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May 29, 2017 4:50 pm

New York Times Tilts Toward Linda Sarsour in ‘Repulsive’ Story

avatar by Ira Stoll


Linda Sarsour. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

City University of New York’s School of Public Health has chosen as its commencement speaker a woman who says there is no room in the feminist movement for supporters of Israel. The speaker also supports the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the Jewish state.

And the New York Times covered the issue with an article depicting the speaker, Linda Sarsour, as the target of “hate-tinged criticism.” The article begins with anonymous threats Sarsour reported receiving, such as, “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” and “You’re getting two bullets in your head.”

The Times coverage has already prompted a heated reaction; an editor at the New York Post, Seth Mandel, described it as a “whitewashing…repulsive. A moral stain.”

The Times didn’t mention Sarsour’s March 2017 interview with the Nation in which she expressed support for the BDS movement and said:

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It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, “Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?” There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.

The Times coverage of the issue is weird in at least two other respects. Times style is that the word Holocaust is “Uppercase in references to the Nazis’ mass destruction of Jews during World War II.” Yet the Times article about Sarsour used lowercase, in violation of Times style: “Mr. Hikind’s office also circulated a letter signed by 100 holocaust survivors asking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to cancel the address.”

Then the Times uses an unnamed rabbi and synagogue to vouch for Sarsour:

Brad Lander, a Democratic city councilman from Brooklyn, described the accusations against Ms. Sarsour as “preposterous,” and pointed to her help in raising money to repair two Jewish cemeteries that were vandalized in St. Louis and Pennsylvania in February.

“She’s been in my synagogue,” he said. “She and my rabbi are friends. There’s no doubt that part of what this is is backlash against the idea of having a Palestinian-American as a visible leader and inheritor of the civil rights movement.”

He added, “One terrible feature of the Trump regime is that it threatens to tribalize all of us.”

The Times doesn’t say what synagogue Lander attends or who the rabbi is. But coverage elsewhere has identified it as Kolot Chayeinu, a congregation known even in the left-leaning precincts of Park Slope for its hospitality to anti-Zionist or non-Zionist congregants. The congregation’s website says, “We believe that Jews have an obligation to grapple with the many issues and emotions connected to our historic attachment to Israel and the current political situation in Israel and Palestine. While we join Jews everywhere in facing Jerusalem while we pray, we have no consensus on political solutions nor their philosophical underpinnings.” Its longtime rabbi, Ellen Lippmann, posted on Facebook for Jerusalem Day, inviting congregants to join her at a “protest” at the Israeli consulate against “50 years of occupation.” She quoted a statement, which claimed, “For the past fifty years, both Israelis and Palestinians have been enslaved to an occupation that harms both parties,” and she made no reference to the reunification of Jerusalem.

Lander’s accusation that Trump may “tribalize all of us” is a strange one, too. The Times leaves it hanging without questioning Lander’s apparent assumption that having a strong identity as a member of a minority group is somehow negative.

I emailed the author of the Times article, Eli Rosenberg, asking him why the word “Holocaust” was lowercase, why he made no mention of the Sarsour Nation interview and why he didn’t mention the name of the synagogue or rabbi that Lander used to tout Sarsour’s bona fides. I also asked him why the Times hadn’t enabled reader comments on the article.

Rosenberg didn’t write back, not even with a “no comment.” If he does, I’ll update this story or post a new article reporting what he says.

If I don’t hear from him, though, I’ll understand; if I had botched a story that badly, I probably wouldn’t be too keen to discuss it publicly, either.

(Update: Rosenberg eventually did email me back, but declined to comment.)

It’s not that death threats against Sarsour are not newsworthy; they are, and they are despicable. But the Times frames the controversy as a campus “free speech” battle, while omitting a key reason people are upset by Sarsour. It all adds up to a pronounced pro-Sarsour tilt rather than a straight-down-the-middle approach.

You don’t even have to take my word for it. Here is how this Times article handles another complaint against Sarsour:

Mr. Hikind said Ms. Sarsour should not have been chosen, pointing to her recent appearance in Chicago with Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted in Israel of playing a role in the bombing of a supermarket that killed two civilians in 1969… [Sarsour] said there were questions about the integrity of Ms. Odeh’s conviction many decades ago.

Yet even a Times op-ed from March 7, headlined “Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?” said:

While the fairness of Ms. Odeh’s conviction is debated, the fact that she was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was categorized as a terrorist organization by the State Department, is not. The Anti-Defamation League referred to Ms. Odeh as a terrorist and raised concern that in recent years, “activism has been a tool for the legitimization of Rasmea Odeh, despite her criminal record in Israel.”

The Times doesn’t quote any City University graduating students or professors about the situation, though it does carry a quote from a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and one from “the conservative media personality Milo Yiannopoulos.”

It’s not the Times at its best, by any measure.

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

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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