New York Times Claims Israeli Army Is Known for ‘Pioneering Cutting-Edge Ways to Kill People’
Israel’s consul general in New York City is mocking The New York Times for a news article that claimed, “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up.”
“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s R&D arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to save innocent lives, with Iron Dome & David Sling among its more famous recent projects,” Ambassador Dani Dayan wrote on Twitter. “I edited it for you @nytimes. Now it’s fit to print.”
Dayan had plenty of company in cringing at the introduction that the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, David Halbfinger, used for an article highlighting the way Israel’s military is using high-tech to tackle the novel coronavirus.
The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, called a Times tweet promoting the article and using the “cutting-edge ways to kill people” language “sensationalist” and “irresponsible.” He described it as “demonizing language that seems to question Israel’s legitimate security needs.”
The Times article begins, “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up, with stealth tanks and sniper drones among its more lethal recent projects. “
The next paragraph of the Times article says, “But its latest mission is lifesaving. Since March, it has been spearheading a sprawling, high-speed effort to unleash some of the country’s most advanced technologies against an enemy of another kind: Covid-19.”
A retired Israel Defense Forces lieutenant colonel, Peter Lerner, who served as a spokesman for the military, tweeted that though he liked the story overall, the “cutting-edge ways to kill people” line was a clunker.
“The defense establishment has been developing weaponry for the defense of the island of Israel that hasn’t had a day of peace since it was established,” he said. “More accurate wording needed like: kill militant enemies.”
Halbfinger responded to Lerner’s complaint by writing on Twitter, “Enemies are people, too. You’d have to be predisposed to think Israel kills indiscriminately — or weary of such accusations — to read it that way. All armies are trained and equipped to kill, not just Israel’s. The point here is to contrast with the mission of saving lives.”
Lerner responded, “Unfortunately too many people are predisposed and don’t read beyond the first paragraph. This would reinforce that predisposition.”
As Dayan pointed out, the Iron Dome system shoots down incoming enemy rockets and artillery shells to protect Israeli lives and prevent the killing of people. David’s Sling also shoots down incoming enemy missiles. And the Israeli Defense Ministry’s high-tech and research defense units are probably best known not only for those, but also for contributing talent, training and ideas to Israel’s phenomenally successful high-tech “startup nation” civilian economy.
A reporter and editor for the Jewish Insider newsletter, Amy Spiro, commented in response to the Times promotion of its article using the “cutting-edge ways to kill” language, “I am not usually one to relentlessly dunk on the @NYTimes but good lord is this a bad tweet. Have you heard of the Iron Dome.”
It’s nice of Halbfinger to respond to critics on Twitter. Unfortunately, though, he displayed the typical Times “it’s the reader’s problem, not ours” defensiveness. He’d be better off just acknowledging the truth, which is that it was an inelegantly-worded phrase in what was overall an article that depicted the Israel Defense Forces as contributing to life-saving efforts to combat disease.
The Times tends to point out in its own defense that it gets criticized from both sides. That is true here, too, as an editor of a stridently anti-Israel website asked, accusingly, “Has the #NYTimes Jerusalem bureau chief left the paper to join #Israel’s military as a publicist? Today’s article sounds like it.” Sorry, not quite.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.