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?