Will The New York Times Apply New Op-ed Standards to Israel?
An internal revolt at The New York Times over the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) calling for unleashing the US military on the American people to quell unrest led to the resignation of editor James Bennet. After initially defending the op-ed, the paper disowned it, criticizing the “incendiary” headline, and saying the article “did not meet our standards,” while promising to improve their review of such pieces.
Many of us have long wondered what, if any, standards the op-ed page applies, given the Times’ willingness to publish pieces on Israel by murderers, serial liars, and antisemites, which clearly were not fact-checked; yet none of them prompted the resignation of the page’s editor. Here are just a few examples:
Where were the fact checkers when Yasser Arafat offered “The Palestinian Vision of Peace” in 2002, in which the instigator of the Second Intifada said he condemned terror attacks on Israeli civilians, and that the terrorists didn’t represent the Palestinian people? Did they remember that in 1996, long after signing the Oslo Accords, Arafat called for a jihad against Israel (reported by the Times). Just two years after rejecting a Palestinian state in 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, he contradicted President Clinton by claiming, “Palestinians are ready to end the conflict.”
In 2006, Ahmed Yousef of Hamas merited space (“Pause for Peace”) to explain the desire for a truce (“hudna”) with Israel. He said the concept “obliges the parties to use the period to seek a permanent, nonviolent resolution to their differences.” But the ceasefire was designed to give the terrorists a respite from Israeli operations to rebuild their strength in order to implement the Hamas charter’s objective of engaging in a jihad to destroy Israel. Rather than identify him as a member of a terrorist organization, or even of Hamas, Yousef was described as “a senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya.”
In 2017, the Times published “Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons” by convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti. In it, he makes incendiary accusations of torture and claims he was sentenced to five life sentences “to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom” rather than his orchestration of terror attacks. While he complains that he was convicted in a “show trial,” he was still acquitted of 21 counts of murder despite his role in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Tanzim, which were responsible for numerous deadly terror attacks. The op-ed identifies him as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.”
Then there is Saeb Erekat, a serial liar who falsely claimed Israel committed a massacre in Jenin in 2002, and wrote a 2018 op-ed (“Forget Trump’s U.S. as the Mideast’s Mediator”) filled with lies, omissions, and misrepresentations. He said, for example, that Mahmoud Abbas tried to constructively engage with the Trump administration, when a month earlier, Abbas said he rejected any American role in peace talks. Erekat failed to mention that Trump said Abbas lied to him and that he defied the president’s call to end the “pay-to-slay” policy of paying terrorists in Israeli jails. He also repeated the myth that the Palestinians compromised to accept a state on 22% of historic Palestine when it is Israel, including the disputed territories, that is 22% of Palestine.
Furthermore, the Times often selects Jewish authors who criticize Israel.
“Is Boycotting Israel ‘Hate’?” asked Joseph Levine in a 2018 op-ed. He said “B.D.S. began in 2005” (the boycott of Israel began in 1945 and BDS in 2001) and had three conditions that Israel must meet to stop the boycott, one of which has been satisfied (giving Arab citizens of Israel full equality) and another (recognizing the “right” of return) that is a recipe for the elimination of Israel. He mentions nothing about the BDS movement’s commitment to a one-state solution and says denial of Israel’s right to exist is not antisemitic.
Peter Beinart wrote in 2012, “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements.” He disparaged the use of the names “Judea and Samaria” as “biblical” and promoted calling it “nondemocratic Israel.” The area is not part of Israel, however, and it is not subject to the same laws. Moreover, he says nothing about the authoritarian Palestinian Authority, whose laws do apply there.
Yet another Jewish writer, Antony Lerman, lamented “The End of Liberal Zionism.” He wrote, “The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. It is carrying out an open-ended project of self-realization to be achieved through colonization and purification of the tribe.” Times fact checkers were apparently uninterested in the millions of Zionists who cannot be characterized this way. Like Beinart, Lerman also suggests Palestinians are part of Israel — and, therefore, denial of any of their rights reflects Israel’s anti-democratic nature. He also regurgitates the myth that “Jews forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian from their homes to make way for the establishment of a Jewish state.”
The problem at the Times is not restricted to guest columnists. I wrote about regular contributor Michelle Goldberg’s 2018 op-ed insisting that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. As I noted, “To be anti-Zionist is to deny that Jews are a people with a right to statehood.” In a column (“Anti-Zionists Deserve Free Speech”) defending Omar Barghouti and the BDS movement, she misstated the goals of the movement as “agnostic on a final dispensation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Michelle Alexander’s op-ed, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” asserted that some students are victims of McCarthyite tactics and that they are blacklisted, “jeopardizing their employment prospects and future careers.” She offered no evidence for either a blacklist (except a Canary Mission website) or any student whose future was affected by having their own words publicized. She claimed that Israel refuses to discuss the Palestinian refugee issue, ignoring the history of the issue and the facts. She insisted there is a “system of legal discrimination” in Israel when, in fact, Arabs enjoy equal rights under the law.
I wonder if the Times’ newfound interest in standards and facts will apply to future submissions related to Jews and Israel?
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations.