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January 12, 2016 11:45 pm

Watchdog Spars With Los Angeles Times Over Anti-Israel Op-Ed ‘Rife With Factual Errors’

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UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi, whose latest LA Times op-ed is 'rife with factual errors' about Israel, according to CAMERA. Photo: Twitter.

UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi, whose latest LA Times op-ed is ‘rife with factual errors’ about Israel, according to CAMERA. Photo: Twitter.

A media watchdog is demanding that the Los Angeles Times issue a retraction of “false claims” made in a recent op-ed that appeared in its pages, The Algemeiner has learned.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) said it has so far been unsuccessful at persuading the Times that the content of UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi’s piece on Friday is filled with factual errors.

In his article, “Why Israel’s schools merit a U.S. boycott,” Makdisi writes that “the justification for an academic boycott — which targets institutions, not individual scholars — stems from the peculiar relationship between Israel’s educational system and its broader structures of racism.”

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Quoting the NGO Adalah (“The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel”), Makdisi states, “There is not a single high school in the Palestinian communities of the Negev desert in southern Israel.”

In an email to LA Times editors on Sunday, CAMERA’s Israel office director Tamar Sternthal demanded that an immediate correction be made to Makdisi’s piece.

Sternthal wrote that contrary to Makdisi’s assertion, “In fact, there are 39 high schools under the supervision of Israel’s Education Ministry in Bedouin villages in the Negev, and another three ‘more high schools under different supervision (two high schools of ‘Sachnin’ net in Hura and Segev Shalom, and one in the city of Rahat under the supervision of the ministry of economy and industry,’ Suzie Ben Harush, a spokeswoman from the southern district for Israel’s Education Ministry, wrote to CAMERA.”

Sternthal went on: “In addition, Makdisi makes the absurd assertion that ‘According to sociologist Majid al-Haj of the University of Haifa, Israeli universities systemically fail their Palestinian students.’ Unless Professor al-Haj and Makdisi have any credible evidence that Israeli professors systematically fail their Arab students, we ask that The Times retract this unfounded claim.”

On Monday, Sternthal received this reply from LA Times Readers Representative Deirdre Edgar:

Thank you for writing. Regarding Saree Makdisi’s Jan. 8 Op-Ed piece, the full passage in question is as follows:

Palestinian children often have to travel greater distances than their Jewish peers to get to school, thanks to a state ban on the construction of schools in certain Palestinian towns (for example, according to Adalah, there is not a single high school in the Palestinian communities of the Negev desert in southern Israel).

This reference to “not a single high school in the Palestinian communities of the Negev desert” is attributed to Adalah, which stated as much in a 2011 report. “Palestinian communities” refers to the unrecognized Bedouin villages.

Regarding the statement that according to Majid al-Haj, “Israeli universities systematically fail their Palestinian students,” I believe you are misunderstanding this. By “fail,” he means “does not adequately serve,” not academically flunk out. See the following sentence: “These students end up feeling alienated in an academic environment that stubbornly resists integration and seems designed to consolidate rather than challenge discrimination.” (If they flunked out, they would not be feeling alienated in an academic environment.)

Sternthal responded on Tuesday as follows:

I am aware of Adalah’s 2011 outdated report dealing with the lack of high schools in unrecognized Bedouin villages, but Mr. Makdisi’s Op-Ed does not specify that he is addressing only the smaller subset of unrecognized Bedouin villages. He says, sweepingly: “there is not a single high school in the Palestinian communities of the Negev desert in southern Israel.”

The Arab population in Israel’s Negev lives in both recognized towns and unrecognized Bedouin villages. Of the more than 170,000 Bedouin living in Israel’s Negev, over 60 percent live in recognized towns. Makdisi does specify that he is referring to only the unrecognized villages, which after all, are home to far fewer Bedouin than the recognized villages. He refers broadly to “the Palestinian communities of the Negev desert.”

In addition, as I mentioned, Adalah’s 2011 report concerning the absence of high school in unrecognized Bedouin towns is outdated. For instance, it states:

Despite a settlement reached by the state with Adalah to establish the first high school in the unrecognized village of Abu Tulul by 1 September 2009, no school has yet been opened.

Yet, during the 2013-2014 school year, the Ort Talul high school opened with 250 students in Abu Talul. As a new, expanding school (meaning each year, another grade is added), it opened with the tenth grade. Its principal is Raji Al-Karem and the phone number is 011-972-54-661-0335.

In any event, the bottom line is that Makdisi’s blanket statement referred broadly to the absence of high schools in “the Palestinian communities of the Negev.” He did not specify that he was referring to the smaller sub-group of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev. In the “Palestinian [ie Arab] communities of the Negev,” there are more than 40 such schools. His claim is simply indefensible.

We reiterate our request for a correction on this straightforward factual issue.

As for the reading of “Israeli universities systematically fail their Palestinian students” as meaning that the universities “does not adequately serve” its Arab students, many readers would not understand it in that way. Generally, “failing” in the academic context means “flunking.” At best, Makdisi’s language here is very unclear and misleading. We hope that you agree that The Times would be doing its readers a great service to clarify that Makdisi’s contention is that Israeli universities are consistently failing to serve Arab students adequately, and not consistently flunking them.

Paramount, though, is the essential correction making clear that there are more than 40 high schools in the Negev’s Arab communities, contrary to Makdisi’s false assertion that there is “not a single high school” in the Arab communities of the Negev.

“So far, the LA Times has refused to correct,” Sternthal told The Algemeiner on Tuesday, adding that “for years, the paper has printed op-eds by Makdisi denouncing Israel as an apartheid state which should be replaced with a binational one.”

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  • Lauren Goldman

    I am 70, and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Believe me, anti-Semitism has always been alive and well there, as it is throughout Los Angeles. If I were Sternthal, I would not hold my breath waiting for a correction to appear in the LA Times.

    • Sharon Monson

      Perhaps you’re right, however his every effort is valuable in bringing to light the bias…all of us have to keep trying.

  • dante

    so the times flak has to resort to a little piece of semantic legerdemain to explain away the lie about Bedouin schools in the communities of the south, i.e., a strained and aberrant definition of the word, “community.”

    so by the same counterfeit logic, some clown like makdisi could accuse Israel of attacking Bedouin. when called on it, the times could say that, in the case at hand, the word “attacking” actually means “disrespecting.” never mind that that the notional and novel definition proposed by the times flak is an after-the-fact fabrication, so idiosyncratic, so far-fetched, that no honest reader would have understood the meaning as the times explains it.

    just another example of the dishonesty and bias of the times.

  • dante

    the l.a. times has forgotten what it means to report or to offer unbiased information to its readers. the times thinks that its purpose is to mold public opinion.

    apart from the radical departure from traditional journalistic standards, the existence of which the times seems unaware, there are a lot of problems with this self-assigned mission. one of the problems is that times personnel are ignorant. yes, they are opinionated, one should say, biased. but, they don’t know anything. they’ll believe anything. say anything. print anything…as long as it conforms to certain sacrosanct prejudices.

    so the times winds up allowing a mutt like makdisi to lie to times readers. and, why is it that >90% of times’ errors about Israel are AGAINST Israel and the Jews? why do you think that is? if bias were not at work, one would expect that the sloppiness of the times would result in errors, in favor and against Israel, in approximately equal numbers.

  • tan

    Make a mistake, bad enough for a newspaper of record like the L.A.Times, but to not admit, correct and apologize when such takes place is unforgivable.

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