How The NY Times Hides the Scandal of US-Israeli War Crimes

The United States sends at least $3.1 billion in military aid grants to Israel every year, more than the amount given to all the rest of the world combined, and although Americans oppose this excess, their opinion has had no effect: Officials are now in talks to raise the yearly amount by as much as 50 percent.

If you missed that news in The New York Times, there is no reason for surprise. The issue has essentially remained out of sight, glossed over in a smattering of news stories, where readers find murky references to US aid and no enlightening details.

Thus we have a story by Jodi Rudoren this month, a look at how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a “pivot” after losing his battle against the nuclear agreement with Iran. Several paragraphs into this piece she writes, “Washington is expected to deliver a huge new military aid package to Israel…to appease Mr. Netanyahu and Democratic supporters of Israel who reluctantly backed the nuclear deal.”

This begs for explanation. How much is “huge”? Why is this “expected”? But nothing more is forthcoming.

Times readers have to look elsewhere for a fuller story. Other sources tell us that Israel has been asking for up to $4.5 billion a year in military aid and that talks have been going on “away from the spotlight.” Observers expect announcement of an aid agreement in November, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington.

The Times did manage to work in the $4.5 billion price tag, in the last paragraph of a story that ran in July. The US has guaranteed Israel $31 billion in military aid grants over 10 years ending in 2017, and Israel now wants a new deal guaranteeing up to $45 billion over another 10 years. The article states that officials will frame the deal that finally emerges as an effort to bolster Israel’s defenses in the face of a resurgent Iran. Thus they will try to defuse the charge that the new deal is a way of “appeasing” Israel.

Since this story appeared, the Times has avoided the subject, except for Rudoren’s reference to a “huge” new package, and brief comments elsewhere about “compensation” for defying Israel on the Iran nuclear deal.

US aid to Israel is a subject that the Times would like to avoid. On many fronts it is difficult to defend and shines a harsh light on the actions of both the US and Israeli governments. For instance:

  • Congress has been willing to maintain and even increase military aid to Israel even as it cuts programs for education, food assistance and tax relief for working families in the United States.
  • Israel receives US aid even though it is one of the most economically advanced countries in the world.
  • US military aid makes up a full 20 percent of the Israeli military budget.
  • Israel, a small country, is so well supplied with arms that it is the tenth largest purveyor of weaponry in the world. In other words, Israel receives military aid from the US, and then makes money by selling arms to other nations.
  • US aid to Israel amounts to $10.2 million per day or $450 per year for each Israeli citizen.
  • Israel receives special perks that other aid recipients are denied, such as the right to use some of the funds to buy weapons from Israeli manufacturers instead of being required to purchase American products.
  • Israel spends more on military expenditures than any other country in the world, based on percentage of gross domestic product.
  • The annual U.S. military aid package for Palestine is $0.00.
  • In addition to the $3.1 billion in direct military aid guaranteed each year, Israel receives other gifts, such as economic grants and immigration assistance, raising the total aid well beyond the stated amount. (Vice President Joe Biden recently cited $7.18 billion for a one-year package.)
  • Sixty percent of Americans polled in a survey said the United States “gives too much aid to Israel.”

In addition, human rights organizations and other observers have raised ethical concerns over supplying arms to Israel in view of its deadly attacks on civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last year, during the assaults on Gaza that left some 2,200 Palestinians dead, Amnesty International called on the United States to stop transferring arms to Israel, citing “growing evidence of war crimes.” In June of this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) asked the State Department to review the legality of military aid to Israel in light of evidence that security forces abuse child prisoners and have killed nonviolent demonstrators.

This past week a coalition of 10 organizations—American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, Defense for Children International and others—sent out a petition asking President Obama to stop supplying Israel with arms. In particular the petition targets the 50 percent increase in direct aid from $3.1 to $4.5 billion now under consideration.

Within days, by Sept. 21, the petition had reached its goal of 50,000 signatures and reset its sights on 60,000.

The Times, however, has had nothing to say about these protests, although they have been reported elsewhere. Rep. McCollum’s letter, which garnered the signatures of 18 additional members of Congress, was featured in US and Israeli media but found no mention in the Times.

The subject of military aid to Israel demands a fuller treatment in the Times. Readers should know the actual cost to U.S. taxpayers; they should be told of ethical concerns raised by organizations and officials; they are entitled to know more about the lethal effects of Israel’s weaponry; they should find Times analysts willing to discuss the contrast between congressional largess for Israel and the efforts to cut domestic programs.

It is not too much to say that US military aid to Israel is scandalous in light of the devastating effects it has had on innocent Palestinians and also on Americans deprived of basic needs. The failure of the Times to address the issue also amounts to scandal, making it fully complicit in this sordid affair.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Joins Israel’s Legal Defense Team

The month-long attack on Gaza has left some 2,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced and nearly 17,000 homes destroyed, but in The New York Times none of this takes center stage: It is the view from Israel that prevails.

Israelis think it is time to move on, reporter Isabel Kershner tells us today. “Attention has already shifted to the legal battlefield,” she writes, “as Israel gears up to defend itself against possible war crimes.” The story that follows is a full-out effort to discredit a United Nations investigation into breaches of humanitarian and international law during what Israel called Operation Protective Edge.

In her article, “Israel Braces for War Crimes Inquiries on Gaza,” Kershner tells of the Israeli reaction to a UN Human Rights Council investigation launched earlier this week. She devotes her opening paragraphs to Israeli charges that the Canadian expert heading the inquiry, Prof. William Schabas, and the rights council itself are both biased against Israel, and she gives no space at all to the Palestinian reactions to the probe.

As for the war crimes in question, these receive brief attention well into the story. Kershner comes up with a few examples of incidents that might cause problems for Israel: the damage to UN schools where residents were taking shelter, the bombing of family homes and extensive destruction in Rafah. Once these are dealt with, she devotes the rest of the article to Israeli efforts to counter the investigations to come.

Although various human rights groups have issued reports and press releases alleging war crimes, Kershner mentions only one, a recent report from the Israeli group B’Tselem on the targeting of family homes. As she tells it, the group was “calling into question the clear military nature of the targets.”

In fact, B’Tselem accused Israel in more direct terms. In its report, “A Death Foretold,” it stated, “The grave consequences lend a hollow ring to Israel’s repeated claims that it has no intention of harming civilians. The massive bombardments of civilian locations were the rule rather than the exception in the last operation, routinely killing dozens of people a day.

“Whoever authorized the strikes must have known that they would result in many civilian fatalities, yet the bombardments continued day after day and even intensified. Authorizing attacks from the air, sea and artillery fire at heavily populated civilian areas and specific homes, constitutes willfully ignoring the inevitable killing of civilians – men, women and children – who did not take part in the hostilities.”

Kershner also makes no mention of other reports, such as one by Amnesty International accusing Israel of directly targeting health workers. In a recent release, the group quoted a senior official: “‘The harrowing descriptions by ambulance drivers and other medics of the utterly impossible situation in which they have to work, with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues as they try to save lives, paint a grim reality of life in Gaza,’ said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“‘Even more alarming is the mounting evidence that the Israeli army has targeted health facilities or professionals. Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes. They only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.’”

There is no mention of the Amnesty release in the Times, nor is anything said about a Human Rights Watch report that stated, “Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.” Nor has the newspaper reported that international law experts have charged that Israel deliberately terrorized civilians in Gaza.

Instead we have a look at how Israel will cope with this threat of legal condemnation in the international community, as if this is the major news of the day. Nothing is said about the Hamas reaction to the Human Rights Council probe. (In fact, even though Hamas will also be investigated for shooting rockets into Israel, a senior official welcomed the investigation.)

Moreover, Kershner continues to follow Israel’s wishes in downplaying civilian casualties. She writes that over 1,900 were killed “a majority of them believed to be civilians.” In her article the overwhelming majority reported by the United Nations and other observers has become just possibly a mere majority.

Although the United Nations is experienced and trusted in tallying such information, the Times prefers to go with the Israeli claim that the numbers are in doubt. In giving preference to Israel (with its obvious stake in the issue) over an independent organization, this reveals a deliberate bias.

For more detailed information, Times readers can go directly to the latest UN report. (There they will find that as of Aug. 15, 1,975 had been counted dead, including 1,417 civilians, 459 children and 239 women.) Readers may also be interested in a Guardian story that lists all the UN schools hit in Gaza with the casualty numbers for each.

Much is missing from the Times, and this is no accident. The newspaper has in effect joined the Israeli legal team. Readers will have to search elsewhere if they hope to find a serious look at what Israel has done in Gaza.

Barbara Erickson

[For those of you who would like to let the Times know what you think about their coverage of Palestine and Israel, there is a perfect opportunity right now in an ongoing effort by the US Campaign to End the Israel Occupation. Click here and find out what you can do.]

Unfit to Print in the NY Times: The Hannibal Directive, Anti-Arab Hate Speech, More War Crimes

The New York Times today tells us that Hamas is to blame for the end of a humanitarian 72-hour ceasefire that offered relief in Gaza. This may be so (or it may not), but in recounting the latest events, the newspaper takes pains to tell the story as Israel would have it, depriving readers, once again, of a comprehensive view.

A page 1 article, “Attack on Israeli Soldiers Brings Truce to Quick Halt,” states that the Obama administration and United Nations “squarely blamed the breakdown on Hamas.” In fact, the UN view of the affair is less clear than the Times would have us believe. Although Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did say Hamas was responsible, later UN statements left this in doubt.

A situation report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs steps back from Ban’s assertion. In its highlights, the document says only that “a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire scheduled to enter into effect at 08:00 this morning collapsed after two hours.” It later reports that Israel accused Hamas of breaching the truce, but it offers no conclusion based on the UN’s own investigations.

In a detailed look at the timeline leading to the end of the ceasefire, author Ali Abunimah notes that it was not possible to determine just what happened at what time by comparing the two conflicting accounts. But he provides evidence that Israel started heavy shelling of Rafah about the time the soldier was said to have been captured there. (An article in the blog Mondoweiss also says that the Israeli army could not provide a coherent account of events.)

Abunimah suggests that Israel was implementing its “Hannibal Directive,” a policy that directs security forces to sacrifice the life of a soldier rather than allow him to be taken into custody. Earlier reports (see here and here) have said that the Israeli army implements this draconian policy and that it has already killed one of its men along with his captors (and numerous innocent civilians) during the present assault on Gaza.

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner in the front page story today allude to the Hannibal Directive without providing its name. Their remarks come low in the story, far below news about the missing soldier and his family, and they broach the subject by quoting a former soldier who said troops are taught that “preventing an abduction is the highest priority even if it means risking a captive soldier’s life by firing at a getaway vehicle.”

Their story makes no outright connect-the-dots statement, but careful readers might take up the hint that the directive came into play yesterday in Rafah. Abunimah, however, is more forthright. His piece is titled “Did Israeli army deliberately kill its own captured soldier and destroy Gaza ceasefire?”

If this is what happened, it gives special poignancy to the words of the captured soldier’s father, who said he was confident the military would do everything possible to bring his son “home healthy and whole.” Moreover, the use of the Hannibal Directive might explain why Times reporters were told to submit material about the missing soldier to censors for review.

There is other news missing from the Times today—more reports of attacks that amount to war crimes: the shelling of an ambulance, which left two medical workers dead; a strike on a marked UN car that killed a British-trained scientist; and the destruction of homes.

The Times also devotes space (and a front page teaser) to reports of anti-Semitism in Europe, much of it sparked by the attacks on Gaza. Such reports are disturbing, of course, but the paper fails to say that a great deal of hateful rhetoric has come from the Israeli side, including a Times of Israel op-ed yesterday saying genocide could be permissible to restore quiet in Israel.

Readers should also be told that it is not just the angry crowds in the streets of Europe that oppose Israel’s massacre in Gaza. Other media outlets report an erosion of support for Israel even among British conservatives and in Saudi Arabia. In Latin America the criticism is particularly strong, and several countries have recalled their ambassadors.

Finally, we should note that the Times glosses over civilian casualties in providing the counts from Gaza. Today’s page 1 story states that 1,600 have died, “many of them women and children.” In fact, the UN situation report puts the civilian death toll at 83 percent of the total. The Times should provide this information rather than fall back on a vague “many of them” phrasing.

Readers should expect more from the Times. They should be told of official condemnations from world leaders, they should receive detailed tallies of civilian deaths, they should hear of criminal attacks on medical personnel and they should hear the concerns of UN agencies and other groups struggling to provide information and aid the residents of Gaza.

This is the basic stuff of news reporting, but it seems that the such considerations, the imperatives of journalism, take a back seat to protecting Israel in the pages of the Times.

Barbara Erickson