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October 14, 2018 12:04 pm

New York Times Straddles Question of Hamas Control of Gaza ‘Protests’

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Tear gas canisters are fired by Israeli troops at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City June 8, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

Differences between left-of-center news coverage in the Wall Street Journal and that newspaper’s more conservative opinion page used to generate jokes about “two newspapers for the price of one.”

Now the New York Times seems as if it’s trying to copycat the Journal’s approach with its own straddle, at least when it comes to the crucial question of whether Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, is behind the protests there.

Recent New York Times news coverage of the Gaza violence highlights the Hamas role. But an op-ed the newspaper published had minimized it.

A news article by Isabel Kershner in Saturday’s Times reported:

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has been arranging weekly demonstrations along the Israeli border for the past six months to protest the blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory and demand a return to land in what is now Israel. After attendance and international attention began to wane in recent weeks, Hamas created special units to expand the protests, which they call “The Great Return March.”

Another article by Kershner, in the October 5 Times, used similar language. It reported, “Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has been orchestrating weekly demonstrations along the Israeli border for the past six months to protest the blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory and demand a return to land in what is now Israel. As attendance and international attention have waned in recent weeks, Hamas has ratcheted up its activities, creating special units to expand the protests.”

Compare Kershner’s unqualified statements that the protests are arranged or orchestrated by Hamas with the claims that were made in an April 27 Times op-ed. That opinion piece, by Fadi Abu Shammalah, appeared under the headline “Why I March In Gaza.” He wrote, “The Israeli military portrays the action as a violent provocation by Hamas, a claim that many analysts have blindly accepted. Those depictions are in direct contradiction with my experiences on the ground…. At the border, I haven’t seen a single Hamas flag….The Great Return March is not Hamas’s action. It is all of ours.”

It’s difficult to reconcile the op-ed with the news articles. Maybe April 27 was early enough in the protests that Hamas’ role hadn’t yet become dominant. Or maybe at that point, the Israeli military had figured it out, but the Times op-ed editors hadn’t. I’ve had my complaints with Kershner in the past, and I still wish she’d call Hamas a terrorist group rather than “militant.” But in this case, she deserves credit for plainly saying what readers of the Times op-ed might otherwise not know, which is that the protests are a Hamas production.

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

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