Where Are The Editors at The New York Times?
A problem consistently afflicting New York Times coverage of Israel and the Middle East generally is a lack of long-term perspective and historical context.
A couple of recent examples demonstrate the problem, which has slid into outright inaccuracies:
A post-Israeli-election dispatch by the Times’ error-prone Jerusalem bureau-chief, Patrick Kingsley, contends, “The waning of the left began in the 2000s, when a wave of Palestinian violence was interpreted by many Israelis as a rejection of efforts to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Actually, the “waning of the left” began after Golda Meir nearly lost the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the Likud Party led by Menachem Begin won a victory in 1977. Begin had the backing of Mizrachi (“eastern,” as opposed to European) immigrants, and his victory marked the beginning of Israel’s turn away from socialism. The “waning of the left,” in other words, began in Israel well before the 2000s, but for whatever reason, the New York Times’ memory doesn’t go back that far.
The Kingsley dispatch has other problems, such as the claim that “voters abandoned Labor and Meretz for Mr. Lapid, despite his more centrist politics.” Instead of “despite,” the Times could have written “because of.” But the lack of historical context — or the absurdly foreshortened context that is provided — is the real issue.
Similar flaws afflict another Times article, about the water supply in Jordan.
The Times reports:
There is one potential quick fix: buying more water from Israel, a pioneer in desalination techniques. Cooperation on water was an important element of the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries, and they signed a water-for-energy agreement at the United Nations climate conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh on Tuesday.
Protests broke out in Amman last year when the plan, which was brokered by the United Arab Emirates and would involve Jordan sending solar energy to Israel in exchange for water, was first announced. An overreliance on Israel water is unpalatable to many Jordanians, who oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Jordanians “oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories”? That’s comical. If by “Palestinian territories” the Times means the West Bank, why wasn’t that a problem from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan occupied those territories? Perhaps the Times, and the Jordanians, consider all of Israel to be “Palestinian territories” and thus oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. That would explain why Jordan had no formal peace agreement with Israel even between 1948 and 1967 and in fact attacked Israel in 1948 and 1967. Some consider Jordan itself to be Palestinian territory occupied by the Hashemite monarchs, who are carpetbaggers from Saudi Arabia.
The same Times article claims “water is a critical national security issue in Jordan, and shortages threaten to destabilize a stalwart U.S. Arab ally that has been an oasis of calm in a turbulent neighborhood.”
A stalwart US ally? Jordan sided with Iraq against America in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Oasis of calm? There were violent clashes during the Black September of 1970 in Jordan between Jordanians and Palestinians. As recently as 2021, the Brookings Institution reported that “Jordan is in the midst of what may be its most serious political crisis in 50 years,” with “unprecedented turmoil in the ruling family.” To the extent that there is “calm” in Jordan it is because the country isn’t particularly free (Freedom House rates the country “Not Free.”)
The New York Times reporter on the Jordan article, Karen Zraick, is a board member of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. That organization issued a statement urging news organizations to avoid the term “terrorism” or “terrorist” when writing about the September 11, 2001 attacks. It also publishes an absurd “media resource guide” on “Palestine/Israel” that is full of false claims and tendentiousness such as “Do not call Gaza ‘Hamas-controlled’” and “do not use the identifiers ‘Arab-Israeli’ or ‘Israeli-Arab”…instead use ‘Palestinian.’” The odd language in Zraick’s article about “occupation of the Palestinian territories” directly echoes language in the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association media guide, which states, “Israel occupies Palestinian territory, and Palestinians—whether in the West Bank, Gaza or inside Israel—are subject to an unjust and unequal system.”
If some Times reporter wants to volunteer to serve on the board of an organization that insists that other reporters deny the truth that Gaza is “Hamas-controlled,” and that the September 11 attacks not be called “terrorism,” I guess that is up to the reporter, but maybe New York Times management might pick up on that as a caution sign to edit her coverage a little more carefully?
Between error-prone Kingsley and Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association board-member Zraick, adult editing supervision is badly needed to provide accuracy and background knowledge guardrails. Judging by what has been appearing in the paper lately, such editorial supervision is lacking.
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.