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New York Times Cheerleads for Columbia University Faculty’s Boycott of Israel

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avatar by Ira Stoll


A taxi passes by in front of The New York Times head office, Feb. 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri / File.

Columbia University marked the Passover holiday with the welcome news that it is opening a research center in Tel Aviv. The New York Times greeted it with a news article that emphasized criticism of Columbia’s move, taking the opposition at face value rather than recognizing it as part of a long-running campaign to wipe Israel off the map.

A better Times headline could have been, “Columbia To Open Tel Aviv Site.” It could have been “Small minority of extreme anti-Israel people on the Columbia faculty oppose Tel Aviv center.” The Times could have even gone with “Columbia faculty splits on Israel center.” Instead the print paper ran with “Tel Aviv Plan Of Columbia Is Criticized By Faculty,” a one-sided headline that highlights the critics.

Actually, more Columbia faculty reportedly have signed the letter supporting the Tel Aviv center than have signed the letter opposing it.

The Times puts the campus opposition in the context of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s judicial reforms and what the Times calls Israel’s “ongoing political crisis.” Such coverage contributes to the Times’ ongoing credibility crisis.

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But the Columbia faculty leading the anti-Israel petition have been bitter critics of Israel for many decades. In 2005, Rashid Khalidi, who was born in New York, acknowledged to the New York Times he was throwing the terms “racist” and “apartheid” around about Israel. The Times also identified him in 1982 as a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, then a terrorist organization, a role that Khalidi later denied.

The Times article on the Columbia situation quotes Khalidi while omitting that context. The Times identifies him merely as a “a history professor and another of the petition organizers.”

If the Times thinks this is about Netanyahu’s reelection, or about Israeli judicial reform, it’s kidding itself. That’s just a convenient pretext for longstanding anti-Israel animus. President Lee Bollinger, in going ahead with the plan, is demonstrating some good judgment and courage, backed by a group of faculty members who see through the Palestinian propaganda to the issues truly at stake, including what best advances the university’s scholarly mission of excellence in research and teaching.

The Times claims the Columbia faculty opposition is related to “Israel’s 55-year occupation of the West Bank and 15-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip, and its practice of denying entry to travelers on the basis of their political views, ethnicity or national origin.”

Yet Gaza has a border with Egypt that is also controlled. The Times doesn’t ask whether the Columbia faculty want to boycott Egypt. It’s only the Israeli “blockade” that is mentioned. Nor is it mentioned that Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that the “blockade” is designed to help prevent Hamas from acquiring the materials it uses to make weapons with which it aims to kill Israeli civilians.

As for denying entry to travelers, not even America has fully open borders. Israel has welcomed travelers and refugees, but it’d be suicidal for any country to admit people who are openly dedicated to its destruction. The Times doesn’t challenge the anti-Israel Columbia faculty on any of this, or interrogate them about the possible antisemitism inherent in holding Israel to standards that aren’t applied to any other nation on earth.

The Times reporter on the story, Liam Stack, is the same one who quotes anti-Zionist New York Times opinion-page writer Peter Beinart as an expert Jewish community source in news article after news article. If the Times wants to give its news column readers the Peter Beinart view of the world, they should hire Beinart directly for the newsroom and skip the pretense of neutrality.

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