New York Times Grills Presidential Candidates About Israel’s Human Rights Record
The New York Times asked 18 questions to 21 Democratic presidential candidates.
Only one of the questions was about human rights overseas. That question dealt with exactly one country — Israel.
“Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” is the way the Times posed the question.
The paper’s focus on — some might go so far as to call it an obsession with — Israel generated attention from some Times readers.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis said in a statement, “It is curious that Israel is the one foreign country whose policies were deemed worthy of scrutiny in the 18 questions posed by the New York Times. The moral records of Afghanistan, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance funding; China, America’s largest trading partner; and Mexico, the country’s southern neighbor were unquestioned. There was nothing about Egypt, whose former president just died in a courtroom while on trial; Saudi Arabia, the top purchaser of U.S. arms; Turkey, our putative NATO ally; or the Palestinians. Only Israel.”
Mark Horwitz, a former editor at the Times, tweeted, “Am I crazy, or does that question about Israel stick out in a weird way. No other international human rights questions. Just Israel.”
The American Jewish Committee also noted, “The New York Times asked presidential candidates about only one U.S. ally’s human rights record. Guess which one.”
The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, Jeremy Burton, remarked on what he called the “absurd bias” of the Times‘ candidate questionnaire.
Whatever one’s view of the question, it did serve the useful function from a newsgathering perspective of exposing the range of views about Israel that exists within the Democratic presidential field.
One of the strongest answers to the question probably came from John Delaney, a businessman and former congressman from Maryland, who answered, “I do think they meet human rights standards, absolutely.” He also noted, “they are surrounded by countries who are effectively threatening their existence and don’t believe they have a right to exist.” Another came from a senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, who answered, “yes.” Bennet is the brother of New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet and the son of a Holocaust survivor.
Other candidates used the question as an opportunity to voice public criticism of Israel’s elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
A senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, said, “I have great concerns about the role that Netanyahu is playing in Israel and the relationship with the Palestinians.”
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, said, “I think Israel’s human rights record is problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current right wing government.”
The Democrat who is leading the polls, Joe Biden, declined to participate in the Times video project.
Not a single one of the candidates answered the question, at least in the answers aired by the newspaper, by pushing back at the Times and asking why the newspaper was choosing to ask about human rights only in Israel. And not a single one of the candidates, at least in the answers aired by the newspaper, rejected the premise about “international standards of human rights” by saying, say, that what really matters are the standards set by the American Congress, or by Israel’s own Supreme Court, parliament, and vibrant press, opposition, and advocacy groups.
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.