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Media Analyses





On Kidney Transplants, Too, an Israel Obsession at The New York Times


The New York Times has long had an obsession with singling out Israel for blame, a phenomenon documented in CAMERA's six-month study of the newspaper's reporting and other analyses.  On Sunday, Aug. 17, with a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas still in place and apparently lacking any breaking news events that could be blamed on Israel, the newspaper nonetheless chose to devote the most prominent part of its front page, as well three additional pages in their entirety, to an investigation of Israel's role in the global organ trade. 

The front page was dominated by a large color photograph of an Israeli who had travelled to Costa Rica for a transplant, and the related story, which ran across three columns above the fold. The nearly 5,500-word article about "Israel's irrepressible underground kidney market" continued on the inside of the international news section and, along with a 1,600-word companion piece, overshadowed all else in the newspaper's primary section. The feature was longer than all other articles in that section, including breaking news stories about the spread of the Ebola virus and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

The editorial judgment to showcase this story as the leading and largest feature of the day left many readers scratching their heads. After all, a much more timely article about Iraqi minorities held captive, forced to convert to Islam or otherwise be killed, was relegated to page 19, the last page of the paper's international section. It seemed puzzling that an article about the organ trade was deemed so much more newsworthy than the immediate threats of genocide against Iraq's Yazidi minority.

While the article did at times refer to the organ trade in general, there could be no question that the focus of the piece was on Israelis behaving badly.

"Israelis at Center of Trade in Organs: Brokers Play Outsize Role in Market as They Dodge Tightening Enforcement," blared the headline in the newspaper's international edition.

"Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa Rica," read the online headline.

 "Kidneys for Sale: Brokers in Israel Connected Patients With Poor Donors Abroad," broadcast the headline in the newspaper's print edition.

If editors consider the global organ trade to be deserving of such attention in the news, why then  is it only Israel that is singled out in The New York Times for front page coverage on the topic? After all, citizens of many different countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are heavily involved in buying or selling organs. And many stories about organ trafficking in other countries have been far more sensational than any of those coming from Israel. For example, in China the majority of harvested organs are said to come from executed inmates, without prior consent. And there is compelling evidence that leaders of a Kosovo guerilla group deliberately killed people in order to harvest their organs.  Yet none of these stories ever made it to the front page of The New York Times.

Here are some recent examples of articles the newspaper has published on organ trafficking in other countries, along with their length and placement:

"Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe" (6/29/12), 1022 words, appeared on page 8.

"Five Face Charges in China over Sale of Youth's Kidney" (4/8/12), 361 words, appeared on page 12.

"Seven Charged in International Organ-Trafficking Ring Based in Kosovo" (11/16/10), 757 words, appeared on page 4.

"5 are Convicted in Kosovo Organ Trafficking" (4/30/03), 567 words, appeared on page 9.

The coverage of these stories pales in comparison to the prominence given to the article about Israeli involvement. And many of the major players in the organ trade receive even less coverage by The New York Times.

The World Health Organization notes that "a report by Organs Watch, an organization based at the University of California, USA, identified Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the USA as major organ-importing countries."

According to the WHO, for example, 646 Saudi Arabians traveled abroad for kidney transplants in 2006, about twice the number of those who received transplants inside the country. Oman, with a population that is roughly half of Israel's, had 83 of its citizens go abroad for "living nonrelated renal transplants" in 2003 — a number that dwarfs Israelis' contribution today both in absolute and relative terms.

Yet neither of those country's roles in the organ trade has ever been mentioned in, let alone featured on the front page of, The New York Times.

And if one accepts the premise of the 2013 Canadian documentary, "The Anatomy of the Organ Trade," The Times also ignores the prominent role of wealthier locals within poor countries such as the Philippines, China and India in driving this trade.

According to the filmmaker, a widely held misconception about what fuels the morally ambiguous world of organ trafficking is that "the organ trade is driven by rich Westerners who have no qualms about travelling to developing countries to harvest the organs of the poor. But generally, this is far from reality. The trade is driven by affluent (often middle class) Westerners who are desperate to live. But it is also driven by locals who can afford the transplant. Filipinos buy organs from Filipinos. Chinese buy organs from Chinese, and Indians buy organs from Indians. This is not only a trade driven by the West."

In fact, Israel's role in the global organ trade appears to be decreasing, with the number of Israeli patients who received transplants outside of Israel declining steadily. In 2006, 155 Israelis received transplants abroad. In 2007, the number was 143. Then it sharply dropped, declining to 45 in 2011 — and the number is estimated to have dropped even further since then. The new Israeli laws and policies that lead to this decline are also responsible for the concurrent increase in number of procedures within Israel — 141 in 2006 and 246 in 2011.

But the dramatic decrease in Israeli involvement in the global organ trade is downplayed by The New York Times. The crucial information is unmentioned in the 5,500-word feature, and buried toward the end of the companion piece, making it seem almost parenthetical. The downplaying of such important context while highlighting Israel's role in the organ trade, brings the newspaper's disproportionate focus on Israel into even sharper relief.

The issue is not that the newspaper would run a story about the topic. Nor is it that Israel would be mentioned in the story. The problem is that The New York Times obsessively singles out Israel for indictment by highlighting, emphasizing and excessively focusing on anything that might display the country in a negative light, even when this requires downplaying or ignoring the larger context of the story.


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