Israeli Hysteria Over BDS Hyped in NY Times

Israel is in an uproar, The New York Times informs us, after a French business executive announced that he would pull out of a deal with an Israeli cell phone company. We learn that officials and citizens are venting on social media and in the press, fuming over this latest insult prompted by the Palestinian boycott movement.

Isabel Kershner in “French Telecom Executive’s Remarks on Israel Incite Furor” writes that the remarks by Stephane Richard of Orange “touched a nerve in Israel” because of concern over the growth of boycott, divestment and sanctions, known as BDS. Richard said in Cairo Thursday that he would back out of a contract with an Israeli company “tomorrow,” if it weren’t for the legal and financial penalties.

The resulting firestorm has become big news, and in the Times we hear at length from outraged Israelis and more briefly from a Palestinian civic leader. But missing from the many column inches dedicated to this story are the activists behind the boycott and their reasons for targeting the French company.

Kershner acknowledges the growth of BDS, but she places the blame on the impasse in the peace process and the extremist nature of the latest Israeli cabinet. Nothing is said about the charges against Orange, even though these were laid out in a 53-page report last month.

The report was compiled by a French aid organization, the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, with the backing of five human rights groups and two French unions. It is titled “Orange: Dangerous Liaisons in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and it notes that Orange is violating the French foreign ministry’s guidelines against investing in territory occupied by Israel.

Orange contracts with the Israeli company Partner Communications, which has built more than 100 antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, the report states. Partner has also opened shops in illegal Israeli settlements and benefits from Israeli laws that restrict competition from Palestinian companies.

The Times, however, makes no attempt to provide readers with this context. Kershner’s story is all about the Israeli reaction. It has little to say about the stated aims of the BDS movement and nothing to tell us about the charges against Orange.

Other mainstream media, however, have provided this missing information. The Guardian and BBC cite the report and link to it online. Agence France-Presse informs readers of its existence, and France 24 devoted a story to the report immediately after it appeared on May 6. The Electronic Intifada has written extensively about the issue, and Palestinian news agencies also covered the charges against Orange.

All of this is apparently too close to the reality on the ground for the Times. It seems we are not to hear the ugly details of the occupation and the breaches of international law that give rise to BDS actions against Orange and other enterprises.

Times readers lose out once again as the newspaper glosses over the theft of Palestinian land and the suppression of Palestinian commerce, giving precedence to Israeli anxieties. In this skewed vision of journalism, the real news disappears from our newspaper of record.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times and BDS: Changing the Subject

The topic of boycott, divestment and sanctions has made another rare—and fleeting—appearance in The New York Times, a phenomenon that takes place only under the right conditions: when it is possible to bury the issue under charges of anti-Semitism.

So it happens that this week BDS creeps into a story titled “Student Coalition at Stanford Confronts Allegations of Anti-Semitism” by Jennifer Medina. Although the Times never covered any aspects of an intense Stanford debate that ended in a vote favoring divestment from Israel this February, the newspaper has now broached the issue in a story based on a single complaint of anti-Semitism.

The student, Molly Horwitz, wrote in the Stanford Daily that she was “shocked and devastated” after an interview with a panel representing a group called the Students of Color Coalition. She was running for the student senate and sought an endorsement from the group, and she had written extensively in her application about being both Jewish and Latina (she was adopted from Paraguay and raised Jewish).

Horwitz claimed that a panel member asked, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” and she answered that the voting process had been fair but she was disappointed by the outcome. An “awkward silence” followed, she told the Times, and the interview soon came to an end. She failed to get the endorsement.

In a response also published in the Stanford Daily, SOCC denied that the divestment question had been linked to Horwitz’s religion and said it was asked of all candidates. The group also denied charges that it asked senate candidates who received endorsements to sign a contract prohibiting affiliation with Jewish groups.

This last allegation appeared in the Stanford Review, a publication founded by Peter Thiel, who has campaigned against efforts to promote diversity on campus. The Times identifies the paper only as “a student publication that has criticized the [SOCC] in the past.”

There we have it. Even though the Times article admits that the circumstances here are “murky, with no official record,” editors nevertheless chose to run this non-story with a four-column photo at the head of the National section of the newspaper.

By contrast, readers have received virtually no news of the many divestment votes on campuses throughout the United States, including Stanford and a system-wide poll at University of California. Although these have generated lively discussions, late-night meetings and hotly contested votes (and most have been successful), the Times chooses to ignore them.

The paper would rather have us believe that the raging debate on campus concerns “what constitutes anti-Semitism.” In this story and an earlier one about a similar occurrence at the University of California Los Angeles, the Times states that the topic has become a big issue at universities but fails to name any other incidents to support the claim.

The Times is eager to foster a debate about anti-Semitism, but it avoids the hot-button campus discussions on divestment. Those debates bring up unsavory facts about Israel and Palestine, which the paper prefers to obscure and marginalize: human rights abuses, breaches of international law and the daily cruelties inflicted on the residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

In its coverage, the Times amplifies the voices of those who raise charges of anti-Semitism, aiding their efforts to undermine the BDS movement and divert attention from divestment debates. It does so, unfortunately, under the banner of “objective journalism.”

Barbara Erickson

[Further BDS news omitted from the Times: The Israeli High Court of Justice this week upheld a controversial law that allows anyone to sue an individual or group that calls for a boycott of Israel or any entity under its control (such as settlements). 972 Magazine has written two excellent pieces on this development, here and here.]