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September 15, 2016 3:32 pm

The New York Times Provokes With Coverage of Bibi Video

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

A New York Times dispatch about a US-Israel memorandum of understanding outlining a ten year, $38 billion military aid package includes this passage:

Just in recent days, the Obama administration publicly chastised the prime minister for a provocative video in which he accused Palestinian leaders of favoring “ethnic cleansing” by demanding a Jew-free Palestinian state through opposing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians said he twisted reality.

It’s funny how the Times describes Mr. Netanyahu’s video as “provocative,” but not the Palestinian opposition to Jewish settlements. If anything is provocative, it’s the Times coverage of the video, which, rather than grappling in a straightforward manner with the questions the prime minister raised, instead turns it into a club with which to make yet another predictable attack on the Israeli leader.

An earlier Times news article about the video itself also describes it as provocative, and also doesn’t really address the totally legitimate question Mr. Netanyahu raises, which is why not only the Palestinian Arabs, but even the American State Department and European countries seem to take the public position that a Palestinian state must be Jew-free, and that Jews shouldn’t live in places, such as Judea and Samaria, where Jews have lived for thousands of years.

It’s a line of argument that leaves the Times so flummoxed that the newspaper doesn’t really know what to do about it other than harrumph over and over again about how provocative it is.

The Times article about the video concludes, “Some have also questioned whether Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessors should be considered guilty of ethnic cleansing. These include Israeli leaders such as Ariel Sharon, who destroyed all the settlements in Gaza in 2005, or Menachem Begin, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who evacuated the Sinai settlements as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.”

The “some have questioned” formulation is one that, as one at least prominent and credible New York Times reporter recently observed in another and arguably similar context, has been heavily criticized. And for some good reason. Who “questioned”? And do the questioners have any legitimate ground to stand on?

I’d argue that the job of the Times is to try to answer some of the questions, or at least report who is asking them, rather than to simply pass them along irresponsibly in the manner of, say: “Some have questioned whether Barack Obama was really born in the United States.”

In the case of Sharon and Begin, in both cases they were dealing with formidable international pressure and threats (more than threats, actually; deadly attacks) of violent extremism. Agree or disagree with the wisdom of their decisions, they were negotiating strategic retreats, not engaging in “ethnic cleansing.” The Times might ask why the PLO, Egypt, President Carter, and the George W. Bush administration wanted Sinai and Gaza to be empty of Israeli Jews. But it would rather, instead, accuse Netanyahu of being provocative.

Some have questioned whether this is Times “journalism” at its worst, or just the typical level of mediocre Israel-bashing that has come to characterize the newspaper.

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

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