New York Times Mislabels as "Vigilantes" Group that Murdered Palestinians

Three Palestinians, including an infant, were murdered in a roadside shooting near Hebron on July 19, apparently by a Jewish extremist group calling itself the Committee for Road Safety. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres vowed that “Israel will apprehend those who perpetrated the abominable murder ... and will punish them to the fullest extent of the law.” Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, deplored that attack, condemning “all forms of violence and terrorism no matter who carries them out.”

Reporting the attack, the New York Times erroneously termed the perpetrators “vigilantes” rather than terrorists or extremists. In response, CAMERA sent the following letter to the New York Times Foreign Desk:

July 23, 2001

Dear Mr. Schmemann,

In his July 21 and July 23 articles, Clyde Haberman used the term "vigilante" to describe the persons who killed 3 Palestinians in a drive-by shooting. This word implies that the victims were criminals who deserved the death penalty.

According to the American Heritage dictionary, a "vigilante" is "one who takes, or advocates the taking of, law enforcement into one's own hands."

The Palestinians in the car were not known criminals, which means that the shooters were not "vigilantes," but terrorists. People who shoot at innocent civilians (uninvolved in violence) for political reasons are terrorists.

The Israeli government is calling the snipers a "terror cell" and Prime Minister Sharon has condemned the shooting as an act of "terror." The AP describes the killers as "a Jewish extremist group." All of these labels are more appropriate than "vigilante."

I hope that in future Mr. Haberman will label all such drive-by shooters, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis, as terrorists.


Lee Green

A similar letter was sent to the Los Angeles Times, which also mislabeled the attackers as vigilantes.

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