NY Times Bureau Chief Serves Israeli Agenda: Distorting History, Ignoring Oppression

One month into his stint as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Peter Baker has struck a world-weary tone: In his telling, the turmoil of Palestine-Israel is nothing more than an ancient feud, and the United Nations has grown tired of hearing about it from two intransigent leaders.

The effect of this jaded stance is to leave readers with the impression that Palestinians and Israelis face off over a level playing field and they have been doing so for millennia, two notions that serve to benefit Israel above all.

In a piece about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Baker juxtaposes their comments as if they were two contenders facing off in a boxing ring, hurling invectives at each other. Where Abbas speaks of “heinous crimes” and a “historic catastrophe,” he says, Netanyahu lashes out with charges of “fanaticism” and “inhumanity.”

The two men, Baker writes, are “guilt-tripping” the international community; they are “filled with grievance and bristling with resentment;” and they “summon the ghosts of history from hundreds and even thousands of years ago to make their cases.” But, he states, “the world has begun to move on” as other crises, such as the war in Syria, take center stage.

The tenor is one of fatigue and cynicism, which does a disservice to readers and to the cause of honest journalism. Baker makes no attempt to discern the truth or falsity of any of the statements, dismissing them all as nothing more than rivalry.

When he says that the world has moved on, this implies that the United Nations itself has grown weary of the conflict, but late in his piece Baker quotes Netanyahu on the world body, providing readers with clear evidence that the organization is still very much engaged in the issue.

Baker tells us that the Israeli prime minister bitterly attacked the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the UN cultural agency, and knowledgeable readers will find the reasons for Netanyahu’s resentment obvious: UN agencies frequently report on Israeli violations of international and humanitarian law, and the UN has granted membership status to Palestine, over the objections of Israel.

Nevertheless, the Times article would have us believe that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has become passé, that the world is tired of these two bitter rivals who refuse to make up.

In presenting the issue in this light, Baker hides the terrible disparity between the two sides and ignores the urgent issues of injustice and international law.

He writes in this vein knowing that Abbas and Netanyahu represent two very different political and military realities. The United States, as the Times has recently reported, provides massive amounts of military aid to Israel each year, but it provides absolutely none to Palestinians. It also supports Israel at the United Nations, wielding its veto power to block resolutions critical of Israel, even those that echo its own policy statements.

Moreover, Baker and Times editors certainly know that Palestinians have no army, air force or navy; no tanks, warships, drones or nuclear arms; and that Israel has all this and more. They also have UN data for 2016, which show that, as of Sept. 19, 89 Palestinians had been killed by Israelis, while 10 Israelis had died at the hands of Palestinians.

Moreover, they know the shocking Gaza death toll from the summer of 2014, in which, according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Israeli forces killed 2,202 Palestinians, two-thirds of them civilians and 526 of them children. By contrast, Gaza fighters and rockets killed 72 Israelis, including 62 soldiers and one child.

The disparity is enormous, yet Baker has chosen to present the situation as a conflict between two equal sides. He has also adopted the “ancient hatreds” line that ignores the reality of Palestinian dispossession since 1947 and the present brutality inflicted on an occupied people by the powerful Israeli state.

Two days after his Abbas vs. Netanyahu story appeared, Baker published a piece on soccer in the West Bank, writing in the lead that “the latest battleground in the age-old struggle” between Israelis and Palestinians” was a dispute over whether FIFA rules allow Israeli soccer teams to play in West Bank settlements.

He thus manages to distort history, trivialize Palestinian resistance and maintain the false impression of parity between the two sides, ignoring evidence that pre-Zionist Palestine saw peaceful coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The “age-old struggle” is actually a recent one.

In dubbing conflict over soccer as “latest battlefield” he turns his back on urgent and immediate issues: recent Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces; the state-sponsored destruction of homes and livelihoods (including humanitarian aid donated to struggling communities); and continued attacks on unarmed fishermen and farmers in Gaza.

When Baker suggests that the conflict is fueled by ancient and intractable animosities, that only the two sides take any real interest in its outcome and that it involves petty disputes and little more than a war of words, this serves the Israeli agenda. He is directing our attention away from the core issues, allowing Israel to carry out its brutal regime of dispossession and oppression well under the radar.

Barbara Erickson

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In The NY Times (and Israel) Abbas Gets a New Role

Mahmoud Abbas, once skewered in The New York Times as the villain in the peace talks debacle, has been cast in a new role: He is now the victim of Palestinian fanaticism.

In a front-page article about the disappearance of three teenage Israeli settlers nearly two weeks ago, Jodi Rudoren writes that the Palestinian Authority president “is under unprecedented attack for cooperating with Israel’s search for the teenagers.” The assaults are coming on social media, she notes, where he has been called a traitor and threatened with death, and even members of his Fatah party are challenging his control.

Meanwhile, in the Fatah stronghold of Ramallah, Palestinians fought with PA security forces, “smashing at least four police cars and storming a police station.” This was a first time occurrence, Rudoren writes, and she goes on to marshal quotes that show Palestinians cheering in support of the abduction and calling for more kidnappings.

In Rudoren’s telling it seems that Abbas is the only reasonable Palestinian in sight and that he is under attack for nothing more than an offer of help in the search for three missing teens.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of the wider context in this story, the occupation itself, the brutality of the search operation, and the role of the Palestinian Authority that compounds the misery of its own people.

Last Friday, the U.S. trained PA troops attacked nonviolent demonstrators and a CNN crew in Hebron as they rallied in support of hunger strikers in Israeli detention. Wives and mothers of the detainees were injured. Earlier this month, the PA roughed up journalists during another demonstration, and this week, the PA worked hand in hand with Israeli soldiers when they invaded Ramallah, the PA stronghold.

“Both forces, Israeli and Palestinian, were attacking the Palestinian people on the streets [of Ramallah],” writes Allison Deger in Mondoweiss. She also reports that the PA had been notified in advance of the invasion and Ramallah residents were dismayed at the PA’s failure to protect them against Israeli fire.

The incursion into Ramallah came after more than a week of violent searches and mass arrests throughout the West Bank, well beyond the Hebron area where the teens went missing. Soldiers trashed homes and offices, injuring hundreds and leaving at least five dead.

In this context and in light of the PA’s actions against its own people, the anger with Abbas is reasonable and expected. The Times, however, would have you believe he is the victim of irrational rage.

Although Rudoren provides some data—the number of Palestinians arrested (340), the number of searches conducted so far (1,350), even the number of Palestinian dead (four at the time of writing, now five, or six, if we include a heart attack victim)—there is no hint of the suffering inflicted on innocent residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rudoren has also failed to report that the violence of Israeli’s raids on Palestinian communities prompted a consortium of 12 rights groups to condemn the collective punishment of an entire population. Amnesty International also demanded a halt to the incursions last week, and reports say that the Palestinian Authority (incoherently, in view of its collaboration with Israel) is planning an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to force a halt to the raids.

Her story also comes up with a peculiar phrase in her description of this latest crisis. She writes of the “huge gulf, political and psychological, between the long-warring neighbors,” as if we had two separate states here, longtime neighbors with their grievances. This is an odd way to speak about the military occupation of a beleaguered land.

The Times follows Israeli hasbara (propaganda) conscientiously. Omitting any mention of the hard realities of occupation and military abuse, it would have you believe that Palestinians are caught up in a culture of hate, a free-floating hostility without reason.

Not so long ago, Abbas was the villain who destroyed the peace process by acceding to international organizations. Today he is the good guy facing off against his fanatical constituents. It is all about Israel. When he went against the demands of the Israeli state, he was vilified. Now that he is cooperating, it is those who oppose him who take the heat.

Barbara Erickson