Saturday, January 22nd | 20 Shevat 5782

September 7, 2016 7:13 am

New York Times Buries Story of Anti-Israel Boycott by Oil Companies

avatar by Ira Stoll

A BDS protester.  Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

A BDS protester. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

The following passage appears about two-thirds of the way into a recent New York Times article that appeared under the headline, “Israel Courts Foreign Money in Effort To Become Gas Exporter”:

Israel may find it challenging to attract investors.

The environment has broadly cooled, as gas prices in Europe have dropped more than 50 percent in the last four years. Major oil companies, with revenue slashed, are being pickier about the projects they finance. And players with projects in the Arab countries may be politically wary of investing in Israel.

“I think there will be interest, but it won’t likely come from the majors due to political considerations,” said Martijn Murphy, an analyst at the Edinburgh energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, referring to the largest oil companies.

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Well, that is interesting, especially in the context — not reported by the Times — of two American laws that forbid American companies to comply with the Arab boycott of Israel and penalize any that do. Those laws — the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act — provide for criminal penalties of up to five or ten years for anyone who knowingly violates the anti-boycott rules.

If the passage in the Times article is accurate, it raises a whole series of other questions. Will the Obama administration’s Commerce Department pursue the oil companies and their officials for participating in the boycott? Will Democratic congressmen, senators and state attorneys general, who have already been hostile to the oil companies for their supposed obstructionism on the climate change issue, weigh in on the matter? What do the oil companies have to say, if anything, in their own defense? What do the big shareholders in those oil companies — including public pension funds in states such as New York and California that have a lot of Jewish voters — have to say about the matter? Why isn’t the headline on the Times story: “U.S. Oil Firms Complicit in Arab Boycott of Israel, Potentially Violating Law and Angering Politicians and Shareholders”?

These are all questions that might occur to an editor or reporter whose moral sense is put on edge at the idea of a company refusing to do business with the Jewish state, or who is familiar with the long history of American Jewish pro-Israel political activism that got these laws passed. But on this front the Times seems, as is often the case, out to lunch, off the reservation, or not really that interested. Rather than feeling a twitch of outrage at a major oil company appearing to boycott Israel, the Times treats it matter-of-factly. The result is that instead of a groundbreaking, interesting story, the Times delivered a yawn-inducing article. In this case, as so often, what’s bad for the Jews is also bad for Times journalism.

Perhaps the Times will put things right with a follow-up article. Or perhaps the newspaper will be beaten to it by a competing outlet whose staff is more alert to the possibility of a newsworthy story unfolding under their noses.

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

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