A Change of Heart at The NY Times!

Someone else is watching The New York Times’ coverage of Palestine and Israel with a keen eye. Today a spoof edition of the paper, using heavy doses of irony, points up the obvious bias in its news reporting of this critical topic.

Everything is changing at the Times, according to this wonderful parody: The paper met with representatives from both sides of the conflict and issued a mea culpa, saying that they have protected Israel and trashed Palestine, and now that is going to end.

This news appears on a fake website and was handed out in a print edition at venues across New York City this morning, including Grand Central Station, Times Square subway stations and outside corporate offices.

The entire edition is devoted Israel-Palestine, and it reports that as the Times goes, so goes Congress and even presidential candidates. Hilary Clinton is dropping out to run a women’s coop with headquarters in Ramallah, Palestine, among other places. Congress is actually debating the issue of military aid to Israel.

The letters to the editor, editorials and news stories all take up the same theme, and some reports come to us under bylines that carry a familiar ring: Peter Quaker (for Peter Baker, the presumptive new Jerusalem bureau chief), Laila Said (suggestive of Diaa Hadid, a frequent contributor) and Imogen Lerner (rhyming with Isabel Kershner, a longtime Jerusalem bureau staff writer).

Who did it? Democracy Now and others speculate that it was The Yes Men, a group that did a similar Times spoof in 2008. Now it appears that they have been reading the paper closely and noting the infinite variety of ways it shields Israel and betrays its obligation to readers.

Our thanks and congratulations go out to the authors of this insightful hoax. Please give us more!

Barbara Erickson

 

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

Israel Under Existential Threat—From Rock Throwers

Four-year-old Adele Biton, an Israeli girl, died this week, two years after she was injured in a car crash that took place during a stone throwing assault. Although her death was not directly tied to the trauma she suffered then, The New York Times saw fit to report the event in a recent news piece.

The story, by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, is titled “Israeli Girl Injured in Palestinian Rock Throwing Attack in 2013 Dies.” It includes quotes from a settler leader and government official who mourned her passing; it also adds that she had become a “potent national symbol of the dangers that stones can cause.”

We can contrast her death with that of Methad Rada, 31, a disabled man who died in Gaza this month, six months after he was injured during a missile attack on a United Nations school in Rafah. His death, said to be caused by complications from the injury, brought the death toll in that assault to 13 and raised the total killed in Gaza during the summer’s conflict to 2,220.

The New York Times has had nothing to say about Rada’s death. He was injured by a weapon far more dangerous than rocks, and he was one of many to be maimed or killed under the Israeli assault, but neither Rada nor any of the other thousands left crippled by Israel’s sophisticated armory has received serious notice in the Times.

The Times appears oblivious to its own unthinking bias, which is mirrored in another recent story about desperate youths trying to escape the blockaded enclave of Gaza. Although the article cries out for a hard look at just what is driving this young men to leave their homes, the Times has made no attempt to do this.

The story, also by Rudoren, dismisses this fundamental question in a few terse words: The youths are leaving, she writes, to escape “poverty, death and destruction.” No fuller explanation is offered.

Instead, she devotes a good portion of the piece to Israeli fears. “The crossings,” she writes, “have shaken residents on Israel’s side of the fence still psychologically scarred from the series of tunnel invasions by Palestinian militants that punctuated last summer’s conflict.”

She omits the fact that no tunnel attacks targeted Israeli civilians or led to any injuries of civilians. They were used only for military operations.

Likewise, the present influx of fence jumpers has led to no assaults on civilians, and army officials confirmed that the crossings are “less about terrorism than desperation.” But this does not prevent Rudoren from hyping the fear factor.

She interviews residents of two kibbutzim near the border, where some have taken to carrying pistols, and she notes that “reports of each illegal crossing are jittery reminders of last summer.”

Life in Gaza takes a back seat in her story. Israeli fear is placed front and center.

Adele Biton’s death may or may not have been due to the car accident caused by a rock throwing incident two years ago, but the event provided one more opportunity to highlight the claims of Israeli victimhood. The death of Rada has no place in this opportunistic narrative, and it therefore finds no mention in the Times.

The Times strives to portray Israel, with its sophisticated military might, as under threat from rock throwers and impoverished job seekers. That it does so without a hint of irony testifies to the blind depths of this ingrained bias.

Barbara Erickson

As Children Die in Gaza, The NY Times Spotlights Israeli Fears

The New York Times informs us this week that Israelis near the Lebanese border fear the presence of Hezbollah tunnels near their homes. In a thousand word story, Isabel Kershner writes of mysterious noises at night, “palpable” fears of an across-border attack and the damage of such rumors to local tourism.

The article is a follow-up to an earlier front page report on the death of two Israeli soldiers in a Hezbollah assault, and it is a companion piece to a Times story this summer about Hamas tunnels from Gaza. It confirms once again the Israeli-centric bias of the newspaper’s reporting from the Middle East.

Both stories focus on the unsubstantiated fears of Israelis. Hamas fighters used the tunnels solely for troop engagements with Israeli forces during this summer’s conflict; they never emerged from underground to attack kindergartens or invade kibbutzim, as some Israelis fantasized. The Hezbollah tunnels remain nothing but rumors so far. No one had found one by the time the Times story went to press.

Moreover, the original Hezbollah attack story makes much of the two Israeli soldiers’ deaths—in the headline and in an above-the-fold photo—and mentions only well into the story one additional detail: that a Spanish member of a United Nations force also died during the clash, apparently from Israeli fire (although the Times fails to say this).

Last week, when Israel killed five Hezbollah soldiers (at least one of them high ranking) and one Iranian general in the Golan, the news appeared on page 4. In that story and subsequent articles, we learn the names of only two of the victims.

Now, with Israelis as victims, the Times reports their names and gives the story page 1 treatment, as well as a next day follow-up with a photo of grieving relatives, news of the soldiers’ funerals and speculation about tunnels underfoot.

We’ve seen several prominent stories about Israeli grieving and fears this month. After Jews died in a terrorist attack in Paris, the Times made much of a tenuous Israeli connection. In three separate articles the paper reported that Israelis linked the attacks “to their own struggles,” that four Parisian Jews were buried in Israel (this with a front page photo) and that French Jews find a “sociable landing spot” in the Israeli city of Netanya.

Meanwhile, children were dying in Gaza, and the Times barely noticed. The paper ran one page 3 story about the suffering caused by a winter storm, including the death of a 4-month-old girl.

Two days later, after two more infants and a young fisherman also succumbed to the cold, the Times published a brief, 300-word story online that never made it into print. A week earlier two other Gaza children died when a fire broke out during an electrical blackout. This news apparently found no mention anywhere in the Times.

As Gaza residents continue to suffer from the Israeli siege, the newspaper prefers to highlight the nightmare fantasies of nervous Israelis rather than examine Israeli culpability in Palestinian suffering. In the end, the Times is saying, it is Israeli deaths, Israeli fears and Israeli grief that are above all worth reporting.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Op Eds, Deconstructed

Confused about the latest events concerning Palestine and Israel? Not to worry: The New York Times has provided readers with a steady stream of commentary from regular columnists and guests, letting us know what to think about everything from Israeli elections to actions at the United Nations.

We have heard from Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Roger Cohen, Dennis Ross and the editors themselves. All of them have provided material for TimesWarp treatment, but health problems have forced this blog to remain silent through it all. However, we now offer a series of critiques that have appeared elsewhere:

Former United Nations rapporteur on Palestine-Israel, Richard Falk writes about many of the columnists in a blog post titled “The Irrelevance of Liberal Zionism.”

Palestinian commentator Sam Bahour pens an open letter to Times editors in response to one of Roger Cohen’s columns, “Gaza Is Nowhere.”

Mondoweiss critiques David Brooks’s column, “The Age of Bibi,” and demolishes a piece by Dennis Ross—Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass”—simply by reprinting readers’ online comments. In addition, Mondoweiss calls out the Times for excluding any real critics of Israel from its regular stable of columnists.

And in the Israeli paper Haaretz, American Peter Beinart takes on the piece by Dennis Ross in an article titled “What David Ben-Gurion Could Teach Dennis Ross About Israel, Palestinians and the ICC.”

Every one is well worth your time.

Barbara Erickson