New York Times editors could take a lesson in fearless, information-packed news reporting from a remarkable two-part article on Hizballah by Jeffrey Goldberg in the October 14 and 28 issues of the New Yorker magazine. Unlike the Times’ deceptive portrayals of Hizballah as a social service agency happily transforming itself from a violent past (since pushing Israel out of southern Lebanon), Goldberg describes a deadly organization fueled by Nazi-like anti-Semitic fervor and bent on the extinction of Israel.
Times fare has been characterized by stories which obscure the group's activities and aims. For example, correspondent Neil MacFarquhar, in a December 2001 piece (“To U.S., A Terrorist Group; To Lebanese, a Social Agency”), described a “host of social services” and a “panoply of [Hizballah] social, educational and agricultural branches” in Lebanon that supposedly “underscore the difficulty the United States faces in making its terrorist label stick to the militant Shiite organization.”
Sounding more like Hizballah's public relations agent than a reporter, MacFarquhar wrote that the “guerilla” group “denies any role in terrorism, claiming that its sole purpose has been attacking Israel.”
He observed gently that Hizballah is “fostered” by Iran and Syria — not armed, directed and incited — and has “garnered widespread respect from [the] Arab world...” Lebanese “of all stripes pay homage” to the organization, he writes. Not a single “Lebanese, whether Christian or Muslim... doesn't respect” Hizballah.
The “respected” Hizballah's killing of hundreds of Americans in Lebanon is presented as part of “a long list of accusations leveled at the group.”
In April 2002 (“Hezbollah Keeps Focus on Border with Israel”), MacFarquhar reported that Hizballah was “busy transforming itself from a militia into a political party.” As in the earlier article, he referred to its continuing violent agitation over the border area with Israel near Shebaa Farms without noting the UN's declaration that the Farms were not part of Lebanon. That is, the Times reporter concealed information unflattering to Hizballah.
A Nexis search of the New York Times finds not a single story in which “anti-Semitism” is mentioned in connection with the group.
Jeffrey Goldberg tells a different story. He writes that “Hizballah is, at its core, a jihadist organization, and its leaders have never tried to disguise their ultimate goal: building an Islamic republic in Lebanon and liberating Jerusalem from the Jews.” He notes that even Hizballah leaders concede the Shebaa Farms issue is a pretext.
He quotes a Hizballah spokesman as saying: “If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them... Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine.” Any Jews who might survive “can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from.”
Another Hizballah leader, Sayyid Nasrallah, declared: “We all have an extraordinary historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project.”
Goldberg notes that anti-Semitic invective has long been a “weapon in the anti-Israel armamentarium” but it had previously not borne the “malignancy of genocidal anti-Semitism. The language has changed, however.”
Hizballah, in his view, “has been at the vanguard of this shift... and its leaders frequently resort to epidemiological metaphors in describing Jews in world affairs. Ibrahim Mussawi, the urbane and scholarly-seeming director of English-language news at Al Mana [Hizballah's satellite television station], called Jews ‘a lesion on the forehead of history.’ ” A Hizballah official in the Lebanese Parliament said Jews “act as parasites in the nations that have given them shelter.”
The view that America is the “Great Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan” has shifted to cast America as the “tool of the Jews, who have achieved covert world domination,” according to an expert on Hizballah cited by Goldberg.
The author also quotes former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson as saying “There's a fundamental view here of the Jew as subhuman. Hizballah is the direct ideological heir of the Nazis.”
In both of the two parts of Goldberg's account, he refers to Hizballah and Iranian responsibility for “the single deadliest anti-Semitic attack since the end of the Second World War: the suicide truck-bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, in 1994...”
That bombing, on July 18, 1994, took the lives of nearly 100 people, but the story ran on inside pages of The New York Times. It is relevant to remember that America's newspaper of record has admitted it failed to give the Holocaust anything like the public exposure it warranted as the slaughter was underway.
In too many ways, the newspaper's retreat from covering resurgent “genocidal anti-Semitism” resembles its abject record of 50 years ago. Yet the paper recently ran a front-page story on Egypt's airing of an Egyptian-produced dramatization of the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” during the Muslim observance of Ramadan. Let us hope this bit of honesty at the Times in covering Arab anti-Semitism was not a solitary event.
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on November 4, 2002