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.]

NY Times’ Flimsy Attempt to Smear BDS

After months of silence on the steamrolling campus movement in favor of boycott, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel, The New York Times has at last spoken out—in a not-so-subtle attempt to tarnish the movement as anti-Semitic.

In a page 1 piece, which was also prominent online, the Times presents Jewish students as victims of a poisoned atmosphere on universities nationwide. The article is titled “Debate Over Treatment of Jews Is Amplified on Many Campuses” (in the print edition) but manages to cite only a single example of this “debate”—a discussion over the confirmation of a Jewish student to a University of California-Los Angeles board.

The story by Adam Nagourney states that the discussion “served to spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiments directed against Jews at many campuses in the country.” He then links this sentiment to the passage of a UCLA student government resolution in favor of divestment from companies that profit from Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

Nagourney notes that UCLA is “one of many campuses” to take such an action, but he provides readers with no further details. Readers never learn, for instance, that many Jewish students work to pass BDS resolutions at their schools.

The Times has failed to deliver any serious coverage of student BDS actions in the United States and beyond, although the movement has steadily racked up victories, even in the face of intense lobbying efforts by pro-Israel activists. The UCLA vote last November, for instance, was the sixth University of California undergraduate vote in favor of divestment.

Another significant victory came in December, when graduate and undergraduate workers throughout the statewide University of California system voted in favor of divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its violations of human rights. The vote was taken under the auspices of the United Auto Workers Union Local 2865, which represents 13,000 students. The resolution passed by a two-thirds margin.

In February the Stanford undergraduate student senate voted in favor of divestment by more than two to one (10-4, with one abstention), and last week the student senate of the University of Toledo in Ohio approved a similar resolution by the landslide vote of 21 to 4. Other schools joining the movement in the past year include the University of New Mexico, Loyola University in Chicago and Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The movement has been successful overseas also. In 2014, the United Kingdom National Union of Students voted to support BDS movements on campuses, and student unions at the University of Exeter, the University of Kent and the National University of Ireland voted in support of BDS measures.

Last month the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London handed the campaign a major victory when more than 2,000 students, faculty and contract workers endorsed an academic boycott of Israel by an overwhelming 73 percent. The vote took place over five days and called for SOAS to cut all ties with Israeli academic institutions.

None of this is newsworthy, according to the Times. Nagourney’s story glosses over the movement with a single reference to UCLA as “one of many campuses” to vote for BDS measures. Readers learn nothing about the factors that inspire students to take up the cause or the debates over Palestine and Israel taking place on a number of campuses.

Instead, the Times gives prominence to a single incident at UCLA and blows this into an unsubstantiated claim about a “surge of hostile sentiments” toward Jews. The evidence for this charge, as the news site Mondoweiss stated, “is laughably thin. No statistics, no research, not even a biased survey from the [Anti-Defamation League].”

The BDS movement is a story of national and international significance, but rather than inform readers, the Times attempts to deflect attention from the campaign, the facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine and the growing support for BDS. It is Israel first and foremost, once again.

Barbara Erickson

Alarm Bells in Israel, a Tale of Spunky Defiance in The Times

The boycott movement has become big news in Israel. Last weekend an influential show, “Channel 2 News,” ran a long segment on the issue in prime time. One day later the topic appeared again, this time under banner headlines on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s largest newspaper.

As Larry Derfner, a journalist with the Israeli English-language online magazine 972, wrote, this unprecedented publicity brought “an impressive new level of mainstream exposure” to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and served as a “wake-up call,” and “a wrench thrown into the national denial machine.”

The television program, he noted, was heavily promoted, ran for 16 minutes and was narrated by “top drawer reporter” Dana Weiss. Moreover, it “didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing” but treated it as an “established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.”

The print story ran under the following headline and subhead: “100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel: The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” It reported that a group of major Israeli businessmen warned Netanyahu of the threat to Israel’s economy last week before the World Economic Forum in Davos.

How has all this played out in the Times? One day after the Yedioth article, it published a piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren titled “Israeli Settlers Use the Web to Push Back on Boycott,” which appeared in print only in The International New York Times and was available online on the Middle East page of the World section under the title Letter From the Middle East.

The story is built around the spunky defiance of a pair of settlers, two “American-born religious Jews raising four children high on a hilltop” inside the occupied West Bank. They run a website promoting settlement products as “an attempted antidote to the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.”

The story acknowledges that the boycott movement has been gaining ground, and it quotes two Israeli ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who have sounded the alarm about the effects of the boycott. But the real focus of the story is the couple, Gedaliah and Elisheva Blum, and their determination.

“The Blums have not been deterred,” Rudoren writes. They are promoting settler art online, “from their modest home,” along with products by other “small businesses” run by settlers. They also get the last word in the story: “We saw a boycott, we see injustice, then you do something about it. Even if it’s just one little baby step.”

Rudoren refers to the occupation of the West Bank in an oblique fashion. It is “what most of the world envisions as the future Palestinian state.” The settlements are “generally viewed as illegal under international law,” and the occupied Palestinian (and Syrian) territories are land “the international community generally considers illegally occupied.” Readers could take all these claims as mere opinions, as one side in an abstract legal argument.

The story reports without comment that the Blums believe Israel should annex the West Bank, but it gives no sense of what this dispossession would mean to the indigenous Palestinians and no hint of the brutal methods already used to support the settlement enterprise—settler attacks on villagers and the demolitions of wells, cisterns, animal shelters, homes and schools in Palestinian communities.

It also provides no hint of the wake-up call now sounding in Israel, from its premier television news program to the front page of its leading newspaper. Times readers, unless they are fluent in Hebrew and follow alternative media like 972 Magazine, will have no clue.

Barbara Erickson