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June 22, 2016 2:43 am

On US-Israel Relationship, It’s the New York Times Versus the New York Times

avatar by Ira Stoll

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President Obama and Prime Minister Netanayhu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanayhu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Are the American and Israeli governments in conflict?

The New York Times news department can’t seem to decide.

On June 10, under the byline of Alexander Burns, the Times published an article headlined, “What Hillary Clinton’s To-Do List Might Look Like Now.” The final item on the list was “keep the platform fight civil.” This article reported, “The trickiest debate may come over Middle East issues, as Mr. Sanders has called periodically for a break from the traditional American policy of lock-step support for Israel.”

On June 19, under the byline of Isabel Kershner, the Times published an article headlined, “Israel Approves Additional Funding for Settlements in West Bank.” That article included the following paragraph:

The settlements have long been a source of friction between Israel and the United States, along with much of the rest of the world. Most countries view settlement construction as a violation of international law and an impediment to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the Obama administration has described the settlements as “illegitimate.”

So which is it? Is America supporting Israel “lock-step”? Or are Israel and the Obama administration clashing over settlement construction in the West Bank (not to mention the Iran nuclear deal or the long list of other issues that have flared over the years between Israeli and American governments, from arms deals to spy scandals)?

The fact that the Times could convey both of these competing — in fact, blatantly contradictory — narratives in two articles published less than 10 days apart is just the latest confirmation that what the newspaper is up to in its reporting on the US-Israel relationship isn’t journalism, in the traditional, objective sense of trying to report the truth about an underlying reality. Instead, it is advocacy, advancing whatever version of the situation furthers whatever set of political goals the Times is advancing at a particular moment.

In the first Times article, the explanatory framework that America has been engaged in “lock-step” support of Israel fits with a whole elaborate (and, in my view, totally bogus) theory, in which Israel is to blame for the lack of Mideast peace, and in which America is additionally to blame for failing sufficiently to pressure Israel. If America only did apply such pressure, this flaky theory goes, it would somehow magically induce the Israeli government to make all the concessions necessary to bring about a lasting Mideast peace.

In the second Times article, the explanatory framework that Israel’s settlement activity has been creating friction with Washington fits with a whole nother elaborate (and in my view, also totally bogus) theory, in which Israel is to blame for the lack of Mideast peace, and for worsening its relations with America, by pursuing an extremist and illegal settlement policy. If Israel only stopped with these irksome settlements, this flaky theory goes, it would magically bring about a lasting Mideast peace.

In other words, the Times has managed to present two contradictory views of the US-Israel relationship, neither of which is true. I suppose this is an impressive feat of propaganda, even if it doesn’t amount to anything approaching distinguished or even passably accurate journalism.

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

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