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Author of New York Times Magazine Jerusalem Article Signed Pro-Boycott Petition

avatar by Ira Stoll

Rachel Kushner. Photo: Facebook.

Rachel Kushner. Photo: Facebook.

Concern and questions are mounting as additional details emerge about an article in Sunday’s New York Times magazine highlighting what the article described as squalid conditions in a Jerusalem refugee camp.

The Algemeiner first highlighted issues with the article in a post published before the Times even delivered the magazine to subscribers:

Ms. [Rachel] Kushner writes, “I was invited on an extensive tour of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and was asked to choose a subject to write about, for a book to be published next year. With no previous experience in the region, and little knowledge…” This is just weird. “Was invited” uses the passive voice, almost always a giveaway that a writer is trying to hide something. Who, exactly, “invited” her or “asked” her? Did the person or organization doing the inviting and asking pay for her expenses or pay for her writing, or offer to do so? How does someone with zero experience in the region and “little knowledge” wind up writing about it for the New York Times?

Subsequently, the Times published — for subscribers who pay extra money for access to a “Times Insider” newsletter — additional details. Here they are:

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You had no previous experience in the region, and little knowledge but gravitated instinctually to Shuafat camp? Really? Can you say more about that?

The region and its complex problems were not a subject that took up a lot of space in my thoughts, to be honest. I had been invited, totally unexpectedly, by Ayelet Waldman, Mario Vargas Llosa and Michael Chabon, to take a trip there, in mind to contribute to a book of essays that Chabon and Waldman are editing on the occupation of the West Bank.

Still unanswered is the question of who paid for the trip, but at least we (or the Times readers who pay extra money for the privilege of reading this “Times Insider” newsletter) now know what should have been disclosed to all readers in the first place, which is that the author of the Times magazine article was there in the first place in connection with a book edited by high-profile critics of the “occupation.”

As the media watchdog Honest Reporting pointed out, this book tour and the forthcoming book are part of an initiative by Breaking the Silence, a European-funded advocacy group. Public radio reported as much: “The book project is organized in part by Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans group that’s controversial in Israel because of its criticism of the occupation of the West Bank.”

Ms. Kushner had also been in the news recently for backing out of a PEN American Center event honoring Charlie Hebdo, after that French satirical publication and its staffers were the subject of a deadly 2015 Islamist terrorist attack.

Ms. Kushner also signed a letter in April of this year from an organization advocating a boycott of Israel. The letter she signed said, “As with South Africa, where an international boycott played a crucial role in bringing an end to apartheid, we call on PEN American Center not to partner with the Israeli government or other complicit institutions until Israel fulfills its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.”

What would be the borders of that “homeland” of the Palestinian people? The images in the print edition of the New York Times magazine don’t provide clues, but a click on the online slideshow that accompanies the article on the Times‘ website provides some useful information. The images, by the way, are by Luca Locatelli, an Italian photographer we encountered earlier when the New York Times reported that he “was raised Catholic” but “gained entry to Mecca through his marriage to an Indonesian Muslim, which included a ceremonial conversion and gave him a feeling of sympathy for his wife’s religion.” That Times article quotes Mr. Locatelli reporting, “Mecca was truly peaceful.”

The New York Times slideshow image features a youth wearing a necklace with an outline that appears to show the borders of Israel, including the coastal plain of Tel Aviv to Haifa and the Negev desert in the South to Eilat. Says the photo caption, “A young resident holds a necklace with an outline of Palestine.”

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

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