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The New York Times and Its Israel Problem



Ira Stoll notes here that “a problem consistently afflicting New York Times coverage of Israel and the Middle East generally is a lack of long-term perspective and historical context”: “Where Are The Editors at The New York Times?,” by Ira Stoll, Algemeiner, November 16, 2022:

A couple of recent examples demonstrate the problem, which has slid into outright inaccuracies:

A post-Israeli-election dispatch by the Times’ error-prone Jerusalem bureau-chief, Patrick Kingsley, contends, “The waning of the left began in the 2000s, when a wave of Palestinian violence was interpreted by many Israelis as a rejection of efforts to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Actually, the “waning of the left” began after Golda Meir nearly lost the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the Likud Party led by Menachem Begin won a victory in 1977. Begin had the backing of Mizrachi (“eastern,” as opposed to European) immigrants, and his victory marked the beginning of Israel’s turn away from socialism. The “waning of the left,” in other words, began in Israel well before the 2000s, but for whatever reason, the New York Times’ memory doesn’t go back that far.

The Kingsley dispatch has other problems, such as the claim that “voters abandoned Labor and Meretz for Mr. Lapid, despite his more centrist politics.” Instead of “despite,” the Times could have written “because of.” But the lack of historical context — or the absurdly foreshortened context that is provided — is the real issue.

The Israeli electorate wanted Lapid precisely because he was a “centrist”; they had had their fill of those leftists who were seen as too ready to surrender to Palestinian demands. That also explains why, in the 2022 election, the far-left Meretz Party was wiped out; it has 0 seats in the Knesset.

Similar flaws afflict another Times article, about the water supply in Jordan.

The Times reports:

There is one potential quick fix: buying more water from Israel, a pioneer in desalination techniques. Cooperation on water was an important element of the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries, and they signed a water-for-energy agreement at the United Nations climate conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh on Tuesday.

Protests broke out in Amman last year when the plan, which was brokered by the United Arab Emirates and would involve Jordan sending solar energy to Israel in exchange for water, was first announced. An overreliance on Israel water is unpalatable to many Jordanians, who oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Jordanians “oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories”? That’s comical. If by “Palestinian territories” the Times means the West Bank, why wasn’t that a problem from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan occupied those territories? Perhaps the Times, and the Jordanians, consider all of Israel to be “Palestinian territories” and thus oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. That would explain why Jordan had no formal peace agreement with Israel even between 1948 and 1967 and in fact attacked Israel in 1948 and 1967. Some consider Jordan itself to be Palestinian territory occupied by the Hashemite monarchs, who are carpetbaggers from Saudi Arabia….

Jordan claimed the West Bank as its sovereign territory – not “Palestinian” nor “held in trust for the Palestinians” — from 1948 to 1967. Only two states in the entire world – Great Britain and Pakistan – recognized that claim. But no one called it “Palestinian territory” during that time. It was then, and remains, “disputed territory.”

The New York Times reporter on the Jordan article, Karen Zraick, is a board member of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. That organization issued a statement urging news organizations to avoid the term “terrorism” or “terrorist” when writing about the September 11, 2001 attacks. It also publishes an absurd “media resource guide” on “Palestine/Israel” that is full of false claims and tendentiousness such as “Do not call Gaza ‘Hamas-controlled’” and “do not use the identifiers ‘Arab-Israeli’ or ‘Israeli-Arab”…instead use ‘Palestinian.’” The odd language in Zraick’s article about “occupation of the Palestinian territories” directly echoes language in the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association media guide, which states, “Israel occupies Palestinian territory, and Palestinians—whether in the West Bank, Gaza or inside Israel—are subject to an unjust and unequal system.”…

The Times reporter, Karen Zraick, serves on the board of a group, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA), that issues a kind of “style guide” as to what terms ought to be used, and what ought to be avoided, in reporting on Israel, the Palestinians, Islamic terrorism, and the wider Middle East. The AMEJA has issued a statement declaring that journalists writing about the largest and most horrific terrorist attack in history, that which destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, should avoid using the words “terrorist” and “terrorism.”

The AMEJA media guide instructs reporters not to describe Gaza as “Hamas-controlled,” even though Hamas has been in complete control of Gaza since 2007. “Hamas-controlled” makes Gaza sound…well, exactly as it is, in thrall to a terror group, and therefore AMEJA wants that epithet to be avoided. Mustn’t make the Gazans, under the thumb of a terror group, look bad.

According to the AMEJA media guide, “do not use the identifiers ‘Arab-Israeli’ or ‘Israeli-Arab”…instead use ‘Palestinian.’” Arab citizens of Israel are thus to be stripped of their proper identity – as Israeli Arabs or Arab Israelis – without their permission, because that identity suggests they are full citizens, with equal rights to Jews, in Israel. And for AMEJA, that understanding must be avoided. Those Israeli Arabs will, despite their own desires, be called “Palestinians.” And just how few Israeli Arabs want to be identified as “Palestinians” is suggested by a 2021 poll of Arabs in east Jerusalem. 93% of them said they would prefer to be governed by Israel rather than by the P.A. — that is, wanted to be considered Israeli Arabs rather than “Palestinians.”

The AMEJA media guide tells reporters that “Israel occupies Palestinian territory, and Palestinians—whether in the West Bank, Gaza or inside Israel—are subject to an unjust and unequal system.” And their duty is to convey AMEJA’s version of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, which might have been written in Ramallah by PA propagandists.

Zraick dutifully writes about the “occupation of Palestinian territories.” Such a tendentious phrase unilaterally assigns to the Palestinians what is still “disputed territory.” Israel claims that it has a right, rooted in the Palestine Mandate, to all of the West Bank, and a different claim, under UNSC Resolution 242, to those parts of the West Bank that the Jewish state needs if it is to have “secure [i.e. defensible] and recognized boundaries.” The only neutral way to describe the West Bank today is to call it “disputed territories.”

And note the latter part of the AMEJA phrase: “Israel occupies Palestinian territory, and Palestinians—whether in the West Bank, Gaza or inside Israel—are subject to an unjust and unequal system.”

That is false, and unacceptable, in several ways. First, as to people in Gaza being subject by Israel to “an unjust and unequal system.” There has not been a single Israeli in Gaza since 2005; the only “unjust and unequal system” that Gazans suffer from is that imposed by their own Hamas rulers, corrupt lords of misrule who help themselves to much of the foreign aid intended for the impoverished people of Gaza, and arrest any who dare to dissent from their cruel and despotic rule.

Second, in Israel, Arab citizens are not “subject to an unjust and unequal system.” They have exactly the same civil, religious, economic, and political rights as Jews. There is no apartheid. Arab Israelis serve on the Supreme Court, sit in the Knesset, go abroad as ambassadors. The head of Israel’s largest bank, the Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Arabs and Jews work in the same factories and offices, play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras, attend universities together, are treated in the same hospitals by the same medical personnel. Only in one respect are they treated differently: Jews must, while Arabs may, serve in the military. A system that is neither unjust nor unequal.

In the West Bank, 90% of the Palestinians live in Areas A and B. In Area A they have complete control over their lives. In Area B, the PA controls education, health and the economy.

In both Areas A and B, Israeli authorities have control of external security. Does that sound like Israel “occupies Palestinian territory”? Area C, where Israel continues to maintain extensive control, contains only about 10% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

The Times reporting on Israel and the Palestinians leaves much to be desired, as can be seen from the article above, which is only the latest installment in Ira Stoll’s running series on the defects in the paper’s coverage of the subject. For many more critiques of The Times by Ira Stoll, go here.

Here’s an idea for the Grey Lady: hire Stoll himself to wield the editorial pencil for all the reporting on Israel and the Palestinians. That might help steady the badly-listing ship of the Times’ coverage of the Middle East.