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July 14, 2022 10:37 am
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New York Times Gets Creative, Straining to Paint Israel as Sponging off American Taxpayers

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, on display during a visit by US President Joe Biden. Photo: Ariel Hermoni / Ministry of Defense

How fanatically determined is the New York Times to portray Israel, falsely, as fattening itself on the generosity of American taxpayers?

Let’s have a look.

For years, the Times has been incorrectly depicting Israel as America’s most expensive foreign partner. A 2016 New York Times editorial, for example, said, “The existing agreement, which expires in 2018, provides $3.1 billion a year to Israel, making it the top recipient of American aid.” I noted then that even on that basis, it was a bogus claim: “In recent years, America has poured far more money into attempts to secure and rebuild Iraq ($2 trillion) and Afghanistan ($1 trillion). Military assistance to Israel runs about $30 billion over ten years, a bargain by comparison. Adjusted for inflation, America’s post-World War II assistance to rebuild Europe, about $103 billion in today’s dollars, also is more than what America has spent on Israel over any comparable time span.”

Likewise, a 2021 Nicholas Kristof column in the Times complained, “we provide several billion dollars a year in military assistance to a rich country and thus subsidize bombings of Palestinians. Is that really a better use of our taxes than, say, paying for COVID-19 vaccinations abroad or national pre-K at home?” I wrote then, “one wonders why the New York Times has chosen to single out American military aid to Israel rather than, say, the vast sums the US military spends defending South Korea, France, and Germany, which are also rich, but have fewer Jews….The idea that Israelis are coasting or not paying their fair share is nonsense — especially compared to NATO allies or East Asian countries or even Arab countries that benefit from the US defense umbrella.”

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The situation changed in 2022, so that even a newspaper as careless about the truth as the Times could no longer, with a straight face, characterize Israel as the top annual aid recipient. The US has this year awarded $7 billion in aid to Ukraine, far more than it sends to Israel.

So what does the Times turn around and do? It changes the terms, subtly altering the definition and imaginatively finding some other way to keep describing Israel as worldwide tops at subsisting on the American dime. A news article earlier this month by the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, reports: “For years, Palestinians have questioned Washington’s ability to neutrally mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing strong American support for Israel at the United Nations and the size of US financial and military support to Israel, which has cumulatively received more American aid than any other country since World War II.”

It’s breathtaking. When Israel clearly isn’t the top annual recipient of American aid, the Times stops talking about annual aid, and suddenly switches to a new focus on “cumulative” aid “since World War II.” Even by that definition, it’s not an accurate claim. There’s a hyperlinked report in the article that just gives current-dollar numbers for Israel, not for any other country. Afghanistan alone reportedly cost America $2 trillion, according to President Biden, more than the $150 billion that the Times-linked report claims has gone to Israel.

And if one accounted properly for all the money America has spent to defend Japan, Korea, Germany, and Kuwait, those sums would also be larger. Our arrangements with those countries are just structured differently, and less transparently. We go to war or have military bases with troops deployed there, rather than give those countries aid to defend themselves.

Anyway, it’s one thing for a Times editorial or opinion column misleadingly to portray Israel as the top annual recipient of American aid. It’s another thing for a Times news article to cherry-pick definitions in order to make the same inaccurate portrayal. That the sentence begins “Palestinians have questioned” makes no difference: it’s the paper’s responsibility to sort out truth from misleading claims, and to add context that helps readers understand the underlying reality.

This is basic journalistic craft, or used to be. The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism advises: “avoid superlatives. Use restrained language. Provide context and history. Look for the other side.” The public editor at the Toronto Star writes, “whenever anyone in a Star story claims a first, only, most, biggest, oldest, newest, longest of anything whatsoever, you can almost bet that the claim will be challenged by someone who believes otherwise. This is a textbook accuracy pitfall, a key point of my newsroom accuracy seminars for the Star’s interns. Beware superlatives, I tell these young reporters. Verify all such claims. If you can’t verify that something is indeed the first, only, oldest, biggest, best, newest, latest, greatest then make that clear to readers, otherwise a correction may be necessary.”

So it is with the Times‘ sketchy claim that Israel is America’s biggest (“more … than any other country”) aid recipient. I’d say it’s the paper’s most deceptive claim, made more nastily by the Times than by any other newspaper, but I’m more careful than that.

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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