Commissioning Extremism from Max Blumenthal, the NY Times Also Receives Errors

If the New York Times Opinion section were to host an online debate about, for example, income inequality in America, there is no chance editors would include two avowed communists among the five total debaters.

But when it comes to Israel, the rules tend to be different. So in the newspaper’s online debate about what a rightward shift might mean for the Israel, two of five participants selected by editors are not just virulent critics of the Jewish state, but also opponents of its continued existence. (The promotion of opponents of Israel’s existence is something of a bad habit at The New York Times.)

The results were predictable. Both Diana Buttu and Max Blumenthal did what they always do, and the only thing an opinion editor could have expected them to do: Bash Israel, banish nuance, and brandish their tireless hatred.

“Whoever wins these elections and whatever the composition of the next government, the same situation will prevail,” Buttu insists. “Israel will continue to steal our land, demolish our homes, strip us of our rights and demand our loyalty and subservience to a system and society that seek to oust us.” And according to Blumenthal, “If a shift is underway in Israeli politics, it is primarily tonal. Israel’s rightists intend to carry on the Zionist project as originally conceived, but without the pretense of democracy.”

In other words, nothing will happen if Israel drifts rightward or shifts leftward or settles in the center (though in Buttu’s simple world “there are no ‘centrists’ in Israel”). That’s because evil is baked into the country, and Israel’s evil is all that matters.

Moreover, Buttu insists, there should be no peace process. Palestinians shouldn’t negotiate with Israel. And if Israel doesn’t unilaterally dissolve itself, if the Jewish people aren’t open to the possibility that they would once again be a minority everywhere, including in its homeland, let there be blood. The world “should not be surprised when Palestinians lash out against their oppressor, just as other oppressed communities have done around the world,” Buttu explains.

Blumenthal, meanwhile, engages in his typical buffoonery. One might think from timing of it that Blumenthal’s ticket to the New York Times opinion pages was earned when he recently harangued the chairman of Germany’s Left Party, Gregor Gysi, in an incident that led to the headline in Germany’s largest newspaper, “Lunatic Israel-haters pursue Gysi into the toilet.” In the wake of the incident, one Left Party councilman referred to Blumenthal and his sidekick David Sheen as “well-known anti-Semitic journalists.” He is hardly the only one to say so.
Of course, there were factual errors. The Jewish National Fund, readers of Blumenthal’s piece learned, “recently oversaw a program of mass Bedouin expulsion called the Prawer Plan.” Not quite. An update and correction noted that the plan “would have” led to mass expulsion, but was not “fully implemented.” (In fact, the controversial plan was to relocate many Bedouin from unrecognized villages scattered throughout the desert to recognized towns. It was ultimately suspended.)

A second error, too, was fixed — though readers might not know it, because for this one there was no formal correction. Blumenthal had claimed a proposed “Jewish State” law backed by the Israeli prime minister “will make ‘Jewish tradition’ and ‘the prophets of Israel’ a primary source of legal and judicial authority.” Editors surreptitiously changed the text so that it stated that “Some versions” of the bill referred to Jewish tradition and the prophets of Israel as sources, but not “primary” sources, of legal authority.

Those aren’t Blumenthal’s only errors, and the others remain unchanged in the piece.
He claims the Israeli government had funded Lehava, an anti-miscegenation organization. But his own link directs readers to an article indicating this is not true. (The government, according to that 2011 article, funded Hemla, a charity and rehabilitation organization that reportedly has some connections to Lehava.) See update below. 

Blumenthal claims the Israeli public is “fiercely opposed to a Palestinian state.” Again, the primary source for the claim fails to say as much. (The poll he cites found opposition to a Palestinian state with certain borders, lacking specific security arrangements, or leading to the division of Jerusalem. But a separate poll conducted just a few months earlier found that a majority of Israelis back the idea of a negotiated Palestinian state. Numerous other polls have reached similar conclusions.)

Blumenthal also asserts that Israel “expelled some 750,000 Palestinians in order to establish Israel’s Jewish majority.” But yet again, his own link says otherwise. The anti-Israel web page cited by Blumenthal asserts that the 750,000 Palestinians either “fled in panic” or “were forcibly expelled,” and estimates that 375,000 fit in the latter category.

Blumenthal has made clear he has no interest in factual accuracy. But the New York Times owes its readers further corrections. More importantly, it owes them serious, nuanced thinkers to participate in debates, not hate-mongers like Blumenthal.
Dec. 11 update: After communications with CAMERA, The New York Times slightly amended the language about purported government funding Lehava and acknowledged the change in the “correction” line. Unfortunately, the new language — now the piece says the government “indirectly” funded Lehava — remains incorrect. See details here.

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