How the NY Times Colors International Diplomacy on Jerusalem, Peace Plans


New York Times coverage of upcoming changes to American policy toward Jerusalem has been thorough — at least when it comes to chronicling opposition to the proposed changes.

Consider, for example, the quotations that appear in the Dec. 3 story, "Wary Response to Trump's Expected Declaration of Jerusalem as Capital."

That piece quoted Betty Mizrahi, an Israeli government worker, speaking in support of formal US recognition of Israel's capital.

And in opposition to the move, it quoted: Senior Palestine Liberation Organization member Hanan Ashrawi; Nasser al-Kidwa of the Palestinian Fatah party; Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef; Fatah leader Ayman Rigib; Hamas representative Ali Barakeh; an additional Hamas statement; and Palestinian Jerusalem resident Hani Juwaihan. Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli national who works for the International Crisis Group, is quoted explaining that the U.S. moves will be perceived negatively by Palestinians, as if the many Palestinian representatives didn't sufficiently get the point across. The article is rounded out with additional critical comments by Jordan's King Abdullah, and by former American diplomats Daniel Shapiro and Aaron David Miller.

Critics and supporters of Jerusalem policy changes quoted in Dec. 3 article

SUPPORTERS:   
CRITICS:
Betty Mizrahi Hanan Ashrawi
  Nasser al-Kidwa
Ahmad Yousef
Ayman Rigib
Ali Barakeh
Hamas
Hani Juwaihan
Ofer Zalzberg
King Abdullah
Daniel Shapiro*
Aaron David Miller*

* Off the pages of the New York Times, these
two former diplomats expressed support for the idea or practice of the embassy being in Jerusalem. The newspaper neglected to share those views.

A subsequent story, "US to Recognize Jerusalem as Israel's Capital, Trump Says, Alarming Middle East Leaders" (Dec. 5), initially quoted only critics of the plan: King Abdullah, PLO spokesman Xavier Abu Eid, and Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

In the main, countervailing voices were excluded, though there were plenty for the newspaper to pick from. Amos Yadlin, the Executive Director of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies and a former head of Israeli military intelligence, views US recognition of Israel's capital in Jerusalem as a "positive" and "important" step.
 
Dan Shapiro, whose was quoted by the newspaper shooting down the idea that the administration could succeed by relying on vague language about what part of Jerusalem it recognizes, has actually called for the US to move its embassy to western Jerusalem, saying on Twitter that "having our embassy there makes sense." This is certainly a notable and newsworthy position coming from President Obama's former ambassador to Israel, but the New York Times ignored it.
 
The newspaper could have solicited quotes from a vast array of supportive voices, such as former State Department official Michael Doran, Avi Gabbay, who heads Israel's dovish Labor party, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, and many more.
 
Even commentators who've offered critiques possible US moves have been much more nuanced than the opponents given voice in the newspaper's early coverage. Analyst Michael Kaplow, for example, rejects the idea of moving the embassy due to what he sees as its likely costs, but nonetheless acknowledges that to do so "would right a historical wrong and send a powerful message about history, justice, and the value of supporting allies." And Kaplow supports recognizing western Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
 
Aaron David Miller, whose criticism of any diplomatic changes was noted in the newspaper's Dec. 3 story, nonetheless maintains that the embassy is in the wrong place. "Let's be clear, the US Embassy should be in West Jerusalem, he wrote, while arguing that the "problem" of it not being there is not one that can be corrected in the current climate. His support for the idea of an embassy in Jerusalem was not shared by the New York Times.
 
After CAMERA contacted the newspaper to raise questions about the imbalance in voices, the Dec. 5 story was updated to relay comments by supportive voices, including Amos Yadlin. The updated version appeared in print on Dec. 6. (The piece would likely have been updated throughout the evening at any rate, but considering the severe skew of the Dec. 3, it is unclear that any changes would have exposed readers to a diversity of views.)
 
Two Saudi Peace Plans

Along with the newspaper's lopsided choice of viewpoints to quote, recent coverage has included another striking inconsistency. In a Dec. 4 news story about rumors of a Saudi peace plan, reporters can almost be heard scoffing as they focus on why its reported contours would be rejected by Palestinians. Already in the headline, the newspaper informs readers that the plan would be a snub to Palestinians: "Talk of a Peace Plan that Snubs Palestinians Roils the Middle East."

The story quickly opines that the alleged Saudi plan "would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government," and that it is a plan "that presumably no Palestinian leader could ever accept." The idea of American recognition of Israel's capital was dubbed an idea "once considered beyond the pale."

But this isn't the first unrealistic peace plan (if it is unrealistic and if it is even a peace plan — Saudi and Palestinian officials quoted in the piece deny it exists) organized by Saudi Arabia. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative proposed principles that were just as obviously tilted, but this time toward the Palestinian side, and included provisions that presumably no Israeli leader could accept, such as a pullback to 1967 lines and a withdrawal from the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.

But in the newspaper's 2002 reporting, journalists come across as much more supportive. In contrast with the recent headline that suggested ideas rejected by the Palestinian leadership are a "snub" against Palestinians, a 2002 headline focused on rejection by Israel, casting the country as intransigent: "Arabs Approve an Offer to Israel With Conditions it has Rejected." Instead of noting the plan's "tilt" toward Palestinian demands, the older piece celebrated the supposed softening by Arab countries. Instead of noting that "the 2002 plan may sound far-fetched on their face," which is how the newspaper described the rumored Saudi plan, the piece stated simply that Israel's prime minister "has rejected" the ideas.
 
As with its choice of voices to feature, the newspaper's choice of words can be used to tilt news reporting and steer readers to a desired conclusion. Recent reporting by the New York Times does exactly this, and violates the newspaper's promise "to cover the news as impartially as possible."
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