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September 27, 2021 2:41 pm

New York Times Publishes Yom Kippur Correction on Jewish Sovereignty in Land of Israel

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times issued a Yom Kippur correction for an article that had falsely stated that previous periods of Jewish sovereignty in Israel had lasted for no more than “about 70 or 80 years.”

The Times historical error was the subject of an Algemeiner column, “New York Times ‘Mangles’ Jewish History as Gordis Sees ‘Incurable’ Pathology at the Newspaper.” That article reported that the Times had initially refused a correction request from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

“By falsely reporting that the longest Jewish rule in Israel fell in less than 100 years, The Times minimizes the historic Jewish connection to ancient Israel, eroding the legitimacy of the present Jewish state,” the director of CAMERA’s Israel office, Tamar Sternthal, wrote at the time. The article “mangles the historical record,” she had said.

The Times correction — published in print on Thursday, September 16, the Day of Atonement — reads, “An article on Sunday about the film ‘Legend of Destruction’ referred imprecisely to the time periods when Jews enjoyed sovereignty in the land in ancient times. While the first period of unified sovereignty some 3,000 years ago is believed to have lasted for less than a century, separate kingdoms remained sovereign for hundreds of years.”

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The original, erroneous article had stated, “Israeli leaders have increasingly drawn on the lessons from Jewish history, noting that the Jews enjoyed two previous periods of sovereignty in the land in ancient times, but both lasted only about 70 or 80 years — a poignant reminder for the modern state that, founded in 1948, has passed the 70-year mark.”

The Times and its defenders points to the fact that it publishes corrections as proof of its commitment to accuracy, while critics says that the corrections often come only grudgingly and that the frequency of the need for them is a sign of flaws in the Times’ systems.

In this case, the correction is welcome, but it’s less than fully satisfactory. Note the passive “is believed”—the Times doesn’t say who is doing the believing. And note the defensive restatement—“unified sovereignty”— as if attempting somehow retroactively to find some way to define or restrict terms so that earlier article can be portrayed not as outright wrong but as merely “imprecise.”

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.

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