Tuesday, November 30th | 26 Kislev 5782

June 2, 2019 5:04 pm

New York Times Promotes Palestinian Cookbook With False Refugee Claim

avatar by Ira Stoll


Syrian refugees wait to board a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families, in Al Ruqban border area, near the northeastern Jordanian border with Syria, and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, 240 km (149 miles) east of Amman on September 10, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo.

The New York Times has already devoted not one but two food-section articles to boycott-Israel-promoter Yasmin Khan’s book of “recipes and stories from the Palestinian kitchen.”

Now, even though the book was published in July 2018, the Times has published yet a third article, this one in its Sunday book review, touting the cookbook as one of “75 of the latest and greatest books to keep you company as temperatures climb and days grow long.” Leave aside the promotional-hype-overkill and questionable news judgment of the Times lavishing more editorial attention on a book that’s already been out for a year. The Times Book Review promotes the Yasmin Khan book with three inaccurate claims.

The Times writes, “Israeli food has been celebrated since Yotam Ottolenghi came on the scene over a decade ago. The culinary traditions of Palestine? Not so much.”

That’s inaccurate. Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” hit cookbook — well, take it from a 2013 problematic but nonetheless telling report in the Times itself: “‘Jerusalem: A Cookbook’ was written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, chefs who grew up on opposite sides of the divided city, Mr. Tamimi in the Arab East, Mr. Ottolenghi in the Jewish West… The book’s recipes are traditional in Jerusalem, or loosely inspired by the city, gathering influences from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish cooks who live there.” Haaretz describes Tamimi as a “Palestinian-British chef.”

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In this third article on the Yasmin Khan book, the Times writes, “While working on a human rights campaign in Israel’s West Bank in 2009, Yasmin Khan found that the difficulty of the days spent in refugee camps relented at night when she was welcomed to local tables to sample bowls of thick hummus and smoky eggplant spiked with peppery olive oil, vibrant herb salads and fresh, sharply flavorful dishes — so flavorful that they lured Khan from her home in London back to Israel and the West Bank to learn more about the recipes and realities of life for the millions of Palestinians living there, not to mention the millions who make up the world’s largest refugee population.”

It’s inaccurate and misguided and tendentious to describe a campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel as a “human rights” campaign. What about the human rights of Israelis not to be killed by Palestinian terrorists? What about the human rights of left-wing Israeli academics not to be boycotted? What about human rights in Iran, a country that Khan has touted as if she were a kind of spokeswoman for its tourist ministry?

The most clear-cut and basic inaccuracy in this latest Times article, though, is the claim that Palestinians are “the world’s largest refugee population.” The UN lists 5 million Palestinian refugees, using an expansive definition that includes descendants of the roughly 472,000 Arab refugees that the UN counted in 1948. By comparison, the UN lists 5,500,586 Syrian refugees and an additional 7 million or so internally displaced persons in Syria, for a total Syrian “population of concern” to UN refugee authorities of 12,643,356.

Anyway, given the large number of books that are published that get zero attention at all from the Times, it’s strange for the newspaper to lavish all this coverage on a Palestinian cookbook that was originally published nearly a year ago. And it’s especially disappointing for the newspaper to do so in a way that includes a factually inaccurate superlative claim. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Times publishes a correction.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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