A Journey of Faith in the New York Times
Nearly two years ago, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan recommended that coverage in Israel should expand to include “a native Arab speaker on staff who can penetrate Palestinian society with understanding and solid news judgment.” Sullivan did not indicate whether she also recommended a fluent Hebrew-speaker to provide similar coverage of Israeli Jewish lives and culture, long conspicuously absent from the Times.
The Times hired Diaa Hadid, who grew up in Australia in what she describes as an “observant Egyptian-Lebanese Muslim family.” At 15, she started wearing the hijab. “I prayed regularly,” she recounts in her Times article entitled “Hajj Prep” (September 10), “memorized the Quran and sought to study Sharia.” But, she continued, “my faith began to shatter in college.” Removing her hijab, she began “a tangled relationship with Islam,” which nonetheless has remained “the bedrock of my values.”
And, she might have added, her politics. Before joining the Times Hadid served as a public relations officer for Ittijah, a pro-Palestinian NGO that combats “discriminatory practices and policies” in Israel. After the 9/11 attacks, she wrote: “I can’t look at Israelis any more. . . . I don’t want to be friends with them. I don’t want to talk to them.” Between 2002 and 2003 she wrote for Electronic Intifada, founded by Hamas supporter Ali Abunimah. One of her stories recounted her participation in a Palestinian protest at the Qalandia checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Hadid stirred a hornet’s nest of criticism last January when she reported that a cluster of Palestinian families faced eviction from their “tiny, crammed apartments” in the Old City of Jerusalem, where they had lived “for decades.” With “Palestinian advocacy groups” her primary sources, she cited “seemingly arcane violations of their rental agreements” as “part of a broader agenda to create Jewish enclaves inside the historic Muslim Quarter.” The eviction culprits were “Jewish organizations reclaiming properties they owned before Israel was established in 1948.”
Following a swirl of criticism an “Editors’ Note” rebuked Hadid, citing her “incomplete description of the legal disputes in several cases” based solely on tenants’ accounts. Her article “should have included additional information from court documents or from the landlords.” In translation, her bias – if not her hijab — was showing.
Fast forward to Hadid’s recent account (September 10) of her preparation and journey for the hajj, the annual five-day pilgrimage to Mecca. Sparing few details – including overdue payments to her incompetent dentist and “greedy” landlord, purchasing “suitable” shoes, and providing her “rather poetic name” to obtain her visa at the Saudi Embassy in Jordan — she recounted weeping with anticipation of reaching the Kaaba, the stone cube structure that is the pilgrims’ destination as the holiest Islamic site. She was reassured by her sister that “spiritual feeling” would override “the people that rip you off, the men that are sexually assaulting people in front of you.” Avid readers were advised to follow the remaining days of her pilgrimage on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – and, doubtlessly, in the Times.
Given its new Arab-speaking Muslim reporter, it seems appropriate to wonder when – more likely if – the Times might decide to hire a Jewish reporter in Jerusalem who not only speaks Hebrew (Thomas Friedman and Jodi Rudoren surely qualified) but would describe a parallel pilgrimage to the holiest Jewish site in the world. It wouldn’t be hard to find or take long to get there. Just go to the ramp adjacent to the Western Wall and ascend to the Temple Mount, where the ancient Temples stood long before Islam emerged and the Al Aqsa Mosque was built in their place to obliterate Jewish claims. That would be a newsworthy journey fit to print.
Jerold S. Auerbach is completing a history of The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016.