both sides. Two months later Israeli officials also denied representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Council the right to enter Gaza for the same purpose.

The Times failed to run stories on either of these occasions, but it was forced to reveal the fact that the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, resigned over just this issue, saying that despite repeated requests, Israel denied him entry to the West Bank and Gaza.

The story, however, was relegated to the World Briefing section and the author, Isabel Kershner, took care to give the Israeli pretext for its refusal: that the UN Human Rights Council is “biased” and “hostile” to Israel’s interests.

The Times would rather not take up such stories, it seems. To do so might create doubts in the minds of readers, upsetting the carefully cultivated impression that Israel and Palestine are two equal parties at the negotiating table and on the ground.

Such news would make it uncomfortably clear that Israel is in full charge of the borders and that there is nothing equal about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also raises the question, which an Irish delegate raised in reacting to the recent ban on EU parliament members travel to Gaza: “What does the Israeli government aim to hide?”

The Times is willing to raise this question—even if by implication—in regards to India or China or Iran, but it has no interest in prompting such doubts when it comes to Israel. Readers, therefore, might want to ask the Times a similar question: In censoring numerous stories of Israeli bans on travel to the occupied territories, just what is the newspaper trying to conceal?

Barbara Erickson