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January 7, 2014 1:20 pm

When is Incitement “Incitement”?

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Office of The New York Times, in New York City. Photo: WikiCommons.

Office of The New York Times. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Soon after Adolph S. Ochs purchased The New York Times in 1896, he pledged “to write intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” His firm commitment was bolstered with a new motto for the newspaper, which has appeared in the top left corner of page 1 ever since: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Left unstated was Och’s equally strong determination that the Times would never appear to be a “Jewish newspaper.” Those pledges have competed uneasily for ascendancy ever since. They still do.

The most recent example (January 7) is instructive. The story headline reads: “Israeli Officials Point to an Intensifying Campaign of ‘Incitement’ by Palestinians.” Nothing new about that, to be sure – except for the quotation marks surrounding “Incitement,” which imply that it is a figment of the Israeli imagination. To be sure, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren offers several compelling – and disgusting – examples of the phenomenon. The website for Palestinian Authority schools carries quotations from Hitler. A young girl appears on Palestinian television to describe Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.”  Palestinian maps do not show Israel.  A Fatah video featured masked fighters singing “With these rockets we will crush the Zionist enemy.” And so it goes.

One might imagine that such evidence, which flourishes in abundance in Palestinian media and among Palestinian Authority officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, would qualify as incitement, not “incitement.” But not for the Times. What “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others call ‘incitement’ as a prime obstacle to peace” is, by Rudoren’s strong implication (and liberal use of quotation marks), merely fanciful rhetoric.

Indeed, the Times conception of objectivity, balance and fairness requires that Palestinian allegations of Israeli incitement – but not “incitement” – be duly noted. To the implicit disadvantage of Palestinian readers of Haaretz, these include the failure of Israeli newspapers to include Palestinian territory in their weather maps. Now that is real “incitement.”

Once Rudoren moves beyond allegations to facts it gets worse. Referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, she identifies it as the moment when “Britain endorsed the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.” No. In his famous letter to Lord Rothschild, Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour actually wrote: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Whatever “national home” might mean – and Zionists no less than everyone else interpreted its ambiguity variously to suit their own purposes – Lord Balfour had most certainly not endorsed the idea of Jewish statehood.

Where, indeed, was the “Palestine” to which Lord Balfour referred? Until the League of Nations Mandate was drafted five years later, “Palestine” included the land east and west of the Jordan River that now comprises the Kingdom of Jordan, Judea and Samaria (Jordan’s “West Bank” between 1949-1967) and Israel. But as a reward to Prince Abdullah of Mecca for his service to the British cause during the World War, Article 25 of the Mandate authorized Great Britain, as the Mandatory power, to “postpone or withhold” Jewish settlement east of the Jordan River. So Trans-Jordan became Abdullah’s Protectorate and he became its king. The right of Jews to settle everywhere west of the Jordan River – in Hebron no less than Haifa – was not abridged.

If The New York Times cannot get Palestinian incitement (or “incitement”) and the Balfour Declaration right, Adolph Ochs’s proud pledge remains far from fulfillment. On the other hand, the Times certainly remains faithful to his insistence that it not become a “Jewish” newspaper.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.

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