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June 4, 2020 4:42 am

‘Blatant’ Bias in ‘Patently Untrue’ New York Times Article About Mahmoud Abbas

avatar by Ira Stoll


Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 6, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

The New York Times is being criticized for inaccurately depicting the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, as a peacemaker.

“As long as he has led the Palestinian national movement, Mr. Abbas has opposed violence and espoused negotiations with Israel,” the Times wrote in a news article and a tweet from the New York Times World Twitter account, which has two million followers.

The sentence was widely ridiculed, though it hasn’t yet been corrected. Clifford May, a former New York Times journalist who is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote, “The NYT’s bias against Israel is so blatant in this ‘news’ article. To take just the most egregious example: ‘Abbas has opposed violence and espoused negotiations with Israel.’ In truth, he rewards terrorists. And it has been a decade since he’s negotiated with Israelis.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, in an article by Gilead Ini, described the Times claim as “patently untrue.”

The CAMERA article documented at least four instances in which, rather than opposing violence, Abbas publicly promoted it.

  1. A January 2018 speech in which “Abbas asserted that, while he wouldn’t send his military to go toe-to-toe with Israel, he welcomed individual Palestinian attacks: ‘Whoever has [weapons] — go ahead and do it. I say this out in the open. If you have weapons, go ahead. I’m with you, and I will help you. Anyone who has weapons can go ahead.’”
  2. A 2019 speech in which Abbas said Palestinians “will enter Jerusalem as fighters by the millions.”
  3. A 2015 speech in which Abbas said, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every martyr will reach paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”
  4. Abbas’ official Palestinian Authority television station repeatedly broadcast a music video calling on Palestinians to “strap on the explosive belt” and detonate in Israeli cities.

“The article’s hesitancy to frankly deal with Palestinian terrorism follows an ongoing pattern at a newspaper,” CAMERA said.

The claim that Abbas “espoused negotiations with Israel” is also misleading, or at least so artfully crafted as to be confusing. Don’t take it from me; even the far left Israeli newspaper Haaretz, much loved by the New York Times, recently headlined an op-ed piece by Bishara Bahba, “The Palestinian Refusal to Negotiate With Israel and Trump Is a Cowardly, Fateful Mistake.” What the Haaretz headline writers recognize, but the New York Times article refuses to level with its readers about, is that while Abbas may claim to back a negotiated solution, he has declined repeated offers to reopen negotiations and failed repeatedly to reach agreements.

Even the Times itself occasionally lets the truth slip on this topic, or used to, at least. An August 2010 Times editorial said, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to direct negotiations on a two-state solution; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is stubbornly resisting. It is time for him to talk.” A 2008 Times headline said, “Abbas balks at returning to peace talks with Israel.” A 2015 Times editorial was headlined “Mahmoud Abbas Gives Up on Peace” and reported, “There is no question that Mr. Abbas is an acutely bitter man. At 80, he has effectively given up on ever achieving a negotiated Palestinian state.” And that was all — “stubbornly resisting,” “balks,” “given up,” — before the Trump administration, before the Jerusalem embassy move, before Netanyahu’s recent reelection with a national unity government on an annexation platform.

It’s almost enough to make one suspect that the Times coverage of Abbas is less about Abbas and more about finding someone to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. During the Obama administration, it was untenable for the Times to blame the Obama administration (or Secretaries of State Clinton or Kerry) for the lack of progress, so Abbas took some of the heat. Now that President Trump and his team are handling the negotiations, Abbas all of a sudden is portrayed as a peacemaker, which makes it easier to blame any problems on Trump.

Or maybe that’s too conspiratorial an explanation. The Times diplomatic beat and Jerusalem bureau have seen a revolving cast of characters, so the reason for the changing description may be personnel turnover rather than any partisan political agenda. Ultimately, the motivation is a side issue. What’s beyond debate is that sophisticated readers with even a modicum of background knowledge of the topic can identify the recent Times news coverage as jarringly unmoored from reality.

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.

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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