The New York Times can't seem to resist the temptation to slant the news against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians, even when covering a fairly innocuous story such as the initially suspicious fire at B'tselem, the controversial Israel-based non-profit.
Before getting to the slant in this story, let's dispose with the arson issue fire investigators determined that the blaze was due to an electrical short-circuit and was not set.
And now for the misleading segments in the initial Times report:
B'Tselem, also known as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has been at the center of a political dispute following a weekend television report suggesting that an activist affiliated with the group informed Palestinian security services about Palestinians who had sold land to Jews, which is considered a crime by Palestinians.
"Considered a crime by Palestinians" is a vast and misleading understatement by the Times. Selling land to Jews is not just a crime under the Palestinian Authority, it is among the most heinous of crimes, one punishable by death. But reporting this accurately would make the Palestinians look bad, so the Times instead obscures the facts.
Here's what the Times declined to tell its readers: When the Palestinian Authority took control of much of the West Bank it hastened to resurrect a Jordanian law making the selling of land to a Jew a capital crime.
The Jordanian legislation, Law for Preventing the Sale of Immoveable Property to the Enemy, with the "enemy" defined in Article 2 as:
... any man or judicial body [corporation] of Israeli citizenship living in Israel or acting on its behalf.
Under Article 4 of this law any Jordanian citizen who sold land in Jordan or the West Bank to the "enemy" faced the death penalty and forfeiture of all his property moveable and immoveable to the state:
(A) The sale of immoveable property against the provisions of this law constitutes a crime against state security and well being, punishable by death, and the confiscation of all the culprit's immoveable and moveable possessions.
(B) If the crime is committed by a judicial body the punishment will be exacted from the persons who committed the crimes on behalf of this judicial body, and the judicial body will have its registration cancelled.
In addition, under Article 3 the sale of land to any alien (ie., someone who is either non- Jordanian or non-Arab) without permission from the Council of Ministers became a security offense, again punishable by death.
In 1997 the Palestinian Council formulated Property Law for Foreigners, a Palestinian replacement for the Jordanian law which:
Defines occupiers as the "government of occupation, its civilian and military institutions and its individual citizens";
Declares the sale of land in "Palestine" to such occupiers to be "national treason";
Determines that any Palestinian who "sells land in violation of this law ... will receive the maximum punishment." (Under an inherited Jordanian law still legitimately in effect on the West Bank the maximum punishment is death.)
Further states that foreign violators "will be prosecuted on charges of harming the national interest and will receive a life sentence."
Senior Palestinian officials have stated that violators of these laws have in fact been executed, though others have disputed that there have been formal executions.
However, there is no doubt that accused Palestinian land-sellers have been subject to extra-judicial attacks and executions. For example, according to the 2012 AFP report Palestinian ex-officer dies after "fall" in police custody:
A retired Palestinian security officer died on Sunday of injuries sustained after falling from a window while in Palestinian custody, security sources told AFP.
The unidentified 63-year-old man was pronounced dead at a Ramallah hospital, where he was transported suffering serious injuries, with one source saying it was unclear if he had fallen or was pushed to his death.
"This citizen is a retired security officer who was being held by the intelligence services in Ramallah on suspicion of corruption involving the sale of land," a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity."
He fell from a building and died, but we do not know if he fell or was pushed," the source added.
The details were confirmed by a second security source, who said the man was being investigated on suspicion of having "manipulated land records and sold land to Israel."
According to Palestinian reports, the man's wife had visited him in custody a few days before his death, and stated he was in good spirits and would not have committed suicide: Ex-officer dies in custody, wife says he was killed
The other notably slanted and misleading statement in the Times article concerned the so-called non-profits law that is being debated in Israel. According to the Times:
The Israeli government has proposed legislation to limit foreign donations from governments and private benefactors to B'Tselem and many other Israeli nongovernmental authorities.
In fact the proposed legislation would not limit funding in any way, it would merely assure enhanced transparency. Specifically, non-profits whose funding is largely from foreign governments would be required to include a list detailing their foreign government support in their publications, when testifying before the Israeli parliament, and in letters to public officials.
The Times is also incorrect that the proposed law applies to foreign "private benefactors," though that could well be included in amendments as the bill makes its way through the committee process.
Is this proposed law a threat to Israeli democracy and a sign of incipient fascism, as some have charged? Hardly in fact, as pointed out by NGO-Monitor, almost exactly one year ago the US House adopted even more stringent disclosure rules:
(1) DISCLOSURE OF FOREIGN PAYMENTS TO WITNESSES.
... (5)(B) In the case of a witness appearing in a nongovernmental capacity, a written statement of proposed testimony shall include a curriculum vitae and a disclosure of any Federal grants or contracts, or contracts or payments originating with a foreign government, received during the current calendar year or either of the two previous calendar years by the witness or by an entity represented by the witness and related to the subject matter of the hearing.
(C) The disclosure referred to in subdivision (B) shall include
(i) the amount and source of each Federal grant (or subgrant thereof) or contract (or subcontract thereof) related to the subject matter of the hearing; and
(ii) the amount and country of origin of any payment or contract related to the subject matter of the hearing originating with a foreign government.
These are more stringent than the proposed Israeli law because they apply to persons or organizations receiving any foreign government funding, not just those receiving most of their funding from a foreign government.
The Times should correct the errors in this report, and should inform readers that Israel's proposed non-profits law is far less exacting than the rules our own House of Representatives has recently adopted. The Times should also resist the urge to simply adopt the very partisan description of the proposed Israeli law from some non-profits that have apparently developed a sudden aversion to transparency. The fact that the Times often quotes these non-profits and uses them sources is all the more reason to try to report objectively on this issue.