The NY Times, Netanyahu’s Stenographer

The New York Times serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s stenographer in a story this week that reports his latest rant against critics of Israeli policy, repeating his claims at length but making no attempt to verify or even question the distortions in his response.

The Israeli prime minister was reacting to comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who criticized Israel’s settlement construction in and around East Jerusalem during a session in parliament Wednesday, saying that he found the situation “genuinely shocking.” The Times, which made no mention of Cameron’s remarks at the time, now presents us with an article by Isabel Kershner framed around the official Israeli response.

Her story, “Benjamin Netanyahu Rebukes David Cameron for Criticizing Israel,” gives much space to the prime minister’s assertions and allows him the final word. It also quotes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and lets the comments of both men to stand without challenge.

Netanyahu, speaking at a political meeting Thursday, portrayed Israel as the peacekeeper in East Jerusalem, saying that “only Israeli sovereignty” has prevented ISIS “and Hamas from igniting the holy sites as they are doing all over the Middle East.”

He implied that Israel has brought prosperity to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, citing “roads, clinics, employment and all the other trappings of normal life that their brethren do not enjoy elsewhere in the Middle East.” Mayor Barkat also stated that Israel is building “the newest, most advanced schools” for Palestinian youth and paving new roads for residents.

The Times made no attempt to challenge the veracity of these comments although they grossly misrepresent the situation Palestinians face in occupied East Jerusalem. The data is available for all to see and is certainly familiar to Kershner and Times editors.

For instance, as of January 2011:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods were not connected to a sewer system and lacked paved roads and sidewalks.
  • West Jerusalem had 1,000 public parks compared to 45 in East Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 34 swimming pools; East Jerusalem had three.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads and sidewalks in the city were found in West Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 26 libraries; East Jerusalem had two.

More recent news also belies the claims of Netanyahu and Barkat. Far from working to provide education, health care and road access for Palestinian residents, Israeli policies and actions have made life more and more difficult for the non-Jewish residents of the city:

  • In 2015, Israel placed dozens of Palestinian children under house arrest in East Jerusalem, preventing them from attending school.
  • The Israeli government has been working with settler groups to dispossess Palestinians of their homes.
  • More than a third of East Jerusalem students are unable to complete high school because there are not enough classrooms. (Under an order by the Israeli High Court, some new classrooms are being built, but these will only alleviate the shortage by half.)
  • Some 38 percent of East Jerusalem’s planned areas have been confiscated for the development of Jewish settler neighborhoods, while only 2.6 percent is zoned for public buildings—such as schools—for the city’s indigenous Palestinians.
  • Israeli invasions of Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem hospital and restrictions on patients attempting to enter the hospital prompted several United Nations agencies to condemn the actions as violations of international law.
  • By Feb. 22,  Israeli forces had demolished 27 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, including a school, since the beginning of this year.

Kershner’s story, however, makes no mention of any of this. The focus here is solely on the Israeli show of outrage. Netanyahu and Barkat’s statements are allowed to stand, even the claim that Hamas and ISIS are working together to foment terrorism. In fact, the two are bitter enemies, but the Times has no interest in disabusing its readers of this inconvenient fact.

Cameron’s statements gave the Times an opening, a chance to examine the settlement enterprise, conditions in East Jerusalem and the attitudes of Palestinian leaders and citizens living under Israeli control. But this was not to be. Only the Israeli narrative was of interest to the Times, and even the prime minister of the United Kingdom could not make his voice heard above its strident demands.

Barbara Erickson

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A Nuclear Power Confronting Slingshots, Israeli Hypocrisy Finds an Ally in The NY Times

Israel, The New York Times tells us, has vowed to crack down on violence in Jerusalem, allowing the use of live fire against Palestinians who take to “rock throwing and firebombing,” expanding the rules of engagement and lengthening sentences for such crimes.

In a story titled “Israel Acts to Combat Violence in Jerusalem,” Isabel Kershner quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls such Palestinian weaponry “deadly and murderous objects,” which have been “thrown without response and without being thwarted.”

It is noteworthy that Netanyahu, responsible for bombing and strafing the 1.8 million residents of Gaza, can say these words without a hint of irony. It is also striking that the Times can report his utterances without pointing out the full context here—the lopsided nature of the conflict.

In fact, it is the Palestinians who face a deadly enemy: Israel possesses armored vehicles, automatic rifles, drones, rockets, fighter jets, smart bombs and sophisticated surveillance equipment, all of them more “deadly and murderous” than Palestinian rocks. As the only nuclear power in the Middle East, Israel also has a stockpile of up to 300 nuclear weapons, which can be launched by air, land or sea.

Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank have nothing more than stones, firecrackers, kitchen knives and homemade firebombs. The mortality figures reflect this disparity: Since the beginning of this year Israeli forces have killed more than 25 Palestinians in the West Bank (settlers have killed at least another three), while Palestinians are responsible for the deaths of four Israelis within the West Bank and Israel combined.

Yet the Times strains to make Israelis appear as the victims, giving voice to the claims of Netanyahu, playing down Palestinian deaths and hyping Israeli casualties. A recent headline declared, “Jewish Man Dies As Rocks Pelt His Car in East Jerusalem,” suggesting that the driver was stoned to death. In fact, he had a heart attack, lost control of his car and ran into a light pole. The Times story cites only one object hitting the car.

By contrast, the paper gives a bland and ambiguous title to the story of a young Palestinian woman who died from a barrage of Israeli bullets last week as she tried to cross a checkpoint in Hebron. This news appears under the title, “2 Are Killed in West Bank as Jewish and Muslim Holidays Approach.”

Readers find no hint of the bloody assault on 18-year-old Hadeel Al Hashlamoun in this headline, and the Times has also failed to report that Amnesty International termed her killing a “extrajudicial execution” and called for a “prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigations” into her death.

Firsthand accounts say that an Israeli soldier shot Al Hashlamoun in the leg, and when she lay motionless on the ground, approached her and fired several more shots into her abdomen. Witnesses add that soldiers refused to let a Palestinian ambulance approach her and left her to bleed for about half an hour before allowing an Israeli ambulance to arrive and take her away. Video footage also shows a soldier grabbing her by a foot as she lay bleeding on the ground and dragging her out of camera sight.

This is raw violence with “deadly and murderous” arms, but the Times and Netanyahu do not find the word “violence” appropriate here. They reserve its use for Palestinians who throw rocks and firecrackers, never applying it to the atrocities of Israeli security forces. The irony and hypocrisy in this discourse seem to elude them entirely.

In a story that appeared online yesterday, the Times reports that four Palestinian youths have been arrested for throwing rocks at the car of the man who died after crashing in East Jerusalem. This news is in striking contrast to the latest, disturbing developments in the case of three Palestinian family members who died in an arson attack.

When news broke of the fire that killed a toddler in the West Bank village of Duma and led to the later deaths of his mother and father, the Times quoted the reactions of Israeli politicians at length and described Jewish Israeli “soul searching” over the deaths. The paper also noted that some extremist settlers had been arrested but that no one accused of the Duma arson was in custody.

The Times ran several stories immediately after the arson attack, reporting that Netanyahu vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, but after running a brief article when the mother died earlier this month, the newspaper has been silent, even though there is news to tell: Israeli officials know who committed the crime but do not plan to arrest them.

Israeli media have reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon admitted that the names of the suspects are known but the defense establishment has not arrested anyone “to avoid revealing intelligence sources in court.”

So we have the quick arrest of four youths suspected of throwing rocks and (perhaps) indirectly causing the death of an Israeli driver, while those responsible for burning and killing three innocent Palestinians go free. The remarks by Ya’alon add even more irony to Netanyahu’s complaint that rock throwing occurs “without response and without being thwarted.”

The Times has shown itself to be tone deaf to such dissonance in the Israeli narrative. Far from analyzing or commenting on the hypocrisy of vilifying rock throwers, it has worked to support this deliberate distortion of the reality in Palestine.

So in the Times we find silence concerning official complicity in settler crimes, efforts to portray Israelis as victims and a refusal to state the obvious: Killing civilians with the world’s most sophisticated weapons ranks high on the scale of violence, far above the efforts of Palestinian youth who face armored soldiers and tanks with slingshots and stones.

Barbara Erickson

Al Aqsa Under Attack: The NY Times Blames Its Youthful Defenders

Tensions are running high at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, and The New York Times can tell us where to place the blame: It’s not the fault of extremists who plan to destroy the landmark, according to the Times, nor is it recent Israeli moves to restrict Muslim access to the site; it is the fault of hot-headed Palestinian youth.

In a story today and in a similar article last July Isabel Kershner points directly to these young people as the source of trouble in clashes with police. This is how the police have framed the issue, and Kershner gives prominence to their claims.

The Times story contrasts with reports from international media and Palestinian sources. From these accounts we learn that the youths were volunteer guards helping defend the holy site against Israeli incursions and that police stormed the mosque while Muslims were inside, beating and injuring worshippers and damaging prayer rugs and other articles. We also learn that these actions prompted even Arab nations on good terms with Israel to speak out in protest.

Kershner quotes Palestinian Liberation Organization secretary Saeb Erekat and a Hamas spokesman who condemn the Israel invasion of the mosque, but she fails to tell readers that both Jordan and Egypt, two nations friendly to Israel, also protested, along with the Arab League and the United Nations representative for peace talks.

The Al Aqsa Mosque has stood at its site in Jerusalem for a thousand years and is revered by Muslims everywhere, but Jews also consider the area as holy ground, where the Second Temple once stood. Extremists openly call for the destruction of both Al Aqsa and the even more ancient Dome of the Rock, which dominates the Jerusalem skyline. They plan to raze the edifices and replace them with a Third Temple.

The Times story fails to acknowledge these real threats that cause anguish among the followers of Islam. It has also neglected to report on Israel’s numerous efforts to restrict Muslim prayer at the mosque and the increasing presence of Jewish worshippers, who are protected by troops when they visit the compound.

Muslims know that another holy site, the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, has been divided between a Muslim and a Jewish section, and that Israeli officials often choose to ban Muslims from entering altogether. This month, worshippers have been excluded from the Hebron mosque for six entire days.

Kershner reports that Muslims charge Israel with plans to divide the Al Aqsa compound, but she says that this is “an assertion vehemently denied by Israel.” Missing from her article is the history of Hebron and the restrictions Israeli authorities frequently impose on Muslim worshippers in both sites.

In recent weeks, for instance, Israel has prevented women from entering the Al Aqsa area, retained the identify cards of worshippers, allowed Jewish extremists to enter the mosque compound for “tours,” restricted the entry of students attending schools in the Al Aqsa compound and confiscated land in an Islamic cemetery next to the mosque.

After the latest incursion, the director of the mosque compound, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, said that Israel occupation authorities “have imposed their sovereignty over [the mosque compound] by power of force.” Israel controls who enters and exists, he said, and officials use force against anyone who challenges them.

This is a cry of alarm from a site revered by millions of Muslims throughout the world, but it found no mention in the Times. Instead, we receive the Israeli spin on this tragic saga as the newspaper glosses over the expansionist aims of a Zionist state.

Barbara Erickson

How to Spell Aqsa: A Sign of Contempt in the NY Times

[Update: The Times has responded to this post. See note at bottom.]

Here are two questions to pose to The New York Times Jerusalem bureau: Why has Al Aqsa Mosque become Al Aksa in the Times’ reports? What guides the decision to reject Arabic spelling, especially at this critical moment of conflict over the holy site?

News of tensions over the ancient Al Aqsa Mosque has been circulating in Palestinian news service reports for many months but has only recently appeared in the Times, and with this sudden interest has come a new phenomenon—a change in orthography.

Past Times articles about the site almost always use the correct Arabic transliteration, with a “q,” but since the story broke into the newspaper last week, it has consistently been Al Aksa in five articles over four days (for example, here and here). It is not a sudden change of policy for rendering Arabic in English—Al Quds (Jerusalem) and other words remain as always in these stories and elsewhere the Times still uses Al Aqsa. The change emanates from the Jerusalem bureau and refers solely to Al Aqsa Mosque and its compound.

Readers should note that “Aksa” is the way Hebrew speakers (and many other non-Arabic speakers) pronounce the word. In modern Hebrew there is no “qaf” sound, except in the speech of some Mizrahi Jews (those hailing from Arab countries). The difference is that the Arabic “qaf” is pronounced deep in the throat, while the Hebrew “kaph” is like the familiar “k” sound we use in English.

As recently as September, Al Aqsa was appearing in the stories of Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, but this changed when she began to write about Jewish efforts to get greater access to the area. [See her explanation below.] Significantly, the deviant “Aksa” had appeared in her writing at least once before, and this also was in a story last year about Jewish pressure for changes at the holy site.

Other publications, even those by activists for greater Jewish access, use Aqsa (The Jerusalem Post is an exception), and over the years the Times has almost always stayed with the correct Arabic transliteration, but there is at least one notable (perhaps ominous) exception.

In September 2000 Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Al Aqsa compound (known as the Temple Mount to Jews). He was accompanied by 1,000 troops, and the deliberately provocative event set off the Second Intifada, also known as the Al Aqsa Intifada.

In its coverage of Sharon’s visit 14 years ago, the Times turned to the “Aksa” spelling. He went, the story said, “to assert Jewish claims there” and spent an hour at the site, setting off violent protests from the moment he arrived.

Sharon’s visit and the present efforts to increase Jewish worship at the site threaten what commentators have described as the “last Jerusalem bastion that expresses the national and religious identity of most Palestinians” and “the last leg of institutional Palestinian life in Jerusalem.”

The mosque compound is nominally under the authority of Jordan and run by an Islamic trust called a waqf, although Israel controls access and patrols the area. Jordan has joined Palestinian parties in calling for an end to Jewish demands for change at the site, but the Israeli Knesset is considering a bill that would create a significant alteration—the division of Al Aqsa Mosque into Jewish and Muslim sections.

The Times stories fail to inform readers of this threat to the status quo and say nothing about extremist plans to destroy Al Aqsa and the glittering Dome of the Rock in order to replace them with a third Jewish temple. Instead, the readers learn only that Jews want the right to pray at the site, a seemingly innocuous demand.

Larry Derfner, writing in 972 Magazine, states that the goal of the Jewish lobbyists is something more: “The Temple Mount movement is and always has been a movement not for religious equality, but for Jewish religious domination and contempt for Muslims and Islam.”

When the Times chooses “Aksa,” the Hebrew pronunciation, over the correct “Aqsa” of Arabic, it is sending a subtle signal, picking up on this contempt. This is not an open challenge—Arabs hear the word simply as an error—but it shows once again that faced with a choice in presenting the narrative of Palestine and Israel the Times favors the voice of the occupier.

Barbara Erickson

[Note: In two stories (here and here) published in the Times on Nov. 7, the spelling reverted to the correct Al Aqsa. The day before it had still been Aksa. Jodi Rudoren wrote TimesWarp to say that she has always spelled the name correctly, but her copy was changed by staff in New York. After complaints, she said, they have changed it back. Her explanation falls short of clarifying all the timelines and coincidences here, but it is worth noting that she insists there was no motive to Hebraize the word.]

When Death Makes the Headlines (and When it Doesn’t)

The New York Times today titles a page 6 story with this graphic headline: “Driver Plows Into Group in Jerusalem, Killing Baby.” In the article that follows we learn that a Palestinian man, in a supposed “terrorist attack,” drove into a crowd of passengers at a light rail station, leaving an infant dead and eight people wounded.

If indeed it was on purpose, what could be the motive for such an act? The story by Isabel Kershner attempts to provide some hints: The driver, Abd el-Rahman al-Shaloudy, had served time in an Israeli prison and was the nephew of a leader in the Hamas military wing. He also lived in Silwan, where tensions run high as settlers take over Palestinian homes. (See TimesWarp, “Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and the NY Times.”)

Only far into the story do readers learn that “some Palestinians drew a line” between the crash and a tragic event last Sunday, when a Jewish settler “ran over and killed a Palestinian girl, Inas Shawkat, 5, in the West Bank.” Kershner fails to say if this could have provided a motive for al-Shaloudy, but she does seem to absolve the driver by adding that he turned himself into police “when he reached the nearest Jewish settlement.”

Readers never learn that settlers have frequently struck Palestinians with their cars, and tiny Inas was not the first victim to succumb to this. The hit-and-run cases are so numerous it is impossible to list them all here, but we can begin with a few of the many other fatalities: Muhammad Abd al-Karim Muhammad Abu Isleim, 23, killed last August near Salfit; Amin Al-Faqur, 13, struck while riding his donkey last December; and Abdul-Hafith Fayyem, 76, who died after being hit near Qalqilya a year ago.

News reports of Palestinians injured or killed by settler vehicles appear almost weekly. The Maan article reporting the death of Amin Al-Faqur lists nine over a period of three months in 2013. A post by Occupied Palestine in the social media platform Storify logs dozens over three years, with links to the news accounts. Many of these ended in fatalities and far too many involved children.

And yet we find no Times headlines that tell of these deaths, and if we did it is unlikely the incidents would be called “terrorist attacks” before (or even after) any investigations took place. The Times would never have mentioned the death of 5-year-old Inas last week if it had no connection to the car crash in Jerusalem that killed a Jewish infant.

Readers may also want to read a commentary by journalist Ben White in Middle East Monitor. He notes that the settler who killed Inas was allowed to go free while a Palestinian who slightly injured a Jewish woman also turned himself in but was imprisoned and died during his detention.

“The settler responsible for killing a child and fatally wounding another wasn’t arrested,” White writes, “he wasn’t taken to a military detention centre, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and didn’t become a security prisoner. A Palestinian who slightly hit a woman had to endure all of these, and was killed because of them. If this is not Apartheid, I don’t know what is.”

The Times, however, would have us believe that it is Israelis who suffer from the attacks of militant Palestinians. Kershner fails to provide the context of settler violence and even passes off the site of the car crash as “the northern part of Jerusalem.” In fact, it took place in occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Palestinians view the light rail line, the site of the crash reported in the Times, as a symbol of oppression. “It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants,” notes blogger Richard Silverstein. “It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.”

Readers, however, learn none of this. Palestinian violence is presented as free-floating, arising out of “a culture of hate” and without any reasonable basis. Israeli violence, far more damaging, fails to appear at all or is put forth as a “clash” of two sides.

So we find headlines announcing the death of a Jewish baby but none to tell us of the death of a small Palestinian girl or an elderly Palestinian man or a Bedouin boy on his donkey. To paraphrase Ben White, if this is not bias, I don’t know what is.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Provocation at Holy Sites: Unfit to Print in The NY Times

Jodi Rudoren this week reports on clashes and tensions at the revered Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and lays the blame squarely on Palestinians. Her story omits the recent history of extremist Jewish efforts to take over the site and government support for their incendiary cause.

In an article titled “U.N. Denounces ‘Provocations’ at Holy Sites in Jerusalem,” Rudoren quotes United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as saying that he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations” at the compound encompassing Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two ancient and revered Islamic sites in the heart of Jerusalem.

Ban does not say who is responsible for the provocations, but Rudoren implies that he was aiming at Palestinians. She reports Israeli police who said that they thwarted a riot at the mosque on Monday by locking a group of armed Palestinians inside.

Palestinians gave a different account, but their response to the charges comes far down in the story. There Rudoren quotes a Palestinian radio report that Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas inside the mosque. (She is quick to include the police refutation of this accusation.)

Her story grants 12 paragraphs to Israeli charges and commentary and a mere two paragraphs to Palestinians. She thus attempts to blame Palestinians as the instigators even as she omits the provocative history of religious Zionists who want to gain control of the site, destroy the Muslim presence and replace it with a Jewish temple.

When Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the Al Aqsa compound was left in the hands of Muslims, and Jews were forbidden from praying there. But from the beginning of the occupation, extremists have pressed for a takeover of the site (known as the Temple Mount in Judaism), and these efforts have gained strength in recent years.

One of these extremists is Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin, who was at the site on Monday. He has called for the destruction of Al Aqsa and is so inflammatory he has been banned from the United Kingdom, but Rudoren’s description of him falls short. She says only that he is “an ultranationalist” and “a right-wing Israeli lawmaker, whose prior pilgrimages to the site have been a focal point for clashes.”

Readers deserve more. They should be informed that Feiglin has made statements like this: “The Temple Mount must be thoroughly cleared of the wild rabble. They should not be allowed to step foot on the Mount and should not be able to seek refuge in their ‘holy’ places.”

The Times should also make it clear that Feiglin is not a lone voice in the Israeli government and that the Knesset has been considering new laws, which would erode the Islamic presence at Al Aqsa.

Over the past year the Israeli parliament has debated lifting the prohibition on Jewish prayer at the compound, opening a second gate for Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount and dividing Al Aqsa Mosque into two sections, one for Jews and another for Muslims (as is the case at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron).

The seemingly innocuous call for the right to pray is often something more insidious, according to Nicholas Saidel, writing in 972 Magazine: “Many of the provocative calls to prayer are made by a messianic organization called the Temple Institute, whose mission is to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount grounds – thereby destroying both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

A report by two Israeli monitoring groups, Ir Amin and Keshev, demonstrates that the Israeli government supports these efforts. The report calls the collaboration between the government and Temple movements a “dangerous liaison” and states that “senior politicians from the heart of the establishment, rabbis who serve in public offices, officials in the Ministry of Education and educators provide sponsorship for the Temple movements and help to promote their message.”

The report concludes that this support could lead to “severe ramifications …on the security of Israel and the lives of Jews and non-Jews in the region and throughout the world.” In other words, Keshev and Ir Amin say, the government and Temple groups are playing with fire.

Rudoren fails to inform readers of this “dangerous liaison.” Instead, she quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who insists that “Muslim extremists” are spreading “false and baseless rumors that we are threatening the holy places.” Readers hear nothing of the facts that throw doubt on Netanyahu’s statement—the Knesset bills, the Temple Mount movements and the collusion of the government.

The Times should inform readers that the Knesset debates and the incendiary statements of Temple advocates raise grave concerns among Palestinians, who have already lost land, resources and the right to move freely under Israeli rule. Recent moves to allow more and more Jewish worshippers to access the site and to restrict Palestinians have added to these fears

These moves have intensified throughout this year and last as Israel allowed settlers, tourists and security forces to enter the compound, while it has prevented Muslim men under the age of 50 and all Muslim women from worshipping there. (See here and here.)

From the Palestinian point of view, these developments are an ominous sign that Israel will some day destroy the 1,000-year-old Al Aqsa Mosque and the glittering, 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock to make way for Jewish claims on the site.

Rudoren alludes to these fears only in quoting Netanyahu’s words about “baseless rumors.” The Times should do much more. Readers need to hear about the Temple movements, the government debates and the increasing restrictions on Palestinian access. They need to know the context of the recent “tension and violence” to understand that Palestinian protests have a basis in concrete events. This, in truth, is the news that is “fit to print.’

Barbara Erickson