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May 19, 2016 4:51 pm

From New York Times on Israeli Politics, Some Ultra-Bad Journalism

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: Israeli government.

A headline and a news article in the New York Times describe Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party as “ultranationalist.”

“Benjamin Netanyahu Seeks Ultranationalists for Coalition in Israel,” the headline says.

What’s the difference between “ultranationalist” and just plain “nationalist,” or, for that matter, patriotic, or Zionist? The Times doesn’t explain, instead letting the “ultra” stand as a signifier of extremism or of Times editorial disapproval.

Actually, the Times does make some effort to explain, describing Mr. Lieberman as “polarizing.” What evidence does the Times marshal for its description?

“He demands the death penalty for Palestinians convicted of acts of terrorism” and he “has called in the past for the toppling of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.”

So believing in the death penalty for terrorists makes a person a polarizing ultranationalist? By that measure, the Times should describe as a polarizing ultranationalist Bill Clinton, who signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 into law after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. When Mr. Clinton signed it, he complained, “For too long, and in too many cases, endless death row appeals have stood in the way of justice being served.” The Times found a way to report recently on Hillary Clinton’s support for the death penalty without resorting to denouncing her as either polarizing or ultranationalist.

Likewise, Mrs. Clinton has said that she “would not put Hamas in the category of people we could work with. I don’t think that is realistic because its whole reason for being is resistance against Israel, destruction of Israel, and it is married to very nasty tactics and ideologies, including virulent antisemitism. I do not think they should be in any way treated as a legitimate interlocutor.” Mrs. Clinton said in her January 2009 Senate confirmation hearing for her position as Secretary of State, “on Israel, you cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just, for me, a — you know, an absolute. You know, that is the United States government’s position. That is the president-elect’s position.”

Again, Mrs. Clinton’s position on Hamas doesn’t get called polarizing or ultranationalist. The State Department — under Secretary Kerry and President Obama — lists Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, not, as the Times euphemistically describes it, as a “militant group.” Yet the Times doesn’t call the State Department or Secretary Kerry polarizing or ultranationalist.

Is this polarizing, bad journalism by the New York Times? No, it’s even worse than that: it’s polarizing ultrabad journalism.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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