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December 20, 2018 3:51 pm

Seven Problems With The New York Times Pro-BDS Editorial

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times publishes a staff editorial headlined, “Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel,” with the subheadline, “A Senate bill aims to punish those who boycott Israel over its settlement policy.”

The first problem is the subheadline’s reference to “those who boycott Israel over its settlement policy.” Boycotts of Jewish products in the Land of Israel have existed since 1945, before the Jewish state even existed. The idea that this boycott is about “settlement policy” is not founded in fact, since the boycott has existed for decades regardless of whether Israel did or didn’t occupy the West Bank and regardless of whether the Israeli government in power was expanding or limiting settlement activity.

The second problem is the editorial’s framing of the matter as a threat to freedom of speech. If the Times were a consistent defender of free speech, that’d be one thing. But on issue after issue — the right of a Christian business not to cover contraception as a health benefit, the right of a wedding cake bakery not to bake a cake for a gay marriage, the right of a wealthy donor or advocacy group to spend money on political advertising — the Times has been downright dismissive of free speech concerns, and of the argument that economic choices qualify as protected free speech. In fact, when it is gays or women being discriminated against, the Times has been downright dismissive of the argument that an economic choice qualifies as protected speech. Yet when it is Israeli Jews being discriminated against by the BDS movement, the Times editorialists all of a sudden become free speech absolutists. It’s a double standard.

Nor is it the only double standard in the piece, which brings us to the third problem. The Times refers to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a “pro-Israel lobby group,” but refers to “Palestinian rights organizations.” Why aren’t the Palestinians, who do also lobby, described as lobbyists? Or why isn’t AIPAC, which does care about the rights of Israelis, described as a “rights organization”?

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The fourth problem with the editorial is the Times‘ unsubstantiated claim that “many devoted supporters of Israel, including many American Jews, oppose the occupation of the West Bank and refuse to buy products of the settlements in occupied territories.” This is an expansive definition of “many.” I can think of a single person in this category: Peter Beinart. Outside of him, how many genuinely “devoted supporters of Israel” are so ardent in their opposition to the occupation that they’d go so far, as, say, refusing to buy a book that was written or edited by someone who lives in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem? The Beinart wing of the BDS movement, so far as I can tell from my far distance, doesn’t even consider itself officially part of the BDS movement, whose definition of “occupied territory” is sufficiently expansive that its boycott and divestment and sanctioning targets include Tel Aviv University, the Technion, and even American firms such as Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar that do business with the Israeli army defending Tel Aviv University and the Technion.

The fifth problem with the editorial is the language about how the United States “frequently employs sanctions as a political tool, including against North Korea, Iran and Russia.” North Korea and Iran are terror-sponsoring dictatorships. Israel is a major non-NATO ally of the United States, with a free press and elections in which Arab citizens vote. It’s just offensive and illogical to suggest that because America imposes economic sanctions on enemy countries such as Iran and North Korea — sanctions, which, by the way, when it comes to Iran, the Times editorialists have consistently favored easing — it should therefore also be okay to impose economic penalties on friendly countries such as Israel. In fact, when President Donald Trump threatens tariffs on goods from China or even Europe, Canada, or Mexico, the Times denounces him for interfering with free trade. The only economic sanctions the Times cheerleads for are ones targeting the Jewish state, boycotts that punish liberal Israeli academics, high-tech founders, and Ha’aretz columnists just as much as they punish far-right settlers. Again, it’s a Times double standard.

The sixth problem with the editorial is a process-related complaint. The Times claims, “In a properly functioning Congress, a matter of such moment would be openly debated. Instead, Mr. Cardin and Mr. Portman are trying to tack the B.D.S. provision onto the lame-duck spending bill, meaning it could be enacted into law in the 11th-hour crush to keep the government fully open.”

As the Times itself reported in its news columns earlier this week, the BDS measure is only one of many that lawmakers are trying to append to the must-pass spending bill. “As the package languishes, lawmakers see an opportunity to give their bills life before the current Congress ends this month. Other pieces of legislation that could be added include the so-called Blue Water Bill, which would allow Vietnam-era sailors who say they were exposed to Agent Orange as they served offshore to receive the same health benefits as those who were exposed on land. Other lawmakers are seeking to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended with a brief stopgap spending bill two weeks ago.” Yet there’s no Times editorial complaining that the Violence Against Women Act extension or the Blue Water Bill needs to be “openly debated.” It’s only the pro-Israel measure on which the Times all of a sudden becomes a stickler for extensive debate. Again, it’s a double standard.

For a flavor of the audience the Times is attracting with these editorials, consider the Times reader comments — problem number seven with the editorial. One Times reader, Ray Gordon of Bel Air, Md., writes, “Senator Cardin has always put the interests of Israel first, even ahead of America’s interests.” That comment, echoing a classically antisemitic trope that American Jews are disloyal, was awarded a gold medal as a “Times pick” and was recommended by 133 Times readers. Another comment, also awarded a Times pick gold medal and upvoted by 236 Times readers, alleges a crime without any evidence, claiming, “our Senators and Congressmen/women are being bribed by special interest groups.” We corrupt Jews and our money. The Times is quick to denounce the Breitbart comment section as an antisemitic cesspool, and to try to use that to attack Stephen Bannon and President Trump by association. The Times has a longstanding, persistent problem with antisemitic reader comments. If you wonder why readers who express or hold antisemitic views would be attracted to a publication like the Times as readers, look no further than today’s editorial. A publication attracts the readers it deserves.

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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