Israeli rights advocate Hagai El-Ad spoke eloquently last week before the United Nations Security Council, appealing to the world body for action on the brutal occupation of Palestine, but according to The New York Times little of what this courageous activist said was fit to print: The real news was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outraged response.
Thus we find a story on the speech appearing two days after the event under the headline “Settlement Debate Flares Again in Israel’s Quarrel With Rights Group.” The article by Isabel Kershner has much to say about Israeli government criticism of the human rights group B’Tselem, which documents and publicizes Israeli abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.
She says as little as possible, however, about El-Ad’s actual comments. Of his 2,000 word speech she quotes no more than two dozen: “Anything short of decisive action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation…[Living under occupation] mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”
The heart of the address is missing: El-Ad’s devastating deconstruction of the Israeli justice system as “a legal guise for organized state violence,” the daily indignities and suffering under Israeli military rule, the demolitions of homes, theft of land and water and the impunity surrounding trigger happy security forces.
His words become lost in the framing of this story, glossed over in the tit for tat between attackers and defenders of B’Tselem. Other media reports, however—in Israel and the United States—give readers more substantial excerpts from his address, and they also provide links to the actual speech, something the Times conveniently omits.
The Times also fails to say that amidst the turmoil over B’Tselem’s UN appearance, the U.S. State Department declared its gratitude to the organization for providing information on “fundamental issues that occur on the ground.” Times readers, however, are denied these same benefits.
El-Ad was not the only speaker to criticize Israel at a special session titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” but he bore the brunt of the furious denunciations from Netanyahu and other government officials. He and his organization were also the focus of the Times story.
All this attention is a sign that El-Ad’s performance was a direct hit on Israeli efforts to whitewash their occupation. Much of the time B’Tselem’s reports and press releases, well-buttressed with detailed research, receive no mention either in the Times or in government circles. But now that El-Ad has managed to bring the group’s message to the highest international level, the backlash has been swift and harsh.
The Times has become a willing partner in this effort, working to distract readers from El-Ad’s eloquent appeal to the Security Council by framing the story as a two-sided debate between rival points of view.
Discerning readers will take notice, however, and realize that El-Ad’s speech is worth searching out in spite of the Times’ efforts to draw attention away from his actual words. They can find the text and a video of his address at the B’Tselem website—if they haven’t already found his performance posted on social media.
So it comes to this: Times readers need to read between the lines for clues to the reality deemed unfit to print, and then they must use their skills to search elsewhere for the story behind the words. This is not what we should expect from a newspaper like the Times, with pretenses to the highest standards of ethics and performance, but readers beware: Use this journalistic product with care and a hefty dose of skepticism.