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.